At the risk of appearing a nut case, I’ll begin this with my personal experience.
It was the winter of 1973 – 74. I was almost thirteen years old and a few months from finishing grade seven. I had a very cool, astronomy-buff teacher that year who invited his class to school one evening to look at the sky through his telescope. We saw the craters on the moon and the rings of Saturn, and galaxies that looked like stars with the naked eye but grew to nebulous blobs of light in the telescope. Walking home that evening with my eyes and my thoughts on the clear, dark sky, I noticed a bright red object moving silently high overhead. As it passed over my house, I ran to the back yard to follow it. Then just like that, it stopped.
I rushed into the house calling my mom. The two of us sat at the kitchen table with binoculars for an eternity of about ten minutes, until suddenly the red light shot off at right angles from the direction it had been travelling at such a speed that in seconds it was gone from sight.
I called the local observatory to ask if anyone knew anything about the red light. The unimpressed man who answered the telephone told me I’d most likely seen a weather balloon, or maybe a flock of birds.
Hardly believing my ears, I told him there was no way that red light had been birds or a balloon. He suggested it might have been the planet Venus, explaining that a lot of people made that mistake.
I didn’t bother mentioning that Venus was shining bright white and immobile right where it was supposed to be. I knew then as I do now that what I had seen was, by definition, an unidentified flying object. A UFO.
My interest was piqued that night and I’ve been fascinated by the subject ever since.
According to today’s scientific consensus and the mass media, unidentified flying objects are misidentified natural phenomena, birds, planes or planets; hoaxes or hallucinations; an invention of the over stimulated modern mind. What I saw – a nocturnal light – is the most common type of UFO sighting, followed by daylight discs and lights, and much more rarely, close encounters (where physical effects are left or noted, or entities are seen).
At first I assumed UFOs were a modern phenomenon; I was amazed to learn that unexplained things in the sky have been reported since the beginning of history. The earliest records of UFOs are written accounts from ancient Greece and Rome describing sightings of aerial shields, duplicate suns, moving stars and flying wheels. These few are only a fraction among hundreds of examples from sources considered reliable on other topics:
a) 404 B.C., Attica, Greece: “When Thrasybulus was bringing back the exiles from Phyla, and wished to elude, a pillar became his guide as he marched over a trackless region . . . The sky being moonless and stormy, a fire appeared leading the way, which, having conducted them safely, left them near Munychia, where is now the altar of the light-bringer.” – Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 1, Chapter 24.
b) 76. B.C.: “. . . A spark was seen to fall from a star and increase in size as it approached the earth. After becoming as large as the moon it diffused a sort of cloudy daylight and then returning to the sky changed into a torch . . .” – Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 A.D.), Natural History, Book 2, Paragraph XXXV
c) 42 B.C.: “In Rome light shone so brightly at nightfall that people got up to begin work as though day had dawned. At Murtino three suns were seen about the third hour of the day, which presently drew together in a single orb.” – Julius Obsequens, Liber Prodigiorum
Even The Holy Bible contains passages which, while generally considered to be appearances of Israel’s Lord or His angels, could also be descriptions of close encounters.
a) Exodus 13:21: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”
b) II Kings 2:11: “And it came to pass . . . that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
c) Ezekiel 1: 4 – 5: “. . . A whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures . . . and they had the likeness of a man.”
By the Middle Ages, unidentified aerial phenomena had become associated with divine – or diabolical – origins. It was believed they came from God or the Devil to help or hinder the faithful here on Earth.
A 12th century French manuscript called Annales Laurissenes contains records from the Saxon siege on Charlemagne’s Sigiburg Castle in 776 A.D. One image portrays a French soldier standing with his arms in the air below a golden orb with what look like portholes and flames coming from behind. Another image shows a mounted nobleman pointing at a similar disc-shaped object, this time emitting rays of light or energy all around it. Whatever they were, the two objects were credited with helping the French by scattering the panicked Saxons.
Two broadsheets (the predecessor of the modern newspaper) preserved in the Zurich Central Library contain the following woodcuts and reports of frightening, large-scale aerial events. Whatever the explanation, these events were evidently considered important enough to be recorded:
a) April 4, 1561: Globes, crosses and tubes are shown in the sky over Nuremberg. The objects remained for an hour, then fell to earth as if on fire and faded slowly, producing much steam. Afterward, a black spear-like object was seen, and the event was taken to be a divine warning.
b) August 7, 1566: Large black globes appeared at sunrise in the sky over Basel, Switzerland. Many of them became red and fiery and ended up being consumed and vanishing.
The Modern Era
The first modern UFO ‘flap’ came in November, 1896 when citizens of Sacramento and San Francisco, California reported seeing mysterious ‘balls of light’ and cigar-shaped, metallic airships over a period of more than a week. Local newspapers printed eyewitness accounts and the image of a large, circular object in the sky. A second wave of sightings came in February and March the following year, when similar objects were reported in Kansas, Nevada and Texas. Some people believed the objects were space ships from Mars, while sceptics maintained that witnesses had simply seen the planet Venus. I must say this seems to be a popular explanation, but the following documented sightings are clearly more than misidentified planets, birds or weather balloons:
a) Feb. 25, 1942, Los Angeles: The appearance of an enormous round object during early morning hours triggered a wartime blackout over the city. Fighter planes attacked and turned away. Gun crews from the Army’s 37th Coast Artillery Brigade fired hundreds of rounds at the glowing, hovering ship. Searchlights illuminated the object for thousands of people to see. Photographs were taken, and the event was reported on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. On the ground, several people died as a result of the army’s attack before the object moved off and disappeared (although apparently it fired no weapons). In the morning, the Army’s Western Defence Command insisted that its anti-aircraft action was the result of unidentified aircraft sighted over the beach; the Secretary of the Navy in Washington, D.C., attributed the activity to “a false alarm and jittery nerves”.
