Monday, October 28, 2013

Who Watches The Waltons? Part 2

Continuing from my previous post, I am picking up the trail of The Waltons, from where i last left it. First of all, there are some general facts about The Waltons TV-show that i didn't really look into the first time around. Primarily because it didn't occur to me that there could be much more to find here, thinking I was probably just dealing with a few interesting UFO-related coincidences emanating from an otherwise standard family show. After all, what could be more mundane than a rural all-American family's daily problems during the great depression?

It is certainly not my usual choice of entertainment, although I must admit that I have actually come to like this series a great deal over the last couple of months. The general themes of The Waltons may be as plain and moralistic as anything can get, but it also features some great storytelling, as well as some really good actors and likable characters. So it's popularity, at least, is no longer a mystery to me. But more relevant for the topic at hand, there are indeed also other, and even more explicit, UFO-connections with The Waltons than those i pointed out in my first post. 

Enter The Twilight Zone

The Waltons was co-created by American writer Earl Hamner Jr., based on his bestselling book Spencer's Mountain, which in turn is inspired by his own life during the 1930's depression-era USA. According to Wikipedia, the name "Walton", as used here, is actually an artificial construct which incorporates the names of his paternal grandfather Walter Clifton Hamner and great-grandfather Walter Leland Hamner. 

Many years before The Waltons, in 1963, a movie adaptation of Spencer's Mountain came out - which in retrospect is kind of like watching a condensed (and slightly less sanitized) version of several Waltons episodes. In addition to this, a few years before the show first aired, another book-based movie called The Homecoming was made. This movie ended up effectively serving as a pilot episode for The Waltons, but didn't feature entirely the same cast.

With this in mind, one could easily come to the conclusion that these kind of stories are all Hamner ever dealt with. But throughout the 1960's he actually wrote a lot of other, all-together different material, including some interesting episodes for the original Twilight Zone series. In fact, he wrote the very last episode for the show, The Bewitchin' Pool.

Some of Hamner's Twilight Zone stories has that particular "Walton feeling" to them, such as The Hunt (Episode 84) and Jess-Belle (episode 109), which both take place in the same Virginia mountain range (The Blue Ridge Mountains) as the fictional Walton's Mountain is supposed to be located. Of course these stories are underpinned by various supernatural undercurrents befitting of The Twilight Zone, but many of the same elements appear later on in The Waltons as well. In The Hunt, for example, the main character is warned off by his wife because of some ill-interpreted omens, and towards the end of Jess-Belle we see a falling star - similar to the scene in The Waltons episode The Star:

And not just that, but in episode 87, A piano in the house, the word 'snowflake' appears once again, although in a different context:

But the most intriguing of the Earl Hamner Jr. Twilight Zone stories are those that deal specifically with the subject of extraterrestrial visitors: Black Leather Jackets (episode 138), which is about a group of leather clad "Men In Black" type aliens, trying to take over the earth and Stopover in a Quiet Town (episode 150) where a couple are abducted from their car on the way home from a party.

Stopover in a Quiet Town is by far the most interesting of the two, not only because it is a full-blown alien abduction story (and therefore takes us back to where I started in my previous post, namely with the Travis Walton case), but also because it has elements that were not very well-known outside of ufological circles at the time (it aired April 24th, 1964, but it is hard to say for certain when it was written), including the sense of isolation and lack of natural sounds of the abductees - hinting towards what Jenny Randles has popularly termed The 'Oz Factor' aspect of many close encounter cases.

I suggest that you watch the whole episode, which i have linked to below, as there are too many interesting parts to highlight:

The Waltons Meet The Invaders

As if the above examples weren't enough, there is even a number of direct connections between The Waltons and the classic 1960's alien invasion series The Invaders. Here i suggest that you read up on some of the research Kenn Thomas has done, linking The Invaders to the JFK assassination via the Maury Island UFO case.

