A scene from the 2008 movie “Shutter” shows a ghostly shape in a photo.
Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell has busted a lot of ghostly myths over the past 40 years — but the spookiest part of his job comes when he actually catches a ghost red-handed.
No, we’re not talking about spirits of the dead: These “ghosts” are hotel clerks who flick the lights to keep the guests talking about the place’s ghost story. Or a mischievous child who plays tricks on his parents. Or maybe a camera crew catching weird-looking “orbs” floating through the frame — orbs they didn’t notice until they looked at the pictures later.
“Much of what so-called ghost hunters are detecting is themselves,” Nickell, the author of “The Science of Ghosts,” told me this week. “If they go through a haunted house and stir up a lot of dust, they shouldn’t be surprised if they get a lot of orbs in their photographs.”
The orbs are actually out-of-focus reflections from a camera flash, created by dust particles floating in front of the lens. The clumping noises that ghost hunters hear often turn out to be the footsteps of crew members elsewhere in the building, or even someone on a stairway next door. And those weird readings they pick up with thermal imagers? They’re typically left behind by the flesh-and-blood visitors.
A tough job
Tracking down the truth behind spooky sightings is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it, Nickell said.
“It takes only a moment for someone to say that they saw something,” he said, “but it can take a huge expenditure for someone to fly somewhere, and they might never re-create that one little moment.”
Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell appears to be surrounded by an aura in a photograph that was created to duplicate a spooky effect.
Nickell, a former professional magician and detective, has been that someone for Skeptical Inquirer magazine and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry since the 1970s. “I’ve been in more haunted houses than Casper,” he joked. And the truth is that there are worse jobs in the world.
“I wouldn’t want anyone ever to know this, but it really is a great deal of fun to do what I do,” Nickell said.
In “The Science of Ghosts,” Nickell spins a series of tales about his worldwide travels. His first haunted-house investigation, in 1972, took place at Toronto’s Mackenzie House, where residents reported seeing apparitions hovering over their bed, and hearing footsteps when no one else was in the house. Nickell ascribed the apparitions to “waking dreams,” a phenomenon that leads people to see things when they’re half-asleep or in an idle reverie. And as for those footsteps: Nickell found out that there was an iron staircase in the building next door. The strange sounds were traced to a late-night cleanup crew tromping up and down those stairs.
Nickell learned a lot from that first case. “You must go on site, and you must investigate just like any other piece of detective work,” Nickell said. “You can treat the house as a sort of crime scene.”
Other cases involved spirit photographs, such as the ones that show orbs or bright streaks. One family called Nickell in to explain a series of pictures that showed bright, hazy loops of energy in the foreground. Nickell eventually figured out that the loops were created when a flash bounced off a camera strap dangling in front of the lens. “Now we know about the camera-strap effect,” Nickell said.
Taking on TV psychics
Nickell also takes on psychic mediums who claim to speak with the dead. In the book, he traces his encounters with TV-show medium John Edward, who uses so-called “cold reading” techniques to draw information out of a crowd. (For example, “I feel like someone with a J- or G-sounding name has recently passed. …”)
“The people who profess to be able to talk to the dead tend to be either fantasy-prone personalities, or charlatans, or possibly a bit of both,” Nickell declared. “They would be harmless if they didn’t mislead so many people.”
Nickell totally understands why a belief in ghosts and the afterlife is so important to people. “If ghosts exist, then we don’t really die, and that’s huge. … It appeals to our hearts,” he said. “We don’t want our loved ones to die. We have this whole culture that we’re brought up with, that encourages this belief in ghosts.”
Once a ghost story gets attached to a place or a situation, then almost anything that happens can be interpreted as supporting that story, he said. That’s one reason why ghostbusting can be a thankless job. Another reason is that it’s so hard to wrap your arms around the evidence — or, more appropriately, the lack thereof.
“No one is bringing you a ghost trapped in a bottle,” Nickell said. “What they’re offering is, ‘I don’t know.’ Over and over, they’re saying something like this: ‘We don’t know what the noise in the old house was, or the white shape in the photo. So it must be a ghost.’ These are examples of what’s called an argument from ignorance. You can’t make an argument from a lack of knowledge. You can’t say, ‘I don’t know, therefore I do know.’… If I could just teach people a little bit about the argument from ignorance, I think we could give the ghosts their long-needed rest.”
People love to believe in this type of stuff. But if you use your logic and common sense it becomes apparent that there is absolutely, without a doubt, no solid evidence to support ghost claims. Just watch Ghost Hunters and this lack of evidence becomes crystal clear.
