On Friday, July 10 and Saturday, July 11, I attended the Lake Area Paragon conference in Long Prairie, Minnesota. It appealed to me because it was close to home and wouldn’t cause any additional health problems that have been plaguing me in the last few months.
Lorna Hunter was the organizer and host of the conference and did everything in her power to make sure that we, who were on the program, didn’t have to worry about anything, except maybe where to find ice cream late at night (there was a Dairy Queen about 100 yards away).
For the Friday night program, Hunter gave us a review of some of the more interesting Minnesota UFO cases, especially those around the Long Prairie area. One of them is known as the Tin Can case and was reported on October 23, 1965, by James F. Townsend who was just 19 at the time. According to the documentation available in the Project Blue Book files, which isn’t always the most objective source, this is the story:
|Project Blue Book description on the Project Card.|
|Project Blue Book description of the sighting.|
Saturday began with Adrian Lee talking about his research into the paranormal and the weird things that he’d seen. While it was all interesting, the still photographs that seemed to show some sort of apparitions could have been the result of various strange occurrences caused by the lighting, the camera or a combination of both. The videos, especially where he had set up three houses of cards, one beside the other to see what would happen were much more interesting. One of those houses flew apart as if hit by an invisible hand while the others remained intact and unmoving. As I say, it was an interesting bit of video.
After lunch Jerry Clark was up with his explanation of “Experience Anomalies.” He described it as such:
I call them “experience anomalies,” or the secondary phenomenon as opposed to the core phenomenon. They sometimes (though not always) have a parasitic – one might say parodic – relationship to a core anomalous event. The anomalous event takes place in the world and can be empirically demonstrated, or potentially demonstrated. Its experiential correlate borrows its imagery from the anomalous event but is ontologically unrelated to it. Experience anomalies are open-ended. Nearly anything can be “seen,” though cultural traditions and expectations play a large, in some ways determining, role in shaping their particular content. In experience, individuals perceive supernatural or at least unlikely entities like fairies, merbeings, angels, the Blessed Virgin Mary, gods, monsters, space people, and phantom airship crews.
These are not hallucinations as hallucinations are ordinarily defined. These encounters, which at times occur collectively, are profoundly mysterious and their cause or stimulus is unknown. Yet, to all available appearances, earnest witnesses and clear viewing conditions that enhance confidence in the anomalousness of the observation do not translate into anything that transcends memory and testimony. We lack a vocabulary with which to conduct a useful discussion of such matters. Perhaps “visionary” comes closest, even if it is merely descriptive and not, as some presume, explanatory. It is as if, indeed, a supernatural landscape has briefly overlaid the physical landscape. The ufologist Jenny Randles calls this the “Oz Factor,” defining it as the sensation sometimes reported by UFO witnesses of “being transported temporarily from our world into another, where reality is but slightly different.”
He did provide information or ideas on how to precede in an investigation of these anomalies, suggesting that the search in not for authenticity or inauthenticity, but in what the witness had experienced. He said:
Where experience anomalies are concerned, the focus of investigations and debates ought to be on causes, not on the specific content of the occurrences in question. It is surely futile by now to argue that all anomalous experiences must bow to conventional explanations; yet it is also unwise to extrapolate too broadly from such experiences – which may well not mean what they appear to mean – in order to concoct, with no other justification than a witness’ story, an extraordinary phenomenological context in which the reported phenomenon is said to make sense.
Anomalies of the deepest strangeness dwell between the daylight of science and reason and the dark night of dreams and superstition. You may have “seen” one, but it does not necessarily follow that the anomaly lives on in the world after it has briefly occupied your vision and scared the hell out of you. We may experience unbelievable things, but paradoxically, all that may signify is that they can be experienced. You can “observe” a fairy or a merbeing or something equally outlandish, but however resonant the experience may be to you, the rest of us cannot infer from your testimony that such creatures are “real.” To the contrary, to all available evidence and virtually none to the contrary, they are not. And that is all we can be assured of, because all we have done here is to remove one explanation from consideration – that such things exist at event-level reality – while failing to put another in its place.
Still, the concept of experience anomalies relieves us of the false demands of literalism. We no longer have to argue for the authenticity or inauthenticity of the described phenomena. Not that a profound enigma does not remain – a mystery of imagination, culture, perception, consciousness, being, and more – a mystery so impenetrable that it eludes vocabulary itself, our very sense of the assumed relationship of event to experience. Happily, though, it removes from us the most onerous burden of all. We can now believe our informants without having to believe their explanations.
This might not explain Clark’s “Unified Theory” adequately, but gives an idea on a method of investigation that might be more productive than others. The original theory was published as “Experience Anomalies” in Fortean Times 243 (2008) on pages 42-47 for those interested in reading the whole report.
My presentation was the last and concerned the theory that the modern era of UFO sightings didn’t begin with Kenneth Arnold, but started during the Second World War when many were concerned with the Foo Fighters, and after the war with the Scandinavian Ghost Rockets. Arnold sort of marked the middle of the beginning of all this, and I have published the whole idea in Government UFO Files.
The last of the presentations was the panel discussion and while I had been asked by some about the Roswell Slides, none of that had been discussed completely until the panel. When Lorna Hunter and I discussed my presentation before the conference, she suggested that we wait until the panel to talk about the slides. I fear it took 20 to 25 minutes to outline the problems with the case, and to explain how this fiasco could happen. I made it clear that while there was enough blame to go around, the majority of the fault fell on Adam Dew and Joe Beason as the owners of the slides. They would have had a high quality picture and as soon as better quality scans were offered, the placard was read and the identity of the body revealed.
This isn’t to say that the others were blameless. There were plenty of red flags for those who would have opened their eyes. As I said during the discussion in Minnesota, Tom Carey had told me that it wasn’t a mummy because they had looked at more than 500 pictures of mummies. I think he was looking for that specific mummy rather than an examination of the characteristics of mummies, especially those from the desert Southwest which should have given him and the others a clue as to the identity of the being in the picture.
I was also interested to learn that the slides had not been a topic of discussion in Roswell during their annual festival. There had been a scheduled second big reveal, but when the placard was so easily read by so many different people, it seems that those sponsoring the festival just didn’t want to get drawn into the controversy, or I should say that is my guess. They probably figured that the wisest move was to say nothing about it and hope that the slides didn’t harm the Roswell case or Roswell research. Whatever the motives, we obviously said more about them in Minnesota than was said in New Mexico and I would note that there was a lot of interest in the case and how it had unraveled so quickly.
For those interested in the whole tale, there are plenty of articles about that on this blog up to and including letters from Tom Carey and Don Schmitt and what some of the experts are saying today.
Although the conference sort of officially ended with the final panel, around 5:30 or 6:00 on Saturday evening, that didn’t mean there wasn’t more to be done. Adrian Lee lead a well-attended tour of Long Prairie’s haunted sites. This is something of an annual event, the tour as opposed to the paranormal conference, and those who took the opportunity were provided with some interesting paranormal facts.