“The three of us stood silent, almost motionless, and very much in awe as we realized that the ‘thing’ was headed our way and was coming surprisingly near us! There were some leafless trees in the yard that partially obstructed our view for a moment. Then–IMPACT!!!–the impact referring to [sic] is the impact on my emotions, for with breathtaking suddenness, the ‘thing’ was nearly overhead and seemed to be quite large and close!”
Thus did a Tennessee lady named Marie describe what she, her husband, and the mayor of their town saw in the sky on the evening of Sunday, March 3, 1968. She reported the details to the US Air Force. UFO debunker Donald Menzel, who by then had become a welcome guest of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, found her account in the Blue Book files among more than 400 pages of reports of essentially the same mysterious glowing cigar-shaped object from at least seven states.
Of course for Menzel the object was no mystery. Which was why he devoted several pages to the sighting in the third of his anti-UFO books, The UFO Enigma: The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon–published 1976, the year Menzel died.
This book, co-authored with a disillusioned ex-parapsychologist named Ernest Taves, is unimpressive to put it very mildly. It almost certainly owes its existence to the mid-1970s panic within the scientific community about how astrology and kindred “irrationalisms”–like UFOs, like ESP–were a tide of black mud about to overwhelm Western civilization and flood the august Temple of Science. (Taves’ main qualification for the project seems to have been his willingness to dump on his former mentors in psychical research.) Yet it does have its points of interest, and its extensive quotations of what Americans thought they saw in the sky when the unmanned Soviet space probe Zond IV re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, culled from Menzel’s favorite resource the “Air Force files,” are the most interesting of all.
Zond IV was one of the Soviet Union’s less successful experiments in space exploration. It was supposed to go into orbit around the earth. Instead, less than 24 hours after its launch, it slipped back into the atmosphere and broke into fragments, streaking impressively across the nighttime sky of the central and eastern US.
“It was shaped like a fat cigar, in my estimation,” said Marie. “It appeared to have square-shaped windows along the side that was facing us. I remember the urge to count the windows …” Another witness, in Indiana, wrote: “The object flew at about tree-top level and was seen very clearly since it was just a few yards away. … All the observers observed many windows in the UFO. My cousin said, ‘If there had been anybody in the UFO near the windows, I would have seen them.'”
All this was music to Menzel’s ears, since the Zond IV fragments–and it’s really, really hard to deny that these must have been what were seen as one or multiple UFOs–didn’t have any windows and were at least 75 miles away. His point was that what people think they see isn’t necessarily what’s in front of their eyeballs.
This is, Menzel wrote smugly, “another sighting the ufologists would like to forget”; and who can blame us for that? But maybe we shouldn’t forget it. Maybe we should explore it. Maybe we should see if it has more to teach us than the uncertainties of human visual perception.
It’s a shame Marie didn’t spell out that “IMPACT!!!” that the UFO–for as far as she was concerned it was a UFO–had on her emotions. But another witness named Elizabeth, described as “a Ph.D. from Ohio and a teacher of general science,” gave fuller details of her reactions. In the words of Menzel and Taves …
“Elizabeth made sketches of the object, which she viewed through field glasses as well as with the naked eye. At first it appeared to her like a meteor or comet. She concluded, however, that it could not have been a ‘falling star’ because of its peculiar behavior and the colors. The object slowed down as it approached the horizon, then suddenly became three objects. The colors ‘ranged orange-white-red-orange, similar to the color of the sun.’ The objects flew in perfect military formation …
“Elizabeth flashed S O S in Morse code four times with a flashlight. There was no visible response. No noise was audible to the human ear. However her dog, a Boston terrier bitch, aged one year five months, who hated the cold, crawled between two trash cans beside the garage and whimpered, lying on the drive between the cans as though she were frightened to death.”
And now the authors give a long quotation from Elizabeth’s report:
“After I came into the house I had an overpowering drive to sleep and since I was expecting a phone call at 10:20-10:25 I had to force myself to stay awake. I opened the windows wide in hopes the cold room would help, but even then I dropped off several times. This is extremely unusual behavior for me. I had slept ten hours the night before and had an hour’s nap in the afternoon. I had been outside in the cold and should have been wide awake. I felt physically depleted and just had to sleep. This gradually wore off until by 11:00 p.m. [I] was wide awake again. My friend recalled that this had happened to me in 1966 when I saw a UFO then. I had forgotten until she remarked that it had happened to me previously. I did not know others had seen this until I heard about it on the news.”
A strange fatigue! And whatever may have happened to Elizabeth two years earlier–why did she forget it?–there’s no way that the physical proximity of an alien entity can have been the cause of her 1968 experience. There wasn’t any alien entity.
Unless, of course, it came from inside her.
Something about the appearance of the flaming remnants of Zond IV must have triggered something within Elizabeth that made her overwhelmingly sleepy. (And what dreams would she have had–or did she have?)
What that “something” was I don’t know. I wish I knew. Is it somehow connected with her impulse to signal the mysterious visitor for help, for rescue? (Like John Lennon in August 1974, crying out “Wait for me, wait for me!” to a passing UFO.) I don’t know that either.
And the dog …
The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.
Peculiar responses to UFOs by animals, particularly dogs, are a staple of UFO lore. In his 1956 They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, Gray Barker tells a spooky story about a woman home alone late at night with her sick daughter. She hears a weird musical note. Her back yard is lit up like daylight. And “her dog, usually a quiet animal, now was growling with bared fangs … she started to go outside to look into the matter but was stopped by the dog, backed up against the door, snarling. She reached for the doorknob, and the dog barked fiercely and crouched as if he would leap at her.”
Folklore. Dogs can hear things we can’t; surely they and other animals can see things we can’t, like Balaam’s donkey in the Book of Numbers. But animals’ fear plays a role in specific UFO incidents as well. Barney Hill remembered their dachshund, Delsey, as having been “under the seat … in a tight ball” during his 1961 UFO encounter; Betty remembered her as “trembling badly.” (Tellingly, the dog’s reaction is played up considerably in the dramatization of the Hill abduction in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and she’s represented in good folkloric fashion as being aware of the uncanny presence before the humans are.) David Clarke records a 1967 incident in which a huge translucent cross appears in the sky, while the witness’s Alsatian “appeared distraught, clawing at him for attention.”
And now Elizabeth’s dog is said to have “whimpered … as though she were frightened to death.” At the strange sight in the sky? Or at the vastly stranger transformation she sensed, with her unerring canine intuition for her masters’ moods, in Elizabeth?
The latter seems to me far more probable, and I’ve made a parallel suggestion about the 1967 flying-cross case described by Clarke. But once again, I don’t know. Once again, I wish I did. And I wish I knew: do those 400+ pages of Zond IV reports examined by Menzel still exist? Or were they destroyed at the end of 1969, when the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book?
If they’re gone–what treasures are gone with them?
by David Halperin
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