The International UFO Reporter (IUR), published by the Chicago-based Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), terminated its print edition about three and a half years ago, ending more than 35 years of publication. A great pity. The IUR in its heyday was just about the finest UFO journal the world has ever seen.
Anybody who thinks there’s something “wacky” or weak-minded about UFOlogists would profit from intensive reading of the old IURs, such as I’ve undertaken over the past month, now that my friend Professor Diana Pasulka has kindly loaned me the files from 1993-2003. Its articles are almost without exception the work of intellectual heavyweights, thoughtful and articulate men and women devoted to finding the truth about an issue that society’s credentialed intellectuals often prefer to laugh off.
Knowing nothing about it, of course.
It came as no surprise to find my old friend Jerry Clark, author (practically solo) of the monumental UFO Encyclopedia, heading the list of editors. Anything that gets Jerry’s approval can’t help but be first-rate.
Since I assume most readers of this blog don’t have access to these materials, it will not be out of place for me to do a few posts on some of the IUR articles that have most intrigued me. Adding some thoughts of my own.
I’ll start with a piece in the Spring 2001 issue by Kevin D. Randle, author of the highly respected UFO blog “A Different Perspective,” which has dealt extensively with Roswell-related matters. The article is called “UFOs on Memory Lane,” and it’s about a UFO that turns out to be an IFO (identified flying object). Those are, for me, the most interesting kind.
It happened 40 years ago today. On the evening of November 17, 1975, two college students named Suzanne Erenberger and Dave Vardeman drove into Mt. Vernon, Iowa–about 20 miles east of Cedar Rapids–to report a UFO sighting to the police. The police chief described Suzanne as “terrified, nearly hysterical.” He believed Suzanne and Dave had seen something genuinely frightening.
An officer accompanied the two students back to where they’d seen the UFO, near Palisades-Kepler State Park a few miles away, but saw nothing unusual.
Two days later, Suzanne told a reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette that “we were very close to it, maybe about 30 feet away and it was about 25 feet off the ground. … It looked like it, or at least the top part, was made of glass.”
It was disk-shaped, she told Kevin Randle 10 days after the sighting, about 30 feet in diameter with a huge glass dome. She added that (in Randle’s words) “there had been a very bright, very intense light that was glowing inside the craft … [coming] from some kind of cockpit and she thought that she could see two shapes behind the light. These were dark shapes of a torso with a head but with no sign of arms or legs and certainly no facial features.”
But Randle also talked to Dave Vardeman, who’d been driving with Suzanne when they first spotted the UFO. All he remembered seeing was distant white and red lights. Suzanne’s story of a domed disk with a pair of pilots inside, seen from 30 feet away, was (in Dave’s words) “ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous” is not a very nice thing to say about a friend who’s seen something she’s convinced is real, that seems to have scared her half to death. I wish I knew more about Suzanne and Dave–both of them surely pushing 60 by now–and what their relationship was. It might have a bearing on why Suzanne saw what she saw, or, more to the point, remembered what she remembered.
Randle was convinced Suzanne was perfectly sincere, genuinely frightened. (“Hey, look, this thing is real,” she said. “We know what we saw.”) But her story, however honestly believed, underwent amazing transformations in a very short period of time.
“On the night of the sighting,” Randle writes, “both talked of lights seen in the distance, lights that seemed to float to the ground and that disappeared behind the trees. Two days later, Erenberger was talking about a domed disk that had a glassed-in cockpit. And just days after that, she was telling people that she had seen humanoid shapes behind the lights.”
Randle reproduces sketches made by Suzanne (1) the night of the sighting, (2) two days later, and (3) ten days later. (Though the first sketch, showing star-like lights, may be Dave’s work rather than hers.)
Randle had no difficulty identifying those distant lights: airplanes landing at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport. The rest, he tells us, was Suzanne’s “confabulation,” and of course I’m persuaded. He reminds us of the Emory University students who were freshmen in 1986 when the “Challenger” space shuttle exploded. Tested three years later on what they recalled of the circumstances under which they’d learned of the disaster, a quarter of them didn’t have a single accurate memory.
