Thursday, September 1, 2022

UFOs: Going to the Next Level

In the early 1970s, the Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM) movement was launched by Marshall Herff Applewhite, an ex-music teacher, and Bonnie Lu Nettles, an ex-psychiatric nurse from Texas. Presenting themselves as incarnate aliens, they gathered students to teach the way to extraterrestrial salvation. By 1975, former followers were predicting a tragic end. On March 26, 1997, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Applewhite and 38 of his followers were found dead from a mass suicide. The Heaven’s Gate story is well known, but so we won’t repeat it all, just focus on how the group interacted with UFOs culture and how they exploited it to influence their followers.

In the 1950s, Theosophical concepts of ancient godlike beings from other planets guiding mankind were redressed for a new audience. George Adamski claimed he’d met a savior in a flying saucer from Venus, becoming the first major Contactee. Many imitators followed with inspirational contact stories of their own, planting the seeds for de facto UFO religions. What happened with Applewhite, Nettles, and their students is a byproduct of the Contactee teachings.


First Contact

In 1973, Applewhite and Nettles took to the road traveling around the country, where they came up with the concepts for their teachings. As the son of a Presbyterian minister, Applewhite had set out to follow his father’s religious profession before focusing on music. Nettles was interested in astrology, Theosophy and UFOs. In 1974, mixing concepts from Christianity, Theosophy, and UFO Contactee lore, they reinvented themselves as celestial saviors. The asexual couple cultivated an air of mystery about themselves. They shed their names and became known as “the Two,” individually as “Bo” and “Peep,” later as “Ti” and “Do.” The Two began taking their ministry public by contacting UFO organizations.

On July 13, 1974, Applewhite and Nettles arrived in Oklahoma City at the office of Hayden Hewes of the International UFO Bureau where he interviewed them for 90 minutes. Hewes asked about whether UFOs were physically real and Applewhite said: 

“…they are real at a vibratory control rate… for example a spaceship can change its vibration rate. An individual who is a member of the next kingdom can change his vibration rate. He can appear and disappear in front of your eyes, because he has developed to that capacity.”

Applewhite also explained how our earthly lives must be shed to reach the heavenly next level: 

“…if you were willing to flake off all your humanity to make this graduation, you would move into an entirely different consciousness, you would change your body over just as the chrysalis in the caterpillar to butterfly.”
The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization was their next known stop. The APRO Bulletin Oct. 1975, described their visit.  

“In July of 1974 a middle-aged couple walked into APRO’s office and held a conversation… The gist of it was that they were some sort of emissaries and that within a year and a half they would be assassinated and would be taken up by a UFO, rejuvenated and returned to earth for some sort of revivalist movement.”

Before their recruiting campaign was properly launched, some trouble with the law resulted in Applewhite spending six months in jail.

Valley Morning Star TX, Aug. 29, 1974

Afterwards, they recruited “students” for HIM by putting up posters for their meetings which featured a UFO headline. Many of the people who were attracted by the group’s posters had a prior interest in UFOs.

In Messengers of Deception, the 1979 book by Jacques Vallée, he wrote about attending the HIM meeting on August 13, 1975, at the Stanford campus. A panel of eight members talked about how they had abandoned everything to follow The Two, and encouraged the audience to join them, saying it was free. When a woman challenged them on this, the speaker replied, "It only costs your life, you know. . ."

Two recruits were students from the University of Oregon, who’d become excited by news about the claims of crashed UFO at Hangar 18 by Robert Spencer Carr. In his final interview, the member said:

“One day in Oregon in 1975 an article showed up in the campus paper… [about] a Florida professor's presentation about the Aztec, New Mexico, crash and the bodies found inside. Autopsies showed the beings had brains capable of superhuman intelligence... I showed the article to [my friend]. This was before we joined the class, and we thought, ‘Wow this is going to be a big story.’ … some months later… we saw a poster that said. ‘UFOs: Why they are here…’”

They and many others left with the cult and were said to have “vanished.”

HIM poster, Calgary Herald, Oct. 17, 1975

To reach the Next Level involved some sacrifice, and their students were required to forsake most worldly pleasures like drugs and sex. Further, they were to sever contact with their families and devote themselves completely to the mission. The press on HIM focused on families that were torn apart by the cult.

The Courier Journal, Nov. 4, 1975

Joan Culpepper, a California psychic was a follower of HIM, but she dropped out and started speaking publicly to expose them.

Tucson Daily Citizen, Nov 29, 1975

The cult continued to recruit, sometimes drawing an audience of several hundred prospects.


