Sunday, January 15, 2023

UFO Exploitation: The 1956 Texas Photo Fumble

Dateline: August 1, 1956, Location: near Amarillo, Texas

J. G. Kirby was in his mid-thirties, he'd started a family after his stint as a bomber pilot with the Eight Air Force during World War II. Kirby was considered an expert in rare gems and minerals, writing about one of his rock-hunting discoveries in the article "90 lb. Texas Plume Agate Found,” for The Lapidary Journal. 

Unconfirmed, but likely photo of our J. G. Kirby

Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and two their two children had been on a rock-hunting expedition in Colorado. During the long overnight drive home, they saw and photographed a UFO in the pre-dawn hours of August 2, 1956. Once home, he developed the film and reported the sighting to the authorities. Excerpts from the Air Force report dated Aug. 23, 1956, Unidentified Flying Object (UFOB):

“Kirby advised that on 1 August 1956 as he was returning to Dallas, Texas from Colorado Springs, Colorado, via Amarillo …he noted a bright green trajectory in the sky… from an object… 

The phenomenon appeared to be the [angular] size of a grapefruit and appeared in brilliance equal to the ignition of phosphorus, giving a brilliant beam of light both above and below the phenomenon itself, but never both beams simultaneously. … The object was observed intermittently by Kirby and his wife between Amarillo and Memphis, Texas. Kirby related that they departed Amarillo at 0400 hours and arrived at Memphis at 0615 hours.”

“The object appeared to be extremely navigable, inasmuch as it appeared in various places in the cloud formation… upon his arrival at Memphis, Texas, the formation had begun to disintegrate. As daylight approached, the phenomenon appeared to be ascending into the heavens, where it was the approximate size of a star and no longer visible through the clouds… in his [wartime] experience with aircraft, weather conditions, etc., he had never observed anything comparable with this phenomenon.”

Kirby photographed the object with a Kodak 620 camera, according to the later Associated Press story, "shot a whole roll of film." He turned over two photos for analysis, but retained the negatives, so they were not examined.

For some reason this the report was “pigeonholed” in Fort Worth, Texas at the Office of Special Investigations at Carswell Air Force Base until the end of the year. It was the newest of six “OSI UFOB Reports” ranging from Feb. 1954 to Aug. 1956, finally forwarded to Project Blue Book on Dec. 26, 1956. Capt. George T Gregory noted in a memorandum, “the very late date of receipt makes investigations or conclusive analysis difficult, if not impossible.” Still, they gave it a shot, and their analysis determined: 

“A microscopic examination discloses that the photo is not ‘doctored’ and apparently not an emulsion flaw. The absence of any horizon, objects or perspective for contrast or comparison purposes makes analysis somewhat difficult. In the opinion of this office… the trail shown here appeared to be similar to those left and the wake of missiles.” However, the analysis noted, “the closest missile launching site to the observer’s location is white sands, New Mexico, a distance of approximately 300 miles from Amarillo."

No conclusion was reached beyond the suggestion the photo was either of a missile trail or a hoax. Independently, Joseph J. Keeley, Security Officer for the University of Michigan Engineering Research Institute, volunteered analysis from a faculty member, who noted that Kirby was a lapidarist, and he was, “of the opinion that it is a trick photograph made with stones.” 

The Disclosure to the Public

Once the Project Blue Book investigation was done, Kirby released the photo to the press, who reported, “he said authorities told him only recently he no longer had to keep the photo and story quiet.”

The Eagle, Nov. 11, 1957

The Texas Bank and Trust in Dallas seized on the opportunity to exploit the publicity. They created an exhibit in their drive-in lobby and advertised in the Dallas Morning News, Nov. 4, 1957. Air Force files mentioned only 2 photos, but the bank claimed to have 6:

See First Actual Pictures of Unidentified Flying Object

Sighted near Amarillo August 2, 1956, and held secret until now. Actual photographs by a Dallas resident as seen in yesterday's front page. Described by the U.S. Air Force as a “navigable object,” these 6 pictures which have been closely guarded for the last year will be on display beginning this morning in Texas Bank’s Drive-Through Auto-ramic lobby.

NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, Jan. 1958, got overexcited about the secrecy aspect of the photo in their article, “Air Force Denies UFO Witnesses Muzzled Despite Order in Dallas.” Wanting to expose the cover-up, they said, “NICAP requests that anyone who has been silenced in regard to UFO information who is not in the armed forces send the details to this Committee.”

The inaccurate accusations of secrecy were repeated by George D. Fawcett a few years later in “The Flying Saucers are Hostile,” in Ray Palmer’s, Flying Saucers magazine, Feb. 1961.

In response to a 1960 inquiry about the case, Maj. Lawrence J. Tacker replied: 

“The Air Force file carries no conclusion on the photograph taken by Mr. J.G. Kirby near Amarillo, Texas on 2 August 1956. Not knowing what radiation vapor is, it is the Air Force opinion that some spokesman at the time speculated that the object was an irradiated vapor trail and was probably miss-quoted.

The Air Force is not aware of any release date for the photograph taken by Mr. Kirby. The original was in the hands of the owner and he was free to do with it as he pleased.”

There was a white lie in there. At the time, Air Force policy prohibited them from labeling witnesses as hoaxers. The case card for the Project Blue Book 26-page file summarized the case:

“Extenuating circumstances. No reference point in photo. Suspected hoax.”

The Project Blue Book 26-page file

By the time the Air Force received the Kirby photos and the other cases in that delayed package from OSI in Fort Worth, Texas, they had newer active investigations that demanded their time. They were busy with 1957 cases that had had exploded in the media, like the Levelland, Texas UFO, and the close encounter in Kearny Nebraska, reported by Reinhold O. Schmidt. The Kirby case and the others got shortchanged due to “Extenuating circumstances."

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

UFOs, Factoids, and True Confessions?

Legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh had some involvement with the UFO topic, and once discussed it with a famous buff, Dr. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. "Lucky Lindy" felt the information published on flying saucers was often distorted or untrue. Before we look at Lindbergh and UFOs, let's examine relating to his life of how facts can be replaced by fiction.

Witness statements and verbal testimony in UFO cases can be a problem. Even if truthful and accurate, their words can become twisted by reporters or investigators repeating the story. And of course, there’s the other problem. Sometimes, people lie. 

The question often comes up in relation to UFO reports: Why would someone make up a story? People do lie, and not just about UFOs. There may be lot of motives such as a desire for recognition, or fame and fortune. Sometimes they’ll do it as a bad joke. These falsehoods complicate the search for the truth and pollute the record when repeated by the media and those who record history. Sometimes without ill motive, the truth gets bent or broken, but once printed, endlessly cited as fact. Here’s two relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster: 

Fact: “a piece of information presented as having objective reality”

Factoid: “an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.”

Factoid was a term coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer to describe pseudo-facts, “which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion.” There’s a non-UFO example worth examination, an extraordinary claim that’s frequently repeated about one of the world’s most famous murder cases.

Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974), was the U.S. aviator who became internationally famous for making the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1927. Our focus relates to the tragedy five years later, the abduction and death of his 20-month-old son.

The 2010 book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott Lilienfeld et al, had as Myth #46 “Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It,” stating, “false confessions aren’t uncommon in high-profile criminal cases. After world-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped in 1932, more than 200 people confessed to the crime.”

The 1987 book Lilienfeld cited as a source was a dead end, as it did not provide its source. A search on Google on terms like “Lindbergh kidnapping 200 confessions” produces thousands of hits. What’s the basis for the claim? Many books, scholarly papers, and articles cite the following as a source. 

Confessions in the Courtroom by Lawrence S. Wrightsman and Saul Kassin, 1993. It stated:

Voluntary false confessions, those purposefully offered in the absence of elicitation, are on the face of it the most enigmatic… Why, for example, did more than 200 people confess to the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Apparently, a ‘morbid desire for notoriety’ could account for many of these as well as other examples in which numbers of false confessions are received for widely publicized crimes.” 

Their source was the 1959 book by O. John Rogge, Why Men Confess, which stated:

“More than 200 innocent people confessed to the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. At least 17 innocent persons confessed to the highly publicized sex murder of Elizabeth Short, who was known as ‘the Black Dahlia’…”

Rogge listed his source as an article by Martin Abramson, “Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes,” from Why: The Magazine of Popular Psychology, Jan. 6, 1952. Why was a digest-sized magazine with a slightly sensational and gossipy tabloid flavor. 

