Monday, July 27, 2015

Conversations and the Search for Bridey Murphy

(Blogger’s Note: This is a short segment from my book, Conversations. I’m reprinting it here because it struck me that the attack on the Bridey Murphy story resembled some of the attacks on UFO reports. As you read this, you’ll see that those opposed to the idea that Ruth Simmons was the reincarnation of Murphy. What I mean is that some of the opponents of the idea, who believed they know the ultimate “truth” resorted to inventing evidence to prove that Simmons was engaged in some sort of hoax. While it is absolutely true that the evidence to support the idea that Simmons was reincarnated, it is also true that much of the evidence brought to bear was fabricated, misrepresented, and quite misleading. Any yes, I know the techniques used have been shown to be flawed, but the tale is interesting nonetheless, especially in the way that the media reported it. They all assumed that the first article had been properly researched, quoted from it without verifying the information, and then forgot about it. This is the real point here. Sometimes the media has its own agenda and sticks to its narrative with little regard to the facts. I’m sure that we all can think of examples of that without too much trouble. And yes, all of this and much more is covered in Conversations.)

The Search for Bridey Murphy

The idea of reincarnation splashed across headlines in this country in a big way in the mid-1950s when Morey Bernstein published, The Search for Bridey Murphy. Murphy, according to Bernstein, was a woman who had lived in the mid to early nineteenth century in Ireland and who had died in 1864. Bernstein had met Murphy long after she died, while preforming a hypnotic regression experiment on a woman he called Ruth Simmons (her real name has been printed since then, but I see no point in using it here so I will use the name created by Bernstein) who lived at that time in Colorado.
Bernstein had met Simmons earlier at a party and hypnotized her, realizing that she was a good subject, slipping into a hypnotic state quickly and easily. Later, as he learned about reincarnation, first from an acquaintance, and then from the teachings of Edgar Cayce and the Association for Research and Enlightenment, he decided to try to hypnotically find "memories before birth." His first task was to find a proper subject for his experiment, one who could be placed in a deep trance so that she would not consciously remember what had happened under the influence of hypnosis. He had a subject in mind, one who fit the bill as a good subject, but he had left for the Navy before the experiment could be conducted. Bernstein finally remembered Simmons and settled on her.
Because he didn't know Ruth, or her husband Rex, well it took several weeks to set up the appointment for the hypnotic regression. As Bernstein wrote in his book, "I was forced to compete with bridge games, cocktail parties and club dances." Finally, his patience rewarded, he met with Simmons with the purpose of learning if he could take her back, into another past life.
According to Bernstein in The Search for Bridey Murphy, he first made her comfortable, and then with a tape recorder running, he started the session.
To begin, he regressed her to an earlier age, and asked her what see was seeing.  She described a scene from her early childhood while she was in school. He then tried to take her back, deeper and deeper into her past, until she was six, or four, and finally one. Then Bernstein told her that she could remember times before she was one. Bernstein said, "Oddly enough, you can go even farther back. I want you to keep on going back and back in your mind. And, surprising as it may seem, strange as it may seem, you will find that there are other scenes in your memory. There are other scenes from faraway lands and distant places in your memory."
When Bernstein asked her what she was seeing, Simmons began to speak of a life that preceded the one she was now living. She told Bernstein that her name was Bridey (Bridget Kathleen Murphy, born December 20, 1798) and that she lived in Cork, Ireland. At first, Bernstein misunderstood her, thinking that she said her name was Friday. She told Bernstein, and those assembled in the room watching, that she had scratched the paint off her metal bed. She had been punished for that.
Bernstein tried to probe deeper and Simmons, as Bridey Murphy, was able to answer questions about her life in Ireland, giving the names of her father, mother and brothers. When asked, she told Bernstein that the year was 1806. She also said that she was only four years old.
Moving forward in time, Bernstein learned more about the life of Bridey Murphy. She described her house, playing with her brother and that she had another brother, but that he'd died while still an infant.
As Murphy, Simmons described what they ate, and how they lived. She revealed that her father was a barrister. Bernstein found the use of that word interesting because, to Americans, all barristers are lawyers. Under the English system, different types of attorneys are ranked. Bernstein was surprised that a fairly young American woman would use a term more properly used in Great Britain.
Murphy provided Bernstein with a wealth of detail about her life. She said that she had been named for her grandmother and that was why she was called Bridey instead of Bridget.
She talked about her schooling in Ireland at Mrs. Strayne's Day School. The curriculum was limited to "house things... and proper things."
She also spoke of her husband, Brian MacCarthy, who, according to Murphy, was still going to school. Brian's father was a barrister too.
Murphy didn't have children and after marrying Brian, moved from Cork to Belfast. She mentioned friends she had in Belfast, the name of the priest at her church as well as the name of that church.
Simmons, speaking as Murphy, told of her death at age sixty-six. She had fallen down the stairs and broke several bones. After she died, she didn't "go" anywhere. Instead, she stayed on at her house watching her husband, apparently waiting for him. He died many years later.
Interestingly, Murphy described "visiting" her home in Cork after she died. She visited her brother, Duncan, who was still alive. It amazed her that he had survived her. He was "so old" according to her.
Murphy also described seeing her little brother, the one who had died in infancy after her own passing. Her little brother didn't know who she was because she had to tell him. She also saw Father John.
Bernstein, writing in his book, said that it had never occurred to him that Murphy would be able to describe her... "existence" after death. This was an area that he just hadn't thought about.
For Bernstein she told of where she was during the period between lives. She said that she never had to eat or sleep and that she never got tired. That world, the "spirit" world, according to what Bernstein learned, was a transitory place. "Just a period, just something that happened." She left that world, according to what she said, to be born in Wisconsin. That was the life she was living as Ruth Simmons.
She also recalled a life as a baby in New Amsterdam in the New World, but she died as an infant. There wasn't much for her to remember because she died so young. She was able, however, to tell Bernstein, when he asked, that New Amsterdam's name had been changed to New York. Even though she was experiencing, or remembering a life that pre-dated the existence of New York, she was able to bring her knowledge as Ruth Simmons into the sessions when she was talking about her past lives. She still had access to the information that Simmons had, even when experiencing an event that was far older than Simmons.
Bernstein used hypnosis on several other occasions to learn more about the life of Bridey Murphy. She was married in 1818, and her husband published some law articles in 1843. She died in 1864 without having children of her own.
Because Murphy lived into the second half of the nineteenth century, there was a chance that there would be records from her life. It was possible, Bernstein believed, to corroborate some of what he had been told. There was some discussion of this in The Search for Bridey Murphy. Bernstein told of their luck, or their lack of it.

