“[Mrs. Simeone] was talking to these people and then her voice started to raise. And she was hysterical. She was almost in tears, saying I can’t get a hold of my son. … They don’t want me to be in contact with him. He told me the FBI won’t let him contact me over the incident. … Then her voice rose again. And she was never like this. She was always so calm and quiet. She was totally out of character. And it scared me a little bit because her being afraid, I think, frightened me.
“And so then she started talking about it. She said I was talking to my son, and he told me that this—I think she called it an aircraft—had crashed from out of space … and that my son said they were spacemen … not aliens or UFO, just spacemen. And they were four feet tall and they were dead …”
You’re reading the words of a Boston lady named Gloria Mudge. The date is August 10, 1989, and Gloria is 58 years old. She’s recalling for UFOlogist Walter Webb an incident she remembers from when she was 10 and an almost-daily habitué of the soda fountain at Simeone’s Variety Store, across the street from her family’s apartment in the Roxbury section of Boston. It happened in 1941, during the months—Gloria can’t remember how many months—before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Webb will write up his investigation of this extraordinary tale for the International UFO Reporter (IUR), which will publish it in two parts. What I’m writing in this post is based entirely on Webb’s article, “An anecdotal report of a UFO crash/retrieval in 1941,” in the Winter 1996 and Spring 1997 IURs.
This isn’t the first time Webb has heard about the incident from Gloria, although it is the first time he and she have met face to face. They spoke over the telephone in February 1981, when Gloria told him essentially the same story but with a few variations. Mrs. Simeone was behind the soda fountain, “angry, confused and out of control”; she’d learned about the crash of “a huge, round metallic object” from a letter from her soldier son, who apparently saw the wreck and the alien corpses (there were three of them) with his own eyes.
“And then the people were looking at her like she was crazy. And that’s when she said, ‘What do you think I’m crazy? My son told me this.’ … And then she got more excited. And I got really upset. And she said I’ve got—something about a letter. And she brought up a letter. … Then she said to the people, ‘You don’t believe me? You don’t believe me?’ And they just stood there. I don’t think anybody said a word. I don’t think people knew what to say or how to react to her. … I’ll never forget it. They just kept staring. Nobody said anything. … I mean, I was watching these people wondering why they didn’t believe her because I believed her.
“And people walked out of the store. And she just stood there. She looked at me like … she was in shock. … And then she doesn’t ever mention it again like it had never happened.”
It never happened. That was what the widowed Mary Simeone told Webb when he tracked her down by telephone in February 1981, shortly after hearing Gloria tell the first version of her story. Yes, she’d owned the store in Roxbury that Gloria was talking about. Yes, her son Guy (now deceased) had been drafted into the Army in March 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor. Yes, the setting of the incident sounded perfectly authentic. But of the incident itself—the news of the crashed spacecraft she’d supposedly received from Guy, whether by telephone or by letter—she had no recollection.
(“Recollection”—that’s the central mystery in this story, intriguing and still unsolved. What people remember and what they don’t, and why. An insoluble mystery? Maybe. I’m not yet ready to judge that.)
At first Mrs. Simeone couldn’t even remember a child named Gloria. But later, chatting over the phone with grownup Gloria—perhaps significantly, it was Mrs. Simeone who took the initiative to make the call–the memory came back to her of the little girl who used to visit her store. “But she still said she had no memory of the UFO episode,” Webb writes. “Nevertheless, both Mrs. Simeone and her son seemed impressed by Gloria’s apparent sincerity and the fact that she believed she had recalled such an event.”
Mrs. Simeone was 80 years old in 1981. In 1989, when Webb again picks up the threads of his investigation, she’s still alive. On August 18 he meets with her, her son Anthony, and Guy’s son Salvatore. He plays for her the tape of his interview with Gloria, made eight days earlier. “Do you recall this story?” he asks.
“I don’t—I don’t remember. It’s the way I would have acted. … I wish I could remember. I remember so many things. I wish I remembered that one too, because I do have a pretty good memory for anything in the past. So I wish I could have told you; I wish I could have helped.”
