This book, co-authored by Kevin Randle, Russ Estes, and William P. Cone, is not one of the better-known works of abduction literature. I think I can guess why. The writing is for the most part awkward and repetitive; at over 400 pages it’s a good deal longer than it needs to be. Despite my fascination with abductions, despite my sympathy with the book’s respectful skepticism about their physical reality, I found reading it a slog.
This is a pity, because the authors approach the problem with a good critical sense and occasionally have deeply interesting things to say. Like the story, evidently contributed by the late Russ Estes–he died in 2006–of the California woman he calls “Sherry,” who appears among the abductees in the 1995 Disney TV special (“Alien Encounters From New Tomorrowland”) about which I blogged.
A comparison of Sherry’s experience as Estes relates it (pages 72-79) with the brief fragment of it in the Disney program proves enlightening.
The story begins in the early 1990s when Sherry, “an attractive single mother in her late thirties,” moves to a rural desert area in southern California with her eight-year-old daughter. (In the Disney show the place is identified as Banning, just south of the San Bernardino National Forest.) The bedroom in her new home gives a dramatic view of the starry sky, in which strange golden globes appear, “dancing over the distant mountains.”
The months pass. The golden globes come nearer and nearer, eventually manifesting between Sherry’s house and her neighbor’s. She hears eerie noises, sees nonhuman faces at night through the windows. Her dogs show signs of fear. Her daughter comes to sleep in her bed.
Then something happens that would have been unthinkable in the Disney universe of my childhood.
“On a warm night in the summer of 1992, Sherry went through the nightly routine that had become the norm for her. She sat at the window watching the golden globes dancing from the mountains to the pastures near her house. Exhausted by the routine, she finally went to bed, eventually dropping off. She was restless that night, drifting in and out of sleep. In what she thought was a dream, she felt a warm sexual tingle between her legs. The tingle grew to waves of orgasmic passion as she felt something hard penetrating her in a way that could not be mistaken for anything other than raw sex. In her sleep, she reached for whatever it was between her legs, pushing it deeper into her. She had an orgasm so explosive that she remembered little else.”
She wakes with red scratches between her legs.
In the aftermath of her experience, she drifts into the orbit of a hypotherapist with a strong interest in alien abductions. She becomes a regular member of the therapist’s abductee support group. That’s where she meets Estes and tells him what happened to her. He asks “how she knew that she had had sex with the entity and if it was possible that it was just a very vivid dream. Her answer was crisp. ‘I know the smell of sex.'”
Enter Walt Disney.
January 1995: Estes is invited to Disney World to speak about UFOs “from a documentarian’s point of view.” Sherry, he finds out more or less by chance, has been invited too. She’s accepted the invitation, which surprises Estes, given that she’s made a great point of wanting to avoid publicity about her UFO experiences. “Sherry giggled and said that she couldn’t resist the free trip to Florida and the weeklong, all-expenses-paid vacation on Disney.”
Estes’s account can be supplemented with information provided by Mark Pilkington, quoted on the ufologie.patrickgross.org website. The Disney World “UFO Summit” ran from January 23 to February 17, a total of four weeks. As I pointed out in my previous post, this was almost exactly the start of the five-month hiatus in the operation of the grisly New Tomorrowland “attraction” that the “Alien Encounters” TV special was designed to promote. Each invitee, however, was there for only one week. Estes (and Kevin Randle) was there for the first week; Sherry, and presumably at least some of the other abductees, for the second.
Estes: “The Disney people … wanted a group of UFO researchers and abductees to lend an air of reality to the [Disney World] attractions.” Pilkington: “Strangely, although the summit was organized by UFO magazine’s Don Ecker and featured such luminaries as Budd Hopkins, Clifford Stone and George Knapp, there was no public announcement prior to the conference and no announcements made to UFO groups or other media.” Pilkington professes to find the gathering and its purpose “a mystery of sorts.”
But I don’t think there’s anything strange or mysterious about it. The aim of the “summit” was surely to create a pool of video clips from which the “Alien Encounters” program could draw at will. It must have been an expensive project, though not as expensive as it would have been if the participants had been lodged and entertained at Disney World for the full duration of the four-week event. Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his colleagues must have thought the money worth spending.
Better, though, not to communicate to any but the narrowest circles what they were doing. That way, if proclaiming UFO reality turned out to be less popular with the viewing public than Eisner and the rest were hoping, there’d be minimal damage to the Disney reputation.
What did Sherry tell the people at Disney World about her abduction? Estes’s recollection of her testimony on the TV special, which he seems to have caught by chance sometime near the end of February, doesn’t quite jibe with what appears on the video. (There’s only one abductee shown who could reasonably be identified with his “Sherry.”) But he’s right that there’s no mention in her two brief clips of golden globes or “orgasmic passion.” The clips focus instead on how Sherry’s daughter–said to be four years old, not eight as in Estes’s account–became part of her UFO experiences, both in her hypnotically evoked memories and in reality.
“Well, she was four years old, and she was past bedwetting and all that behavior … and she never wet her bed. And when we moved to Banning she started having nightmares every night and wetting her bed, and a couple of weeks ago she had a bunch of scratches on her face, and she didn’t have them when she went to bed. I said, ‘What happened?’ and it was funny, the only thing I could get out of her was that she asked me, ‘Do aliens hurt you?’ and I went, ‘What?'”
The second clip: “The last time I had a session, in that session I actually saw [her daughter’s name] being escorted by two small grays, and it was very upsetting to me. I could not handle the fact that my daughter was being subjected to something that I had no control over and when I think you have no control over something that–you’re so helpless–it’s like your child is drowning or something and you can’t save ’em.”
Estes exaggerated this into Sherry telling of “her daughter being taken to a spaceship and put onto a table … medical experiments on her daughter, as she, Sherry, stood by paralyzed and helpless.” It’s easy to criticize him for the inaccuracy. Easy to forget that in 1999 he didn’t have YouTube to fall back on. He had to depend on his memory, of a few seconds on the TV screen that he had no reason to expect would be of any significance.
Unlike Estes, I’m not bothered by Sherry’s failure to mention her X-rated bedroom encounter. The people who created the Disney UFO special, which I’ve earlier characterized as “stinking of dishonesty and manipulation,” must have taken only the tiniest specimens of their interviewees’ testimony, pasting them together in such a way as to promote their fixed idea of UFOs as a menace to humankind. Aliens that bring you blowout sex are not most people’s idea of a menace.
The Walt Disney I knew in the 1950s would have wanted nothing to do with such critters. I suspect his successors 40 years later felt the same. Carnivorous monsters terrorizing people trapped and helpless in their seats were OK for the New Tomorrowland. Sherry’s erotic visitations, intriguing as they are for those of us looking inward rather than outward for the home of the UFO, weren’t quite the “Alien Encounters” they were looking for.
I wish I knew who gave the Disney executives Sherry’s name, and what convinced them she’d be worth enticing to Florida with an all-expense-paid vacation. How many abductees in all did they invite? Why was she among them? Was it because of the raw sexuality of her experiences, their echoes in her daughter’s nighttime terrors? Or in spite of it?
22 years have gone by since “Alien Encounters From New Tomorrowland” appeared on (mercifully few) TV screens. Might there still be anyone at the Walt Disney Company who’d know the answers?
by David Halperin
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