Tuesday, July 15, 2014

UBO's (Unidentified Box-like Objects) - Part 2

Originally, the plan here was to continue listing UFO cases involving boxes, and highlight the similarities and connections that exist between them. But it turned out a bit differently. Instead, my focus ended up being mainly on the Gum Creek humanoid encounter, a classic Australian CE3 from early February, 1964.

It took me some time before I could properly grasp the Gum Creek incident. On the surface it seems simple, but details actually vary quite a lot, depending on where you read about it. At one point, I was so confused that it almost seemed like I was dealing with similar, but separate, incidents from around the same time. Finally I got in touch with Australian researcher John Burford, who probably has more knowledge about the case than anyone else alive. He helped me clear things up considerably.

This post has been difficult to write because, ultimately, my main interest lies with how and why the element of boxes became so prevalent, and in that sense it doesn't really matter if some details in a report turn out to be lies or confabulations, only that it has been influential enough in further reproducing this particular element of UFO culture. At the same time, though, I feel I have a certain responsibility in bringing some “objective” clarity to the Gum Creek story.

I hope readers will be able to follow both of these trails. I have done my best to separate them.

The Finnish-Australian Connection

As i showed in part 1, there exists a handful of Finnish cases involving boxes, that also have other interesting traits in common. Going further along in Albert Rosales' humanoid catalogue, I discovered a couple of really interesting reports covering the well-known 'Plympton' and 'Gum Creek' incidents. These both took place in South Australia in early 1964. But when I looked closer into the sources of the reports, I began to see a more immediate connection between them and the 1970 Imjärvi encounter (which I covered in part 1). The reason for this, is that both cases were included in an article by Australian ufologist Colin McCarthy, titled “The Plympton Story”, which featured in Flying Saucer Review (FSR) issue 4, 1970. 

This article appeared just as details of the Imjärvi encounter were slowly unfolding, with details of the flying saucer being revealed in the very same issue. To be more precise, this means that the Plympton and Gum Creek encounters were not only featured a few months prior to the details about the Imjärvi humanoid (which happened in FSR issue 5, 1970), but were also printed in the main medium where the case was unfolding. 

The Cover of Flying Saucer Review, issue 4, 1970. The Imjärvi case was not yet front page material, but it would become so in the following issue.
It should also be mentioned that Colin McCarthy's “versions” of both the Gum Creek and Plympton encounters are included in Eileen Buckle's ”The Scoriton Mystery” from 1967, which became a very popular book at the time (although for very different reasons) and therefore one to be referenced heavily. What remains a bit unclear, is why this article was included in a 1970 issue of Flying Saucer Review, when the cases covered had already been featured in a book which everyone in the UFO field knew about, 3 years earlier. But first a resumé of the accounts themselves, as they are presented in McCarthy's article:

In the early spring of 1963 (perhaps a typo, as there is no doubt that it happened in 1964) in the Adelaide suburb Plympton, South Australia, two boys of 9 and 10 years old witnessed a glowing disc like object land in a nearby field. Out of it came an approximately 7 ft tall humanoid with red skin (as if it was freshly sun-burnt), wearing a tight tunic, gauntlets, purple cape and leather cap. The tall entity also had a belt with a panel-like contraption, which it was constantly fiddling around with. After spotting the boys, it went back into the craft where another similar being was briefly seen appearing in a window. The craft took off with a humming sound.

In his article, Colin McCarthy makes an attempt of verification by drawing a parallel to the Gum Creek incident, which according to him hadn't yet gotten any publicity at the time of the Plympton encounter (and therefore couldn't have inspired the boys' story):

A few weeks prior to the Plympton encounter, In Gum Creek (about 100 miles north of Adelaide), a woman was woken up one night, by a strange light coming through her window. She looked out, and spotted a humanoid carrying a box-like contraption, about the size of a large cake tin, which it was directing towards certain areas of the garden. When it discovered her, it pointed the box in her direction, from which came a buzzing and clicking sound. According to McCarthy, the description of the humanoid “...agreed exactly with that given by the two Plympton boys.” 

FSR, issue 5, 1970: The humanoid appears.

If we put aside any technical issues about the investigation for now, the obvious question we are presented with is: Could Heinonen and Viljo have read McCarthy's article in that issue of Flying Saucer Review, and then confounded the details from the two encounters, if only on a subconcious level? It certainly seems both possible and plausible, as they would be well aware that Flying Saucer Review was the main publication for their gradually unfolding tale. There is no way one can overlook many of the similarities between the Imjärvi humanoid and the two above: the similar garments, the belt with a panel, and of course the box. Put these things together, minus of course a few details such as the difference in height and skin color, you have almost all the main features of the Imjärvi humanoid. 