If only this was real. It would make reality so much more exciting!
The best tools for tracking down spirits have always been the ones fallible enough to find something.
The small, Syracuse, New York-based company K-II Enterprises makes a number of handheld electronic devices—including the Dog Dazer (a supposedly safe, humane device that deters aggressive dogs with high-pitched radio signals)—but it is best known for the Safe Range EMF. The size of a television remote, the Safe Range EMF detects electromagnetic fields, or EMF, measuring them with a bright LED array that moves from green to red depending on their strength. Designed to locate potentially harmful EMF radiation from nearby power lines or household appliances, the Safe Range has become popular for another use: detecting ghosts.
Since its appearance in the show Ghost Hunters, where the ghost hunter Grant Wilson claimed that it has been “specially calibrated for paranormal investigators,” the Safe Range (usually referred to as a K-II meter) has become ubiquitous among those looking for spirits. Search for it on Amazon, and many listings will refer to it as a “ghost meter,” an indispensable tool in the ghost hunter’s arsenal. It isn’t alone among EMF meters: Of the best-selling EMF meters on Amazon, two out of the top three are explicitly marketed as ghost meters.
Scanning the various product descriptions and reviews, though, what becomes clear is that the K-II Safe Range is a relatively unreliable electromagnetic field meter. It operates only on one axis (you have to wave it around to get a proper reading), and it’s unshielded, meaning that it can be set off by a cell phone, a two-way radio, or virtually any kind of electronic device that occasionally gives off electromagnetic waves. The reviewer Kenny Biddle found he could set it off with, among other things, a computer mouse and a camera battery pack.
Yet it’s precisely because it’s not particularly good at its primary purpose that makes it a popular device for ghost hunters. Erratic, prone to false positives, easily manipulated, its flashy LED display will light up any darkened room of a haunted hotel or castle. Which is to say, its popularity as a ghost hunting tool stems mainly from its fallibility.
The K-II isn’t the only consumer-electronic item used by ghost hunters. Often it’s sold in kits that contain other devices, such as a Couples Ghost Hunt Kit, with two of everything, so you can build “trust and lasting memories when the two of you, alone in some spooky stakeout, look to each other for confirmation of your findings and reassurance!” There are devices that have been engineered specifically for ghost hunters, like a ghost box, which works by randomly scanning through FM and AM frequencies to pick up spirits’ words in the white noise. But mostly, ghost hunters use pre-existing technology: not just EMF meters, but also run-of-the-mill digital recorders, used to capture electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. An investigator records her or himself asking questions in an empty room, with the hope that upon playback ghostly voices will appear.
All of this technology—both the custom and the repurposed—works along more or less the same principle: generating a lot of static and random effects, hoping to capture random noise and other ephemera. The ghost hunter, in turn, looks for patterns, momentary convergences, serendipity, meaningful coincidence. For the believer, this is where ghosts live: in static, in glitches and in blurs.
Electronic voice phenomena have continued to rank among the most prominent “evidence” offered of paranormal activity, it seems, precisely because humans are hardwired to dredge meaning out of chaos. Evolutionarily, we have long needed to discern the sight or sound of a predator despite its camouflage, which has led us to look for patterns where they might not be immediately evident. The quirks and shortcomings of technology plays directly into this biological need: throwing out random static and noise that is primed to be transmuted into meaningful signals. Ghost hunters work through confirmation bias. Looking for proof of the paranormal, they will find it in anything, but most readily in static, gibberish, and errata—technological noise in which we’re hardwired to find false positives.
The only thing that’s changed recently is the proliferation of consumer electronics associated with ghost hunting. In an age of iPhones and Fitbits, ghost hunters are just one more niche market, lapping up the latest and greatest gadgets for sale. But there’s one crucial difference: most purveyors of consumer electronics keep their consumers happy by constantly refining them until they’re free of bugs. Ghost tech works the other way, by actively engineering glitches—the more, the better.
Such seekers can easily be written off as kooks and outliers, but there’s something paradigmatic in their use of faulty devices. The rise of the internet and other new technologies promised a new Information Age, one in which data, truth, and knowledge were the new currency, where the future would be built on information itself. Twenty years on, there’s an endless labyrinth of conspiracy theories, fake memes, trumped up stats, and fabricated evidence. The world’s knowledge is just a Google search away, but it comes to us inextricably intertwined with the world’s bullshit.
