Originally posted January 30, 2008
Every once in a while, it seems, we go through a spasm of interest in UFOs in this country, and maybe throughout the world. I have a suspicion that with the wide reach of the Internet, those with an intense interest in UFOs gather together electronically – as do other groups of people with intense special interests – and so perhaps the general public no longer is as aware of those cyclical spasms of interest and/or activity. I know I don’t see or hear much about UFOs and their supposed occupants in the mainstream media but the few times I’ve dug into websites about the phenomenon, there are plenty of things reported as having happened, some of them quite recent.
I do think it’s cyclical, though. And I recall a local outburst of activity and/or interest in UFOs during the mid-Sixties. About sixty miles west of here is a little town called Long Prairie, a city of about 3,000 people. In 1965, something happened near there that made local radio news, and it might have been reported in the St. Cloud Daily Times although I don’t remember reading about it.
Here’s a summary from one of those UFO websites:
“From several ufological sources, more or less fragmentary, the case of Long Prairie, Minnesota, USA, on October 23, 1965, reportedly occurred as follow.
“The witness was James ‘Jerry’ F. Townsend, a 19 years old devout Christian and debutant radio host on KEYL of Long Prairie, and he was apparently a resident of that town.
“In that evening of October 23, 1965, he was driving in his model 1956 car, on Minnesota State Highway 27, from Little Falls to Long Prairie. He was 4 miles East of Long Prairie, going West, in the hilly landscape and had just looked at his watch and noted it was approximately 07:15 p.m.
“At that moment he arrived in a curve in the road, he said, when he saw an upright rocket-like object, silver colored, metallic looking, about 30 or 40 feet high and about 10 feet in diameter, blocking on the road, resting on the tips of three legs or fins.
“At that moment, his car engine stalled, the lights and radio went out, and he slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop at only 20 feet in front of the object.
“His first thought was then to knock the object over with the car so he could have some evidence, but the engine was stalled. He tried to make it start again, but the choke did not respond. So he got out of the car with the idea of trying to push the object over by hand.
“He walked just past the level of the hood of the car, but did not go further, stopped short, fascinated by a quite stunning sight: he saw three small ‘creatures’ emerge from behind the object and line up at the front.
“Those creatures were in the shape of beer cans. They measured 6 inches tall, were of dark or brownish color, and were ‘walking’ awkardly on two ‘legs’ or ‘fins’. Whenever they stopped, a third ‘leg’ came down from their back and provided stability. They looked like tin cans on tripods. They also had three arms, ‘matchstick like’.
“Townsend saw no eyes, but he stood there staring at them and was convinced that they were watching him too. He did not [want] to approach more, and gave up the idea of rocking the ship down as something quite risky. There was no sound, just dead silence, and it seemed like ages to him, although he later evaluated the duration as some 3 minutes.
“Eventually, the little creature [sic] went up into the bright, ‘colorless’ light glowing out of the bottom of the ‘rocket’, and possibly up into the craft. A few seconds later, there was a loud hum, and the craft took off, reached a height he cautiously estimated as 400 meters up, where the light on the bottom went out, while his car radio, headlights and engine started without him touching the starter.
“He checked the ground where the craft had been, found no trace, and, his hearts [sic] pounding and his legs ‘like rubber’, he drove fast to the Todd County Sherif’s [sic] office, where he reported the events.
“Townsend said the Sheriff checked the site and found no trace. However, some sort of trace was reported, maybe found at a later check in daylight. From ufology sources, it appeared that Sheriff Bain and police officer Lavern Lubitz found three parallel strips of an oil-like substance, about four inches apart and a yard long, on the surface of the road. Sheriff Bain told reporters later: ‘I don’t know what they were, but I’ve looked at a lot of roads and never saw anything like them before.’
“Ufologist Coral Lorenzen heard by phone that Townsend had a good reputation, was not a drinker, and that he had been visibly frightened when he reported his experience. Reportedly, teachers and friends of Townsend were interrogated, and said he has a reputation for honesty.”
That’s a longer quote than I had planned to use, but I find the report fascinating (although I have no idea what a “debutant radio host” is). Maybe I’m fascinated because I remember the ruckus the account created back in 1965. I don’t know how adults reacted to it, but opinion was mixed among the kids. Many of my contemporaries said flat out – without knowing much more than bare bones – that the fellow had to have been drunk and seeing things. Me? I wondered. Even at the age of twelve, I knew that there were lots of things we did not know. Aliens from another planet, another dimension? Maybe.
It was about that time – maybe a year later, but in autumn – that St. Cloud residents for a few nights in a row called the local police and reported odd lights in the sky, moving in clusters but in no specific pattern. This one did make the local paper. And a few days later, a local teen explained.