As much as I found all this to be a revelation (although I might not be the first to have it), it still raises further questions. Because, even if the Plympton and Gum Creek incidents were erroneously reported, and confounded, they still fit perfectly into the “tradition” of the type of cases I talked about in part 1 - many of which took place several years before in...Finland. The basic elements of the Imjärvi humanoid encounter had been experienced there, long before anything of the sort happened in Australia, and therefore, so to speak, didn't need to be “imported” from anywhere. But perhaps all it needed was a revitalization, which was then (coincidentally?) provided by Colin McCarthy's article? Maybe there is another more subtle connection too, since there was quite a diaspora of Finnish people in Australia, during the years 1947-1971Are UFO experiences so independent of any objective truth, that “the good story”, will always take precedence, achieve a life of it's own, and further perpetuate UFO mythology? 

These are interesting questions for sure, and some can in part be answered. But I would like to save that discussion for a later post, and instead look at another, more accurate, account of the Gum Creek incident. Regarding the Plympton case, it seems that Colin McCarthy got some of the details wrong here too, and that the boys could perhaps have heard about what happened at Gum Creek after all. I won't go further into it than that, but instead suggest that you look at this post on Keith Basterfield's blog, where Gum Creek is referred to as the Clare Incident. 

The "real" Gum Creek

Colin McCarthy might not be one of the most well-known names in ufology, but he was a very active and enthusiastic investigator in Australia at the time. Unfortunately, he was also a person who relied too much on his own memory, rather than on written notes. Furthermore, he was known for being more inclined than most, when it came to telling an entertaining tale before an audience. By mentioning this, I don't mean to imply that he deliberately lied about anything, but it should, at the very least, make anyone cautious about whether he got all the details right in the first place. 

Years after Gum Creek, and the first wave of investigation, other Australian ufologists decided to dig further into the famous encounter, as well as the many other strange experiences of the woman who was at the center of it all - Doris Player. In 1968, John Burford, together with the already seasoned ufologist Colin 'Col' Norris, managed to unearth new (as well as more accurate) details about the original humanoid encounter. Burfords "version" has been mostly overlooked until now, but is much more representative of Mrs. Players experience:

Doris Player, who had already had a long series of strange experiences together with her husband at the time, woke up February the 3d, 1964, around 2:00 or 2:30 AM by a strange light coming through her window. It was a moonlit night, but she later speculated that the light could have been from a “craft”. Then she spotted a 5.4 tall humanoid, wearing a blue-green one-piece suit, helmet, and elbow-length gloves about 30 ft away. It was carrying a 18” (45 cm) square box like object, which she assumed to be some sort of camera with a lens in front, which he was directing at the garden. When it discovered her, it pointed the box at her, from which came a buzz and click. 

As we can see, this is not completely off from Colin McCarthy's general description of the incident, but it does differ in some very critical places. First of all the comparison with the Plympton humanoid is incorrect. Doris Player described the figure she saw as 5.4 ft tall, not 7 ft, as implied by McCarthy. Also, the notorious box becomes a bit less mysterious in this account, sounding more like a “Brownie” box camera than anything else, which, according to John Burford, was also how Doris Player interpreted it. 

This similarity between "the box" and a Brownie camera becomes even more clear, when looking at this sketch by John Burford from 1968, approved by Doris Player herself.
A classic, box-style, Eastman Kodak Brownie camera.

Doris Player, her husband Humph, and the original sketch she did of the humanoid, can be seen about 6 minutes into the video clip below. The segment is mistakenly labelled “Tasmania”. The third person seen being interviewed in the field, is Colin Norris:

You might notice that the two drawings are quite different, and although this could be attributed to differences in style and skills, it raises another issue: however good this account may be, it still has to be taken into consideration, that during the years from the McCarthy investigation until 1968, the Player's could have been influenced both by popular UFO culture and publicly available UFO reports. In fact, they almost certainly were, as there were all kinds of people flocking to the area during this time, projecting their own views and interpretations of the experiences onto the couple. According to John Burford, these experiences were always very dream-like to begin with, so one can suspect that they might have been particularly open to suggestion and change. So we may never really know what exactly happened, that night in 1964 - or any of the following, for that matter.

Hope you enjoyed this little detour, and feel ready for a part 3 in the very near future.

Main Sources:

Albert Rosales' Humanoid Catalogue: http://ufoinfo.com/humanoid/

Buckle, Eileen: The Scoriton Mystery (1967)

Flying Saucer Review 1970 issues

Personal correspondence with John Burford, Bill Chalker & Keith Basterfield.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Val Thor vs. Val Tor

The story about Valiant Thor, or Val Thor for short, has enjoyed a strange sort of revival lately. In the last couple of months, I have found mention of author/reverend/contactee Frank E. Stranges' The Stranger At The Pentagon several places, and some people I know have even sent me links to the story - independently of each other. I also learned a while back, that there is a relatively famous metal band called Valient Thorr, whose bass player calls himself Dr. Professor Nitewolf Strangees.

