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The 1954 French flap:

The index page for the 1954 French flap section of this website is here.

July 17, 1954, Istres, Bouches-du-Rhône:

Reference number for this case: 17-July-54-Istres. Thank you for including this reference number in any correspondence with me regarding this case.

Summary:

Science-fiction writer and pioneering ufologist Jimmy Guieu apparently found or reported this incident in an article he wrote for the regional newspaper Le Méridional in 1954.

He reported it also in the third quarter of 1954 in his article "From the 'Windshield cancer' to the Flying Saucers" in his ufology magazine Ouranos, No. 12, and also in the English version of his magazine, in October 1954, edited by his friend Eric Biddle. He told:

On Saturday, July 17 (1954), on the road to Istres, a textile merchant and his wife were driving in their small van (he specified in the French version that it was "steeple chase" van) at about 100 kilometers per hour.

All of a sudden, the driver noticed a strange bluish light at a slight distance from the windshield, and then everything happened in a flash: after the appearance of this mysterious light, the windshield shattered. The driver braked and stopped. As the windshield burst, a strange whitish mist, an impalpable but clearly defined cloud, had formed in the van.

The driver's wife felt an inexplicable heat enveloping her bust. A kind of uniform pressure squeezed her nylon blouse on her skin; Guieu emphasized that neither the wind nor the surrounding hot air had any part in this phenomenon.

The wife discovered, just after experiencing this strange sensation, that her white nylon blouse had taken a pale yellow color.

Guieu commented, "Did the bluish light reach the windshield, or did it emanate from it just before the actual incident? It is impossible to say."

This case, which is related to the numerous reported incidents that were called "parebrisite", ("windshield cancer") in France and the USA in 1954, lead Jimmy Guieu on the one hand to propose in his 1954 article that the glass would be eaten by extraterrestrial microbes that came to Earth by panspermia, and secondly to publish in 1955 a science-fiction novel, "L'Agonie du Verre" ("The Agony of Glass"), in which he staged such incident, and this theory about them.

Reports:

[Ref. jgu1:] JIMMY GUIEU:

A STRANGE INCIDENT. - This fact is obviously strange, but much stranger is the following incident:

On Saturday, July 17, on the road to Istres, a cloth merchant and his wife were driving aboard their "steeple chase" van at about 100 kilometers per hour. Suddenly, the driver saw, a short distance from the windshield a strange bluish glow.

Then everything happened in a flash.

Did the bluish glow catch the windshield or did it come from the windshield immediately preceding the incident itself? No one could know it. The fact is that, after the appearance of this mysterious glow, the windshield shattered. The driver gave a sudden brake and stopped. At the same time as the windshield burst, a strange whitish fog, an impalpable cloud but very light-colored, appeared in the van. The driver's wife felt inexplicable heat enveloping her bust. A sort of uniform pressure stuck her nylon blouse on her skin; it must be stressed here that the wind did not cause, no more than the ambient heat, this phenomenon.

How amazed was this shopkeeper in noticing, immediately after experiencing this strange sensation, that her nylon blouse had taken a straw-yellow color!

Note: In his article, Jimmy Guieu then explains most seriously that this may be due to glass being eaten by extraterrestrial "microbes" coming to Earth by panspermia...

[Ref. jgu2:] ERIC BIDDLE - JIMMY GUIEU:

On Saturday, July 17th, on the road to Istres, a textile merchant and his wife were cruising along in their little van at some 100 km an hour. All at once, the driver noticed, at a slight distance from the windscreen, a strange bluish light. Then everything happened in a flash!

Did the bluish light reach the windscreen, or did it emanate from it, in immediately preceding the incident proper? Impossible to say. The fact is, that after the appearance of this mysterious light the windscreen flew into splinters. The driver braked hard and stopped. At the same time as the windscreen splintered, a strange whitish mist, an impalpable but sharply defined cloud, formed in the van. The driver's wife felt an inexplicable heat envelope her bust. A kind of uniform pressure pressed her nylon blouse to her skin; we must emphasize that neither the wind nor the surrounding warm air had any part in this phenomenon.

Imagine this business lady's astonishment on discovering, immediately after experiencing this strange sensation that her white nylon blouse had become straw yellow!

[Ref. hws1:] HAROLD T. WILKINS:

Among UFO cases for July 17, 1954, this author indicates:

On the road to Istres, South France, a woven-fabrics merchant and his wife, driving a motor truck, saw a short distance from their windshield a queer, bluish light, which then shattered the glass. At the same time, a singular, impalpable, whitish mist pervaded the inside of the truck's cab. The woman felt an inexplicable heat envelop her; and her nylon vest stuck to her skin. Nylon under-garments turned from white to pale yellow.