I was unable to locate that issue, but Abramson recycled the material five years later in a popular general interest digest magazine, Coronet September 1957. Martin Abramson opened “Make-Believe Murderers” by discussing false confessions in the "Black Dahlia” murder, then he turned to other crimes:

“The Lindbergh kidnap-murder of 25 years ago attracted an all-time record high of 205 false confessions. And while innocents were pouring out their pleas of guilty, the man really guilty—Bruno Hauptmann— went to the electric chair insisting on his innocence. This rash of confessions helped create much of the confusion that marked the police investigation of the case, delayed justice for an appreciable period and triggered a widespread belief that others [were] equally guilty…”

Mark W. Falzini was the archivist at the New Jersey State Police Museum and is one of the foremost experts on the Lindbergh case. In his 2012 book, New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial, he wrote:

“The Lindberghs immediately began to receive thousands of letters from the public—40,000 in the first month alone! One quarter were sympathy letters, one quarter came from psychics or people who had dreams about the baby, one quarter offered suggestions for the investigation, and the rest were crank letters.”

In the Lindbergh case, there were a few actual false confessions, but the majority of “confessions” were in the form of letters from malicious jokers. The FBI case file on the kidnapping states:

“One of the by-products of the Lindbergh case was a mass of misinformation received from the well-meaning but uninformed, and a deluge of crank letters written by insane persons, nitwits, persons with a degraded sense of humor, and others with fraudulent intent.” The report also listed five individuals and associates under the section “Frauds, Hoaxes and Unfounded Information.”

In Donald Anderson Laird’s 1935 book, More Zest for Life, he referred to instance of “the large number of false confessions that misdirect detectives and prosecutors. Take the flood of misleading and false confessions from all points of the civilized world from persons who ‘confessed’ being the kidnapers of the Lindbergh baby.” The 1943 memoirs of a newsman, Where's Sammy? By Sammy Schulman and ‎Bob Considine, described some of those crank letters:

 “The very next afternoon after the kidnapping, the local RFD man had three sacks of mail to deliver to the Lindberghs, and among the letters were dozens of ‘confessions’ by the mentally unbalanced. Many claimed to have the baby. The case was seriously affecting every addled brain in the country.”

The term confession is frequently used in a casual sense in conversations, like “I confess I cheated on my diet today.” Confession in the Catholic Church is a disclosure of one's sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. Legally, to confess generally means a criminal making a voluntary admission to authorities, either orally or in writing. Mailing an anonymous letter with an outrageous claim is quite a different matter than making the statement in public - or face to face with the police.

Some of the letters in the Lindbergh case were by pranksters, others were frauds claiming to be the kidnappers asking for the ransom money. Martin Abramson referred to these crank letters hyperbolically as “confessions” back in 1952, and other writers just repeated the anecdote. Since then, the factoid has been cited as fact, even in legal and scholarly discussions about aspects and ethics of criminal confessions.

UFO researcher on 75th anniversary of Roswell incident.

UFO cases are generally less well-documented and far more confusing than the Lindbergh kidnapping story. If the basic facts in such a famous criminal case can get distorted in print, it serves as a warning that what we’ve been told is UFO history could be just as flawed. 

Charles Lindbergh on Saucers and Space Exploration

Now for something that’s actually about flying saucers, including a meeting between two historic figures to discuss the reality of UFOs.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made his history-making solo trans-Atlantic flight in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Afterwards, he flew across the US in a 3-month publicity tour, managed by retired Marine pilot Donald E. Keyhoe. The experience was later documented by Keyhoe in the 1928 book, Flying with Lindbergh. That was the start of Keyhoe’s new career as an author of adventure stories and non-fiction, but his biggest fame came from the 1950 book, The Flying Saucers are Real.

After World War II, Lindbergh served as a consultant to the US Air Force and to Pan American World Airways. He also was interested in rocketry and was influential in obtaining financing for its research and development. Below is a photo of him during a visit to check on the progress at Roswell, New Mexico. 

 Life July 4, 1969: “In 1935 Lindbergh and space pioneer Robert Goddard stood together in the center of a group at Goddard's experimental rocket testing facility in Roswell, N. Mex.”