The 21st-century media consumer is always working to sift through the noise in search of a signal. Whether it’s a cousin’s anti-vax Facebook post, the endless Farmville requests that have to be filtered out of a feed, or the colossal avalanche of half-truths and lies dumped during this election, most people’s primary challenge online these days is blocking out the endless assault of static, trying to torture it into some kind of meaning.
Houska Castle is an early Gothic castle, 47 kilometres (29 mi) north of Prague, in the Czech Republic. It is one of the best preserved castles of the period. Notable features include a predominantly gothic chapel, green chamber with late-gothic paintings, and knight’s drawing room.
It was built in the first half of the 13th century probably on the orders of Bohemian ruler Ottokar II of Bohemia during his reign (1253–78) to serve as an administration center from which the extensive royal estates could be managed. Later it passed to the hands of the aristocracy, frequently passing from the ownership of one to another. In 1584–90 it underwent Renaissance-style modifications, losing none of its fortress features as it looks down from a steep rocky cliff. In the 18th century it ceased to serve as a noble residence and fell into a state of disrepair before being renovated in 1823. In 1897 it was purchased by Princess Hohenlohe and in 1924, the times of the First Republic, bought by the President of Škoda, Josef Simonek . During World War Two, the Germans used the castle to perform inhumane experiments on local people or prisoners of war.
While many European castles were built as strategic locations, the Czech Republic’s Houska Castle possesses a much more sinister origin story – it’s believed to sit atop the gateway to hell.
The castle is located in the dense forests surrounding Prague. According to legend, the land once teemed with half-monster, half-human beasts. Brave builders constructed the castle to keep the devilish creatures contained. In the 1930s, Nazis occupied the site, where they conducted occult experiments in search of extra-dimensional portals. Many believe Hitler had a fascination with the paranormal, but little is known as to just what Nazi scientists discovered at Houska. Years later, skeletons of German soldiers were unearthed around the castle, seemingly killed execution-style.
Houska castle, and most specifically the chapel, has been constructed over a large hole in the ground that is supposedly ‘The Gateway to Hell’, which was said to be so deep no one could see the bottom of it. Half-animal-half-man creatures were reported to have crawled out of it, and dark winged creatures flew in its vicinity. Legend has it that when construction began in the castle, all the inmates that were sentenced to death were offered a pardon if they consented to be lowered by rope into the hole, and report back on what they saw. When the first person was lowered, he began screaming after a few seconds, and when pulled back to the surface he looked as if he had aged 30 years in just a few seconds. He had grown wrinkles and his hair had turned white, as old folklore tales state.
Houska castle was built with no fortifications, no water, no kitchen, near no trade routes, and with no occupants at its time of completion. The castle was not built as a residence or as a protective sanctuary, but was instead built because the hole was thought to be a gateway to hell. Thus, by constructing the Gothic building, they were able to keep the demons trapped in the lower level thickest walls closest to the hole of the castle.
Renovations in the twentieth century turned up the skeletons of several Nazi officers who had been killed execution style. Many different types of ghosts are seen around the castle, including a giant bulldog, a distorted human, a woman in an old dress, a headless black horse and a Nazi soldier with a face that appears to be in an advanced stage of decomposition.
The Main Hall. This is where the bottomless pit was reported to be. The pit has been bricked up right under the floor of the Main Hall.
A photograph of the Main Hall taken by intrepid paranormal researcher Nad Dean and colleague Mel Ryan in 2015. At the time the photo was taken Nad and Mel were certain the hall was devoid of any other entities except themselves. When the photo was downloaded this menacing and horrific image was in it! What did they capture!
The Roswell UFO incident refers to an event in mid 1947, when a United States Air Force surveillance balloon crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, prompting claims alleging the crash was of an extraterrestrial spaceship.
After an initial spike of interest, the military reported that the crash was merely of a conventional weather balloon. Interest subsequently waned until the late 1970s when ufologists began promulgating a variety of increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories, claiming that one or more alien spacecraft had crash-landed, and that the extraterrestrial occupants had been recovered by the military who then engaged in a cover-up.
In the 1990s, the US military published reports disclosing the true nature of the crashed Project Mogul balloon. Nevertheless, the Roswell incident continues to be of interest in popular media, and conspiracy theories surrounding the event persist. Roswell has been called “the world’s most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim”.
Many people have made lots of money perpetuating the ‘Roswell Myth’. Stanton Friedman fed his family for years lying about the incident. People are unscrupulous, they will lie through their teeth to make money.
One example of the contradiction: Jesse Marcel says the debris material brought back to his house couldn’t be broken or bent, it was indestructible. Yet witnesses at the crash site said the debris field was hundreds of meters long, covered in thousands of pieces of metal-like fragments. So much for the material being indestructible.