Billings Gazette, Dec. 23, 1975

The fame of The Two was growing. In 1976, William Shatner, ex-Captain Kirk of Star Trek, was working on a paranormal documentary, Mysteries of the Gods, based on an Erich von Daniken book. Ufologist Dennis William Hauck was interviewed by Shatner in the film, and wrote in his 1995 book, Captain Quirk, that Shatner believed in alien visitors. He'd heard something about The Two and was curious.

Dennis William Hauck and William Shatner

Hauck told him about attending one of the HIM meetings and hearing about their message. “There must be over 150 members by now. Both Jackie Gleason and musician Steve Halpern came close to joining the group.” Shatner asked, “And why didn't you go with them?” When Hauck told him about The Two’s criminal record, Shatner lost any interest he had in them.

Hayden Hewes met The Two again in 1976 along with Brad Steiger. The interviews formed the basis for the 1976 book, UFO Missionaries Extraordinary. The Two had hoped their message would be spread to the world, but they were unhappy with the book, since it left out their alleged connection to Revelations and their predicted resurrections.

This edition was from the Heaven’s Gate book collection.

Excessive publicity caused Applewhite to become paranoid about being pursued by the law. The Two took their class underground.

The Next Generation

The late 1970s saw a boom in science fiction movies with aliens and other worlds, and this helped the class visualize the next level. Trouble came in 1985, when Bonnie Lu Nettles died from cancer, something not accounted for in their philosophy. It shook the faith, but when prophecy fails, change the prophecy. Physical entry into the spaceship to Heaven was no longer necessary. In 1993 the cult publicly remerged and started recruiting again, eventually renamed Heaven’s Gate. Applewhite had a new plan and taught his followers, “The Shedding of Our Human Bodies May Be Required To Take Up New Bodies in the Next World.”

The group was founded around the principles of UFOs and alien beings, and that was reflected in their allowed entertainment choices. Members were kept from watching TV programs featuring explicit sex but permitted to see shows more aligned to their values such as the Star Trek series, Voyager and Deep Space 9, and The X-Files and Millennium.

Applewhite and students take a trip.

In late 1996, remote viewer Courtney Brown was the guest on Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell, claiming a UFO “four times the size of Earth” following the comet Hale-Bopp. A photo alleging to show the was promoted on the websites of Whitley Strieber and Art Bell in mid-January 1997. Applewhite and his followers believed it pictured their ride, and they started preparing for their departure. We know how their story ends, but one of their first stops along the way was at a major UFO convention.

A large contingent from Heaven’s Gate attended the fringy 6th Annual International UFO Congress in Laughlin, Nevada, January 18-24, 1997. Perhaps they were drawn to it since at least two of the lecturers were speaking about the Hale-Bopp UFO, Whitley Strieber and Lee Shargel.

The scope of the IUFOC convention was described in a report from Pete Creelman in the March MUFON-Arizona newsletterNewsweek reported the Heaven’s Gate students were good customers. “While there, they shell out $740.86 on hotels, books, tapes and UFO magazines." Applewhite’s group already had a collection of UFO books, but some of the new items may have been mentioned in The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 21, 1999, when their belongings went up for auction and, “the cult's book collection for $340.” It included:

The Star Trek Encyclopedia, 1994.

Disneyland of the Gods by John Keel, 1995. 

Aliens from Outer Space by David Jackson, a 1991 children's picture book. 

Additionally, news video of the auction showed six boxes of books with at least three other UFO volumes from the collection:

UFO: The Complete Sightings by Peter Brookesmith, 1995.

An Alien Harvest by Linda Moulton Howe, 1989.

UFO... Contact from the Pleiades, by Wendelle C. Stevens, 1979.

There were apparently at least two lots of books auctioned, and a Reddit post pictured some of the volumes said to be part of the Heaven’s Gate collection, books from the 1950s to the 1990s.

 Also, among their possessions were a T-shirt with the picture of an alien and the logo "FARFROMHOME," and two "Star Wars" hats with the logo, "May the Force Be With You."

Astronomers identified the alleged UFO following the comet as an ordinary star, but Applewhite and his class were committed to leaving earth. The Heaven’s Gate site said, “Whether Hale-Bopp has a ‘companion’ or not is irrelevant from our perspective.” 


Out of Their Vulcan Minds

Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek incorporating ideas form classic science fiction, which by that time had folded in quite a bit of UFO and alien lore. Heaven’s Gate was fond of Star Trek and its spin offs, and it was reported that their demeanor was asexual and emotionally aloof, resembling the cool detachment of Vulcans from the series.