b) June 24, 1947, Mount Rainier, Washington: Pilot Kenneth Arnold saw a chain of nine peculiar-looking aircraft skipping across the sky at an altitude of 3000 metres, flying approximately 2700 km / hr. Other people sighted the objects from the ground. The official conclusion was that Arnold had failed to identify conventional planes – even though the world speed record in 1947 was barely 1000 km / hr.!
c) Sept. 19, 1976, Tehran, Iran: Citizens spotted an unusual bright light in the night sky. The Iranian Air Force scrambled an F-4 fighter jet to investigate. As the jet approached the moving object, it lost all instrumentation and communication and was forced to land. A second F-4 experienced the same fate, although it did make radar contact with an unknown object at least the size of a 707. The visual description was of “flashing strobe lights arranged in a rectangular pattern and alternating blue, green, red and orange in colour”. After being pursued by the F-4 for a while, the object sped away and was out of sight in seconds. An official document released by the U.S. Department of Defense recounts the event, but is not able to explain it.
d) March 30, 1993, Cornwall and Devon, England: A vast, triangular craft was seen by over one hundred witnesses, including police officers and military personnel. The craft accelerated rapidly from a hover. The Ministry of Defence sent a letter to the U.S. embassy to find out whether the UFO was some kind of American craft. (It apparently was not.)
In case you’re wondering by now, yes, Canada has had its fair share of UFO sightings. In fact, we have one of the highest rates of UFO sightings per capita. Of the many documented cases, I find the following ones particularly compelling:
a) May 20, 1967, Falcon Lake, Manitoba: Amateur prospector Stephen Michalak claimed he saw a UFO land, but when he approached it, the object left the ground, burning his clothes with its exhaust. Physicians who treated Michalak could not explain the geometrical burn marks on his chest, nor the fact that he later showed symptoms of radiation sickness. The case was investigated by local authorities, the R.C.M.P., the National Research Council, the Dept. of National Defence and the Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as several civilian UFO groups. While one R.C.M.P representative called the whole incident a hoax, the N.R.C. file reads, “Neither the D.N.D. nor the R.C.M.P. . . . were able to provide evidence which could dispute Mr. Michalak’s story.” On Nov. 6, 1967, Defence Minister Leo Cadieux, replying to cabinet members’ requests to obtain information on the case, said, “It is not the intention of the D.N.D. to make public the report of the alleged sighting.” Since then, parts of the report have been made available to serious enquirers, but much of it remains classified.
b) September 1, 1974, Langenberg, Saskatchewan: Farmer Edwin Fuhr saw five metallic- looking machines hovering above his field, each approximately 1.5 metres high at the peak of its dome-like structure. The spinning objects took off and disappeared into the cloud cover, leaving behind five rings of flattened grass. There was no evidence of heat or burning. The incident was investigated by the RCMP and CUFOS (an American UFO research group), who concluded the case was not a hoax. They did not speculate, however, as to what Mr. Fuhr might have seen that day.
c) November 7, 1990, Montreal: At least 75 people, including an Air Canada pilot, local police officers and a La Presse reporter, saw three to nine lights in an oval or circular pattern hovering over the downtown sky. The huge object – some 500 metres wide – remained visible for almost three hours before disappearing from view. Investigation led to a 25-page report by Montreal UFO researcher Bernard Guénette and former NASA scientist Dr. Richard Haines, concluding that the “evidence for the existence of a highly unusual, hovering, silent large object is indisputable.”
d) December 11, 1996, Fox Lake, Yukon: Twenty-two eye witnesses reported seeing several large, orange lights in an oval pattern. The object blocked out a large expanse of sky and was calculated at nearly two kilometres across. Sightings in the area lasted over two hours.
So there you go – and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We don’t know what the Greeks and Romans saw, or what terrified citizens saw in the skies of Medieval Europe and nineteenth century America. I still don’t know what that red light of my youth was all about, but there’s one thing I do know: Over a period reaching back thousands of years, we have amassed a substantial collection of written records to which we are now adding photographs, videotape and mass eye-witness testimonies. While UFOs still don’t officially exist, serious researchers have compiled hundreds of case studies that cannot be explained by conventional means. Whatever it is, it’s clear – to me, at least – that the UFO phenomenon is more than an invention of the distracted modern mind.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SOURCES
THE HOLY BIBLE, King James Version
Hurley, Matthew. THE ALIEN CHRONICLES. Quester Publications, Chester, UK., 2003
Rutkowski, Chris, and Dittman, Geoff. THE CANADIAN UFO REPORT: THE BEST CANADIAN CASES REVEALED. Dundurn Press, Toronto, Ontario, 2006
Story, Ronald D. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL ENCOUNTERS. New American Library, New York, N.Y., 2001
Vallee, Jacques, and Aubeck, Chris. WONDERS IN THE SKY: UNEXPLAINED AERIAL OBJECTS FROM ANTIQUITY TO MODERN TIMES. Penguin Group, New York, N.Y., 2010
Internet sites: http://www.cbc.ca