Anthony chimes in: “The scenario is perfect. It was the [soda] fountain, the center of attention in the store. We shared our lives with everybody, and they shared their lives with us.” Mary remembers reading Guy’s letters aloud to their customers, and Anthony adds that “we always had an audience. … Whoever was in the store wanted to hear all the news.”
And now Mary wavers.
“Now I’ve been thinking it could easily have happened,” she says. And when Anthony cautions that this doesn’t mean it did happen, she says: “I know, I know. But it might have happened. … It’s something I would do. It sounds logical, but I cannot tell you that I ever remember …”
In his article, Webb argues at length that Gloria Mudge was perfectly sincere, not faking her story in any way. His arguments are persuasive but for me, at least, unnecessary. Just reading her words as Webb reports them, I can’t conceive that this memory, which obviously had so strong an impact on her, might be a deliberate falsehood.
But I also find it inconceivable that the incident actually happened as she remembered. Mrs. Simeone’s denial is decisive. Webb’s suggestion that “Mary Simeone’s inability to recollect the UFO incident could just as easily be explained in terms of repressing the affair” will not cut it for me, although if you find it intuitively plausible (as I find it implausible) I’m not sure how I would debate you. Of course I’m biased: the possibility that an interplanetary spaceship actually crashed on this planet in 1941 (or any other year) is not one I’m prepared to entertain.
So naturally I won’t admit that Guy Simeone could actually have written to his mother the things that Gloria remembered her as having feverishly proclaimed to a skeptical and possibly scornful audience. Guy died in 1973, so Webb couldn’t ask him. Not that he would necessarily have gotten a straight answer if he had. Guy’s family and friends remembered him as having been closed and secretive about his activities, which had a strong tinge of the mysterious and possibly discreditable.
None of them could remember him ever saying a word about having witnessed a crashed UFO.
Webb managed to locate a woman named Mary Mason, a close friend of Mary Simeone. Mary Mason was 23 years old in 1941, and she recalled having once gone into the store to find Mary Simeone “very excited, very emotional, because she had a letter from Guy and she wasn’t going to be able to hear from him. … She was very dramatic, wondering what the government is doing, and what they’re going to have him do, and why couldn’t he write, and what was going on and everything.”
Was this perhaps the reality that Gloria remembered? Was the UFO connection a confabulation of her memory, possibly influenced by the Roswell story, which in 1981 (when Webb first spoke with her) was just beginning to emerge into the national consciousness? A neat theory, but spoiled by an inconvenient fact. Gloria’s daughter Deborah, who was 28 in 1981, remembered having heard the story from her mother when she was “very young” (in Webb’s words). Which would presumably take us back into the 1950s.
Unless Deborah’s memory was doing its own confabulating?
And what are we to make of Salvatore’s odd recollection that his father (Guy) “used to tell me that we were from Ganymede,” the satellite of Jupiter. “He used to tell me that mentally I came from Ganymede. … It wasn’t like a passing thing. It was something that he talked about a fair amount. … He used to talk about the little people from space. But, for the life of me, I can’t really pinpoint exactly what it was about them.”
Had little Gloria perhaps known Guy before he went into the Army, perhaps heard him talk about the “little people from space”—and afterward forgot or repressed these memories? (Is it consistent for me to advance this “repression” theory even while rejecting Webb’s? You decide.) Did she afterward combine his notions about “space people” with a real incident in which Mrs. Simeone was uncharacteristically distraught about something having to do with Guy? Did she long afterward (ca. 1981) re-edit her memories in accord with what she might have heard about the Roswell crash?
Why did this pseudo-memory carry such intense power and conviction, not only for Gloria but also for Mary, who came to consider that “it could easily have happened” even while knowing for a fact that it hadn’t? Did Mary unconsciously recognize a latent truth hidden within Gloria’s story, belying and all but overriding its manifest falsity?
And if so—what?
If and when we answer these questions, we may have a fresh clue to what Roswell was about.
by David Halperin
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