A little boy goes into a psychologist’s office. The psychologist gives him an inkblot test, telling him “These are some pictures I’ve drawn. What do you see in them?”
What the little boy sees is sex. Sexual organs. Couples engaged in sex acts. In picture after picture.
After the fifth or sixth picture, the psychologist bursts out: “Young man, you’ve got a problem!”
“Why me?” the boy demands. “You’re the one who’s drawing all these dirty pictures!”
— Joke from my junior high school (as middle school used to be called)
So is it me? Or the picture?
To the right you’ll see a witness sketch of a UFO, observed over Philadelphia in January of 1974. What that UFO looks like to me … Do you see it too? (But to be fair, I’ve already suggested to you the direction my thoughts are going. You can’t be unbiased now.)
Is it my own dirty mind that’s putting it there? (Sorry, sexy mind; such things aren’t dirty anymore, as they were back in junior high.) Or is it really in the drawing, a clue to what that UFO really was?
By which I mean, what it meant to the man who saw it.
I’ll give you the facts–as old E.J. Ruppelt said in his classic Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. You decide.
For these facts, I depend on an article by Matthew Graeber entitled, “The Cat and Mice Game,” in the November-December 2009 issue (Vol. 1, no. 4) of the journal SUNlite. I’ll summarize Graeber’s piece and give some quotations from it. But I’d encourage you to consult the article itself, available on the Web. (Go to http://home.comcast.net/~tprinty/UFO/SUNlite1_4.pdf and scroll down to page 20.)
The date: night of January 15, 1974. The location: a field on the grounds of the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. This psychiatric hospital, with its grisly history of patient abuse and neglect, no longer exists. It was closed in 1990, demolished in 2006 (Wikipedia). At the beginning of the 60s, the name of the place was proverbial to those of us who grew up in its vicinity. “Aaaah, they oughta send you to Byberry!” we used to taunt each other on the school bus. Does the sighting’s taking place near Byberry have some significance? (And I don’t mean the significance it would have in some predictable, stupid joke about “loonies” seeing UFOs.)
The initial observer was a 23-year-old auto mechanic who wouldn’t allow his name to be used. Graeber calls him “Tim.” Later Tim was joined by his 22-year-old wife “Sarah” and her parents, whom he’d called from a pay phone. While the sighting was going on he also phoned Graeber, who set forth into the wintry night and futilely circled the area in his car, looking for Tim and his in-laws. Graeber was in the right place, he later discovered. But he never saw the witnesses, and never saw the UFO.
The UFO was a low-flying object, carrying lights though apparently not itself luminous. It flew slowly, noiselessly, at times hovering in the air. Sometimes it seemed close enough to touch the branches of the trees. Tim told Graeber’s wife, over the phone, that “the UFO was actually approaching his family as they were parked, and when he would turn his auto’s headlights on, the object would retreat back into the darkness. There were also times when the UFO would playfully blink back at the auto’s headlights as if in response.” As if it had some special connection with Tim and his in-laws; as if it were a part of them that had appeared to them in the sky.
Wait a minute! I can hear you saying. There wasn’t any UFO! This was obviously a nasty prank at Graeber’s expense (you say), to send him on a wild-goose chase into the frigid, snowy night. In his article, Graeber offers cogent reasons for thinking this isn’t so. Whatever was or wasn’t flying around the skies over Byberry, it certainly seems that Tim and Sarah and her parents–all of whom Graeber was able to interview the next day–were honestly convinced they’d seen something they weren’t able to explain.
The four witnesses sketched for Graeber what they’d seen. And here comes the really strange part. Tim’s drawing was so different from the others’ as to seem like he’d seen an entirely different object.
The illustration on p. 23 of Graeber’s article is based on their sketches. “Tim’s UFO was a cylindrical object while his wife and her parents were certain it was 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. (In other words, a pretty conventional flying saucer.) “To compound the discrepancy, their UFOs lighting placement and coloring didn’t match Tim’s UFO either. Additionally, Sarah and her parents were positive the UFO had a revolving rim, while Tim’s UFO hadn’t such a pronounced feature.