One of the members on their voyage to the final frontier was Thomas Alva Nichols, brother of Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Uhura. For their mission, Heaven’s Gate members wore a patch inspired by the series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which called the landing party transported to other planets an “away team.” 

In the videotape made in late 1996, “Planet About To Be Recycled - Your Only Chance To Survive,” in late 1996, Marshall Applewhite said:
“In the eyes of the Kingdom of Heaven, there's no such thing as race or color or religious background... If the extent of your religious background was Star Trek - that in itself could be the best background you could have, if you could accept this as Truth, if you could accept this as reality.”
In the members’ farewell videotape, one trekker used a science fiction analogy to try to explain their choices:
"…to us, this step of laying down... these human bodies [is] simple, like we watch a lot of ‘Star Trek,’ a lot of 'Star Wars’… "We've been on a holodeck, we've been into training... The game's over. It's time to put into practice what we've learned."

They poisoned themselves and died for their beliefs, a twisted religion based on UFOs and aliens. “Going From This World to a New Life” by James S. Phelan in the Lakeland Ledger, Feb 29, 1976, closed with a quote from Marshall Applewhite:
"Some people are like lemmings, who rush in a pack into the sea and drown themselves. Many migrate to the West Coast. They join any movement – self-discipline, this kind of meditation, that kind of meditation… Some people,” says the former opera singer who claims he will rise from the dead and take his followers to heaven on a UFO, “will try anything.”

. . . 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

The First UFO Pictures... & Cartoons

UFO Scrapbook: Artistic Depictions from the First Month of Flying Saucers

The first flying saucer picture? It may have been the one shown below, a drawing in the Idaho Statesman, June 28, 1947, based on the testimony of Kenneth Arnold.


Idaho Statesman, June 28, 1947

Arnold later wrote up an account of his sighting sent it to the Air Force, who acknowledged receipt of it on July 10, 1947. The report included Arnold’s own illustration of the objects he saw.

Newspaper UFO Illustrations 

In the early rush to cover the saucer mystery, you’d expect that newspaper articles would have featured witness sketches or artists’ renderings, but those were rare. Most of the artwork was by cartoonists and published on the editorial pages, frequently using the topic to satirize economic or political issues. Very few of the cartoons or illustrations dealt with theories of the origin of the UFOs, but there were a few interesting exceptions. Here’s our sampling of about twenty UFO drawings from the first month of saucers.

The Miami News, July 6, 1947, a gag about the economy.


Denver PostJuly 6, 1947, featured an imaginative illustration of the interior of a flying saucer by Charles Schneeman, who had a long career before and after UFOs as a science fiction artist.


“If you're one of the unimaginative people who haven’t yet seen a flying disc, this artist’s drawing might help you see one the next time you're outdoors. The drawing, by Post staff artist Charles Schneeman, shows his conception of the interior of a flying disc, always providing that there are such things, and that they are man-made. Part of the problematic crew is shown peering through a porthole at another of the sailing saucers. The disc jockeys at the controls, from left to right, are NOT Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Superman.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 7, 1947, a gag suggesting the sightings were the product of imagination, "intoxication" due to the fear of atomic war. 

Daily News, July 7, 1947: One legend eyes a new one invading its territory.

July 7, 1947: the International News Service sent out an illustration in connection with sightings in Idaho. It was signed by “CP” and the text stated, “Above is an artist's conception of what the now-you-see-them-now-you-don't discs might look like if they turn out to be man-made devices.”

Shortly afterwards, it was circulated as a general illustration in many papers: 

“HERE'S FLYING SAUCER as envisioned by artist after hearing latest ‘eyewitness’ reports. This saucer has everything but the cup and a man from Mars in the cockpit.”

These three address the economy, business, and politics.

Des Moines Tribune, July 8, 1947

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 8, 1947

Hartford Courant, July 8, 1947

At the time, few people were mentioning aliens in connections with saucers, and most of them were kooks or jokers. Denver Post, July 8, 1947, was one of the many newspapers featuring the satirical column by Hal Boyle, who claimed to have gone on a saucer voyage into space with a Martian cyclops. The Post’s version of the column included the illustration below, artist unknown.

The economy again and again:

Asbury Park Press, July 9, 1947

The Burlington Free Press, July 9, 1947

Crockery - literal flying saucers was a frequent theme.

Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY) July 10, 1947

The Morning News (Wilmington, DE) July 10, 1947

The Times Record (Troy, NY) July 10, 1947

The cost of living...

The Gazette (Montreal, CA) July 12, 1947

The Marysville Advocate (KS) July 17, 1947

Arizona Republic, July 26, 1947

Now for something different, a collection showcasing the overuse of saucers in cartoons.

Florence Morning News (SC) July 20, 1947

In Life magazine July 21, 1947, “Speaking of Pictures” was a light-hearted illustrated article that compared the saucers to ancient apparitions and follies. The caption stated:   

“The explanation of the flying disks drawn by Boris Artzybasheff shows residents of the planet Neptune gleefully bombarding the universe with stacks of crockery fired by atomic saucer-launchers. Neptunians thus far have aimed only saucers at the earth (top) but more favored planets have been shelled with teapots and dinner plates.”

Muggs and Skeeter by Wally Bishop may have been the first daily comic strip to use a flying saucer gag.

The Press Democrat, July 27, 1947.

There's no date on this 1947 cartoon, but it’s worth including due to the ET Expedition gag. From the aviation cartoon series, “Plane Nonsense” by Floyd E. Hill.

We’ve saved this picture for last, a flying saucer that appeared in an advertisement one month before people were supposed to be seeing UFOs. It was a plug for the paper's comic strip section featuring a space ship "of tomorrow." The art was from
 Buck Rogers, where such things had been featured since 1929.

The Long Beach Independent, May 9, 1947.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

UFO Religion: The Cosmic Circle of Fellowship


William R. Ferguson (born July 23, 1900) was the author of a 1937 self-self-help book teaching that before you could achieve your goals, one must learn to Relax First. Most of the advice was pragmatic, but there was a taste of the metaphysical:

“There was a soul that wandered out in the cosmic space... Everyone who has been born on this terrestrial sphere, was once a soul that wandered before its advent here.”

Ferguson worked as postman, then a Chicago taxi driver but quit that in 1946 to promote the invention he called the Zerret Applicator, a device infused with atomic energy that produced healing X-rays. 

From the FDA Consumer, February 1977:

“The Zerret Applicator exploited popular interest in medical uses of atomic energy following World War II. Inside were tubes of ‘Zerret Water,’ claimed to produce the ‘Z-Ray, a force unknown to science.’ This was said to ‘expand the atoms of the body’" thereby curing all diseases. Users were directed, to hold one end of the device in each hand but not to cross the legs, which would cause a ‘short circuit.’ More than 5,000 were sold at $50 each. Prosecuted by FDA, the promoter was sentenced to two years in Federal prison.”


After prison, Ferguson found a new calling. He went into the flying saucer region business. In 1954 Ferguson founded the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship, the first publication of which was his 13-page booklet, My Trip To Mars.

Ferguson rewrote his history, retconning everything into a cosmic plan. He claimed to have had some mind-expanding experiences since 1938, but on January 12, 1947, his consciousness was taken to Mars to meet a “Celestial Being,” Khauga.

"The Martians taught me so many things in the two hours that I was there, but in particular, the one who guided me about; his name was, and is, Khauga... is the one who engineered my teleportation... This great being who had engineered everything. I found out he was the one who had… been guiding my hands and consciousness in my work. …What a revelation to know that you have been working under the guidance of one of the greatest Uniphysicists in our Solar System.”
He found out that the Martians have been observing our progress on consciousness, spiritual and scientific development for 2,000 years. Ferguson was selected by Khauga to a share a message:
“To all fellow Earthmen, I can assure you we are now in a wonderful development period… and as a result, all things will become new and finer for the enjoyment and happiness for each and every being.”
Ferguson's teachings were a stew of New Age religion, flying saucer concepts and Christianity, preparing his followers for the Second Coming of Jesus.  In 1955, Ferguson published a 38-page booklet by "Khauga the Comforter, A Message from Outer Space." It was described as, "A Decoding of the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse) of the Bible; This Book Was a Revelation of Jesus Christ Given to His Angel to Give It to John His Servant Who Was on the Isle of Patmos When the Revelation Was Given." 

