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The Summer of ’87

The Summer of ’87

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I’m old enough to remember the television show “My Favorite Martian” about an extra-terrestrial who came to live on earth and study humankind. He chooses to live with a young newspaper reporter and portray himself as the man’s uncle, Uncle Martin. It was created as a sitcom in the same vein as “I Dream of Jennie” and “Bewitched.”  Other than the two, metal antennas that occasionally protruded from his head, Uncle Martin seemed to fit in well with the rest of us. And, for American television viewers, we responded well to friendly, affable spacemen who looked just like us.

Then things started to change. From Alf and Mork, we moved to Captain James T. Kirk and Spock. Then we started to hear more about a place called Roswell, New Mexico, and Project Blue Book was undertaken by the United States Air Force. Suddenly, aliens weren’t cute or friendly or harmless. They were more sinister and frightening, and real.

The History Channel website has a wonderful article about Dr. Allen Hynek, the scientist who created the Close Encounters scale (Hynek Scale) created to categorize the types of encounters humans had experienced with aliens. (Similar to the Fujita scale for categorizing tornados.)  This is from the site: Hynek joined Project Blue Book in 1952 and would remain with it until its demise in 1969. For him, it was a side gig as he continued to teach and to pursue other, non-UFO research, at Ohio State. In 1960 he moved to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to chair its astronomy department.

As before, Hynek’s role was to review the reports of UFO sightings and determine whether there was a logical astronomical explanation. Typically, that involved a lot of unglamorous paperwork; but now and then, for an especially puzzling case, he had a chance to get out into the field.

There he discovered something he might never have learned from simply reading the files: how normal the people who reported seeing UFOs tended to be. “The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” he recalled in his 1977 book, The Hynek UFO Report.

“Their standing in the community, their lack of motive for perpetration of a hoax, their own puzzlement at the turn of events they believe they witnessed, and often their great reluctance to speak of the experience—all lend a subjective reality to their UFO experience.”

For the rest of his life Hynek would deplore the ridicule that people who reported a UFO sighting often had to endure—which, in turn, caused untold numbers of others to never come forward. It wasn’t just unfair to the individuals involved but meant a loss of data that might be useful to researchers.

“Given the controversial nature of the subject, it’s understandable that both scientists and witnesses are reluctant to come forward,” says Jacques Vallee, co-author with Dr. Hynek of The Edge of Reality: A Progress Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. “Because their life is going to change. There are cases where their house is broken into. People throw stones at their kids. There are family crises—divorce and so on… You become the person who has seen something that other people have not seen. And there is a lot of suspicion attached to that.””

Curiosity.com lists the Hynek Scale:

  1. Nocturnal lights. These are wacky lights in the night sky that move unlike planes or planets, most often red, blue, orange, or white in color. This represents the largest group of UFO reports.
  2. Daylight discs. These are oval, metallic flying objects that are visible in the daytime. They’ve been said to disappear with astounding speed.
  3. Radar-visual cases. These are significant blips on radar screens that coincide with visual reports.
  4. Close Encounters of the First Kind (CE-I). This is when a UFO is within 200 yards, but it doesn’t interact with the witness or environment.
  5. Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE-II). This is when a UFO actually interacts with the environment, whether that be leaving physical evidence on the ground, on animals, or on humans.
  6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE-III). Spielberg alert! This is when occupants of a UFO (humanoid or otherwise) are seen.

I remember distinctly an incident that happened to me back in 1987.  My husband was a Scout Master for the Boy Scouts and had taken his troop up to Boy Scout Camp in northern Wisconsin.  We had four children at the time, all under the age of nine, so I decided to accompany him with our children and go to a family camp adjacent to the Boy Scout Camp.  The camp was not fancy, one big room with a couple of beds, a pull-out couch, a small kitchen and a table.  There was no television and the only communication was a radio.  My husband stayed with the Scouts, so I was alone with my children in the cabin.

