MICHIGAN’S UFO HYSTERIA

It all started out of nowhere late one evening in 1966. Right at the moment when the earth was at its Spring Equinox, as if in response to the University of Michigan’s advanced radio telescope probing space the final frontier on nearby Peach Mountain, strange but colorful lights suddenly appeared over a family farm near the village of Dexter, MI.

The farmer, Frank Manor, made of tougher stuff than the intellectual dandies attending university just down the road, grabbed his shotgun and, with his son at his side, ran after the strange, hovering craft over the swamp.

“We got to about 500 yards of the thing,” he later told reporters. “It was sort of shaped like a pyramid, with a blue-green light on the right-hand side and on the left, a white light. I didn’t see no antenna or porthole. The body was like a yellowish coral rock and looked like it had holes in it—sort of like if you took a piece of cardboard box and split it open. You couldn’t see it too good because it was surrounded with heat waves, like you see on the desert. The white light turned to a blood red as we got close to it and Ron (his son) said, ‘Look at that horrible thing.’”

Suddenly there were sightings everywhere. Washtenaw County Sheriff, Douglas Harvey’s office was bombarded with reported sightings of UFO’s faster than they could respond and the news got out. It didn’t stop there. Extraterrestrial incidents quickly spread throughout the entire country.

Dismissed at first as just a hoax gaining momentum, then as a mass delusion of some kind, the sightings continued pouring in by more and more credible witnesses. It was undeniable that something strange was happening. The government quickly stepped in sending in Dr. J Allen Hynek of Northwestern University to investigate the matter. Dr. Hynek arrived in Dexter three days after the first sightings and found what he later described as “near hysteria.”

The hit TV series Lost in Space had premiered a few months prior. UFO and alien mania was already sweeping across the country. Just a few miles from Dexter, University of Michigan students laughed it off playing prank after prank of strange pulsing lights and “alien” sightings.

But then after just three weeks, all sightings abruptly stopped dead cold. Hynek kept investigating but admitted he still had no explanation for the strange events.

Dr. J Allen Hynek: “It’s not possible that all of these people are mistaken.”

One afternoon, after returning from investigating a sighting site, Hynek received a call at the sheriff’s office from Washington DC. When he stepped out of the office after taking the call, Sheriff Harvey described him as “looking a bit shaken.” Hynek kept his head down as he walked past, avoiding eye contact and mumbling, “Swamp gas, swamp gas, it was swamp gas.”

The investigation was over. A few months later Star Trek premiered boldly going where no man has gone before and people had their thoughts diverted to thinking of outer space for its entertainment value.

And while the government denies anything happened, the intellectuals laugh it off, and Hollywood turns it into money-making make-believe, just a couple of miles from the original sightings, the University of Michigan quietly changes their 85-foot Peach Mountain radio telescope to focus “on the monitoring the flux density and linear polarization of radio emissions from active extragalactic objects”[1].

That’s a fancy way of saying they’ve gone from looking for things to listening for things. It’s the recognition that there is something out there with something to say.

UofM’s radio telescope

So here I am looking up at UofM’s big dish from the other side of the fence, catching my breath. I often run the trails on the 700 acres of hills and tall pines that make up the Peach Mountain property. I wasn’t here in the 60’s, but I’ve heard the stories and this is what’s on my mind right now. My reverie is shattered by an incredibly loud clank from the huge dish. I jump. Electric motors hum and the deep space radio receiver lurches into action, adjusting its dial for a clearer signal.

 

  1. [1] “Michigan Astronomy | Radio Observatory”. University of Michigan Astronomy Department. Retrieved 2012-01-13.

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