The sequence of events was triggered by the crash of a Project Mogul balloon near Roswell. On July 8, 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) public information officer Walter Haut, issued a press release stating that personnel from the field’s 509th Operations Group had recovered a “flying disc”, which had crashed on a ranch near Roswell.
The military decided to conceal the true purpose of the crashed device – nuclear test monitoring – and instead inform the public that the crash was of a weather balloon. Later that day, the press reported that Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force Roger Ramey had stated that a weather balloon was recovered by the RAAF personnel. A press conference was held, featuring debris (foil, rubber and wood) said to be from the crashed object, which matched the weather balloon description. Historian Robert Goldberg wrote that the intended effect was achieved: “the story died the next day”.
Subsequently the incident faded from the attention of UFO enthusiasts for more than 30 years.
On June 14, 1947, William Brazel, a foreman working on the Foster homestead, noticed clusters of debris approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of Roswell, New Mexico. This date—or “about three weeks” before July 8—appeared in later stories featuring Brazel, but the initial press release from the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) said the find was “sometime last week”, suggesting Brazel found the debris in early July. Brazel told the Roswell Daily Record that he and his son saw a “large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.” He paid little attention to it but returned on July 4 with his son, wife and daughter to gather up the material. Some accounts have described Brazel as having gathered some of the material earlier, rolling it together and stashing it under some brush. The next day, Brazel heard reports about “flying discs” and wondered if that was what he had picked up. On July 7, Brazel saw Sheriff Wilcox and “whispered kinda confidential like” that he may have found a flying disc. Another account quotes Wilcox as saying Brazel reported the object on July 6.
Wilcox called RAAF Major Jesse Marcel and a “man in plainclothes” accompanied Brazel back to the ranch where more pieces were picked up. “[We] spent a couple of hours Monday afternoon [July 7] looking for any more parts of the weather device”, said Marcel. “We found a few more patches of tinfoil and rubber.”
As described in the July 9, 1947 edition of the Roswell Daily Record,
The balloon which held it up, if that was how it worked, must have been 12 feet long, [Brazel] felt, measuring the distance by the size of the room in which he sat. The rubber was smoky gray in color and scattered over an area about 200 yards in diameter. When the debris was gathered up, the tinfoil, paper, tape, and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable Scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction. No strings or wires were to be found but there were some eyelets in the paper to indicate that some sort of attachment may have been used.
A telex sent to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office from the Fort Worth, Texas office quoted a Major from the Eighth Air Force (also based in Fort Worth at Carswell Air Force Base) on July 8, 1947 as saying that “The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a balloon by cable, which balloon was approximately twenty feet in diameter. Major Curtan further advises that the object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector, but that telephonic conversation between their office and Wright field had not [UNINTELLIGIBLE] borne out this belief.”
Early on Tuesday, July 8, the RAAF issued a press release, which was immediately picked up by numerous news outlets:
The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.
Colonel William H. Blanchard, commanding officer of the 509th, contacted General Roger M. Ramey of the Eighth Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ramey ordered the object be flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field. At the base, Warrant Officer Irving Newton confirmed Ramey’s preliminary opinion, identifying the object as being a weather balloon and its “kite”, a nickname for a radar reflector used to track the balloons from the ground. Another news release was issued, this time from the Fort Worth base, describing the object as being a “weather balloon”.
Growing interest, 1978–1994
Between 1978 and the early 1990s, UFO researchers such as Stanton T. Friedman, William Moore, Karl T. Pflock, and the team of Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt interviewed several hundred people who claimed to have had a connection with the events at Roswell in 1947. Hundreds of documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, along with other documents such as Majestic 12 that were supposedly leaked by insiders. Their conclusions were at least one alien spacecraft crashed near Roswell, alien bodies had been recovered, and a government cover-up of the incident had taken place.
Over the years, books, articles, and television specials brought the 1947 incident significant notoriety. By the mid-1990s, public polls such as a 1997 CNN/Time poll, revealed that the majority of people interviewed believed that aliens had indeed visited Earth, and that aliens had landed at Roswell, but that all the relevant information was being kept secret by the US government.
According to anthropologists Susan Harding and Kathleen Stewart, the Roswell Story was the prime example of how a discourse moved from the fringes to the mainstream according to the prevailing zeitgeist: public preoccupation in the 1980s with “conspiracy, cover-up and repression” aligned well with the Roswell narratives as told in the “sensational books” which were being published.
