When I was in fourth grade, back in the 1950s, I was editor of a class newspaper. It was called “Cinderella News.”
If this sounds like an odd title for a newspaper, that’s because you didn’t go to the Walt Disney Elementary School in Levittown, Pennsylvania. All of our classrooms were named after Walt Disney characters–or fairy-tale and historical characters transformed by Disney to give them kid appeal. All us boys couldn’t wait to be in fifth grade, so we could be in the Davy Crockett Room. But fourth grade was in the Cinderella Room, and we had to make do with that.
A total of four issues of “Cinderella News” appeared, run off on the school’s ditto machine. (Remember those old ditto machines, with their beautiful purple printing and the way the pages smelled when the print was still wet?) 60 years later, I still have the final issue. The front-page news story was written by me, about a visit with my father to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Sample prose: “It was very interesting. … We felt tired so we went to the cafeteria to rest. We saw some funny pictures on the walls.”
I found myself thinking of “Cinderella News” a couple of weeks ago, while pondering a one-page article on the Westall UFO that appeared in the “Term One Edition” of “The Clayton Calendar,” a newsletter “produced by pupils of Grade 6C-5C, S. S. [State School] 4747, Brown’s Rd., Clayton”–Clayton being the Melbourne suburb where Westall High School was also located.
The article was headlined: SCOOP! FLYING SAUCER OVER WESTALL, and, as you can see, was featured on the “Calendar’s” cover (where it’s called “Special .. EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT OF A FLYING SAUCER.”)
You can read the article in its original form at the “Westall High School 1966 UFO incident” Yahoo group or a copy of it in Keith Basterfield’s collection of sources on Westall on the “Project 1947” website, where it’s Source 10. A note at the bottom of the page says that “The author wishes to remain anonymous. I taught him some years ago and found him intelligent and well-balanced, and certainly not given to making irresponsible statements. A.G.W.”
The initials refer to Adrian G. Waugh, who served as faculty advisor to the “Calendar.”
Shane Ryan has kindly provided me with further details about this boy. His name was Geoffrey; “he had been a student the previous year at Browns Road State School (later Clayton Primary School) one of the feeder primary schools for Westall High School. His former Grade Six teacher knew him as a good student, good with words (hence the expressions in the article you mentioned) and trusted him, and so asked him to pen an article, probably via his sister, Karen, who was still at Browns Road and who was an editor for this class magazine.” He appears, 40 years later, in a photo taken by UFOlogist Bill Chalker at the “2006 Westall ’66 reunion.”
There isn’t the slightest reason to doubt that Geoffrey’s article was written shortly after the Westall UFO incident on April 6, 1966. “Term One” in the Australian school calendar runs from late January or early February–the late summer of the southern hemisphere–to late March or early April, often ending just before Easter. In 1966, according to Shane, Term One ended the day after the UFO incident, which was also the day before Good Friday. There’s no possibility at all that Term One of a later year was intended. The cover and the article, according to Keith Basterfield, were reproduced in the July 1966 issue of the Australian Flying Saucer Review. Anyway, the story makes no sense unless it’s supposed to be breaking news.
Which is very, very inconvenient for me.
Because I really want to maintain a distinction between the contemporary or near-contemporary sources on Westall–first and foremost, what science teacher Andrew Greenwood told the visiting American physicist James McDonald in June 1967–vs. what the “tweens” of 1966 remembered 40 years later as middle-aged adults. I want the contemporary sources to describe an unobtrusive object in the sky (“airborne at all times,” according to Greenwood), vs. the dramatic close-encounter-of-the-second-kind amid the pine trees of the Grange, just south of the school, that these kids later remembered. I’m willing to believe that, yes, a few students went “over the fence” into the Grange, the direction in which they’d seen the UFO. (The end-of-term vacation was about to start; they must have been eager to grab their freedom a little bit early.) But the mass pandemonium they thought they remembered four decades later–no way.
And here I have to swallow a written document from 1966 that speaks of “a dazzling, silvery object” which “hovered over the pines and descended behind them,” vanishing amid the pines. That declares: “Suddenly the school came alive with excitement and everybody began running down towards where the girls were. I was among the surging mob.”
So if memories became distorted, they had to have become distorted pretty quickly. They didn’t have 40 years to evolve at leisure.
Not impossible. I blogged several months ago on a case from the files of Kevin Randle, published in the Spring 2001 issue of the International UFO Reporter, in which 10 days were sufficient to turn the landing lights of a distant airplane (in the memory of one witness) into a 30-foot disk with a huge glass dome, seen up close, with “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.” Could something of the sort have happened at Westall?
And I need to add: there’s something not quite right about that “Clayton Calendar” article.
First of all, if Shane is right that Geoffrey “had been a student the previous year at Browns Road State School,” he couldn’t have been more than 11 or at most 12 years old. This is in some tension with Waugh’s “I taught him some years ago”; but even grant that Shane is wrong and Geoffrey had moved on to Westall a few years previously, that would make him 15 or 16 at most. “Suddenly the school came alive with excitement … I was among the surging mob”–does that sound like an 11-year-old’s writing? (Even one “good with words,” as Shane says.)
