[dropcap]Christmas[/dropcap] vacation, a time of slow news. “Give me something, anything,” begs the news editor.
I’d opt for UFOs. They are a contagion without a vaccine. As soon as a few are seen, they grow viral and plenty more are claimed, making the perfect storm: stories breeding stories.
Those of us in the news media expect to chase windmills during these epidemics. I was the de facto UFO reporter for a number of years after I interviewed a guy from Minerva who believed he was abducted by aliens. Obviously, they threw the fish back into the water. It was a very slow news day.
As they do now, people at that time allowed Hollywood to define space aliens, as if Hollywood knew anything. I wrote one story about a scientist at Kent State. He was worried we were so enamored with Hollywood stereotypes, we wouldn’t know UFOs when (not if) we saw real ones.
In the 1950s, UFO spotting became a hobby, then a passion and then an obsession. The military bears responsibility as it used the reports todisguise experiments on secret rocket and jet planes. They paid for that,
and still are blamed for a massive coverup.
Then came the 1966 “swamp gas episode.” Hundreds of folks attested to seeing bright lights flitting around two Michigan towns. They eventually were explained by glowing swamp gas, but nobody bought it.
My dad blamed the Russians. They’d exploded a 50,000-kiloton bomb in the atmosphere in 1961, enough to surely magnetize curious space aliens.
We ran an Associated Press story on how a group of boys in Indiana perpetrated a UFO hoax. They put a candle in a plastic dry-cleaning bag. The bag took off when filled with hot air and flew for eight minutes before disintegrating in a flash.
The reporter had to know he’d just published a recipe that every kid inthe nation would die to try. And we did.
We sent off a flotilla of bag UFOs the first clear night. They lined up and flew in formation on the west winds. And people went nuts, calling the airport tower, the weather bureau.
Cop cars were scrambled. People tore themselves from their popcorn and Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Funny how some people only think about God when they need him the most.
Then the alien lights flicked out and the mad perpetrators hid under their covers.
The next day, a fire chief diagnosed the incident and warned kids not to play with fire. I suspect he as a kid lifted off a few candle balloons.
My dad found our balsa wood, candles and a few bags in the basement. I could tell he was awed, but not proud.