Friedman’s initial work
In 1978, nuclear physicist and author Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Jesse Marcel, the only person known to have accompanied the Roswell debris from where it was recovered to Fort Worth where reporters saw material which was claimed to be part of the recovered object. The accounts given by Friedman and others in the following years elevated Roswell from a forgotten incident to perhaps the most famous UFO case of all time.
The Roswell Incident (1980)
The first conspiracy book about Roswell was The Roswell Incident (1980) by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, authors who had previously written popular books on the Philadelphia Experiment and on the Bermuda Triangle.
Historian Kathy Olmsted writes that the material in this book has come to be known as “version 1” of the Roswell myth. Berlitz and Moore’s narrative holds that an alien craft was flying over the New Mexico desert observing US nuclear weapons activity, but crashed after being hit by lightning, killing the aliens on board; a government cover-up duly followed.
The authors claimed to have interviewed over ninety witnesses. Though he was uncredited, Friedman carried out some research for the book. The Roswell Incident featured accounts of debris described by Marcel as “nothing made on this earth.” Additional accounts by Bill Brazel, son of Mac Brazel, neighbor Floyd Proctor and Walt Whitman Jr., son of newsman W. E. Whitman who had interviewed Mac Brazel, suggested the material Marcel recovered had super-strength not associated with a weather balloon. The book introduced the contention that debris which was recovered by Marcel at the Foster ranch, visible in photographs showing Marcel posing with the debris, was substituted for debris from a weather device as part of a cover-up. The book also claimed that the debris recovered from the ranch was not permitted a close inspection by the press. The efforts by the military were described as being intended to discredit and “counteract the growing hysteria towards flying saucers”. Two accounts of witness intimidation were included in the book, including the incarceration of Mac Brazel. The book also introduced the secondhand stories of civil engineer Barney Barnett and a group of archeology students from an unidentified university seeing alien wreckage and bodies while in the desert.
Berlitz and Moore’s narrative was dominant until the late 1980s when other authors, attracted by the commercial potential of writing about Roswell, started producing rival accounts.
UFO Crash at Roswell (1991)
In 1991, Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published UFO Crash at Roswell. They added 100 new witnesses, altered and tightened the narrative, and included several “sinister” new twists.
Some new details were included, including accounts of a “gouge […] that extended four or five hundred feet” at the ranch and descriptions of an elaborate cordon and recovery operation. Several witnesses in The Roswell Incident described being turned back from the Foster ranch by armed military police, but extensive descriptions were not given. The Barnett accounts were mentioned, though the dates and locations were changed from the accounts found in The Roswell Incident. In the new account, Brazel was described as leading the Army to a second crash site on the ranch, at which point the Army personnel were supposedly “horrified to find civilians [including Barnett] there already.”
Glenn Dennis was produced as a supposedly important witness in 1989, after calling the hotline when an episode of Unsolved Mysteries featured the Roswell incident. His descriptions of Roswell alien autopsies were the first account that said there were alien corpses at the Roswell Army Air Base.
Randle and Schmitt’s book sold 160,000 copies.
Crash at Corona (1992)
In 1992, Stanton Friedman re-entered the scene with his own book Crash at Corona, co-authored with Don Berliner – an author of books on space and aviation. Goldberg writes that Friedman too introduced new “witnesses”, and that he added to the narrative by doubling the number of flying saucers to two, and the number of aliens to eight – two of which were said to have survived and been taken into custody by the government.
The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell (1994)
Randle and Schmitt responded with another book, updating their previous narrative with several new details, including the claim that alien bodies were taken by cargo plane to be viewed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was curious about their appearance.
The Day After Roswell (1997)
Former Lt. Col. Philip J. Corso reported in his autobiographical book that the Roswell Crash did happen and that when he was assigned to Fort Riley (Kansas) in July 1947, 5 trucks of 25 tons and some semi trailers entered the base from Fort Bliss Texas. He claimed while he was patrolling the base he was brought into the medical facilities by Sgt. Brown and shown the remnants of bodies that were from an “air crash”. Philip Klass analyzed his claims line by line and exposed many inconsistencies and factual errors.
The existence of so many differing accounts by 1994 led to a schism among ufologists about the events at Roswell. The Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), two leading UFO societies, disagreed in their views of the various scenarios presented by Randle–Schmitt and Friedman–Berliner; several conferences were held to try to resolve the differences. One issue under discussion was where Barnett was when he saw the alien craft he was said to have encountered. A 1992 UFO conference had attempted to achieve a consensus among the various scenarios portrayed in Crash at Corona and UFO Crash at Roswell, however, the publication of The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell had “resolved” the Barnett problem by simply ignoring Barnett and citing a new location for the alien craft recovery, including a new group of archaeologists not connected to the ones the Barnett story cited.