“When I brought this discrepancy to the attention of the group they seemed to be genuinely surprised and dismayed about the whole thing. Tim simply couldn’t believe they thought the UFO looked as they had sketched it. While Stan shook his head in disbelief at what his son-in-law thought the object looked like.
“I had never encountered such a vast difference in a simultaneously observed multi-witnessed event. It seemed to me that if the incident were a hoax, the hoaxers probably would have been able to tell the same story about what the object supposedly looked like. One would think that would be one of the first things they would discuss and agree upon. Yet, here it was in black and white, three of four observers sketching a double-convex disk with a dome and revolving rim, and the fourth witness saying it was a cylindrical craft. Yet, all had observed the same UFO at relatively close range (50 yards being the closest estimate) with the aid of two automobile’s high-beam headlights.”
As Graeber interviews the family, he gradually gets to know them better. It comes out that Sarah is pregnant. It comes out that she and Tim live with her parents. It comes out that she and Tim aren’t exactly married.
Think back to the mid-70s, if you’re old enough to remember them. Among wide and growing segments of our population, it was accepted as natural and appropriate for unmarried couples to sleep together, live together. (A big change from ten years earlier; the sexual revolution came in between.) Unlike today, it wasn’t accepted for unmarried couples to have children. You made sure to use birth control. When that failed, there were big decisions to be made. Fast. Under pressure.
Now think of Tim and Sarah. Contraception has failed them. It’s no great leap to imagine that this failure has pitted Tim on the one side, against Sarah and her parents on the other, over what Tim ought to do about it. In the sky, Tim sees a mirror of his own life crisis.
Look at his drawing; ignore the labels; tell me what you see.
What I see is a penis detumescing, shooting out sperm, sheathed in a condom that’s ruptured precisely where it needs to stay intact. This is Tim’s UFO. Sarah and her parents, mirroring their (assumed) three-against-one conflict, agree it was something entirely different.
So what did these people see in the sky? (And why didn’t Graeber, driving around the same area, see anything like it?) More important–by what psychic mechanism did the mundane, agonizing, grinding tension of an unwanted pregnancy come to be translated into celestial vision, seen by four people at the same time though not in the same way?
And why at Byberry? Does this reflect Tim’s perception that his life had turned insane? That the home he had to share with his girlfriend’s parents, and the painful conflict that could never be quite escaped, was a kind of madhouse? I can’t answer these questions. But if you’ll grant that I’m seeing in Tim’s drawing what’s really there, and that it’s an uncanny reflection of his real-life situation, then we have no choice but to ask them.
“Generally speaking,” Graeber writes, “UFO witnesses would be cooperative with our investigators … but, when the subject of psychology came up many terminated their participation. I think they felt their personal life was not part of a random encounter with a UFO, and to imply it might have been was often felt to be an insult of some kind.”
Or, they knew unconsciously that the encounter wasn’t “random.” That a psychological inquiry would turn up something they preferred not to face.
At first, Graeber says, Sarah and Tim agreed to answer his psychological questions. But then Tim changed his mind. This about-face, and his insistence on strict anonymity, suggest there was something about the sighting Tim was deeply ashamed of–that he, and perhaps his in-laws too, wanted to communicate yet keep hidden.
Conveying yet concealing … that’s the function of the UFO.
Graeber writes: “I have taken the position the UFO experience is the observer’s encounter with the unknown [a reciprocal encounter–recall how the UFO responded to the witnesses–DJH]–and it really doesn’t matter what the researchers (Pro or Con) think of the experience–it’s much more a matter of how that sudden, shocking and unsuspected encounter was perceived by the witnesses– How it may have affected them on both conscious and subconscious levels of their being (e.g., how the experience impacted their model of the real world and their place within it).”
And the other way around.
by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/davidjhalperin
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JournalofaUFOInvestigator
and Find David Halperin on Google+