If you are a baby-boomer who grew up in Michigan, chances are good you remember a particular point in time when you were out in your backyard, peering into the night sky, searching for UFOs.
For one week in March of 1966, Michigan was awash with reports of UFO sightings. Scores of people called police to report suspicious items in the sky. Ultimately, the Air Force dismissed these sightings as nothing more than "swamp gas," causing then-Congressman Gerald Ford to fire off an indignant statement, declaring that people deserved a better explanation than something as laughable as "swamp gas."
Rudi Lindner is a professor of History and Astronomy at the University of Michigan. He teaches a class called "Discovery of the Universe" that includes the history of UFOs.
“Michigan, I would say is about average [in the number of UFO sightings],” said Lindner. “One of the difficulties is Michigan is the second cloudiest state in the union, so therefore there’s a selection effect.”
According to Lindner, Ohio is the leader in UFO reports, and even has the first report of a death related to alien action.
“For anybody who is associated with the University of Michigan, it is of course a little bit easier to accept the notion that aliens might have some special relationship to the state of Ohio and its people,” he said.
The problem with UFOs is that there are no observatories that search for them. The people who see them are not trained observers.
“One of the great difficulties you have is in figuring out the speed or the size of the object when you have no good way of measuring its distance, and that has always been the bane of reports of UFOs,” said Lindner.
University of Michigan graduate Morris Jessup has played a large part in UFO awareness. He wrote a book in the 1950s called “the Case for the UFO,” which sold well. He went on to write two more books, as well as appear on TV.
Jessup died in 1959 under mysterious circumstances. A question arose as to whether he died of natural causes, committed suicide, or was killed by government agencies. Looking for answers, a man named Gray Barker held séances to contact him.
“In a number of these séances, Jessup appeared, announced that he was not dead, he had been abducted by aliens, he was now living on the planet Venus, was very happy, and really didn’t want to say a lot more,” said Lindner.
“As a Michigan graduate, we not only have hundreds of thousands of Michigan graduates, members of the alumni association . . . but we also have an alumnus doing rather well on the planet Venus. So I say, take that, Harvard!”
According to John Mack’s research done at the Harvard Medical School, about one in 3,000 Americans claims to have been abducted by aliens. Put into perspective, the Michigan stadium seats about 109,000 people, so at the next big game there will be 33 abductees in attendance.
Recently, there have not been many UFO sightings in Michigan. Lindner believes that there is an ebb and flow to these reports. Until the reports increase, Lindner will continue to teach his class. And if given the opportunity, Lindner said he would board an alien spacecraft as long as they had cable.
-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom
Listen to the full interview above.