Don Schmitt held that variations in narratives between different writers was not however an essential problem, commenting by way of comparison “We know Jesus Christ was crucified, we just don’t know where.”
Problems with witness accounts
Hundreds of people were interviewed by the various researchers, but critics point out that only a few of these people claimed to have seen debris or aliens. Most witnesses were repeating the claims of others, and their testimony would be considered hearsay in an American court of law and therefore inadmissible as evidence. Of the 90 people claimed to have been interviewed for The Roswell Incident, the testimony of only 25 appears in the book, and only seven of these people saw the debris. Of these, five handled the debris. Pflock, in Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe (2001), makes a similar point about Randle and Schmitt’s UFO Crash at Roswell. Approximately 271 people are listed in the book who were “contacted and interviewed” for the book, and this number does not include those who chose to remain anonymous, meaning more than 300 witnesses were interviewed, a figure Pflock said the authors frequently cited. Of these 300-plus individuals, only 41 can be “considered genuine first- or second-hand witnesses to the events in and around Roswell or at the Fort Worth Army Air Field,” and only 23 can be “reasonably thought to have seen physical evidence, debris recovered from the Foster Ranch.” Of these, only seven have asserted anything suggestive of otherworldly origins for the debris.
As for the accounts from those who claimed to have seen aliens, critics identified problems ranging from the reliability of second-hand accounts, to credibility problems with witnesses making demonstrably false claims, or multiple, contradictory accounts, to dubious death-bed confessions or accounts from elderly and easily confused witnesses. Pflock noted that only four people with supposed firsthand knowledge of alien bodies were interviewed and identified by Roswell authors: Frank Kaufmann; Jim Ragsdale; Lt. Col. Albert Lovejoy Duran; Gerald Anderson. Duran is mentioned in a brief footnote in The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell and never again, while the other three all have serious credibility problems. A problem with all the accounts, charge critics, is they all came about a minimum of 31 years after the events in question, and in many cases were recounted more than 40 years after the fact. Not only are memories this old of dubious reliability, they were also subject to contamination from other accounts the interviewees may have been exposed to. The shifting claims of Jesse Marcel, whose suspicion that what he recovered in 1947 was “not of this world” sparked interest in the incident in the first place, cast serious doubt on the reliability of what he claimed to be true.
In The Roswell Incident, Marcel stated, “Actually, this material may have looked like tinfoil and balsa wood, but the resemblance ended there […] They took one picture of me on the floor holding up some of the less-interesting metallic debris […] The stuff in that one photo was pieces of the actual stuff we found. It was not a staged photo.” Timothy Printy points out that the material Marcel positively identified as being part of what he recovered is material that skeptics and UFO advocates agree is debris from a balloon device. After that fact was pointed out to him, Marcel changed his story to say that that material was not what he recovered. Skeptics like Robert Todd argued that Marcel had a history of embellishment and exaggeration, such as claiming to have been a pilot and having received five Air Medals for shooting down enemy planes, claims that were all found to be false, and skeptics feel that his evolving Roswell story was simply another instance of this tendency to fabricate.
Air Force reports, 1994–1997
In response to these reports, and after United States congressional inquiries, the General Accounting Office launched an inquiry and directed the Office of the United States Secretary of the Air Force to conduct an internal investigation. The result was summarized in two reports. The first, released in 1994, concluded that the reported recovered material in 1947 was likely debris from Project Mogul. The second report, released in 1997, concluded reports of recovered alien bodies were likely a combination of innocently transformed memories of military accidents involving injured or killed personnel, innocently transformed memories of the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs like Operation High Dive conducted in the 1950s, and hoaxes perpetrated by various witnesses and UFO proponents. The psychological effects of time compression and confusion about when events occurred explained the discrepancy with the years in question.
The Air Force reports were dismissed by UFO proponents as being either disinformation or simply implausible, though skeptical researchers such as Philip J. Klass and Robert Todd, who had been expressing doubts regarding accounts of aliens for several years, used the reports as the basis for skeptical responses to claims by UFO proponents. After the release of the Air Force reports, several books, such as Kal Korff’s The Roswell UFO Crash: What They Don’t Want You To Know (1997), built on the evidence presented in the reports to conclude “there is no credible evidence that the remains of an extraterrestrial spacecraft was involved.” In the 1990s, skeptics and even some social anthropologists saw the increasingly elaborate accounts of alien crash landings and government cover ups as evidence of a myth being constructed.