In 1942, Charles H. Zimmerman built a single-wing circular airfoil, the Chance Vought V-173, nicknamed the Flying Pancake. This propeller driven disk-shaped plane was tested in 190 flights up until March 1947. One of the pilots to fly the saucer-like plane was Charles Lindbergh, who thought it handled well.

UP photo, July 3, 1947

The Flying Pancake in Flying magazine, July 1950

The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung wrote the 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. In 1959 Jung requested a meeting with Charles Lindbergh in to discuss flying saucers and the works of Donald E. Keyhoe. Ten years later, he wrote a letter recalling their meeting and it was later published  as “A Visit from Lindbergh,” in the 1978 book, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters.  It revealed Lindbergh's interest and involvement with the UFO topic.

 Lindbergh felt 
Jung had been persuaded by both facts and factoids in UFO literature.

“I had expected a fascinating discussion about psychological aspects of the numerous and recurring flying saucer reports. To my astonishment, I found that Jung accepted flying saucers as factual. When I told Jung that the U.S. Air Force had investigated hundreds of reported flying-saucer sightings without finding the slightest evidence of supernatural phenomena, it was obvious that he did not wish to pursue the subject farther.”

Instead, Jung wanted to talk about saucer stories he’d heard and “referred to Donald Keyhoe’s recent book about flying saucers.”

Lindbergh had also read Keyhoe’s books and was able to provide Jung with examples of how the author exaggerated things, “to substantiate his claims about the reality of flying saucers.” He cited Keyhoe’s description of a secret high-level Pentagon meeting on the UFO topic as an example:

“... the officials attending the conference felt the situation was so alarming and serious that the information discussed should be withheld from public knowledge. I told Jung I had been working closely with the Air Force, as a consultant, at the time, and that Pentagon officials were not alarmed by reports on flying saucers, but astonished at the stories they read about flying saucers in the newspapers. The conference was called as a result of the plea, ‘For God's sake, somebody tell us what it's all about.’ It was not a secret conference. So far as I could judge, Jung showed not the slightest interest in these facts.”

Lindbergh portrayed Jung as being a bit cranky:

"I then described a discussion on flying-saucer reports I had carried on with General Spaatz (an old friend and Chief of the United States Air Force). ... Spaatz, in his dryly humorous way, had replied: 'Slim, don't you suppose that if there was anything true about this flying-saucer business, you and I would have heard about it by this time?' To this, Jung replied: 'There are a great many things going on around this earth that you and General Spaatz don't know about.' Thereafter, I departed from the subject of flying saucers."

Lindbergh was perplexed that Jung was uninterested in discussing "either psychological aspects or facts relating to flying saucers.” He concluded, 
I was fascinated by Jung. One intuitively feels the elements of mysticism and greatness about him—even though they may have been mixed, at times, with elements of charlatanism. I liked Anne's not unadmiring description of Jung as 'an old wizard.' ...the 'Old Wizard' just didn't open his mind to me on the subject of flying saucers. ... Jung was such an extraordinary man, surely one of our time's great geniuses. My admiration and respect for him remain, and I continue to find tremendous stimulation in his writings; but I approach his statements and conclusions with even greater caution than in the past." 

Lindbergh on Life, the Universe and Everything

A decade later, Life magazine asked Lindbergh to write an article about his views on the exploration of space. In a remarkable and lengthy reply, he refused. It was published in Life July 4, 1969, as “A Letter from Lindbergh.”

He explained how his priorities had evolved over his life and career. He had lost his interest in technology and more interested in nature, philosophy, and other big questions, such as: “What would be the result of artificially perfusing a head severed from its body? This question, especially, intrigued me…”

Lindbergh thought the limitations of technology (and our own bodies) might keep us from achieving interstellar travel. Instead, he wondered about a far-out spiritual journey.

“Will we find [physical] life to be only a stage... discover that only without spaceships can we reach the galaxies; that only without cyclotrons can we know the interior of atoms? … I believe it is through sensing and thinking about such concepts that great adventures of the future will be found.”

Charles Lindbergh died five years later at the age of 72, on August 27, 1974.

UFO Lecturer, Ed Ruppelt of Project Blue Book

Flying Saucers:  “I realize this is a big thing. I never, even while I was working in the Air Force, I never realized what a big, big thing ...