Bridey Murphy a Hoax?

Once the book was published in January 1956, the critics lined up to attack it. In May and June, a Hearst newspaper, the Chicago American printed an expose, proving, at least in their opinion, that the Bridey Murphy story was a hoax. Other magazines, assuming that the American reporters had done their job properly, announced that the search was over... "ended by a series of Chicago American articles."
Other newspapers and magazines, jumping on the bandwagon, published their own exposes of the Murphy hoax. In one, it was claimed that Simmons had admitted that she had invented the story. Another reported that "Only after he'd written a best-seller did Bernstein shamefacedly admit that The Search for Bridey Murphy belonged on the fiction, not the non-fiction shelves."
The Denver Post printed a rebuttal, based on the research done by a feature writer, Bob Byers. Although Byers believed that he had shown that most of the expose material in the Chicago article was "in error" Life in a feature about Murphy ignored that, reprinting without checking, the story that Murphy was lying about her experiences.
William J. Barker, writing in a paperback edition of The Search for Bridey Murphy, reported, "Today, in large part because of the damaging effect of the Life piece which circulated the Chicago stuff to millions, many people when the Bridey case comes up in conversation will say, 'Oh, yeah...That was proved to be a hoax or something, wasn't it?'" (In fact, when I mentioned it to my mother, she said much the same thing, though I had grown up in Denver.) Barker responds, "In all honesty, no such proof ever has been produced."
In fact, Barkey laments that "many articles purporting to give 'the inside facts' on the case bobbed up in a variety of magazines, books, and tabloids. Invariably the debunking, scoffing line was taken but the incredible aspect of so many of these 'exposes' was the apparent willingness to substitute so-called experts' opinions for substantiated facts."
Barker takes the "proofs" of Murphy's deceit and exposes them, one by one. For example, the Chicago newspaper, owned by the Hearst corporation, and later the San Francisco Examiner, another Hearst newspaper, used the Rev. Wally White as one of its sources because Ruth Simmons, as a young girl had apparently attended his church in Chicago. Barker writes that it makes no difference because the Rev. White wasn't there when Simmons was. In fact, White had told others that his mission was to "debunk reincarnation." In other words, the claim that White knew Simmons was wrong, but that made no difference to him or to the Hearst organization. White wanted to destroy Murphy’s story for reasons other than scientific or theological.
Those searching for answers to the Bridey Murphy questions began to reach for their explanations. They suggested that Simmons was well versed in Irish history because she had lived for a time with an aunt who was as Irish as they came and who had told young Simmons long, involved tales of her life in Ireland.  But Simmons' aunt had been born in New York and had no demonstrable interest in Ireland or any indepth knowledge of the country, its people or its history.
The Chicago newspaper expose didn't stop there. They "discovered" that a neighbor of Simmons, when she was growing up, was Mrs. Anthony Bridie Murphy Corkell, from County Mayo, Ireland. Because of the supposed similarity in the name, and the fact Corkell was from Ireland, "proved" to the newspaper that Simmons had received the name Bridey Murphy and the information about Ireland from her neighbor.
Although they thought this coincidence was significant, continued research failed to reveal any other modern connections to the names that Simmons supplied. Corkell lived in the extreme midwestern part of Ireland and Simmons, as Bridey Murphy lived in southern Ireland and then in northeastern Ireland. In other words, Corkell knew nothing of the territory that Murphy had claimed as her home. There is no way that Corkell, if she had ever talked to Simmons about Ireland, could have supplied the wealth of detail that Simmons gave under hypnosis.
But the real problem is that those who tried to contact Corkell were unable to do so. She refused to take phone calls from reporters, other than those with the Chicago American. Finally reporters learned that Corkell's son, John, was an editor with the newspaper publishing the expose. In other words, John was the Sunday editor of the Chicago American.
And, more importantly, no documentation was ever found suggesting that Corkell's name included any reference to Bridey Murphy. Forced to use church records and friends' memories, no one ever came forward suggesting that Corkell had ever been know as Mrs. Anthony Bridie Murphy Corkell.
Overlooked by the Chicago paper's expose were the facts that Simmons recalled that could be verified through independent research and documentation. Obscure facts that suggested there was a core of truth to the tale.
Barker, among others, examined the story told by Simmons as Murphy, searching for any corroboration. Barker had been sent to Ireland by the Denver Post and published his findings in an article called, The Truth about Bridey Murphy. It appeared on March 11, 1956 in a twelve page supplement to the newspaper and was later widely reprinted though it was never acknowledged by the national magazines that had used the Chicago expose as the center of their anti-Bridey Murphy stories.
When he began his search, Barker knew some of the problems with hypnosis. He was also cautioned by Bernstein who told him that he believed that Bridey Murphy stretched the truth. She embellished the lives of her family trying to make them sound more important than they were, which is a fairly human thing to do. Murphy was just like many living people. She said good things about her husband and family to make them sound better and more important than the were.
But Barker didn't warn about, and may not have realized one critical point. Bernstein, when he began the experiment, had already contaminated it. By telling Simmons that she could see farther into the past, back before she was born, he was telling her what he wanted to hear. He was "priming the pump." Today, those using hypnotic regression must be careful about "leading" the subject into a realm they want to discuss. As Barker points out, a person under hypnosis is not under oath. People in a state of hypnosis can and do lie. They are able to draw on all their life experiences when attempting to answer questions. This is not limited to what they have lived themselves, but to any books they have read, movies they have seen, or stories they have been told bu friends and family.
Time magazine published a long article on "forced memories." In the last few years hundreds of people have come forward with tales of abuse at the hands of family and friends that have been "long repressed." It is becoming clearer that a therapist, psychologist, or hypnotist can easily lead a subject into a realm that simply doesn't exist. It is necessary for those to proceed carefully, allowing the subject to remember the details, rather than provide them with leading questions and traumatic therapy sessions.
This is not to say that Simmons was hopelessly contaminated and wasn't relating the truth as she believed it. It is a consideration that must be addressed when discussing this. That she found herself in another life was suggested by the hypnotist, and for some, that inadvertent contamination may have damaged the case from the start. Had Simmons began talking of Murphy spontaneously, it would have added a level of credibility to the tale that was not available because of the way the memories were “accessed.”