Not only did Earl Hamner Jr. write an episode for season 2 of The Invaders called The Watchers, but several lead actors from The Waltons have prominent roles in the series - both in the original and in the 1995 follow-up mini-series of the same name. They are furthermore all destructive roles, which support the agenda of the invaders in one way or another. This is just a fact that I find interesting, since it contrasts so dramatically with their usual Walton personas. I don't mean to imply that it has any deeper meaning as such. It is possible to watch all the episodes (minus the 1995 ones) on youtube, by the way.

The first Walton that appears on The Invaders, is the most tight-lipped of the bunch, "Grandma Walton" Ellen Corby, who plays a homicidal alien invader posing as well-meaning contactee in the pilot episode The Beachhead. As a fun little detail there is a scene in the episode where Roy Thinnes walks into the Palomar Hotel and is introduced to the manager, Mrs. Adams. 

This is clearly an intentional reference to pioneer contactee George Adamski and the fact that he and his initial followers were very active around the Mount Palomar area in the early UFO days. Mount Palomar is also the location of the famous Palomar astronomical observatory.

The next time a Walton family member appears on the show, is in the penultimate episode, The Pursued. This time it is "Grandpa Walton" Will Geer, who plays a former sheriff whose wife is murdered in the beginning of the episode by an alien defector. He ends up killing the defector (who by this time has become a love interest of Roy Thinnes' character David Vincent) and in the process destroys crucial evidence that could have lead to an exposure of the invasion.

In the 1995 "sequel", the main boss alien is played by none other than Richard Thomas AKA "John Boy Walton", the lead star of the The Waltons. The character of John Boy basically is Earl Hamner as he was growing up in Virginia, writing and compiling stories about his family and their surroundings. So we have here a bit of a convoluted interrelation between a real-life writer, who created a fictional character based on himself, that in turn also writes and tells stories and who's fictional family turn up in some surprisingly coincidental places. Together with the allusions to future events, the lines between reality and fiction end up being somewhat blurred.

Richard Thomas as John-Boy Walton, alter ego of Earl Hamner Jr.

Leaving The Mountain

I would very much have liked to correspond with Earl Hamner Jr. while creating this post, and did in fact try to contact him as he is still alive and apparently active. It would have provided me with some more background for those of his writings I discuss here, and perhaps even have made some of them seem less synchromystic. I never did get an answer from him though, but I'm not too surprised that something like this would be low on his list of priorities. Instead I made good use of the book "Goodbye John-Boy", which did have some valuable information, but had to be supported with a lot of Internet search activity.

I will leave The Waltons for now and concentrate on other writings. But I have, as of yet, only watched the first season of the series, so who knows what else might appear along the way. In fact there are a few more potential leads that I have tried to follow, but so far have not gotten me anywhere. If something develops with that, I will probably write a short follow-up or update the existing posts.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who Watches The Waltons? Part 1

The Waltons (screenshot from the 1972 episode "The Star").

A lot has been said about the Travis Walton abduction case over the years and the discussion continues to this day over what really happened that November 5th, 1975 in the forest near Snowflake, Arizona. But many interesting details relating to the case are scattered throughout the UFO literature and seem to have been halfway forgotten over the years. In this post, I will bring some of them together and highlight a string of curious "coincidences" surrounding the incident, as well as show some intricate connections with other UFO cases. The background and main story of the Travis Walton abduction has been summarized so many times already on the Internet, that I advise people not familiar with the case to read up on the basics before continuing here.

Controversy has existed practically from day one with the Walton case and much of the immediate aftermath consisted of a long struggle between Travis/APRO and CSICOP - led by the late debunker-berserker Phil Klass – arguing for and against the sincerity of Travis and his fellow witnesses. Recently doubts were fueled again, due to Travis' appearance on the show Moment of Truth.

In my opinion, good points and arguments have been put forward from all sides of the debate, as to the overall solidity of the case. But at the same time, I don't think that the information I will be bringing up here can or should be measured by categories of 'true' and 'false'. It is something that goes beyond simple validation of UFO and abduction experiences.

Artist rendition of Travis Walton & UFO by witness Mike Rogers.