Cosmic Circle of Fellowship became part of the flying saucer Contactee community which helped spread the word about the group, their publications, and products. Ferguson also traveled to other cities to five  lectures, but one such trip to Wisconsin resulted in a scrap with the law. As reported in Time magazine, Nov. 29, 1954, "Miscellany: Wild Blue Yonder.”
"In Milwaukee, police looked for William Ferguson, lecturer (at $1 a head) on the wonders of Mars, after he 1) tried to sell Policewoman Mary Smeaton a brain-relaxing helmet and other souvenirs he said he brought back from his trip to the planet in 1947; 2) told her she would return to her home planet Saturn after 14,000 more years; 3) rhapsodized about Martian food, which the body absorbs without the need for elimination, and Martian water, which can be swum in without getting wet."
As reprinted in The Sun-Herald (Sydney, Australia)  Dec. 5, 1954 

Flying saucer magazines generally received Ferguson more warmly. Flying Saucer News, Sept 1955:
"The Cosmic Circle of Fellowship presents William Ferguson every Friday evening at 8: P.M. in Parlor E of the LaSalle Hotel, Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Ferguson gives Flying Saucer reports and messages from outer space, and subject matter of related phenomena.”
Ad from Flying Saucer News, Aug. 1955

Coral and Jim Lorenzen found Ferguson and his kind to be a nuisance. The APRO Bulletin, Sept. 1956
“Wonder when the [press] will do a feature on the oddballs in Chicago who call themselves the ‘Cosmic Circle of Fellowship.’ Passing around plastic cups, which they call the Cosmic Carriers, they list on their program ‘Cosmic Music,’ etc., and are generally fouling up UFO research… part of the job… [is to look] into these things, no matter how odd.”

The press had come close. The March 10, 1956, issue of The Saturday Evening Post had run an article on a flying saucer book store, “He Runs Flying Saucer Headquarters.” It focused on the kooks and Contactees, noting the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship in Chicago “receives messages from space every Friday night in Parlor E of the La Salle Hotel.”

UFO Conventions

Ferguson spoke at flying saucer conventions, and his group held their own “Annual Interplanetary Space Conference.” The Ufologer, Sept. 1957:
“On September 13, 14, 15 The Cosmic Circle of Fellowship held their annual space-craft conference here in Washington [DC] at the New Colonial Hotel… Among the speakers were, Major Wayne Aho, who gave a very interesting talk entitled, ‘Cosmic Ambassadors.’”

Anna Keppy was a UFO activist from Davenport, Michigan, who was active in the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship. She helped arrange lectures for Reinhold Schmitt, Otis T. Carr, and Wayne Aho, pictured below.

The Quad City Times, Feb. 18, 1958

During Ferguson’s travels, he set up “Circles” in other cities, including Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco. Back at home, Ferguson and his Cosmic Circle of Fellowship received some unfavorable press in the Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1959, “Quackery: $500,000 Racket.”

Illustration by George Sottung

Fortunately for him, the Circle was only described, not named. Business went on as usual.

AFSCA World Report, July-Aug. 1959
“The Cosmic Circle of Fellowship, Inc., present their 4th Annual Interplanetary Space Conference, September 11, 12, 13, 1959. Features include: The Pageant of the Planets, The Cosmic Dance, William Ferguson, Live Celestial Music, The Key to the Next Evolutionary Step of Man. This event will be held at the LaSalle Hotel, Chicago, Illinois.”
The organization continued to publish booklets about their religious teachings. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library files from 1961 contain “material from the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship, Inc.”

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

The last activity we found from Ferguson was a notice of his lecture October 19, 1966, lecture in Sioux City, Iowa, “A Story of Creation.” William R. Ferguson died June 20, 1967.

The Circle(s) carried on without him. The Presidential Library for Ronald Reagan contains a letter to the President and his Cabinet from March 18, 1981, from Cloe Diroll of the “Cosmic Study Center.” She called for “Government recognition of UFOs and acceptance of Space Beings,” based on the “unique experiences and revelations of William Ferguson.” She included a channeled message and a copy of her newsletter.

The last reference we found to the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship as a functioning entity was in the Tampa Tribune, July 25, 1992, which said the group had “about 20 members nationwide who communicate through newsletters.”

If we believe William Ferguson, since his 1947 contact, Khauga of Mars had “been guiding my hands and consciousness in my work.” Such work included the manufacture and sale of the Zerret Applicator. That crime led to a conviction, so we are granting Ferguson honorary status in an exclusive circle, the Saucer Swindlers.

. . .

For Further Reading

William Ferguson and the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship by Kook Science.

William Ferguson, The First Man on Mars by Adam Gorightly.

A UFO (Book) Report

Flying Saucers Over America by Gordon Arnold, (2022) McFarland , $29.95 softcover, $17.99 ebook.  227 pages and 17 photos, including chapte...