He’d taken drinking straws, he said, and constructed a framework – a rough wheel with spokes – the same diameter as a dry cleaner’s plastic bag. He’d put the framework into the opening of the bag and secured it, then secured candles onto the straws that served as spokes. He’d light the candles and hold the bag up so it would not burn, and eventually, the hot air from the candles would lift the bag off the ground and send it on its way through the evening sky.
How cool was that! For the next two weeks or so, St. Cloud was home to many odd wandering lights every night as multitudes of kids went out and bought plastic straws and candles and cadged dry cleaner’s bags somewhere. Eventually, the fascination faded as the weather got cooler, and any wandering lights in the St. Cloud sky came from something other than juveniles and their evening science projects.
Not all that long after those events, most likely in the spring of 1968 (it could have been the previous autumn, but the trees were green and I seem to recall that they were budding), I got a ride to school from my mom one morning. As she turned off of what was then Tenth Street South (now University Drive) to head to South Junior High School, I saw something through the windshield as it passed over us and continued to go south, the direction we were heading. I saw it for maybe five seconds, and all I can say is I don’t know what it was. It was silver, and it had the classic saucer shape with a dome on it. In those brief seconds, it flashed toward the school and over it, low enough that the school building blocked it from my sight in, as I said, maybe five seconds.
Troubled, I got out of the car and headed into the school. One of my friends, Jerry, was at his locker, two down from mine. I opened my locker and put my books inside, then turned to Jerry. “Have you ever seen a UFO?” I asked him.
He turned to me, and the look on his face echoed how I felt. “Yeah,” he said. “About five minutes ago. It was over the Dairy Queen, heading this direction.”
There was never anything in the paper about it, and I still wonder what it was that Jerry and I saw.
And this all came to mind this morning when the first song of today’s Baker’s Dozen popped up.
A Baker’s Dozen from 1966
“Mr. Spaceman” by the Byrds, Columbia single 43766
“You Ain’t Tuff” by the Uniques, Paula single 2315
“Strange Young Girls” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Mamas & the Papas
“Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2278
“Big Mama’s Bumble Bee Blues” by Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, unreleased until 1986
“Run For Cover” by the Dells, Cadet single 5551
“Love Attack” by James Carr, Goldwax single 309
“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)” by Bob Dylan from Blonde On Blonde
“Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5676
“.44 Blues” by the Rising Sons, unreleased until 1992
“Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise single 0470
“Along Comes Mary” by the Association, Valiant single 741
“Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, Bang single 519
A few notes:
The Uniques were fronted by country star-to-be Joe Stampley, and, according to All-Music Guide, recorded some nice blue-eyed soul and Southern pop-rock, which makes “You Ain’t Tuff” – a garage-rocker – an anomaly in the group’s catalog. I found “You Ain’t Tuff” on one of the Nuggets compilations, where it fits quite nicely.
“Strange Young Girls” has intrigued me since I first heard it long ago. Among other things, it provides clear evidence that John Phillips and producer Lou Adler weren’t in the habit of working hard on the singles and giving less attention to the album tracks. It’s a beautiful yet haunting meditation on, as AMG says, “Sunset Strip street life, teenyboppers, and LSD.”
When you listen to “Shake Your Hips” – or any Slim Harpo record, for that matter – you hear one of the many influences that wound up making the Rolling Stones who they are. In this case, it’s more direct, as the Stones would up covering “Shake Your Hips” on 1972’s Exile on Main Street.
I mentioned the Bob Dylan recording, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” in my comments some time back on songs with indelible introductions. More than thirty years after first hearing the song – I came to it late, in 1973 – I still get a little bit of that charge every time I hear it start. The credits at AMG for the album, Blonde on Blonde, list several more people than do the minimal liner notes on the CD I have. Based on the AMG list of keyboard players, I’d guess that the organist is The Band’s Garth Hudson. The piano? I’d guess Richard Manuel, also from The Band, but that’s iffier. Neither one is mentioned in the sketchy notes that accompany the CD, and based on those notes, I’d say it’s Al Kooper on organ and Pig Robbins on piano. Does anyone know for sure?
I guess “Good Vibrations” is an accurate representation of the Beach Boys circa 1966. It’s a nice piece of studio craft, but for some reason, I’ve never liked it very much. I would much rather have seen “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” pop up as the Beach Boys’ entry on this list.
The Rising Sons was an example of a great group in the wrong place at the wrong time. Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, the group had a single released – it went nowhere – before breaking up in 1966. But the group did manage to record more than an album’s worth of material, twenty-two tracks that were finally released in 1992. It’s fun stuff and great music.
Graffiti supposedly seen in the London Underground:
“To do is to be” – Descartes
“To be is to do” – Voltaire
“Do be do be do” – Frank Sinatra