There’s no mystery about what happened in Glassboro, New Jersey, in the fall of 1964. Or at least I didn’t think there was a mystery when I posted about it two and a half years ago, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the (non-)event.
On or about Friday, September 4, a Glassboro State College student named Michael Hallowich, with help from one or two friends, dug four holes in a sandy clearing in a wooded area just outside of town. They dug a large central hole, and, in a very rough triangle around it, three smaller ones. They broke three branches of a small sassafras tree beside the holes, to give the impression of a heavy object landing in the spot. They set a fire in the central hole, scorching some of the sassafras leaves, and sprinkled radium dioxide to make it seem radioactive. They flattened oak leaves at the bottoms of the smaller holes so they’d seem to have been pressed into the ground by tripod legs.
The next day they found two small boys, brothers, fishing in a lake near the woods. Excitedly they told the boys how they’d seen a luminous red object land in the woods the evening before, how they’d come back and found traces of it. And led the boys to the holes. And made their exit.
The boys told their father, who told the police, who told the newspapers–which gobbled it up. Stories of the Glassboro crater filled the papers of New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, Camden, and as far away as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. It made the September 10 morning news broadcast on WOR Radio in New York City. By the end of the first week after the discovery of the holes, some 4000 people had made their pilgrimage to the UFO landing site.
I was in Glassboro “investigating” on Saturday, September 12: talking with the police, with the two boys’ father, with a wonderful Glassboro family who found me getting soaked in the pouring rain at the site and took me home to dry out and have dinner with them. I’ve described my Glassboro adventure in my 50th anniversary blog post. I’ve also described my shock and disbelief when, in January 1965, the newspapers carried photos of Michael Hallowich in police custody. He’d tried to sell his story under an assumed name and gotten caught. And confessed all.
That was the end of the “Glassboro landing,” except in the nostalgic recollections of one 16-year-old UFOlogist who might be the only person in the world who remembered it. Or so I thought.
Because, after I put up my post, I was contacted by a lady who remembered well what had happened in Glassboro. She posted her response to my blog, although her comment seems to have been lost in a recent update of my website. She emailed me, too, with an amazing story.
On the morning of Saturday, September 5–the day after the UFO was supposed to have landed, which happened to be her 14th birthday–she awoke to discover that the Air Force was in Glassboro in full force. They’d knocked on her door and spoken with her father: the street was closed, no traffic allowed in or out. It was a long time before her family was permitted even to pull their cars out of the driveway.
All of which illustrated how very seriously they took that UFO.
The woman’s sincerity was obvious. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” she said, and you usually have a pretty good memory for significant days like your birthday. Yet I couldn’t possibly believe her. I was in Glassboro only one week after the supposed Air Force clampdown; no one–not the police, not the boys’ father, not the gracious family who’d taken a bedraggled young UFOlogist under their wing–breathed a word to me of any such thing. I stayed in touch with the boys’ father for months afterward, scheming with him (after Hallowich’s confession) how we might unmask Hallowich as a liar and show that it really was a UFO that landed after all. If the Air Force had given the UFO so powerful an endorsement, he surely would have said something about it.
Not a whisper.
I wrote to the lady telling her this. I assured her that I trusted her honesty; I confessed myself baffled. She responded that not only she but others as well remembered the Air Force being in Glassboro early that morning, shutting down the street. (They came to her house twice, in uniform, she now recalled.)
So there really was a Glassboro mystery, not of the UFO itself but of the memories associated with it. It was only a few weeks ago that it came to me what must have happened.
From Friday, June 23 through Sunday, June 25, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin held a summit conference on the campus of Glassboro State College. The town was transformed that weekend, with almost no prior notice. “On June 22,” one man remembered, “we were eating ice cream and watching news around 6:45 p.m., when it was announced that President Johnson and Premier Kosygin were going to hold a Summit meeting in Glassboro.” The college president had all of 16 hours’ notice to get his campus ready to host the historic event.
The next day, “television and communication trucks, newspaper reporters, Secret Service agents and all types of police were going throughout Glassboro. A man representing a Toronto newspaper interviewed my mother and our neighbor, Mrs. Straga. … No one was allowed to stay on campus while the two leaders were there.”
People who were there describe an atmosphere of joyful excitement, mixed with thrill and amazement that their little town had suddenly become the focus of national and international news. Yet security must have been very tight. One man speaks of having seen “State Troopers with rifles on top of the dorms” at Glassboro State. One end of the street where the lady who emailed me had lived was hardly more than 500 feet from the edge of the campus. Is it any wonder her street would have been closed? Her family’s car prevented from leaving the driveway?