Bridey Murphy Vindicated?

Barker, however, made a trip to Ireland searching for corroboration, and his trip, and his findings more than negate the possible damage done early on. Of course he didn't have immediate luck. Looking for the Brian MacCarthy by-line, Bridey Murphy's husband who she claimed had published in the News-Letters in Belfast, Barker failed. He found no reference to Brian MacCarthy, but then there were few by-lines, no index or cross references, and it would have taken days to make a comprehensive search with no guarantee that even if MacCarthy had been published in the document there would have been a by-line for Barker to find. That he searched at all is significant. None of those writing the exposes had taken the trouble to even question this aspect of the Murphy story.
But others, who Murphy claimed to have known during her life in Belfast were discovered as having existed. She had mentioned two grocery stores, one called Farr's and the other known as John Carrigan's. Searching the city directory for 1865-66, references to both stores were discovered. Barker wrote that the references were located by Belfast Chief Librarian John Bebbington.
In fact, according to Barker, Bebbington, "made it clear to me that the old directories were far from complete...However, both Carrigan and Farr are on record as being the only (emphasis in original) individuals of those names engaged in the 'foodstuffs' business... How or by what means Ruth Simmons could have obtained this obscure information, when it took Belfast librarians weeks to discover it, defies easy explanation..."
Some of objections to the Murphy story were ridiculous. A clergyman wrote an article critical of the whole story, including the ludicrous statement, "She relates how her mother told her about 1810, about kissing the Blarney Stone. The stone existed in Blarney Castle then but the legend about kissing it was created in... a poem written about 1840."
Such an argument sounds solid on the surface. Barker, however, examined that as well. He pointed out that no date was given by Murphy for when she first heard the story. The 1810 date was an invention by the clergyman so that he could debunk another part of the Murphy story. And, according to Dermont Foley, chief librarian in Cork, "T. Crofton Crocker, in his Researches in South Ireland, published in 1824, establishes the custom as having been practiced as least as early as 1820."
Other criticisms of the Murphy story were equally stretched to the limits. When Bernstein, during his first attempt to find a time before Simmons was born, asked what she was doing, Bridey Murphy said that she was scrapping the paint off the iron bed when she was four meaning it happened in 1802. The Chicago American reported that iron beds were not available in Ireland until sometime after 1850.
Barker asked many authorities, antique dealers in Ireland, who agreed that metal beds weren't available in 1802. But the Encyclopedia Britannica (1950), said, "Iron beds appear in the 18th Century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads."
Murphy, in one of the sessions, was asked what her husband was doing after 1847 and she responded that he taught law at Queen's College. The Chicago American claimed that this couldn't be true because the Queen's College did not exist until 1849 and Queen's University did not come into existence until 1908.
Again research showed that this was not exactly right. According to The Belfast Queen's College Calendar (Catalogue, 1862), Queen Victoria, quoted in the text, said, "We... at our Court at St. James's, the nineteenth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five [December 19, 1845]... do ordain... there shall and may be erected... one college for students in Arts, Law, Physic... which shall be called Queen's College, Belfast..." The first students arrived October 30, 1849.
On August 15, 1850, Queen Victoria issued another degree, elevating the colleges into a system of universities. In other words, Murphy's husband, Brian, could have taught at the University just as she said because it was the Chicago American who assumed that Murphy meant 1848... and Brian could have worked at the college before the students arrived in 1849. The criticism of the Murphy story based on the exact dating of the beginnings of the college and a vague question are splitting hairs and does nothing to answer questions about the validity of the Simmons' claims as Murphy.
Where there was no information to prove the point either way, those believing Simmons to be lying decided that the information proved that Simmons was lying. Barker wrote, "For example, the magazine's anonymous reporter wrote, 'She says she lived in a nice house... it's a wood house... white... has two floors... and was called 'The Meadows.'" The magazine claimed that there are almost no wooden houses in Ireland because the timber is too scarce. Cork is built of stone and brick. The public records, according to the magazine fail to show any house called "The Meadows."
Barker points out that in Ireland today, there are almost no wooden houses. Of course, there are almost no wooden houses which isn't the same as there being none. So, while it might have been usual, it means nothing by itself.
But the important point is the reference to "The Meadows." No one was able to find out what that meant. It was some sort of an address, but there was nothing in the records that provided a clue about the reference.
Barker had a "beautifully detailed map of Cork, executed by William Beaufort in 1801. The western half of it shows what must have been a very handsome suburban portion of the city formally called Mardike Meadows... In The Meadows on the map are a total of seven or eight buildings widely scattered... Was one of these Murphy's home? She had said, 'Don't have any neighbors... live outside the village.'"
So, even though the evidence is inconclusive about The Meadows and the wooden houses, there is a hint of truth. A truth that should not have been available to a woman living in Colorado in the mid-twentieth century.
The whole point here is that Ruth Simmons, speaking as Bridey Murphy from Cork was able to detail a life in Ireland that was rich in detail, much of which could be verified through research. Clearly Simmons, as Murphy, was in possession of knowledge that she shouldn't have had. She was able to mention places, people, and organizations that existed during her time that extensive research was able to verify, after a fashion.