One night, I couldn’t sleep. I felt very uncomfortable and I felt that there was something lurking outside the door. I actually thought about going out to see, but then I remembered all of those movies and what happened to people (especially women) who ventured outside looking for a mystery. I also noticed that my children were having a fitful night’s sleep, their pillows had been flung off the bed, blankets askew and they were tossing and turning all night long. I stayed up and watched them sleep and it was only when the sun began to rise, that I felt safe enough to get a little sleep.

Later that morning, as I prepared breakfast in the cabin, I turned on the radio for a little company. The only station we could reach was a local one with news of the day and elevator music. As I cooked, I listened as the announcer read the Sheriff’s Report and dropped the spatula on the stove when I heard, “Last night a number of residents and law enforcement officials witnessed a UFO over Spring Lake.”

Our cabin was only a few yards away from that lake.

As I researched UFOs and 1987, I discovered that there was a flurry of UFO sightings that year. The Bristol Herald Courier did an article about it in 2017.

“This fall will be the 30th anniversary of the wave of UFO sightings near Wytheville, Virginia, in 1987, when scores of people reported various strange lights in the sky.

So, is there truth to these extraterrestrial tales? You’ll have to decide. Come along for the ride anyway. It’ll be out of this world.

After Wythe County Sheriff Wayne Pike told the public in October 1987 that four of his deputies, including some with military experience, had witnessed a UFO, the floodgates were open.

In the following months and well into 1988, a wave of people reported seeing strange lights and objects in the sky.

Danny Gordon, then the news director of radio station WYVE, also reported seeing a strange craft. A news conference in mid-October drew national attention and by the following year, Gordon personally received more than 3,000 reports, according to news reports.

Paul Dellinger worked as a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than 40 years, covering counties in Southwest Virginia out of the paper’s Wytheville office. After Gordon’s first radio story, Dellinger began reporting the events, like when Sheriff Pike said some of his deputies saw strange objects in the sky.

“All of a sudden, everybody started seeing things,” Dellinger said.

Gordon and Dellinger started working together. Gordon had people who claimed to have witnessed UFOs on his radio show. Dellinger was there to take notes.

Dellinger said there were “some strange lights in the sky.” He even saw something odd one night.

“I was driving home at night and saw a light down at end of our road that looked like a streetlight, but like a scintillating light,” he said.

Dellinger said the light came down very slowly over the road and moved at the speed of a balloon. He also described hearing a very quiet motor.

The Wytheville hype gained national attention. Dellinger said a reporter from the National Inquirer came to look into the reports, but left without a story.

“He said it wasn’t sensational enough,” Dellinger said, laughing.

Despite his own experience, Dellinger said he’s not sure anyone saw actual UFOs.

“I don’t believe this particular set of sightings were extraterrestrial, but I don’t know what it was,” he said.

People have come up with explanations from balloons to blimps to experimental aircraft by the government.

“But nobody has ever come to a conclusion on it,” he said.

Gordon and Dellinger wrote a book about the ordeal called “Don’t Look Up: The Real Story Behind the Virginia UFO Sightings.” 

New England Today also did an article about UFO sightings, including one by a commercial airline pilot. “On May 26, 1987, commercial airline pilot Randy Etting took a nighttime walk near his home in Newtown, Connecticut. He often studied the skies when he walked, trying to identify passing planes. At around 9:45, he observed some orange and red lights approaching from the west. He got his binoculars and called his neighbors to come outside. Etting said that as the UFO passed over Interstate 84, cars pulled over to watch. And indeed, between 9:30 and 10:15 P.M., more than 200 people phoned police to report a UFO. The object displayed a semicircular pattern of very bright multicolored lights. Several drivers reported that their cars had lost power as the lights passed by. About 15 minutes later, calls started coming in from New Milford, about 14 miles north, alerting authorities that the lights — reported by many to be connected to an object “larger than a football field” — were hovering there. The lights eventually vanished, but the mystery remains.”

The Black Vault shares a case file about a UFO sighting in Modesto, California in August of 1987. “On or about August 3rd of 1987 my husband, my child, and myself were camping at a lake outside of Modesto, California.

