Monday, November 19, 2007

Living Life Stoned While TV Rocks

The December, 1973 UFO report that I mentioned a couple of blog entries ago wasn't quite the end-of-year event for strange activity in Central NY. In the final days of October an incident so bizarre hit the news that one might be inclined to say, "Yeah, right" and dismiss it faster than a tabloid story about a new Elvis sighting.

Like the alleged Pascagoula, Mississippi UFO abduction prevalent throughout the world's headlines previously in 1973, two Central NY fishermen came forward with their own peculiar story, but this one involved flying stones and no alien creatures. No UFOs as we generally think of UFOs, as far as I know. Still. . .

Two friends, one 28 and the other 63, decided to do some evening fishing on Skaneateles Lake during a late October weekend. By the light of two lanterns they cast their lines around 7:00 p.m. At about 10:45 something hit the water near them -- a jumping fish, perhaps, they thought. Then another object hit the water, apparently a stone, larger than the first -- and soon another that they estimate weighed 50 lbs. splashed in and displaced water a good three or four feet.

They shouted into the woods, shined their lights all around and saw nobody. Frightened, or at least rather unnerved at this point, they raced back to their car, this time finding themselves deluged with a rain of small stones as they loaded their equipment into the car. One of the men took a shotgun out of the vehicle and fired into the trees.

Driving some distance away from the scene, believing they were safe, they pulled the car to the roadside so one of them could remove some heavy clothing worn to keep warm on that chilly October night. As the man exited the car, stones again began falling, pelting the car and the man. Leaving the scene, they drove off to a bar in Skaneateles, where each drank a beer as the bartender told of a UFO seen over the lake just a week previously.

As they resumed driving, stones again pelted the car and at some point they again stopped on the road to see if anything was flying overhead. The older witness claimed he saw nothing, but heard a humming sound. As they reached the Syracuse area, he states something seemed to shake the car. Only when they reached one of the men's homes did the stone barrage cease. According to The Post-Standard (Syracuse) of October 29, 1973, the fishermen had notified the police, and it was noted in an article from The Herald-Journal (Syracuse), also of October 29, that the Skaneateles police chief was a little skeptical about the incident. Then again, the older witness did remark, "What're the police going to do?"

I had sent the newspaper clippings to the International Fortean Organization, where they were mentioned in an issue of The INFO Journal in 1974. Initially, I had trouble locating either fisherman, but conversations with two reporters who covered the story indicated that each seemed sincere and truly frightened about their experience. At some point, at last I did meet the men and we participated in a talk show on Syracuse's WCNY-TV (a PBS station). Their sincerity could be described as overwhelming.

Ultimately, a geologist at Syracuse University tested six small stones the men had secured and offered as evidence. According to The Post-Standard of November 3, 1973, a spectrographic microscope and polarized light were implemented for stone analysis and the geologist's report stated there was "nothing at all that would indicate they are from any kind of extraterrestrial source. . .They are all very, very similar to rocks that are found in the local area." None was larger than a half dollar.

The INFO Journal editors remarked, rather tongue-in-cheek, that the composition of the stones as laid out in the newspaper article reminded them of the material commonly found in railroad roadbeds, and that "Maybe the Zeta Reticuli Express was passing through." (For my readers who just asked, "Huh?" Zeta Reticuli is the star system from which some assume Betty and Barney Hill's alleged alien abductors originated, based upon Marjorie Fish's highly intriguing star map per Betty Hill's recollections under hypnosis.)

For my part, while I confined myself generally to the UFO issue in those years, I did find a remarkably similar Iowa case mentioned in the book, The Enigma of the Poltergeist, by Raymond Bayless, a book I loaned to a reporter from The Syracuse New Times, who eventually wrote something about the Skaneateles case and referenced Bayless' book. Poltergeists? UFOs? I don't know. I've always felt peculiar enough just wondering what the concepts of here and now mean.

Okay, so back to UFOs. Let's go back to the beginning of 1974, at last, where I find that I made notes and wrote yet another of numerous letters to the editor about the topic, though 1973 hasn't yet made its exit. From November of 1973, there's a report about six Argentina Navy technicians tracking a UFO for 20 minutes. Certain that no aircraft or satellite activity was responsible, they officially documented this impressively maneuverable object as a UFO.

And there's this curious little tidbit (source unavailable at the moment) from the national media in 1973, quoting Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. George S. Brown at an October 16 press conference, where he admits that UFOs "plagued us in Vietnam during the war." Brown admitted to no knowledge about their identity, but his confirmation certainly added authenticity to numerous UFO reports filtering out of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam Era.

During the seventies and eighties, I occasionally wrote articles and reviews for The Syracuse New Times, a Central NY weekly newspaper still publishing. As 1974 drew to a close, I submitted an article for the December 8 edition headlined, "Television Getting More Open-Minded About UFOs." Indeed, keepers of the small screen and its (then) three main networks planned, for a welcome change, fair reporting about UFOs, whether truth or fiction. In fact, on October 1 NBC had premiered an important, now generally forgotten, motion picture starring Glenn Ford, entitled "The Disappearance of Flight 412." Presented as the fictional account of a shadowy, mentally-brutal U.S. government "debriefing" of an Air Force flight crew involved in a tragic UFO incident, few amongst the TV audience would ever know that the story flowed directly from a script writer's personal knowledge.

Actually, Jim and Coral Lorenzen of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization had even provided the producers some photos of UFOs seen in the movie. Obviously low-budget and looking a bit dated over 30 years later, the film nonetheless remains a chilling dramatization about aeronautical things unknown and government secrets untold.

1974 was also the year when plans began to take shape for the insightful documentary, "UFOs: Past, Present and Future," and NBC was forging ahead in anticipation of another little TV movie called "The UFO Incident," an extraordinarily well done production about the Barney and Betty Hill UFO abduction.

Jim Lorenzen, whom I quoted in my newspaper article, had addressed the amazingly fair treatment of the UFO subject weeks earlier: "There is now in motion a trend toward good public information on UFO matters. A handful of television films now in various stages of production will be aired this fall and winter. The subject will be treated maturely and realistically. Whether this new attitude is triggered by 'inside' tips or not is not known at this time.

"However," Lorenzen continued, "NBC activity in this area is the result of 'the word' being passed down from Herb Schlosser's (then NBC's president) office contrary to usual procedure -- story and theme ideas usually originate at lower levels and go 'upstairs' for approval."