A year for Fortean anniversaries

Posted on December 4, 2007 by


Charles FortThe year 2007 has been a banner anniversary year for Forteans in general and ufologist in particular. Those with even a passing interest in unexplained phenomenon know that 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of the June 24, 1947 Kenneth Arnold sighting that ushered in the modern era of UFO sightings and gave popular birth to the term flying saucer, as well as the 60th anniversary of the purported late June or early July crash in Roswell, New Mexico (reports of the exact crash date vary and the story would remain buried until Stanton Friedman, a physicist with experience working on various government air and spacecraft projects, began investigating the Roswell rumors in 1978).

Those with a more cryptozoological bend have probably been a little more intent on the 40th anniversary of the footage shot October 20, 1967 by Roger Patterson and Patty Turns animated smallRobert Gimlin; footage which apparently shows a female Sasquatch (or Bigfoot) turning her entire upper torso to look back at the duo filming her. While the footage has never been accepted by the scientific establishment as satisfactorily proving the existence of Bigfoot creatures, various attempts to effectively reproduce the footage using human stand-ins wearing various styles of monkey suits have failed miserably.

Those with a little more esoteric bend might even remember that this year marks the 90th anniversary of the October 13, 1917 mass sighting of aerial phenomenon and in Fatima, Portugal. What began with three shepherd children reporting a visitation by an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 13 of that year culminated in the revelation that three secrets had been passed by the image of Mary to the children, and eventually in the mass sighting by nearly 70,000 witnesses of images of the Virgin Mary and various aerial lights that bear many of the characteristics of modern UFOs.

While these are touchstone events in the study of Forteana and (with the exception of Patterson-Gimlin) ufology, a look at the annals of strange aerial phenomenon reveal that they are nothing new. In fact, 2007 is the 430th anniversary of a series of extraordinary sightings near Tübingen, Germany. According to accounts published in the 16th century, on the morning of December 5, 1577 a number of objects “resembling large, tall, and wide hats” descended from the clouds and “landed in great numbers and in a variety of colours.” It has also been reported that entity sightings occurred in conjunction with the landing, however extant sources corroborating such claims are difficult to find.

Greater detail, though, does exist for the 1897 Airship Flap which enveloped the American Midwest and dominated newspaper headlines 110 years ago. While the Airship Flap technically had its beginnings in 1896, it reached its zenith in 1897. That year included an April 14 report from Howard City, Michigan of a naked, nine and a half foot tall giant speaking in musical tones and breaking the hip of a farmer with a well placed kick (Saginaw Courier and Herald, April 16, 1897), and a claim from a Mr. Robert Hibbard that a month prior, in March of 1897, he had been plucked from his fields near Sioux City, Iowa when the dangling anchor of an airship had snagged his clothing.

While Hibbard wasn’t quite an abductee in the modern sense of the word, 2007 is the very special silver anniversary of an extraordinary case, and the first of the modern abductee stories, the October 14, 1957 abduction of Brazilian farmer Antonio Villas Boas. While the Villas Boas case (which predates the first recognized American abduction, that of married couple Betty and Barney Hill in September of 1961, by nearly four years) differs sharply from the earlier, and more peaceful, contactee stories of George Adamski and others, and introduces many of the concepts students of modern abduction stories will find familiar, it also differs sharply from these more recent abductions in several key areas. For instance, instead of the short, big-headed, almond eyed greys familiar to most of us, the entities that abducted Villas Boas looked surprisingly human. Although short (approximately five foot) the entity had small, blue eyes. After undergoing the standard medical examinations common to the phenomenon Villas Boas met another of the Antonio Villas Boasentities, this one female and nude. He described her as human in shape with “cat like” blue eyes, light-blonde hair on her head, and bright red pubic and underarm hair. While the case exhibits the same sexual and reproductive anxieties echoed in most modern abductee reports, the Villas Boas case differs from the clinical, modern cases in that, instead of having his sperm mechanically removed by aliens, Villas Boas reported engaging in sexual intercourse with the female. Afterwards the female reportedly rubbed her belly before pointing to the stars, indicating to Villas Boas that the product of their union would be raised in space, and leaving him with an angry feeling of having been used as little more than “a good stallion” for the entities. Another major difference between modern abductee reports and the Villas Boas case can be seen here. Whereas many modern abductees report hearing the disembodied voices of their abductors “in their heads”, insinuating a form of telepathic communication, the entities that abducted Villas Boas, including the female, communicated with him only through gestures and made “barking noises” instead of anything resembling speech.

Fast forward ten years, to the January 25, 1967 abduction of Betty Andreasson, and the evolution of the phenomenon toward what we know as an alien abduction today, as well as the cultural impact on the interpretation of the phenomenon, become more apparent. It is worth noting that although the Andreasson story takes place in 1967, the full story did not come to light until ten years later, in 1977, when Andreasson underwent regression hypnosis to help her recall in detail the events of January 1967. According to the story she related under hypnosis, on the evening of January 25, 1967 she was at her home in Ashburnham, Massachusetts with her parents and seven children when a light outside the kitchen window signaled the arrival of a number of humanoid entities that then entered the home, coming through the wall. While the beings they encountered shared some characteristics with the prototypical grey, including short stature (four foot except for the leader, who was approximately five foot tall), pear shaped heads, slits for mouths, and “wide eyes”, they also had small ears and small noses (features that have been abbreviated in later reports to the point of near obliteration in the popular contemporary image of the grey). After trading the leader, who identified himself as Quazgaa, a copy of the Bible for a thin copy of an alien religious book that she later lost, Andreasson was taken aboard the craft. There she was subjected to a series of experiments that included the placement of a probe up her nose and the insertion of another probe through her navel. Later she was taken to a room where she reported breathing through tubes while floating in a strange liquid and being attended to by a second, small, reptilian race of aliens. The complex and dreamlike Andreasson abduction also included floating over a “crystal city” and hearing the “voice of God”.

Roswell NewspapersThis year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Lee Parrish abduction, which occurred outside of Prospect, Kentucky during the early morning hours of January 27, 1977. The Parrish abduction is notable in that the three entities he encountered were more machine like than humanoid. It is also the 30th anniversary of Ronnie Patrick’s first encounter with UFOnauts in and around Tyler, Texas, the 50th anniversary of a flap of sightings near Levelland, Texas (Ronald Martin and Sheriff Weir Clem sightings of November 1957), and the 60th anniversary of the famed Maury Island Incident, one of the first reported cases of Men-in-Black (MIB) activity. It isn’t that years ending in “7” are in any way significant. One could choose any year and, jumping forward or backwards in ten, five, or single year increments, similarly trace the evolution and history of strange aerial craft and their passengers. However with the 90th anniversary of Fatima, the 60th anniversary of Roswell, the coining of the term “flying saucer”, and the first reported MIB activity, and the 50th anniversary of the first modern UFO abduction, 2007 seems like a good time to begin looking back at the UFO phenomenon and putting it into a historical and folkloric framework, a task we intend to undertake in future columns. We hope you come back and join us for the ride.