Although there is no evidence that a UFO crashed at Roswell, believers firmly hold to the belief that one did, and that the truth has been concealed as a result of a government conspiracy. B. D. Gildenberg has called the Roswell incident “the world’s most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim”.
Pflock said, “[T]he case for Roswell is a classic example of the triumph of quantity over quality. The advocates of the crashed-saucer tale […] simply shovel everything that seems to support their view into the box marked ‘Evidence’ and say, ‘See? Look at all this stuff. We must be right.’ Never mind the contradictions. Never mind the lack of independent supporting fact. Never mind the blatant absurdities.” Korff suggests there are clear incentives for some people to promote the idea of aliens at Roswell, and that many researchers were not doing competent work: “[The] UFO field is comprised of people who are willing to take advantage of the gullibility of others, especially the paying public. Let’s not pull any punches here: The Roswell UFO myth has been very good business for UFO groups, publishers, for Hollywood, the town of Roswell, the media, and UFOlogy […] [The] number of researchers who employ science and its disciplined methodology is appallingly small.”
B. D. Gildenberg wrote there were as many as 11 reported alien recovery sites and these recoveries bore only a marginal resemblance to the event as initially reported in 1947, or as recounted later by the initial witnesses. Some of these new accounts could have been confused accounts of the several known recoveries of injured and dead servicemen from four military plane crashes that occurred in the area from 1948 to 1950. Other accounts could have been based on memories of recoveries of test dummies, as suggested by the Air Force in their reports. Charles Ziegler argued that the Roswell story has all the hallmarks of a traditional folk narrative. He identified six distinct narratives, and a process of transmission via storytellers with a core story that was created from various witness accounts, and was then shaped and molded by those who carry on the UFO community’s tradition. Other “witnesses” were then sought out to expand the core narrative, with those who give accounts not in line with the core beliefs being repudiated or simply omitted by the “gatekeepers.” Others then retold the narrative in its new form. This whole process would repeat over time.
Prominent skeptics Joe Nickell and co-author James McGaha identified a myth-making process, which they called the “Roswellian Syndrome”. In this syndrome a myth is proposed to have five distinct stages of development: Incident, Debunking, Submergence, Mythologizing, and Reemergence and Media Bandwagon Effect. The authors predicted that the Roswellian Syndrome would “play out again and again”, in other UFO and conspiracy-theory stories.
Shoddy research revealed; witnesses suspected of hoaxes
The Air Force reports on the incident suggested that basic research that was claimed to have been carried out was not in fact carried out, a fact verified in a 1995 Omni magazine article.
Glenn Dennis, who testified that Roswell alien autopsies were carried out at the Roswell base, and that he and others were the subjects of threats, was deemed one of the “least credible” Roswell witnesses by Randle in 1998. In Randle and Schmitt’s 1991 book UFO Crash at Roswell, Dennis’s story was featured prominently. Randle said Dennis was not credible “for changing the name of the nurse once we had proved she didn’t exist.” Dennis’s accounts were also doubted by researcher Pflock.
Some prominent UFOlogists including Karl T. Pflock, Kent Jeffrey William L. Moore, have become convinced that there were no aliens or alien space craft involved in the Roswell crash.
Alien autopsy hoax
In 1995, film footage purporting to show an alien autopsy and claimed to have been taken by a US military official shortly after the Roswell incident was released by Ray Santilli, a London-based video entrepreneur. The footage caused an international sensation when it aired on television networks around the world.
In 2006, Santilli said that the film was mostly a reconstruction, but continued to claim it was based on genuine footage now lost, and some original frames that had supposedly survived. A fictionalized version of the creation of the footage and its release was retold in the comedy film Alien Autopsy (2006).
Project Mogul (sometimes referred to as Operation Mogul) was a top secret project by the US Army Air Forces involving microphones flown on high-altitude balloons, whose primary purpose was long-distance detection of sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests. The project was carried out from 1947 until early 1949. The project was moderately successful, but was very expensive and was superseded by a network of seismic detectors and air sampling for fallout, which were cheaper, more reliable, and easier to deploy and operate.
Project Mogul was conceived by Maurice Ewing who had earlier researched the deep sound channel in the oceans and theorized that a similar sound channel existed in the upper atmosphere: a certain height where the air pressure and temperature result in minimal speed of sound, so that sound waves would propagate and stay in that channel due to refraction. The project involved arrays of balloons carrying disc microphones and radio transmitters to relay the signals to the ground. It was supervised by James Peoples, who was assisted by Albert P. Crary.