One of the many photos of Valiant Thor that appear in The Stranger At The Pentagon.

I had of course read about Val Thor in many UFO books prior to all this, and always brushed it off as a silly fantasy. But the name itself is one that stuck in my head from the beginning, and I have often wondered where he came up with it.

Well, I think I may have actually found out where. Browsing through a bunch of old pulps and comics a few weeks ago, I came across a story named Heritage, which featured in science fiction comic Space Adventures no. 13 (1954). The story takes place thousands of years into the future, and is about a robot who tries to find out what happened to his long gone creators, vaguely referred to as "man". The robot protagonist's name is Val Tor.

Heritage featuring Val Tor, the final story of Space Adventures issue 13 (1954). You can get the whole story here.

The Stranger At The Pentagon came out in 1967, but there were publications around by Frank E. Stranges mentioning Val Thor as early as 1960. Nevertheless, this was still many years after Heritage had been published, so it is quite possible that Frank Stranges at some point read the comic, took note of the name of the main character, and eventually - conciously or not - concocted the name Val(iant) Thor from it.

The similarities seem to end with the name, though. After all, Val Tor the robot could hardly be more different than Val Thor the holy space brother, who is a typical human-like 1950's alien. He is described by Stranges as tan, very manly, and with a "...firm grip that silently testified to strength and power". Like George Adamski's Orthon, he also comes from Venus. By contrast, the Val Tor of Heritage is a restless robot in the middle of an existential crisis, obsessed with discovering what happened to the humans who created his race, so long ago that they are now only regarded as a fairy tale. 

Stranges was involved with many different community oriented projects, as this 1960 ad from My Friend From Beyond Earth shows. 

Still, the story resonates somewhat with parts of Stranges UFO-theology. Rev. Frank E. Stranges basically used the hype about flying saucers at the time, as a vessel for promoting his own religious agenda. In his booklet My Friend From Beyond Earth, he describes his first meeting with Val Thor one December morning in 1959, during an "evangelist crusade", and from the very outset he attempts to validate the message of Val Thor in light of that of Jesus Christ. Thor himself says that he is a messenger from God, and that he has come to make people correct their errors and return to the Lord, because they have strayed too far in recent times. 

At the end of Heritage, Val Tor finally finds an underground cavern full of humans in suspended animation. He awakes a man from his slumber, but quickly realizes that humans have destructive impulses that threaten the stability of the current world order, and puts him back to sleep again. The humans in Heritage have therefore clearly also strayed about as far from God as possible, but by the power of Val Tor they are kept in check. Furthermore, the hollow earth element is something Frank Stranges also came to incorporate into his outlook on UFO's.

More Val Thor

There are no other obvious similarities between the stories of Val Thor and Val Tor. But then again, why should there be? Stranges might have found it convenient to not use an obvious name, IF he indeed purposely "borrowed" the name. And even if he didn't, does there have to be anything more than a coincidence at play? Does the name itself tell us anything?

"Val" has different etymological roots depending on the language used, but it is certainly not an uncommon short form of a name in the English speaking world, and neither is the association with words like "valiant" "vale" and "valor". Therefore the chances of some form of it being used, are not astronomical. "Tor", in the English language, means “a high rock, lofty hill, tower”, but there could have been nothing to this in the creation of robot Val's name. On the other hand, one can't help but think of the god of thunder in Norse mythology, when seeing the last name of Stranges' Pentagon friend.

It does appear to be more than coincidental, though, regardless of what associations the names awake, that they should appear in the exact same combination. And that of course begs the question - in case you were ever in doubt - if Valiant Thor was ever a real...Venusian.

Some readers might also make another association when hearing the name Val Thor, as I suddenly did while I was writing this. There is a well known ski resort in the French Alps known as Val Thorens. It is quite a famous destination for young Danes and other Northern Europeans. In this case "Val" derives from the french "Vallée" (meaning "valley" - although it might also make you think of a certain French ufologist). So, one could also argue that Val Thorens might just as well have been the inspiration for the name Valiant Thor. The probem with that, though, is that Val Thorens didn't come into existence until the late 1960's. So if anything, Valiant Thor was the inspiration for Val Thorens, not the other way around. But what are the chances of that.

External sources:

Stranges, Frank E.: Flying Saucerama (1959)
Stranges, Frank E.: My Friend From Beyond Earth (1960)
Stranges, Frank E.: Stranger at the Pentagon (1967)
UFO's Uncensored, vol.1 no.1 (1966)

Special thanks to Ole Henningsen for sharing rare material by, as well as personal experiences about, Frank E. Stranges.