 We were in an area where there were no other campers. My son was asleep in the camper and my husband I were sitting on the picnic table talking.  We were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs of any kind. My husband pointed out to me these small dots in the sky.  I’m remembering about 5 of them.  They kept approaching until they were darting around over the lake quite close to us.  They looked like little tiny aircraft.

 Then a huge ship came over the water and just stopped and hovered there. I’d say no farther than a football fields length away.  We could see quite clear.  Silver, windows that circled around it like a narrow belt.  Not quite round, a little oval. It made no noise and but sat motionless in the sky in front of us for about 20 minutes. The smaller ones just flew around in the vicinity.

It shone bright lights on us the entire time. We were mesmerized but nor fearful. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Then we heard the air force jets coming from behind us. About the time we heard them, the small ships just disappeared and the large one took off at an incredible speed from a standstill. The jets were no match but they filled it.

 The next morning, I woke up very I’ll. I was covered in black pepper looking spots. Had a high fever. My spots turned into sores and all of my hair fell out. My illness lasted for about a year and a half.

 Sadly, my husband was killed in an accident just a few days after the sighting. He was showing signs of sores on his face but died before we knew if he would get sick like I did.  My son was inside the camper and not in the light like we were. I did not see any reason to report the incident since the air force was on the scene.”

Finally, this was a sighting reported on the National UFO Reporting Page from June of 1987. “4:45am while going to work had the camera with me noticed a very bright and pulsating object headed straight for me this all happened in about no more than 30 sec. but I did catch the last 5 sec. on film that I’m sending you. When played in slow motion it gets very interesting.

Hello Mr. Davenport: This is in regards to our phone conversation on May 14th, 1999, As I explained to you about the videotape I have of a very unusual object I videotaped in the summer of 1987 or 1988. I was videotaping a paper machine rebuild where I worked at the time. This was the reason I had my video camera with me. As I was going to work that early morning. It was crystal clear and about 4:45 am. I was walking out my door with my video camera in the case. From my doorway looking straight west roughly 5 miles, there is a large hill we call Irma hill, known for the small village on the west side of the hill. From my location, I had a very excellent view to the western horizon with the hill slightly outlining it, the horizon.  As I was closing the door to lock it, I noticed a very bright shining object directly over Irma hill coming directly towards me. It was round and very bright and pulsating. I knew right away it was not a star, planet, or plane. When I was younger I was into Astronomy, had my own telescope and familiar with the nightly skies. It was much brighter than the planet Venus at its brightest point and at its dimmest point of pulsation hardly visible. I stared in almost disbelief roughly 3 or 4 seconds, then realizing I had my video camera with me I quickly as possible bent down and opened the case grabbing my camera and pulling lens cover off also turning the power on I would estimate this took no more the 7 to 8 seconds being very familiar with my camera. I looked towards Irma hill where I observed the object but no longer could see it anymore I quickly looked straight up over me and spotted the object moving very fast in an easterly direction. I brought the camera up and found it in my viewfinder and caught it on tape as it went away from me and disappeared. I stood there in complete disbelief asking myself what the hell was that…It took no more than 25 to 30 seconds from the time! I spotted in the western horizon to disappear at about a 35-degree angle in the eastern horizon. When it was straight overhead before I could get the camera on it, the brightness was almost shiny and chrome-like. there was absolutely no noise from the object. There was no wind and it was one of those mornings it was perfectly dead quiet. The only thing you could hear was early morning robins. I’ve had this tape all this time and over the years showed a few friends no one else has really seen it yet. I wanted someone to look at it, but I didn’t know where to send it until I heard you on the Art Bell show the other night when you mentioned the event west of Eagle River Wi. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at ((e-address deleted)) or phone you have my number there. Thank you very much for your time. ((deleted)) Could you please let me know what you interpret on the tape. It gets very strange in slow motion and frame by frame play.”

What do you think?  Are you going to look out in the night skies with a little more caution? I know that I do.

Happy Friday!

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