Thursday, August 29, 2019
The Marshall County 2019 UFO Festival
The Marshall County UFO Fest
On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, I was an invited speaker at the Marshall County Historical Society’s 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Marshall County UFO Incident. The case is better known as the Val Johnson UFO encounter of August 27, 1979.
The society described the case as “The Most Famous UFO Sighting in Minnesota,” and they are probably right on that point.
I had been one of the original civilian investigators back in the day, traveling there with Guy Westcott who had arrived there shortly after Allan Hendry of CUFOS did his first examination of the site and the car.
When I organized the first national Canadian scientific conference on ufology in 1980, I had invited Val Johnson to be a guest, and he brought with him his colleagues Deputy Sheriffs Greg Winskowski and Everett Doolittle. (I even found some audio from the discussion with Johnson.)
Sherlyn Meiers is the director of the society and runs the museum, and she organized the event. Meiers was nervous about the event, not knowing if the turnout would be poor on a weekday evening in a small town some distance away from the nearest city (Grand Forks).
The museum is in the small town of Warren, Minnesota, and I have to admit, the residents did their best to support the festival, with some stores offering discounts in honour of "UFO Day."
The event had received considerable pre-publicity, with stories in local newspapers and TV stations running the week before:
Meiers’ fears were unfounded, but her anxiety shifted considerably when more than 300 people showed up to cram the museum seating area, and it was standing room only.
The “UFO car” was on prominent display against a starry backdrop and displays of other UFO cases pulled from NUFORC and other sources. There was a binder full of press clippings and stories, including my issue of the Swamp Gas Journal in which I described the case in detail.
(NB: I tried to record the entire event on video, but the camera battery died, so I have only the first two-thirds or so, as a continuous stream here. Thanks for your help and expertise, Donna!)
The event began with a welcome by Warren Mayor Mara Hanel, who declared August 27, 2019, "UFO Day." (And then she told some really classic "Dad" jokes about UFOs and aliens.)
That was followed by the Spaced Out Costume Contest, which drew only a handful of cosplayers. (But hey, it’s small-town Minnesota.)
Up next was the performance of The Marshall County Incident, an original song by recording artists The Jensen Sisters. Before singing, they talked a bit about why they composed the song and how the stories they heard growing up influenced their songwriting.
The Jensen Sisters
Then five actors did a live re-enactment of the incident based on audio transcripts and other materials, titled “What Happened?”
This was followed by a short talk by Peter Bauer, who was the dispatcher on duty the night of the incident in 1979.
I spoke next, describing what I had seen at the site in 1979 and what impression I had of the car and of Val himself. I talked a bit about the possibility of traveling between the stars and how advances in technology make it seem reasonable that aliens could in theory visit Earth. I was told to keep my comments under 15 minutes because there were several other presentations after mine.
After me, three men from Minnesota MUFON in Minneapolis took turns reading case reports from MUFON files, mostly from northern Minnesota but several from the Twin Cities. Michael Harris started by showing some slides of what the MUFON web pages looked like, but it was hard to make them out beyond the first few rows. Dean DeHarpporte followed, talking about some cases he had investigated, and then Bill McNeff, former Minnesota MUFON director, gave a more approachable presentation about some more MUFON reports. It was interesting to hear their views.
All in all, the “UFO Festival” was a fine celebration. It attracted a lot of people, and I was honoured to have been a part of it.
I commend Sherlyn and her team for coordinating and staging the event. I’m sure it was a lot of work but it certainly drew attention to a little known slice of Minnesota history.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Manitoba Seminar on Ufology, 1981
The Manitoba Seminar on Ufology in 1981
Following the success of the Manitoba Conference on Ufology in 1980, during which UFO witness Val Johnson and other investigating policemen attended to talk about the Marshall County CE2 case of August 27, 1979, it was decided to hold a second national Canadian UFO conference.
So, on May 16, 1981, the Manitoba Seminar on Ufology was held in Winnipeg, with eight invited guests from across Canada, representing active UFO investigation and research, and local academics from various fields.
The title of the meeting was: Science and UFOs.
In advance of the meeting, a list of ten questions was proposed as a way to facilitate dialogue. The questions were:
- Should scientists study UFO reports?
- What proof is needed for the existence of UFOs?
- Will this proof ever come?
- Are UFOs physical or psychological?
- What discipline is best suited to study UFOs?
- Is it likely that extraterrestrial life exists?
- Could extraterrestrial spacecraft be detected by conventional detection systems?
- What natural phenomena could explain UFOs?
- Should the public be better educated about UFOs?
- Is there value in UFO research?
Invited participants were:
Dave Haisell, UFO investigator and researcher
Guy Westcott, UFOROM
Vladimir Simosko, UFOROM advisor
Dr. Martin Clutton-Brock, astrophysicist
Dr. Richard Gordon, biologist
John Brent Musgrave, UFO investigator and researcher
Dr. Richard Bochonko, astronomer
The host and moderator was Chris Rutkowski of Ufology Research of Manitoba (UFOROM) (now Ufology Research).
The audio recording is, unfortunately, difficult to make out sometimes, but it documents what was cutting edge interdisciplinary UFO research and a willingness to approach the subject by the academic community in 1981, almost 40 years ago.
Click here for the audio recording. (1.5 hours).
Sunday, August 04, 2019
"I stumbled across something I wasn't supposed to see"
One of the most remarkable UFO cases on record is the Val Johnson incident of August 27, 1979. That morning, Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson was on patrol in Marshall County, Minnesota, when his police car was apparently struck by a UFO. What makes the case extraordinary is that the "accident" was immediately investigated by the Marshall County police force and treated as a standard police report. What's more, the police car, as evidence of the incident, was never repaired and was impounded. It has been preserved and is still on public display today in a museum.
