This article was published in the daily newspaper The Edmonton Journal, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on December 12, 1966.
Do you believe in flying saucers? Are there craft from other worlds entering our atmosphere? Are there secret explanations behind sightings that remain classified as Unidentified Flying Objects?
For the present it is a matter of each individual’s belief, says this science writer who has spent months of research to prepare a series of articles which will appear each Monday in The Journal.
Perhaps his efforts will help you decide.
Disagreement With Conclusions By Air Force Gives Spectacular Publicity To UFO Sighting
BY CLIFFORD D. SIMAK
The UFOs came to Hillsdale County in Michigan about 18 months ago. Since then, 37 sightings have involved objects which cannot be identified.
Of all these sightings, only one, and that one not the most spectacular, has resulted in wide publicity. This is explained by the pledge made to UFO witnesses by William E. Van Horn, county civil defence director, that he will not divulge the names of persons who give him information.
Van Horn considers that it falls within his duty as head of civil defence to investigate the sightings in the interest of public safety. He noted that in some other areas visited by UFOs witnesses reporting the incidents had been subjected to harassment and humiliation by investigative agencies and the public. Van Horn was determined that this would not happen in his county. People, he said that he believed, have the right to report what they see without running the chance of being made to look like fools.
The policy has resulted in public co-operation in his investigations which would not otherwise have been possible. The folks of Hillsdale County know that what they tell him will go no further than his files.
The one sighting which gained publicity gained it, not so much because it was particularly spectacular, but because Van Horn disagreed with conclusions reached by the United States Air Force and said so in a formal report challenging the air force findings.
Fully subscribing to Van Horn's method of operation, and co-operating with him, is Richard Deller, safety director of the City of Hillsdale, the county seat. Deller is administrative head of the city's police, fire and health departments.
The policy which treats in confidence the names of witnesses and, in most instances, the details of the sightings, amounts to official management of news. It can be a frustrating situation for a reporter to walk into, but it does produce results in that people are not afraid to talk to their officials. Hillsdale County, as a result, has an outstanding file of information of UFOs.
As might be expected, many sightings have been reported which have been explained as low-flying aircraft and other phenomena which traditionally have given rise to UFO reports. The 37 incidents which Van Horn cites are those events for which, at the moment, no explanation exists.
The county is agricultural with broad, rich fields and neat farm buildings. With a population of 8,500, the City of Hillsdale has a number of industrial plants and is a trading centre for the surrounding farm area. It is intensely proud of HilIsdale College, founded in 1844. It has wide cultural interests. It is as American as a field of corn. Its people are solid midwestern citizens.
Here is no backwoods community where superstitious beliefs might be a factor in UFO sightings. Nor would one be likely to find the people of Hillsdale County inclined to the cultism which often gives rise to flying saucer tales.
The one sighting that gained wide publicity came on the night of last March 21. Coeds at one of the dormitories at Hillsdale College saw an object with glowing lights plunge by outside the windows. Later the object, or one very much like it, returned to hover over a park area back of the dormitory. During the night, it was observed by 90 to 100 students. Van Horn, called to the scene, found the object was located 1,300 to 1,500 feet from the dormitory, and that at times it rested on or near the ground. Two lights were visible. One he described as a "dirty white," the other as a dim orange. At times, however, the brilliance of the lights would increase, and the white would become a clear white and the orange a bright red. When this happened, the object would rise to a height of 100 to 150 feet and then slowly settle back to its original position. The two lights, at all times, maintained a distance of about 25 feet.
Van Horn estimated the rate of ascent and descent at 25 to 30 feet a minute. At times the object also oscillated with a smooth sidewise motion. At no time did it make a noise.
At one point during his observation, Van Horn reported, a glow from the reverse side of the object flared up, and he was able to distinguish a convex surface. He estimates that he was able to see the surface clearly for a period of 30 seconds to a minute.
The object remained visible for about 5 1/2 hours, from 11 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. Van Horn might not have voluntarily released the news of the sighting, but it is hard to keep secret something which has been seen by up to 100 people. The news leaked out.
On March 24, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, director of Northwestern University's Dearborn Observatory and an air force UFO consultant, arrived to investigate the sighting. His conclusion: What the students had seen was marsh gas. Also, he said, "certain young men had played pranks with flares." The object he said, had hovered over marshy ground, which made marsh gas seem the most probably explanation.
In a formal reply, Van Horn answered Hynek point by point.
2 Days Later
The "flare incident," he said, did not happen on March 21 but two days later, when two young men, apparently hoping to give rise to another UFO "scare" ran about the park area with torches.
Hynek may never have seen marsh gas; Van Horn had. He stated positively that the object he had seen was not marsh gas.
Nor was the area over which the object hovered a marsh. It was, rather, a park connected with the college. Hynek had not visited the area and apparently had assumed it was a marsh.
Hynek mentioned that popping sounds, such as might be made by marsh gas, had been heard. There had been, Van Horn said, no sounds - popping or otherwise.
Disputing Hynek's statements, Van Horn said that the weather was far too cold for the formation of marsh gas and that a wind was blowing, sufficiently strong to dissipate any gas had it formed. He bolstered his statement with meteorological data.
In an appendix to his report, Van Horn reported the investigation had shown that the area over which the object hovered contained an abnormal amount of radiation, not only in the soil, but in the plant and animal life found there. All microscopic plant and animal life in a small pond in the area was dead.
White patches floated on the surface of the pond. Analysis showed this white material to be boron. The purity of the element was about 90 per cent. Unusual amounts of boron were found in the soil, as well.
Boron exists in some soils in amounts so minute that it is termed a trace element. It is absent even as a trace element in the soils of Hillsdale County. Where, asked Van Horn, did the boron come from?
Next: Conclusions reached by the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization.
Case file here.