One of the requirements of the balloons was that they maintain a relatively constant altitude over a prolonged period of time. Thus instrumentation had to be developed to maintain such constant altitudes, such as pressure sensors controlling the release of ballast.
The early Mogul balloons consisted of large clusters of rubber meteorological balloons, however, these were quickly replaced by enormous balloons made of polyethylene plastic. These were more durable, leaked less helium, and also were better at maintaining a constant altitude than the early rubber balloons. Constant-altitude-control and polyethylene balloons were the two major innovations of Project Mogul.
Project Mogul was the forerunner of the Skyhook balloon program, which started in the late 1940s, as well as two other espionage programs involving overflights and photographic surveillance of the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, Project Moby Dick and Project Genetrix. The spy balloon overflights raised storms of protest from the Soviets. The constant-altitude balloons also were used for scientific purposes such as cosmic ray experiments.
Echoes of Mogul’s experimental infrasound detection of nuclear tests exist today in ground-based detectors, part of so-called Geophysical MASINT (Measurement And Signal INTelligence). In 2013, this world-wide network of sound detectors picked up the large explosion of the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia. The strength of the sound waves was used to estimate the size of the explosion.
Mogul type balloon
Just because the object that crashed at Roswell has been proven to be a man-made, it doesn’t mean there are no UFO’s out there. There are some very intriguing incidents. The Phoenix Lights, the Japan airliner over Alaska that was followed by a huge UFO, and was also tracked on radar, the Texas flap a few years ago, and many more very strange incidents.
I believe there is something to these events, that are unexplainable. However, the military is just as perplexed as the UFO enthusiasts. With the many highly sophisticated sensors both on earth and circling overhead on satellites, the US defense establishment must have amazing information on this strange phenomena. But I am almost sure that they can’t make heads or tails of what the hell it is. That is why the military won’t release this information, the phenomena is so advanced and unexplainable, that a release of the information could panic the general public.
After a wave of “creepy” clowns were spotted across the United States late this summer, the phenomenon seems to have migrated north to Canada. Why are these sightings spreading?
“Killer clown” sightings have been investigated by local police in Gatineau, Quebec, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Bowmanville, Ontario, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg. More reports have spread on Twitter and Facebook.
“I’m having a hard time thinking of anything quite like this phenomenon of evil clowns,” says folklorist Prof Timothy Evans.
Since late last summer, “killer clowns” have been spotted from Alabama to Nova Scotia. Schools in Texas and Alabama have shut down, and police have made a handful of arrests – both for people making false reports and for people actually dressing up in clown costumes.
The paranoia has even reached the White House, where press secretary Josh Earnest had to field questions about the president’s stance on “creepy clowns” during a press briefing on Thursday.
The president has not been briefed on this issue, Earnest said, but “this is a situation that local law enforcement authorities take quite seriously, and they should carefully and thoroughly review perceived threats to the safety of the community, and they should do so prudently”.
The clown craze also seems to be spreading to the UK and Australia.
“It’s straight out of Hansel and Gretel,” says Benjamin Radford, who wrote a book about the clown sighting phenomenon. One of the first waves of clown paranoia that Radford uncovered was in the 1980s, when a number of schoolchildren from Massachusetts claimed a clown was trying to lure them into a van. Police never confirmed their reports.
Indeed, law enforcement officials note a rise of unconfirmed reports and hoaxes involving clown sightings. In Bowmanville, police found nothing suspicious after a Facebook post suggested a “killer clown” was stalking the community.
On Tuesday, Halifax police investigated after a picture of a clown standing near a high school was posted on Instagram. No clown was found near the area, says Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Wendy Mansfield, but the department has received at least 10 reports on social media that “creepy clowns” might be in the area.
Photos have surfaced recently in Winnipeg showing psycho-looking Clowns. The photos, which were published in the Winnipeg Downtown Flyer Gazette, have a more ominous reverberation. One Killer Clown was sighted on the lot where the former Demon Hotel once stood!!
The Evil Demon Hotel going up in flames March, 2015
A Devil Clown photographed on the hellish former Demon Hotel site.
Across the street is the purportedly haunted Tremblay apartments. This ghoul clown was spotted in the window.
And today, a scary evil clown was spotted in downtown Winnipeg near the MTS Centre. The cold rainy weather had the clown donning an umbrella.
What horror is in store?