Yet the memories, however false, were real in the students’ minds. “I still remember everything happening the way I told you,” one woman said, even while acknowledging it couldn’t possibly have happened that way. “I can’t help it.” Ditto for Suzanne Erenberger.
For me, things still don’t add up. The “confabulation” of false memories after three years is one thing. After two days, it’s quite another. OK, memory is a great deal less reliable than we like to imagine; that’s been shown time and time again. But unless we could trust our short-term memory not to turn airplane lights into domed and piloted disks, life as we know it would be impossible.
And why was Suzanne so frightened by what she saw, and apparently not Dave? Why did he retain a more or less accurate memory of it, and not she? I can’t avoid the sense that something was emerging from within Suzanne, triggered by the lights but not identical with them, which within the brief space of 48 hours completely eclipsed them in her recollection.
Whatever it was, it scared her badly.
By an odd coincidence, the immediately preceding issue of IUR (Winter 2000-2001) has an article by the late Richard Hall, remembered by us UFO old-timers as the secretary of the now-defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) back in the 1960s. The article is entitled “Dyad ‘Scout Craft.'” Hall posits the existence of a definable sub-category of UFOs: 15- to 30-foot disks, “often Saturn-shaped … with transparent domes through which two small humanoid beings are visible.”
Hall lists ten cases of such craft, from 1959 through 1979. Suzanne Erenberger’s sighting isn’t in his list, but plainly it ought to be. Compare her third sketch with Hall’s drawing of an object seen in Italy the year before, unique among his cases in that it speaks of three pilots instead of two:
“April 16, 1974: Casale Monferrato, Piemonte, Italy. 12:50 a.m. Mauro Bellingeri, 26, and his wife, Carla, were driving home to Santa Maria del Tempio when they noticed a bright object in the sky. The object dove abruptly toward the car, stopping at a height of about 12 meters (40 feet). The Bellingeris both got out of the car [as did Suzanne and Dave–DH] to look at the now motionless and silent object. It was disclike with a bright, transparent dome and a central ring of revolving red, green, and yellow lights. Inside the round dome were three human-like beings with large round, opaque grayish helmets.”
Even the position of the pilots within the UFO is identical in these two drawings.
The “Saturn shape” of which Hall speaks crops up in one of the two witness perceptions in the Philadelphia sighting of January 15, 1974, investigated by the late Matt Graeber. (I blogged about it nearly three years ago.) One witness, a young auto mechanic who’d gotten his girlfriend pregnant, saw the UFO as … a detumescing penis shooting out sperm, sheathed in a condom that’s ruptured precisely where it needs to stay intact.
The other three witnesses, the young woman and her parents, saw something very different–“a double convex disc-shaped object” like two soup bowls fastened together at the rims, with a Saturn-like ring around it and a bulb-like protuberance at its top. This is very much like the UFOs discussed in Hall’s article, and like Suzanne Erenberger’s it’s equipped with a dome (though much smaller than hers in relation to the disk).
The trigger for the Philadelphia sighting seems to have been, as in the Erenberger-Vardeman case, an airplane. (The red and green lights observed on opposite sides of it are the tipoff.) It’s easy to see where the young mechanic’s distortion of the stimulus came from: his personal dilemma, projected into the sky. But what about the other three? What was their “UFO”?
I’d hazard the answer: one of Hall’s “scout craft.” Not, of course, an alien flying machine of the type that Hall thought he’d isolated. The close parallels between Hall’s cases and Suzanne’s disk, which had no existence in the physical world, practically guarantee a psychological origin for them all.
Something even more exciting, however: a psychic entity latent within the human unconscious, capable of emerging in response to certain triggers, and marked by a set of more or less consistent traits. These usually, though not quite invariably, include two human-like shapes dimly visible within a transparent vessel.
These things are “seen” (in scare quotes), then honestly remembered, by sane, sincere witnesses for whom “this thing is real. We know what we saw.”
They don’t, though. Neither do we. Yet.
by David Halperin
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