On March 16, 1980, Ufology Research convened the first Manitoba Conference on Ufology in Winnipeg, Canada.
In the April 1980 issue of the Swamp Gas Journal, I noted:
A main issue under examination at the Manitoba Conference on Ufology on March 16, 1980, was the Val Johnson UFO incident which occurred on August 27, 1979. The case received wide publicity and has been noted in most ufozines (it was noted in SGJ #6), so it will not be repeated again here. Briefly, it involved the apparent impact of a US police vehicle with an unidentified flying object, near the town of Stephen, Minnesota, The incident was supported by various physical evidence in the form of dents, impact marks and broken glass.
Frankly, it is one of the most puzzling incidents in the history of ufology. This strong statement is partly because of the fact that the case involves a man who has been described as "the perfect witness." Val Johnson is a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County, Minnesota, and is a trained observer as well as an experienced police officer. The physical evidence suggests that something very strange happened to him in the early morning on a lonely stretch of road near the Red River. The time sequence of events is very firmly established by both tape recorded and written logs of his actions that morning. The physical traces were examined and measurements were made immediately after the encounter by trained police investigators, and Johnson was taken to a hospital by ambulance directly from the site.
At MCU, the case was discussed and reviewed in detail by all participants, as presented by guests Val Johnson, Everett Doolittle and Greg Winskowski. Doolittle was the first individual to reach the site after Johnson radioed for help, and Winskowski conducted the initial police investigation.
Invited attendees with Val Johnson and other deputies in discussion at the first Manitoba Conference on Ufology.
Members of Ufology Research, including Guy Westcott and Chris Rutkowski, were among the first civilian investigators of Val Johnson's experience, since at that time there were few UFO investigators in the area and Winnipeg is only about two hours driving time away. This was a unique cross-border collaborative effort.
I wrote about this case several times, and summarized the conference proceedings in the special issue of the Swamp Gas Journal, later republished. Anticipating some interest in the discussion, I had used a small cassette tape recorder to capture some of the discussion. However, the tape recording had been thought lost during the intervening decades.
Amazingly, the tape surfaced only a few days ago, serendipitously just prior to the 40th anniversary of the incident. I managed to convert the fragile magnetic tape to a digital version, and we now have a playable record of about half an hour of the conversation with Val Johnson and a select few conference attendees.
Towards the end of the recording, Val Johnson is asked about what he saw, he replied: "I think I stumbled across something I wasn't supposed to see."
He refused to speculate about the UFO he encountered being an alien spacecraft.
Jack Webb would have liked him: "Just the facts, ma'am."
Thursday, August 01, 2019
"Lost" audio recording of Hynek found and restored
It was a bitterly cold, February night in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. That morning, the temperature had hovered near -30C (colder than -20F), and there was a bus strike.
Despite this, on Friday, February 6, 1976, Dr. J. Allen Hynek gave two lectures at the University of Manitoba as part of its Festival of Life and Learning. (Other invited presenters during the Festival included sound poet Ken Feit and vaudeville legend Mandrake the Magician.) Both of Hynek's talks were to packed houses.
A review of Hynek's afternoon lecture, published in the University of Manitoba student newspaper, The Manitoban
I was taking courses in the astronomy department at the time, and I had started investigating UFO reports several months earlier, having been given contact info for witnesses who called the department with their sighting details. I was young, impressionable, and willing to do anything to get on the good side of my professors, who couldn't be bothered with such nonsense as UFOs.
At that time, Hynek was the guy. He seemed to always be on TV talking about UFOs, and yet had such a solid astronomical background that one of his textbooks was required reading in my courses.
Apparently, in 1977 when I met Allen at a science education conference, I had lot of dark hair.
I had been invited to meet with Hynek privately before and after his afternoon lecture, and listened as several university academics professed their desire to help him in his UFO research. This was the early stages of the creation of the Manitoba Centre for UFO Studies, the first satellite group for Hynek's Center in the USA. MCUFOS never really got off the ground (pun intended) because none of the academics wanted to venture into the field to investigate reports, and preferred offering their scientific opinions.
However, MCUFOS did spin off Ufology Research of Manitoba, which I created after watching MCUFOS flounder for a few years. The good news is that I continued to meet with some of the university scholars in a true "Invisible College," drawing on their expertise and assistance in my research and investigation. A few physicists helped me analyze the radioactive Falcon Lake artefacts, for example, and a psychologist worked with me on experiments on belief and dissociation, and later a clinical psychologist worked with me on abductee cases.
Allen kept in contact with me from then on until his death. Every time he visited Winnipeg, he made a point of meeting with me to discuss UFOs. He even napped in my home to recharge between talks and media interviews.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek in my living room, about 1977
In 1979, I spent time with him and his family at a remote lodge in Manitoba that was on the centre line of the 1979 solar eclipse, where he proudly showed off his stereo camera.
Allen and Mimi at Hecla Island for the 1979 solar eclipse
The Hynek clan having dinner with us at Hecla Island in 1979
I recalled using a Radio Shack tape recorder to record his evening talk, but I had completely forgotten about it until I was looking for some other recordings and discovered it in a dusty box in my basement. After several moves, I was surprised it still existed.
I then had to figure out how to play and convert the aged magnetic tape to a digital format. Through trial and error, using borrowed equipment (thanks, Vicki), and with advice from Isaac Koi and Curt Collins, I was able to make the transfer. There's a bad hum throughout the recording, and the audience microphones were not working well, but we have a fairly decent recording of Hynek's evening presentation, linked here for your listening pleasure.