Short post this time, and a fairly hasty one. (It’s been a heavy week for me.) But the story of Balmiston X-Ray O’Rune merits at least a footnote in our inquiry into the theme of mysterious green entities–“little men,” children, giants, saints–sometimes flying UFOs, sometimes not.
Of course the story is a joke, and a pretty dumb one at that. But jokes have been known to carry serious lessons.
I came upon the story while reading the article “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and Ufology” in volume 1 of Jerome Clark’s wonderful UFO Encyclopedia, which I’m currently reading straight through from A to Z. (“Abduction Phenomenon” to “Zeidman, Jennie.”) Here Clark is writing about the earliest days of “flying saucer” reports in the American press, right after the Kenneth Arnold sighting that started it all (June 24, 1947):
“July 7 and 8 were the breakout days for extraterrestrial hypothesizing in press accounts. … July 8 also saw the publication of a humorous piece by AP’s Hal Boyle. Like comparable items printed during the 1897 airship scare, this purported to be from a manuscript found in an empty beer bottle and ‘apparently … fallen from a great height.’ Boyle claimed to be writing from ‘a 1947 model “Flying Saucer” from another planet,’ after being abducted by an eight-foot-tall naked green spaceman, ‘Blamiston [sic] X-Ray O’Rune from Mars’ … Though as comedy Boyle’s piece amounted to little more than a feeble wheeze, it demonstrates that extraterrestrial hypotheses were by now sufficiently visible to merit lampooning.”
I sent this to Martin Kottmeyer, asking if he’d seen it. Of course he had. If there’s anything of UFOlogical relevance that Martin Kottmeyer hasn’t seen, I don’t know what it is.
He was kind enough to send me the full text of Boyle’s two-part jape, which appeared in newspapers all around the country on July 8 and 9, 1947. (Like the Amsterdam, NY, Evening Recorder, which printed the second installment next to a photo of the Roswell debris.) Jerry Clark’s description of it as “a feeble wheeze” is right on target.
In the first installment the Martian, encountered on a bar stool, is described as “a thing some eight feet tall, covered with thick green hair, with one eye like a hard-boiled egg in the centre of his forehead, and no visible mouth at all. He was naked, his hands were three-clawed and big enough for a Brooklyn centerfielder.” (Yuk.) He introduces himself as “Balmiston, X-ray O’Rune from Mars”; later he’ll be called simply “Balmy.” (Yuk.) He abducts the narrator, under the misapprehension that he’s Orson Welles, and tells him with a leer that “You’re on the way to a place where there are more Martians than there were in New Jersey.” To which the narrator retorts: “I’m not Orson Welles. … I’m his cousin, Artesian Welles.” (Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.)
But seriously, folks … we learn from this how much the Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast of 1938 was on people’s minds nine years later, as they puzzled over the strange new things in the skies. And perhaps there was a bit of anxiety underneath the laughter.
Of course, the Martians who invaded New Jersey in the Welles broadcast weren’t hairy green giants, grotesque but basically humanoid. They were more like octopuses, as in the H.G. Wells novel on which the broadcast was based. Boyle’s transformation of the Martian tells us a few more things of relevance to our inquiry:
First, that from the very dawn of the UFO era, green seemed an appropriate color for a flying saucer alien.
Second, that the alien could be expected to deviate from normal human size, but in the opposite direction from the deviation we’re familiar with. (“Little green men.”) Recall what I said in my post on the Jolly Green Giant: “The giant and the miniature share common ground, in that both are violations of normal human size. The same unconscious thoughts, desires, and fears may be expressed by both.”
Third–and this is particularly interesting in connection with Martin Kottmeyer’s speculations about the role of the Kelly-Hopkinsville episode of 1955 in birthing the cliche of the “little green men”–that the alien might be expected to have an Irish-sounding name.
That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week, with an update on the “green children” of medieval England.
by David Halperin
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