What is clear is that there was a concentrated effort by part of the established journalistic community to destroy the Bridey Murphy tale completely. They were assisted by many theologians who felt that Simmons was attacking the foundations of their Christian religious beliefs. Many wanted the story destroyed and weren't above taking cheap shots at it to make sure it was destroyed. If the public could be convinced in a series of articles that Simmons, for whatever reason, was lying and that the story was a hoax, everything could return to normal.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lake Area Paragon Conference and a Little about the Roswell Slides

On Friday, July 10 and Saturday, July 11, I attended the Lake Area Paragon conference in Long Prairie, Minnesota. It appealed to me because it was close to home and wouldn’t cause any additional health problems that have been plaguing me in the last few months.

Lorna Hunter was the organizer and host of the conference and did everything in her power to make sure that we, who were on the program, didn’t have to worry about anything, except maybe where to find ice cream late at night (there was a Dairy Queen about 100 yards away).

For the Friday night program, Hunter gave us a review of some of the more interesting Minnesota UFO cases, especially those around the Long Prairie area. One of them is known as the Tin Can case and was reported on October 23, 1965, by James F. Townsend who was just 19 at the time. According to the documentation available in the Project Blue Book files, which isn’t always the most objective source, this is the story:

Project Blue Book description on the Project Card.


Project Blue Book description of the sighting.
Saturday began with Adrian Lee talking about his research into the paranormal and the weird things that he’d seen. While it was all interesting, the still photographs that seemed to show some sort of apparitions could have been the result of various strange occurrences caused by the lighting, the camera or a combination of both. The videos, especially where he had set up three houses of cards, one beside the other to see what would happen were much more interesting. One of those houses flew apart as if hit by an invisible hand while the others remained intact and unmoving. As I say, it was an interesting bit of video.

After lunch Jerry Clark was up with his explanation of “Experience Anomalies.” He described it as such:

I call them “experience anomalies,” or the secondary phenomenon as opposed to the core phenomenon. They sometimes (though not always) have a parasitic – one might say parodic – relationship to a core anomalous event. The anomalous event takes place in the world and can be empirically demonstrated, or potentially demonstrated. Its experiential correlate borrows its imagery from the anomalous event but is ontologically unrelated to it. Experience anomalies are open-ended. Nearly anything can be “seen,” though cultural traditions and expectations play a large, in some ways determining, role in shaping their particular content. In experience, individuals perceive supernatural or at least unlikely entities like fairies, merbeings, angels, the Blessed Virgin Mary, gods, monsters, space people, and phantom airship crews.
 These are not hallucinations as hallucinations are ordinarily defined. These encounters, which at times occur collectively, are profoundly mysterious and their cause or stimulus is unknown. Yet, to all available appearances, earnest witnesses and clear viewing conditions that enhance confidence in the anomalousness of the observation do not translate into anything that transcends memory and testimony. We lack a vocabulary with which to conduct a useful discussion of such matters. Perhaps “visionary” comes closest, even if it is merely descriptive and not, as some presume, explanatory. It is as if, indeed, a supernatural landscape has briefly overlaid the physical landscape. The ufologist Jenny Randles calls this the “Oz Factor,” defining it as the sensation sometimes reported by UFO witnesses of “being transported temporarily from our world into another, where reality is but slightly different.”

 He did provide information or ideas on how to precede in an investigation of these anomalies, suggesting that the search in not for authenticity or inauthenticity, but in what the witness had experienced. He said:

Where experience anomalies are concerned, the focus of investigations and debates ought to be on causes, not on the specific content of the occurrences in question. It is surely futile by now to argue that all anomalous experiences must bow to conventional explanations; yet it is also unwise to extrapolate too broadly from such experiences – which may well not mean what they appear to mean – in order to concoct, with no other justification than a witness’ story, an extraordinary phenomenological context in which the reported phenomenon is said to make sense.
Anomalies of the deepest strangeness dwell between the daylight of science and reason and the dark night of dreams and superstition. You may have “seen” one, but it does not necessarily follow that the anomaly lives on in the world after it has briefly occupied your vision and scared the hell out of you. We may experience unbelievable things, but paradoxically, all that may signify is that they can be experienced. You can “observe” a fairy or a merbeing or something equally outlandish, but however resonant the experience may be to you, the rest of us cannot infer from your testimony that such creatures are “real.” To the contrary, to all available evidence and virtually none to the contrary, they are not. And that is all we can be assured of, because all we have done here is to remove one explanation from consideration – that such things exist at event-level reality – while failing to put another in its place. 
Still, the concept of experience anomalies relieves us of the false demands of literalism. We no longer have to argue for the authenticity or inauthenticity of the described phenomena. Not that a profound enigma does not remain – a mystery of imagination, culture, perception, consciousness, being, and more – a mystery so impenetrable that it eludes vocabulary itself, our very sense of the assumed relationship of event to experience. Happily, though, it removes from us the most onerous burden of all. We can now believe our informants without having to believe their explanations. 
This might not explain Clark’s “Unified Theory” adequately, but gives an idea on a method of investigation that might be more productive than others. The original theory was published as “Experience Anomalies” in Fortean Times 243 (2008) on pages 42-47 for those interested in reading the whole report.
My presentation was the last and concerned the theory that the modern era of UFO sightings didn’t begin with Kenneth Arnold, but started during the Second World War when many were concerned with the Foo Fighters, and after the war with the Scandinavian Ghost Rockets. Arnold sort of marked the middle of the beginning of all this, and I have published the whole idea in Government UFO Files.
The last of the presentations was the panel discussion and while I had been asked by some about the Roswell Slides, none of that had been discussed completely until the panel. When Lorna Hunter and I discussed my presentation before the conference, she suggested that we wait until the panel to talk about the slides.  I fear it took 20 to 25 minutes to outline the problems with the case, and to explain how this fiasco could happen. I made it clear that while there was enough blame to go around, the majority of the fault fell on Adam Dew and Joe Beason as the owners of the slides. They would have had a high quality picture and as soon as better quality scans were offered, the placard was read and the identity of the body revealed.
This isn’t to say that the others were blameless. There were plenty of red flags for those who would have opened their eyes. As I said during the discussion in Minnesota, Tom Carey had told me that it wasn’t a mummy because they had looked at more than 500 pictures of mummies. I think he was looking for that specific mummy rather than an examination of the characteristics of mummies, especially those from the desert Southwest which should have given him and the others a clue as to the identity of the being in the picture.
I was also interested to learn that the slides had not been a topic of discussion in Roswell during their annual festival. There had been a scheduled second big reveal, but when the placard was so easily read by so many different people, it seems that those sponsoring the festival just didn’t want to get drawn into the controversy, or I should say that is my guess. They probably figured that the wisest move was to say nothing about it and hope that the slides didn’t harm the Roswell case or Roswell research. Whatever the motives, we obviously said more about them in Minnesota than was said in New Mexico and I would note that there was a lot of interest in the case and how it had unraveled so quickly.
For those interested in the whole tale, there are plenty of articles about that on this blog up to and including letters from Tom Carey and Don Schmitt and what some of the experts are saying today.

Although the conference sort of officially ended with the final panel, around 5:30 or 6:00 on Saturday evening, that didn’t mean there wasn’t more to be done. Adrian Lee lead a well-attended tour of Long Prairie’s haunted sites. This is something of an annual event, the tour as opposed to the paranormal conference, and those who took the opportunity were provided with some interesting paranormal facts.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Area 51 and History 2

I was watching one of those old UFO programs on History Two, which I think is where they now dump most of their crap. Anyway, this program was about Area 51 and when it was over, I thought about what I had learned.

The highly secret base had runways, hangars, and other buildings. What a stunning bit of information.

The “camo dudes” who watch those getting close to the base perimeters were dressed in camouflage uniforms… like the major of the military serving at the time. There is no significance in the fact they were dressed in camouflage other than they were working security at the base.

The Janet flights that brought the workers into Area 51 were so highly classified that the registration numbers of the aircraft were visible to those in a nearby hotel and the owners of the aircraft (the US government) could be traced on Internet web sites accessible to anyone with a computer and the ability to type.

A huge building, probably another hangar, had been constructed recently but no one outside the base knew what it was for.

A former employee and engineer at the base confessed that during some highly classified experiments at the base they were required to sit in a cafeteria with black out curtains drawn so they couldn’t see what was being done. Everything was highly compartmentalized.

George Knapp... because it is the only picture I
had that fit the story.
Or, in other words, there is nothing here to link the base to UFOs. They did mention Bob Lazar and that there was some evidence, thin though it is, to suggest he had worked at the base at some point. George Knapp was interviewed and said that he found the information about Lazar and what he claimed to be plausible.

Those with the program set up three high definition cameras near the perimeter of the base and allowed them to record for 72 hours. In the end, based on what they reported, they managed to photograph a single light. It appeared suddenly, descended rapidly, and then winked out…

In their investigation, they overlaid the flight path of the object on that of the base and the mountains and showed the light vanished before it would have disappeared behind the mountains. They then noted that it seemed to be in the traffic pattern for the base, given the location of runways which would explain the light winking out. The craft had turned so that the light was no longer facing the cameras …

They made some calculations and figured the speed at 4000 miles an hour, faster than anything in the current inventory, except, of course that their calculations might have been in error and that the next generation of military aircraft might well be able to exceed 4000 miles an hour (except in the traffic pattern of an airfield). We don’t know what is being developed today and what those capabilities are.

Anyway, it seems the best they could do was that one picture of that one light that might have been the landing light of an aircraft. And that might have been traveling at a very high speed based on their assumptions.

So, what did they prove? There is secret stuff going on at the base. They are very careful to protect that secrecy. There is an airfield there with hangars on the flight line and other buildings on the base. People are flown in everyday to do their work rather than reside on the base. Other aircraft operate from the airfield. The only evidence of an alien presence or craft they presented are the tales told by Bob Lazar.


