Missing the good days of UFOs and green men

Missing the good days of UFOs and green men
June 6, 2009
Ian Haysom
Times Colonist

'Invasion of the orange aliens," blared the headline from London's Daily Mail this week. Another newspaper headline said that "Stunned families watch as more than 20 UFOs buzzed over awestruck Britain."

I found the headlines reassuring. We earthlings haven't been forgotten by little green, or in this case, orange men from Mars after all.

We haven't had a good UFO story in ages. As in decades. During the 1960s and 1970s the newspapers were full of them. I wrote one of them. A young man came into our newspaper office with a picture of what looked to me like an out-of-focus Frisbee.

The editors got excited. Very excited. I was dispatched to Chicago, to Northwestern University, to show the picture to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the world's leading authority on UFOs. Hynek had once worked for the U.S. air force, debunking claims that unidentified flying objects were somehow evidence of alien beings.

Then, however, he began questioning the data, after examining hundreds of UFO reports by credible witnesses. I had a nice trip to Chicago, got stuck in a snowstorm, and Hynek looked at the grainy photo and told me that, ahem, yes, "zis is very interesting. Fascinating. It could be anything."

He identified it as unidentifiable. Which was enough for a hyperbolic page one headline, something like "Quick! Run for your lives! We're about to be eaten by aliens."

I still thought it looked like a Frisbee, but since everyone else thought it was a flying saucer, who was I to quibble? Plus I got to stay in a fancy hotel in Chicago, in the days when newspapers still sent reporters out of town.

UFO stories were the staple, in those days, of the supermarket tabloid, before they put scarier aliens like Britney and Paris on their covers. The more respectable newspapers still dabbled in UFO stories because everyone seemed to have seen weird lights in the night sky.

It was also the time of movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where mashed potatoes led Richard Dreyfuss to the secret aliens, E.T., where aliens were cute and cuddly and went trick-or-treating, and, of course, Star Wars and Star Trek where the future included humans mixing freely with three-headed monsters from Rekag-Seronia.

Many years later I covered a Star Trek convention for a feature story. Most of the attendees seemed to me to be bona-fide crazy. Many wore big ears, like Mr. Spock. Spock -- Leonard Nimoy -- and Captain Kirk, William Shatner, were there too, wearing bemused, almost worried, smiles. They seemed to have become reluctant leaders of a cult from which they couldn't escape.

This week's UFO story was, in the spirit of those UFO stories of the past, breathless and mysterious. Ordinary people had experienced an extraordinary moment. It happened over Lincoln. Witnesses talked of seeing a score of lights in the sky.

One newspaper wrote: "The eerie extra-terrestrial crafts were hovering in the night sky over the town, moving in different directions before eventually shooting straight up into the atmosphere." A man who got photos of the phenomenon said, "There were 26 of them at first, dodging and darting in between each other like they were playing a game.

"After that, seven more arrived from the right hand side and weaved through the crowd of lights like strange kinds of aircraft. After five minutes of moving around, the flickering yellow objects hung in the air for a second then shot off into the sky and disappeared."

Like, wow! Double wow! The aliens put on a little show for the earthlings. They're born entertainers. We could be seeing a revival of interest in things paranormal. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell told a conference recently that aliens are not a myth and asked the U.S. government to fess up and disclose what it knows about extraterrestrial beings.

It should be noted that the astronaut made the longest moon walk in history. The man's obviously missing his friends up there.

Recently, it emerged that many of those sightings of weird spacecraft in the 1960s could have been spy and stealth planes, with their triangular, bat-shaped wings.

It also emerged that this week's invasion of the orange aliens wasn't quite as scary as first thought. A woman wrote to her local newspaper saying the lights over Lincoln were Chinese lanterns -- mini hot-air balloons -- set off at her wedding reception. "They looked amazing, hope you all enjoyed the spectacle," she said.

Spoilsport. Anyone got a spare Frisbee?
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