UFO's And The Influence Of Fiction

It has often been pointed out that the 1975 TV-movie adaption of the Barney and Betty Hill abduction case, The UFO incident, aired only a few weeks before the Travis Walton abduction. Therefore, Travis and his fellow crew members would very likely have been aware of it and could have been influenced by it, even - as some have claimed - to the point of using it as building material for an elaborate hoax.

According to Travis, in his book Fire in the Sky: The Walton Experience, crew leader and friend Mike Rogers did actually watch part of The UFO Incident the day it aired, but he claims that he turned it off after only a few minutes. Travis insists that he himself did not own a TV at the time, so there is no way he could have seen it (at least not at his own house). Actually, parts of the Hill abduction story itself has been called into question in much the same way, assumed to have been influenced by an episode of The Outer Limits called 'The Bellero Shield'. This episode was shown on TV shortly before the hypnosis session where Barney Hill first describes their abductors (You can read more about that here). 

These examples of "fictional contamination" are often used both as an argument against the reality of UFO experiences and as evidence for foul play involved in them. Therefore, although such potential influences are both interesting and important to acknowledge, they also tend to put at stop to any further discussion of a "real" phenomenon. But there are other ways of looking at it.

Travis brings up a fair point in Fire in The Sky, namely that hardcore skeptic/debunker conclusions about the influence of science fiction sometimes appear pretty shallow, considering that even in 1975, the theme of UFO's and aliens had become so widespread and popular, that tying ”real” UFO experiences to a fictional counterpart – say a movie that came out a few weeks prior to an incident - would be almost a no-brainer.

He also brings up the question - not so much in relation to his own experience (and i don't bring this up to make a comparison with the aforementioned examples), but against the general skeptics argument, that virtually all UFO experiences have their roots in fiction - of why these influences should be coming from so many obscure sources. Why would so much be traceable back to f.x. low level sci-fi productions (which, after all, fewer people are likely to have seen), compared to large scale blockbusters such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.?

Granted, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for instance, did certainly play a determining role in spreading the imagery of small proto-grey type creatures to the rest of the world. But very often, as many "synchromystic" bloggers and researchers can attest to, one can track strangely coincidental and (seemingly) non-causal links, back to the most unlikely of sources. So maybe we could in fact be looking at a more indirect form of "cultural" influence, that doesn't always adhere to an obvious set of rules.  

Enter The Waltons

In Fortean Times, No. 82 (1995), on the basis of a letter written to her at the time, Jenny Randles mentions some ufologically - as well as synchronistically - interesting details, appearing in certain episodes of the 1970’s family series The Waltons (which can be described as an inter-war-period equivalent of The Little House on The Prairie). The first event noted by Randles, takes place in episode 6 of the first season, named “The Star” (which aired the 19th of October, 1972). In the beginning of the episode we see a flaming meteorite fall from the sky, which is immediately interpreted as a bad omen by grandpa Walton, setting the precedent for the theme of the episode.

While there is no appearance of, or even talk about UFO's or aliens in the episode, it is still interesting to note both the imagery and the effect it has on the family. Watching the whole episode, I would say that certain "supernatural" implications are definitely there, although downplayed to a certain degree. But it is when the town of Snowflake, Arizona is mentioned, seemingly at random, in episode 12 of the same season, "The Dust Bowl Cousins" (aired December 7, 1972), that it becomes almost too good to be coincidental.

The Waltons is supposed to take place somewhere in the state of Virginia, which is almost as far away as you can get from Arizona, while still being within US borders. Why, of all the potential places they could have chosen, does Mary-Ellen Walton mention the small and easily overlooked town of Snowflake? Also note the way the cousin in this scene underlines how he hasn't even heard of the place, almost as if the director meant to stress the point of the curiosity of wanting to go there.

It almost seems like the Travis Walton abduction (real or fake) was at least being hinted at, years before it happened. At the same time, I acknowledge that this might just be a case of coincidence paired with over-interpretation of detail which, when taken out of context and presented in the way i have done here, has a tendency to appear more anomalous than it actually is. But the person who contacted Jenny Randles, signing the letter as "A Walton fan" (who therefore, presumably, must have watched most if not all the episodes), sure did assign it enough significance to write in about it. It also makes you wonder what else could be unearthed by checking into sources that don't (at least not in any direct way) pertain to UFO’s or related phenomena

More coincidences?