Or, in other words, this was an hour of hype that did little to increase our knowledge other than show a camera with a massive telephoto lens and a bunch of people mucking about in the desert. Almost everything about Area 51 is explained by a desire to keep unauthorized people from seeing what they are doing and it doesn’t require the presence of alien creatures to explain the secrecy.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lee Reeves and the Roswell UFO Crash

I know that this might seem to be piling on, but in the last couple of weeks, I have been asked about the story of Lee Reeves who supposedly accompanied Dan Dwyer out to the crash site where the alien creatures were found. Reeves’ tale appears in Witness to Roswell where it says, “When the call came in to the fire station that there had been a crash north of town, Dan Dwyer and Lee Reeves were dispatched
Dan Dwyer and members of the Roswell Fire Department.
with the station’s “tanker” (a pickup truck with a large, cylindrical water tank in the back) to the crash site. Arriving before the military could secure the site, Dwyer and Reeves got to see what had crashed. It wasn’t an airplane at all, but an egg-shaped vessel of some sort that they did not recognize. And the bodies! ...”

From that point, Carey and Schmitt described, from Dwyer’s point of view (which is not to say they were quoting him, only using information that had been supplied by Frankie Rowe about what her father had said), that the creatures were small and that eventually Dwyer saw one that was still alive. When he got home that night, he told the family what he had seen and was asked what the creatures looked like. His “answer was succinct, ‘Child of the Earth,’” which is another name for the Jerusalem Cricket. That statement has an endnote that says, “Son (anonymity requested) of Dr. Foster’s housekeeper (anonymity requested), personal interview, 1992.”

That endnote tells us nothing and seems to reference a tale told later in that chapter of the book. It is clear from my interviews with Frankie Rowe that it was her father, Dan Dwyer, who made reference to the Child of the Earth. The
Frankie Rowe
description of seeing the two dead aliens and the single survivor is also from Frankie Rowe.

Lee Reeves, according to the information that I have, died in 1971 and therefore is not an original source for this information. He had been a laborer at the Malco Refinery in 1947, but he was also a member of the Roswell Police Department and had worked as a fireman at the Orchard Park prisoner of war camp south of Roswell and for the city of Roswell Fire Department at some time, so he did have a connection there.

The trouble arises when the testimony of J. C. Smith, a firefighter in Roswell in 1947 is recalled. He was first interviewed by Karl Pflock and Smith made it clear in that interview that the Roswell Fire Department had not made a run out to the crash site, even in a piece of make-shift firefighting equipment.

Later when Tony Bragalia and I interviewed Smith separately, he made it absolutely clear that the fire department had not gone to the crash site. When I asked Smith if he had known Dan Dwyer, he said that he had and that Dwyer had gone out in his personal car. Smith told me that an Army colonel had come into the fire station and told them that they didn’t have to worry about the crash. They, the Army, would take care of it.

Dwyer, however, drove on out on his own, according to Smith, and not in one of the fire station’s vehicles and not with someone else. There was no discussion of Reeves at all until his story surfaced sometime in the last decade or so and was apparently relayed by his son, though there is nothing in the Carey and the Schmitt book to tell us that. It is my deduction given the information available.

Where does that leave us? Well, with the Dan Dwyer story, we learn from family members that he did go out there and said that he did see the bodies. We learn from J. C. Smith that Dwyer did go out there, but in his own car. We learn from the fire department records that there is nothing to suggest that any of the fire station’s equipment was dispatched on a run outside the city limits in the time frame necessary to corroborate the Reeves’ part of the story. Given the nature of the log, had some of their equipment been dispatched, there was no reason not to mention it. And we see that the Reeves’ tale is contradicted by the first-hand testimony of J. C. Smith.


It is my guess that the Reeves’ tale was told by one of the Reeves children or grandchildren, most likely Lewis Lee Reeves. When confronted with this sort of problem, the best case scenario is to rely on the first-hand testimony, which is Smith and which was told some sixty years after the event (which doesn’t make it true, only that it is of a better quality). The second-hand testimony is not properly sourced, is clearly not from a first-hand source, and is in conflict with other information and documentation. It now falls into the category of a “friend of a friend” tale and we all know how that works out… (and to prevent someone from stating the obvious here, I realize that it is technically the son of the man, but then, given the way the information is published, we really don’t know that either.)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Kenneth Arnold and the Null Hypothesis

It has become an article of faith among some that the Kenneth Arnold sighting with its misreported description of a flying saucer is the genesis of modern UFO shape. Arnold had said that the objects he saw moved with a “motion like that of saucers skipping across a pond,” which reporters took to mean that Arnold had seen disk-like objects. Skeptics have pointed out this error, suggesting that Arnold had not seen a disk, but crescent-shaped or heel-shaped craft. Others, coming after Arnold, used this error in their descriptions of UFOs because that was what had been so widely reported. Skeptics said, “Arnold didn't see a saucer--but the press reported that he did and thereafter saucers were pretty much the standard shape for UFO's. Denying the implications of this is just part of the reason that UFO belief falls outside scientific (or rational) interest.”