The conclusion seems inescapable: the lady’s memories of the Glassboro summit of 1967 had become telescoped with her memories of the Glassboro “UFO landing” of 1964. And–this is what is really remarkable–in the retrospect of 50 years it was Michael Hallowich’s hoax, and not the meeting of two long-dead politicians from a long-vanished world, that seemed the more important event. The one that drew the memories to itself.
So what has this got to do with Roswell?
In 1997, the Air Force published a volume called The Roswell Report: Case Closed, a sequel to the 1994 “Roswell Report” that first floated the identification of the Roswell debris as the remains of a Project Mogul balloon train. The author was Captain James McAndrew. Of course McAndrew’s aim was to debunk the “Roswell UFO crash” once and for all. But amid the debunkery it’s possible to find an interesting positive argument, which in the light of Glassboro needs to be taken very seriously.
McAndrew noticed that stories of the finding of alien bodies, fantastic as they seemed, sometimes managed to incorporate authentic-sounding details of Air Force retrieval techniques. Was it possible, he wondered, that these stories were not total fabrications, but distorted recollections of events that actually had taken place–years after the Roswell incident, perhaps, but telescoped with it in the witnesses’ memories?
Throughout the 1950s, McAndrew found, the military had conducted experiments in New Mexico with human-like dummies dropped from high-altitude balloons. Upon landing, these dummies had to be recovered; otherwise the data gathered by the experiment would be lost. Had some of the witnesses who’ve become part of the Roswell narrative actually witnessed such recovery operations? That might explain, McAndrew thought, why the aliens were sometimes described as “either bodies or dummies” (James Ragsdale) or looking like “plastic dolls” (Gerald Anderson). Why should anyone have thought of using words like “dummies” and “plastic,” unless expressing an underlying awareness of having seen “bodies” that really were dummies made of plastic?
The implication, although McAndrew wasn’t eager to emphasize this, was that people like Anderson and Ragsdale weren’t liars pure and simple. They did see something out of the ordinary, which–since anthropomorphic dummies didn’t start to be used until 1950–they must have projected backward into Roswell ’47.
McAndrew also took seriously the story told by mortician Glenn Dennis, of having been in the base hospital at Roswell Army Air Field when the bodies of the dead aliens were being dissected. He unearthed records of a horrendous accident that took place on June 26, 1956, when a “KC-97G aircraft with 11 crewmen on board … was quickly engulfed in flames, spun out of control, and was completely destroyed.” All were killed; their bodies were taken for identification to the hospital at Walker Air Force Base, as Roswell Army Air Field had been renamed. Three of the corpses were autopsied the next day at the Ballard Funeral Home in Roswell.
Ballard Funeral Home was where Glenn Dennis worked.
This dreadful incident–which Dennis had to have at least known about, and in which it’s likely he was intimately involved–has some curious parallels with his alien-autopsy story. McAndrew pointed these out, and although he overstated his case it’s hard to avoid the impression that he was on to something. I posted almost exactly a year ago about the “Aldeburgh platform mystery” of World War I, when a sighting of a flying round platform with 8-12 men standing at its rail may have functioned as a “screen memory” for a horrific episode in which a German Zeppelin exploded in a fireball, burning 16 of its crew to death. Might something similar have been operating here?
Might unbearable memories of charred and mutilated corpses have been relieved, for Glenn Dennis, by transforming the bodies from healthy young airmen into extraterrestrials–alien, inhuman, from whose death-agony Dennis could more easily distance himself?
The Roswell Report: Case Closed has not been well received, either by UFOlogists or their opponents. It’s difficult to read McAndrew’s sneers at “UFO theorists” without one’s gorge rising, although we who’ve spent the past 70 years bombarding the Air Force with frivolous and baseless accusations (from McAndrew’s perspective) are in no position to complain about his bad manners. The fairest appraisal, in my opinion, was provided by the late Karl Pflock in his 2001 book Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe:
“Unfortunately, McAndrew’s solidly documented and sourced report was the subject of misinformed ridicule and neglect from the day of its release. … The anthropomorphic dummies were ready-made for laughs and cheap shots. So, too, was the notion of flawed memories blending events widely separated in time, even though it is well-known that the vagaries of human memory frequently result in such misassociations. …
“I have carefully read Case Closed and independently looked into many of the claims its author makes. There is no question that McAndrew’s findings are flawed, largely because all too often he tries to stretch his data to make it explain more than it can. However, on key issue after key issue, his evidence and analysis are compellingly persuasive, in no respect more so than with Glenn Dennis’s account.”
What happened at Glassboro, in the memories of the people who were there and lived through it, lends powerful support to McAndrew’s reconstruction of what happened at Roswell. That’s why the two need to be discussed together.
by David Halperin
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