I don't know if Travis has ever been presented with the above examples or, if he has, view them as anything more than a freak coincidence. But it is no secret that he has had several synchronistic experiences himself over the years, many of which happened during the production and filming of Fire in The Sky. He relates quite a few examples in his (revised) book - too many to mention here. But one of the most incredible of these, involves actor Robert "T-1000" Patrick, who plays the role of Travis' friend and crew leader Mike Rogers in the movie.

Robert Patrick's birthday is the 5th of November 1958, which means that he turned 17 on the very day of the Walton abduction. 17 years later, he would then go on to have one of the largest roles in the movie about the abduction AND find out that he actually had family ties to Snowflake, going way back. He even found out that he was related to the real life Mike Rogers. (As an aside, there is an interesting connection between Mike Rogers and this case, which happened three years before). Reading Travis' account of this and other similar stories, one almost gets the feeling that unseen forces were pushing certain people with obscure connections to each other, to come together around the project.

One particular thing that comes up a lot in this case, is the number 5. Travis mentions that during the filming (which took place in Oregon, not Arizona), a meteor hit a ravine nearby. The meteor was only the fifth recovered meteorite in the state's history. The abduction of course took place on the 5th of November 1975, with Travis disappearing for 5 days. And we can even tie this to a further case, which took place 5 years later in the UK.

On June 6th (which would almost be the 5th, if one accounts for US time difference, and therefore exactly 5 months before the anniversary of the Walton incident – but let’s not stretch the argument too much here :)) 1980, a 56 year-old Polish immigrant disappeared near a mining area in West Yorkshire, England. The man's name was Zygmund Adamski - a name that should more than stick out to most UFO interested people. Adamski disappeared under strange circumstances, the day before he was to act as best man at his goddaughters wedding, an event he had been looking forward to, according to family and friends. At some point during the day, seemingly out of the blue, he told his wife that he had to make a quick shopping trip for some potatoes. 5 days later he was found dead, on top of a 15-foot-high pile of coal, 20 miles away from his home where he was last seen.

Jenny Randles chronicles the case of Zygmund Adamski in her books The Pennine UFO Mystery and Death By Supernatural Causes? (with Peter Hough), both of which are highly recommendable. She writes, that while the autopsy revealed that Adamski had apparently died of a heart attack and had climbed on top of the coal pile on his own, the investigators did not agree with that conclusion. But in short time they were pulled from the case, which was afterwards put on ice.

Other strange details about Adamski's death involve some unusual burn marks found on his body. He had also died with a painful grimace on his face, looking upwards towards the sky. According to one of the investigators, PC Alan Godfrey, many things pointed towards Adamski having been murdered and dumped on top of the large coal-pile, although he never thought along the lines of an alien abduction. But the strange circumstances, combined with some dubious ethics of certain researchers at the time, made sure that this connection eventually became popularized.

It wasn't entirely unfounded to make such an alien connection though, since Alan Godfrey actually had a close UFO encounter only a few months later, on the 28th of November. Driving along a deserted road he came across a large hovering craft in the shape of a “spinning top”, blocking his way. Suddenly he found himself a lot further down the same road, without any memories of how he actually got past the UFO. He later found that he had experienced a short time lapse. During hypnotic regression, he recounted having been led aboard the craft during this missing time period, where he encountered an "alien" and even a black dog. The case was investigated by veteran British ufologist Harry Harris, and as another curious detail, Jenny Randles points out that one of the later Waltons episodes from season one, "The Fire", was written by a person called...Harry Harris!

Before moving on, I should point out that there is actually another ufological 5 day disappearance (sort of) on record, namely that of Armando Valdes from April 25th, 1977. Although Valdes was only physically gone for 15 minutes, his watch indicated that 5 days had passed, and he had a growth of beard that apparently matched that period. There are good reasons to be sceptical about this case too, but the coincidence and details are curious to say the least. 

Is this all a result of some cosmic copycat effect? And if so, what would the criteria for "participating" be? 

Click here for Part 2