[Ref. cfh1:] C. W. FITCH:

Monitoring and
Scanning UFOs

By C. W. Fitch

(Continued)

"On Saturday, July 17, on the road to Istres, a textile merchant and his wife were cruising along in their little van at some 100 k.m. an hour. All at once the driver noticed at a slight distance from the windshield, a strange bluish light. Then everything happened in a flash!

Did the bluish light reach the windshield, or did it emanate from it, immediately preceding the incident proper?

Impossible to say. The fact is, that after the appearance of this mysterious light the windshield flew into splinters. The driver braked hard and stopped. At the same time as the windshield splintered, a strange whitish mist, an impalpable but sharply defined cloud, formed in the van. The driver's wife felt an inexplicable heat envelope her bust. A kind of uniform pressure pressed her nylon blouse to her skin; we must emphasize that neither the wind nor the surrounding warm air had any part in this phenomenon.

Imagine this business lady's astonishment on discovering, immediately after experiencing this strange sensation, that her white nylon blouse had become straw yellow."

[Ref. ubk1:] "UFO-DATENBANK":

Case Nr. New case Nr. Investigator Date of observation Zip Place of observation Country of observation Hour of observation Classification Comments Identification
19540717 17.07.1954 Istres France

[Ref. prn2:] PETER ROGERSON - "INTCAT":

July 17 1954.

ISTRES (BOUCHES-DU-RHONE : FRANCE)

A textile merchant and his wife were driving along in their van at about 100kph when a bluish light appeared in front of their windshield, which then shattered, forcing them to stop. A whitish mist then filled the van. The lady felt an inexplicable heat envelope her chest and a pressure pushed her blouse to the skin. After this the white blouse turned straw yellow.

Explanations:

The windshields "explosions" in 1954, called "window cancer" or "parebrisite" in French, has become an often cited example of "collective illusion" or "mass hysteria". Sociologists and psychologists refer to these incidents in France and in the United States to ensure that "crowds" can easily fall into unfounded collective myths.

And of course, some "skeptical" ufologists explain that the "window cancer" that preceded the wave of "flying saucers" of 1954 proves that the saucers too were only illusions.

None put forward the following point: "collective hysteria" here would in any case concern only the interpretation of the facts, not the facts themselves. And the interpretations were not really "hysterical", they were attempts at rationalization quite understandable and sensible in the context of the time.

All sorts of explanations were advanced at the time for the "window cancer", such as an effect of atomic experiments, Martian activity, or "vandals". In the United States, the police found that the epidemic affected mainly old cars, and it was thought that the windows would explode as a result of their wear.

In the windshield explosions reported in France in 1954, I find "constants": the mention of a light or a flash, blue when the color is mentioned, the lack of sens of the explanations by vandals, Martians, atomic tests, the insistence of the witness(es) that no pebble struck the windshield, the hearing of an explosion sound, the opacity of the window after the explosion.

Some of these characteristics have really no strangeness: an explosion noise is perfectly normal when a windshield breaks. The window becomes opaque because the anti-burst protection layer produced this. The lack of notice of a shock by a pebble or something else can also be explained: the windshield may have been hit and weakened by a hit long before, and then explodes only later when nothing hits it.

Jimmy Guieu linked this mystery to the extraterrestrials, but few ufologists followed him on this path. The Press did it sometimes, but without claiming this "explanation" was serious.

Just like with UFO sightings reports, we could classify the "windshield cancer" cases: "A", perfectly explained as without any strangeness, "B" probably explainable, "C" unexplained but by lack of some data, "D" totally inexplicable prosaically. This case would be a case of type "B", at the best, "C".

There is indeed the question of the credibility of the story: it is "anonymous", Jimmy Guieu is not particularly renowned for his ability to find ordinary explanations when they exist, he seems to be the only one to report this, etc.

The "blue glow" seems little strange to me: Guieu himself seems unsure that it really appeared before the explosion; it could be a sudden reflection of light on the window pane bursting. Was the "mist" a form of "dust" of exploded glass powder? Was the lady sure that her blouse had not gone yellow before the incident, during the last laundry?

The theory of glass-eating microbes from space leaves me both admiring and sorry: that Guieu had knowledge of the theory of panspermia, little published in 1954, shows his great curiosity of mind. But glass is certainly not valid "food" for any form of life, it is perfectly amorphous silica, without "energy supply" potential at all.

Keywords:

(These keywords are only to help queries and are not implying anything.)

Istres, Bouches-du-Rhône, couple, car, van, blue, light, windshield, parebrisite, effects, mist, white

Sources:

[----] indicates sources which I have not yet checked.

Document history:

Version: Created/Changed by: Date: Change Description:
1.0 Patrick Gross December 6, 2016 First published.
1.1 Patrick Gross August 31, 2019 Additions [jgu1], [hws1], [prn2], Summary. Explanations changed, were "Not looked for yet."

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This page was last updated on August 31, 2019.