I had suggested a null hypothesis for this. If we found sighting reports in the months that preceded Arnold that would suggest that some were reporting what they had seen without contamination by the press reports of Arnold’s “flying saucers.” The response to that was:

I don't think so. It's a rather common shape and is documented in earlier science fiction.
It's the huge media frenzy and the resulting reports that followed that suggest that the shape followed the press report. We have no reason to think that all of those reports were anything other than at least the standard ~90% (and I suggest more like 100%) bunk that make up all UFO cases. So among those cases, it is strongly suggested that folks had learned that they should see saucers (not the off bat-wing/half plates that Arnold saw). And they dutifully began to "see" them.
Of course nothing social like this is open and shut and completely clear cut. There very well may have been earlier reports of a saucer shape. I don't think that matters.
I think there is plenty reason, particularly under media induced hysteria. I will mention the famous experiments done in the UK that David Clarke revisits in his excellent new book, "How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth" as rather clear evidence of this.
Again, ignoring or trying to feebly minimize this inconvenient truth hasn't served UFO believers well in trying to get folks outside the myth to take interest.
Or, in other words the null hypothesis was rejected because there were other influences that could account for the reported shape of these objects. The suggestion that it was documented earlier in science fiction might be seen as a corollary to the null hypothesis, or that science fiction images influenced the description of the flying saucers rather than the misreporting in 1947. It seems to me that this would nullify the idea that Arnold’s sighting was the driving force here because you couldn’t have it both ways. Either science fiction was responsible or the reports of Arnold’s flying saucers were.

I made a survey of science fiction magazine covers for the 1940s and didn’t find the saucer shape to be there. I was thinking that most people in the 1940s wouldn’t be reading science fiction and any exposure to the concepts would have come from seeing the magazine covers on the newsstands. When spacecraft were represented, they fell into the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon rockets with tail fins. A saucer shape behind the alien spacecraft just wasn’t seen all that often.

The same can be said for the representations in science fiction movies and serials that would have had a wider audience. The few that had a space theme again fell into the rockets seen in Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon arena. When the saucer
The Day the Earth Stood Still.
shape appeared, it was post Arnold and could be said that the flying saucers being reported influenced the look of alien craft in the movies. The 1950 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the best examples of this.

I would suggest at this point that one of the null hypotheses has failed. Science fiction did not influence the shape of the objects reported in 1947. There were simply too few, if any, examples of saucers as spacecraft in the literature or the movies. If there was an influence, then the reports would have been of rockets rather than saucers.

That leaves the idea that there were saucers or disks reported prior to Arnold. Looking at the literature, there are many examples. Biron Savage said that he had seen a flat, disk-like object in May 1947. That was documented in the press on June 26, 1947.

And that illustrates the problem for many of those earlier sightings. Project Blue Book mentioned a number of pre-Arnold sightings, but it seems they were reported after Arnold. Any reports that had been gathered prior to Arnold disappeared when the official investigation of UFOs began. (And yes, that can be proven. Sightings mentioned in both Project Sign’s and Project Grudge’s final reports mention sightings that are not found in the Blue Book index but indicate they had been gathered.)

I did find other pre-Arnold sightings that mention disks or saucers. On February 28, a formation of disks was reported near Lake Mead. In March 1947 a Los Angeles woman said that she’d seen a disk. Also in March a disk was seen early in the morning in Putnam, Connecticut. On March 30, two women and a young girl saw several silvery disks. On April 11, a woman watched a disk-shaped object for two minutes. On June 2, a circular object was seen in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Well, you get the point. Many sightings but the problem is that the documentation for these all come from sources published after June 24, 1947.

The exception for this might be the Minczewski case from Richmond, Virginia in April. This is one of those sightings that was apparently investigated by the Army prior to the Arnold sighting. There is no record of it in the Blue Book files, but it is mentioned in the Project Grudge final report. That suggests to me that there would have been documentation for it prior to Arnold but the case file was removed from the “regular” files at some point. In all fairness, I must note that I have found no documentation dated prior to Arnold about this sighting. I merely have a suspicion that it does exist if we could access the proper records… which means we haven’t asked the right agency to review their files.

Without being able to document that these sightings were reported prior to Arnold, it can be said that they were contaminated by the press after Arnold. There is no proof of that, but then, without some sort of documentation, that is a possibility and that means the null hypothesis is unconfirmed at this point. Not that it is in error but it is unconfirmed.

There is another factor in all of this. I noticed, as I surveyed the newspapers from that era that flying saucer or flying disk was used to describe objects even when the witness used other words. In an article headlined, “Carpenter Reports ‘Discs’ in Midwest.” The last line in the article said, “He added that he could not describe the shape of the objects since he could not see them clearly.”

In an article that was headlined, “Flying Saucer Story Grows,” it was reported that George Glover, in Bellingham, Washington, said that he had seen several shiny objects that were shaped like kites. In another sighting reported in that article, the object was described as round, like the sun.

In a case that underscored this point, the article, headlined, “AKRON, O., July 5 (AP) — ‘Flying saucers’ made their appearance here Friday night,” when it was reported, “Dr. Forrest Shaver said the silvery disc he saw ‘looked like a balloon with a light inside.’ Larry E. Hoertz described it as ‘a light with a propelling device.’ Both men said they saw the ‘saucers’ about 8:30 P. M. while driving near Akron.” This suggests that the term had become generic, describing any strange thing in the sky regardless of shape.

In the end, we have a theory, that the error made by reporters in the Arnold case drove the shape of the objects seen in its wake. But what a review of the newspaper articles show is that flying saucer and flying disk became the generic term for all unidentified objects including those that were not circular or round. A review of the literature shows that many of the reports were of lights in the sky, bright flashes of light that had no shape behind them, star-like objects, streaks of light and cigar-shaped objects.

What is interesting is the claim that even if it was proven that saucer-shaped craft were seen prior to Arnold, it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters because it nullifies the theory that people saw saucers because that was what was reported by the press after Arnold.

As it stands right now, the null hypothesis is unconfirmed and the theory is unproven. Additional information and documentation can solve this riddle but it will take some in depth research. My survey of newspaper articles wasn’t as extensive as it could have been, but even though limited, I found many examples suggesting shapes other than saucer and articles that mentioned “disk sightings” but the object see was not disk shaped.

