Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dr. Hynek's Impression

It's a worthwhile observation that years after a highly skeptical Al Chop had radically changed his mind and decided that UFOs were something real and extraordinary, perhaps of a source extraterrestrial, the Air Force's chief UFO consultant, astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, reached a similar conclusion.

However, in a letter typed about a month after the release of "U.F.O." dated June 19, 1956, a still-cautious (perhaps "on the fence" is a better description, as negativity toward the phenomenon's potentially incredible origin was part and parcel of Hynek's early approach) Dr. Hynek addressed the movie and a few other issues with veteran UFO researcher Alexander D. Mebane (NY).  At this time, Hynek had just moved to Cambridge, MA to work with the Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory.  Among the subjects of interest covered in the letter was this:

"Activity at ATIC*  has picked up considerably recently, what with the UFO film, which I had an opportunity of previewing before it hit the public theaters, and with Jessup's**  UFO Annual  . . .well, all of these things are having their repercussions."

Hynek also noted that ATIC's "Saucer Division" had recently acquired Capt. Gregory, a name familiar to historians, as its chief.

Though frequently seeming to tow the Air Force line regarding UFOs in the fifties, Hynek nevertheless confessed to Mebane, "The Air Force still believes that my services are of some value to them, even though lately I have been quite critical of a number of things."

Finally, zeroing in on the motion picture, Hynek stated:

"I enjoyed the UFO film immensely even though it was over-dramatized and terribly slanted.  I suppose it's some sort of a commentary that I found the most dramatic part of the picture to be the bringing in of a plane through fog by radar.  This part at least was factual."

This part at least was factual.   One gets the impression that Hynek was still securely locked away in his skeptical box as apparently, in his view, all the other contents and components of "U.F.O." were based upon thin air.  Whatever he meant, this was a curious statement, probably quite telling of Hynek's fifties UFO approach. 

Of course, by the time the mid-sixties, the Socorro encounter, the Michigan sightings and then abduction reports of the seventies started to evolve, Dr. J. Allen Hynek was no longer a skeptic, and in the seventies his J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies set out to be a repository and investigative source for reports by police officers and what were envisioned as other qualified UFO observers.  In other words -- the version of Dr. Hynek observed briefly during his walk-on in the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was by that time (1977) both what we saw and what we got. 

Indeed, what a metamorphosis had occurred, since Hynek in 1956 declined Mebane's invitation to make a public appearance in NY City because he felt he could do more by remaining in the background as a "catalyst."

(Thanks to author and veteran UFO researcher Barry Greenwood for bringing the Hynek letter to our attention.)

(* Air Technical Intelligence Center)

(** Morris K. Jessup's UFO Annual, appearing in hardcover, was basically a collection of newspaper stories about UFO activity, and I recall an addendum here and there afterwards, but any possibility of a continuing "annual" book of monumental proportions was dashed due to Jessup's death -- which is another story in itself, recounted elsewhere.)