Even for a 15-year-old, that would strain my credulity. And if you think I’m cherry-picking a particularly sophisticated passage, go read the article. I think you’ll agree the voice is an adult’s from beginning to end.
Second, what was the story doing in “The Clayton Calendar”? Why was it featured, with skilled artwork by a person unknown, on the front cover?
I was editor of “Cinderella News” when I was in fourth grade. From seventh through ninth grades I wrote for our junior high newspaper “The Roosevelt Press”–our school was named after FDR–and afterward for our high school literary magazine “Fama.” All of these publications were devoted exclusively to the work of current students. Where school matters were discussed, it was always the current school. I can’t remember that we ever ran anything in “The Roosevelt Press” that talked about doings at Delhaas High, even though Delhaas was right across the street from us and we knew we were all going there for tenth grade.
So what moved Adrian Waugh to solicit Geoffrey’s article, and indeed to spotlight it? And, if I’m right about the adult voice, either to compose it or to edit it so drastically that hardly a trace of its original authorship remained?
My conjecture: to hold Westall headmaster Frank Samblebe up to ridicule.
To show up Samblebe, for all his pretensions of maintaining stern and effective discipline, as an incompetent ass.
That’s the only way I can understand the caption on “The Clayton Calendar’s” cover. “As I was saying children, flying saucers do not exist.” The speaker is plainly Samblebe, who called a special assembly on the afternoon of the incident to announce that there are no UFOs, the students had seen a weather balloon. Thus he pontificates, buffoon that he is, even as three obviously real and tangible disks fly low over the pines a few hundred yards away.
“Some people [gee, I wonder who?] say it was a weather balloon,” the “Calendar” story concludes, “but do weather balloons go up and down quickly, crush grass and fly across the skies faster than reasonably speedy aircraft?”
The film “Westall ’66” depicts the now deceased Samblebe as a rigid martinet, his hero the fabled Roman soldier at Pompeii who refused to leave his post even as Vesuvius erupted. (As if spear and helmet might be of use against volcanic ash.) A man like that must have made plentiful enemies. I suspect Waugh was one of those enemies, or a friend of one of those enemies. (Andrew Greenwood, maybe?) If he’d followed the UFO news from America, he could have read only a few weeks earlier how J. Allen Hynek, the US Air Force’s scientific consultant, had been mocked without mercy for his “swamp gas” explanation of the mysterious lights at Hillsdale College, Michigan. And now Samblebe …
Samblebe the great disciplinarian, who couldn’t keep his students from turning into a “surging mob” when something unusual appeared in the sky.
It’s evident from the cover that the “Calendar,” though nominally produced by fifth- and sixth-graders, was intended for adults (“We hope you enjoy reading the Clayton Calendar. Inside you will find many interesting articles”), its contents at least partly adult-generated. I’m thinking of the “Cryptic Crossword For Parents”; but also the cover art, with its precise detail and sophisticated use of perspective, doesn’t look like anything a fifth- or sixth-grader might have created.
However much or little Waugh may have contributed to the content of the UFO article, its agenda surely was his. And it’s no mystery to me why he “apparently got into trouble for helping the Grade 5/6 students to publish this article.” Using a student publication to pursue a faculty vendetta is just not nice.
I don’t know whether Adrian Waugh is still living, so I might ask him how much of what I’ve just said he’s willing to confirm. If he were to deny it–would I believe him?
Would I believe Geoffrey, who’s certainly alive, if he were to reassure me the article was indeed his, that all Waugh did was solicit it and then see it through to publication? (“I have stayed in touch with Geoffrey,” Shane Ryan writes in a comment on my blog, “and he stands by what he saw and what he wrote; he doesn’t know what it was, but he does know what he saw…and it remains a mystery to him.”)
Geoffrey–forgive me, if you’re reading this, but I don’t think I will believe you.
I know I owe you my trust, as the decency of one human being to another. But my doubts are real and won’t be wished away. Yes, I believe you saw something; yes, I believe the article rests on your experience; yes, I believe you were and are totally sincere and honest. But I can’t shake the sense that your memories may have blurred.
I believe that when “The Clayton Calendar” appeared, your story had already begun to shift away from the literal fact of what happened on April 6, 1966, probably under Waugh’s influence but not entirely due to his influence. Something else is pushing through your recollections, something that I can only call “mythical” but not using “myth” in its common sense of “bunk” or “falsehood” but in its Jungian sense of something emerging from our shared unconscious, a collective dream which like all dreams comes bringing the truth of who and what we are.
And no, bottom line, I don’t believe that you know what you saw.
Which is a really awful thing to say to anybody, and I wish I didn’t have to say it to you. Or to the other Westall witnesses.
But I do.
by David Halperin
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