This discussion seems to be one that we all could end by simply surveying the newspaper articles from June 24 to July 9 (when the press seemed to mostly stop reporting saucers at the request of the Army and Navy). One of the places to begin would be Ted Bloecher’s Report on the Wave of 1947. We can actually apply some science here and reach an intelligent and proper conclusion.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

Flying Saucers and Kenneth Arnold

(Blogger’s Note: Yes, I’ve touched on this before but in the last week or so the MSM, that is to say Time, published a UFO story that made the point that flying saucer was based on an error so of proving there is nothing to the sightings. I thought I’d take another run at this idea.)

I have seen recently more suggestions that the term, “Flying Saucer,” is a misnomer because Kenneth Arnold wasn’t describing the shape of the objects he saw but their motion through the air. Reports from June 1947, however, seemed to indicate that some objects were saucer shaped, and others, who were busy
The original drawing made by Arnold for the Army in 1947.
misidentifying mundane objects, whether natural or human constructed, began talking of flying saucers regardless of shape. It is a point that I find interesting.

When I was working on The Government UFO Files, I tried to track all this down. Looking at the newspaper reporting, at the Project Blue Book files, at the documentation that came from APRO, NICAP and other organizations, I tried to find any story published prior to June 24, 1947, that mentioned disk-shaped or saucer-shaped craft. I found virtually nothing.

Photograph by William Rhodes in July 1947.
There were many stories in the newspapers after Arnold about strange craft, and many of them referred to flying saucers even when the object reported was not saucer shaped. The term became a catchall for anything that people had seen and had been unable to identify. The best seemed to be a report in the newspaper from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that predated Arnold, but the truth was that while it seemed the man had seen the objects on June 24 (as best as I can figure) it wasn’t reported until days after Arnold so was no help in my quest. You can read about it here:


On April 1, 1947, a series of sightings made by Walter Minczewski began near Richmond, Virginia that involved the U.S. Weather Bureau and seemed to meet my rather arbitrary conditions. This would later become Incident No. 79 in the Project Grudge final report. According to the information provided:

A weather bureau observer at the Richmond Station observed on three different occasions, during a six month period prior to April, 1947, a disc-like metal chrome object. All sightings were made through a theodolite while making pibal [balloon] observations.
On the last reported sighting, the balloon was at 15,000 feet altitude, the disc followed for 15 seconds. It was shaped like an ellipse with a flat level bottom and a dome-like top [emphasis added]. The altitude and the speed were not estimated, but the object, allegedly through the instrument, appeared larger than the balloon.
Another observer at the same station saw a similar object under corresponding circumstances, with the exception that her balloon was at an altitude of 27,000 feet and possessed a dull-metallic luster. There was good visibility on days of observation. Report of this sighting was not submitted until 22 July 1947.
AMC Opinion: There is no readily apparent explanation. If there were only one such object, it seems amazingly coincidental that it would be seen four times near the pibal of this station only. On the other hand, there would have to be a great number of these objects to rule out coincidence, and as they number of objects increases so do the chances of sightings by other witnesses.
Project Astronomer’s Opinion: There is no astronomical explanation for this incident, which, however, deserves considerable attention, because of the experience of the observers and the fact that the observations was made through a theodolite and that comparison could be made with a pibal balloon. The observers had, therefore, a good estimate of altitude, of relative size, and of speed – much more reliable than those given in most reports.
This investigator would like to recommend that these and other pibal observers be quizzed as to other possible, unreported sightings.
This series of reports, made by Minczewski, are not mentioned in the Project Blue Book Index, which lists only a couple of reports made prior to the Kenneth Arnold sighting. All were reported after the press coverage of the Arnold sighting, so there is no way to document the actual date of the sighting.

Ted Bloecher, in The Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, added some important details to the case. He wrote:

As early as the middle of April 1947, at the Weather Bureau in Richmond, Virginia, a U. S. Government meteorologist named Walter A. Minczewski and his staff had released a pibal balloon and were tracking its east-to-west course at 15,000 feet when they noticed silver, ellipsoidal object just below it. Larger than the balloon, this object appeared to be flat on bottom, and when observed through the theodolite used to track the balloon, was seen to have a dome on its upper side. Minczewski and his assistants watched the object for fifteen seconds as it traveled rapidly in level flight on a westerly course, before disappearing from view. In the official report on file at the Air Force's Project Blue Book, at Wright-Patterson Field, in Dayton, Ohio, this sighting is listed as Unidentified.
The point here is that we have a case of a disk-like object, and a date assigned by the Air Force about the sighting, but we have no documentation that I can find dated prior to the Arnold sighting. There might be something hidden away in the Weather Bureau records, or somewhere else, but I have nothing that pre-dates Arnold for this case.

And before I hear of all those sightings of disks and saucers from early in the 20th century, I was looking for something in the months prior to Arnold. I arbitrarily set a year as the outside limit though I did look at the Foo Fighter reports. The Swedish Ghost Rockets in 1946 all seemed to be of something that resembled German vengeance weapons as opposed to flying saucers.


While the claim that “flying saucers” are the result of bad reporting and people leaping onto the bandwagon, there is some evidence that saucers had been seen prior to Arnold but there is virtually nothing in the record to show these sightings were reported prior to Arnold. That might be because no one thought much about it until the Arnold sighting hit the national press, but whatever the reason, the point is, I could find nothing about a saucer-shaped object dated in the months prior to Arnold (and to beat a dead horse, I have the reports published after Arnold that refer to events before Arnold, but nothing in the newspapers or anywhere else published prior to it).