Monday, December 30, 2019

Tales of two centenaries – The Damned & the identified.

It is fitting and wonderful that in the centennial anniversary year of the publication of Charles Fort's iconic work “The Book of the Damned” in 1919 that a 402 page (A4 size) book, “Redemption of the Damned” by Martin Shough with Wim van Utrecht, has appeared. Published by Anomalist books it is further described as "Vol.1: Aerial Phenomena" and subtitled "A Centennial Re-evaluation of Charles Fort's ‘Book of the Damned.’ I see “Redemption of the Damned” as the best book of 2019 focusing on research and investigation of UFOs.  It should be studied intensely by anyone who investigates UFOs and UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena).
Fort began his provocative book with the memorable proclamation. “A procession of the damned. By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.”
Charles Fort was our first ufologist, in that he not only collected reports of strange aerial apparitions, lights in the sky, aerial phenomena and anything odd in the sky, he also speculated about what they were. His speculations about the aerial oddities he collected were often playful, often somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but he was more about stirring up conventional thinking, rather than trying to explain the reports.  Hence we were exposed to wild ideas like armies of giant space vampires and “superconstructions” travelling between the planets. While Fort’s “aerial fodder” was mainly from the 19th century and American and Euro-centric, they anticipated the popularisation of “aerial phenomena” into “flying saucers” by 1947 and into the UFOs and UAPs of today. 
Scottish based research Martin Shough brings to Forts “procession of the damned” his wide eclectic knowledge and intense UFO/UAP research experience, seen admirably in his collaboration with Chris Aubeck in “Return to Magonia – Investigating UFOs in History” (2015). With “Redemption of the Damned” he is ably assisted by Belgian based researcher Wim Van Utrecht, best known for his CAELESTIA project, which sort to find explanations for anomalies, rather than promoting mysteries.
The authors examined all 82 of the aerial mysteries described by Fort in his Book of the Damned.  They bring a huge amount of research to focus on these “damned” anomalies, focusing on a wide range of contextual material, modern day thinking and a vast amount of data. The result seems at first to be hardly the “redemption of the damned” of the book title, as they come up with convincing explanations for most and possible explanations for the balance that still frustrate certainty.  Some of their explanations might be a stretch, but it’s the detail, the process and the exploration that is laid out, that impresses.
Thus we see a clear reflection of the UFO/UAP controversy that exists today and here lies the books greatest benefit.  It should be the focus of everybody that calls themselves UFO or UAP researchers and/or investigators to undertake such detailed investigations, with a focus to explain.  It’s the approach I have always used, namely that most “UFO or UAP reports” are probably explainable and those that are not become the focus of ongoing investigation to determine if that are consistently UFO or UAP material. That sort of approach ensure that what remains are probably our best candidates for determining whether a consistently unexplained phenomenon or phenomena emerges. 
“Redemption of the Damned” reminded me most of Allen Hendry’s 1979 book “The UFO Handbook” in which the IFO (Identified Flying Object) becomes the central message. More appropriately they are an effective calibration of all the aerial and associated mysteries we focus on as researchers and investigators. 
There is much to fascinate, learn and enjoy in this wonderful study “Redemption of the Damned.” Vol. 2, “Sea and Space Phenomena” from Fort’s Book of the Damned is planned, so there is more more to look forward to from this highly recommended collaboration of Martin Shough and Wim van Utretch.
The only Australian entry is a 1879 event which I also described in my 1996 book “The OZ Files – the Australian UFO Story” with this opening caveat:  “With the advent of white colonisation, documented accounts of UFO sightings began to appear. Most of the early accounts could probably be explained if more information was available. A number, however, seem to defy easy explanation.”
“In 1879 Mr S. Worsley Clifton, Collector of Customs, at Fremantle, Western Australia, forwarded the following account of a ‘remarkable meteor’ to R.J. Elleig of the Melbourne observatory. Elleig in turn passed it on to the science journal Nature, which published the following account of the apparition: ‘A small black cloud on a clear day appeared in the east, travelling not very swiftly towards the north-west. It burst into a ball of fire with an apparent disc the size of the full moon, blood-red in colour. It left a train of black or dark-coloured vapour across the heavens which was visible for three-quarters of a hour. No sound was heard, sky perfectly clear, and the thermometer, 100 degrees Fahrenheit, in the shade.’”
Martin Shough and Wim van Utretch are limited here in their study. They highlight that Nature might have erred, in that the witness was most likely Leonard Worsely Clifton.  They describe him in a bit of detail. I agree that Fort’s “explanation” is imaginative: “that around something coming from the intense cold of inter-planetary space--that is of some regions: our own suspicion is that other regions
are tropical--the moisture of this earth's atmosphere would condense
into a cloud-like appearance around it… Or that something with the velocity of an ordinary meteorite could not collect vapor around it, but that slower-moving objects--speed of a railway train, say - may.” 
I’m inclined to agree with Martin Shough and Wim van Utretch that its most likely ‘a slow daylight fireball” but like the best of anomalies further study may verify this or may make this explanation more contentious.
As I entitled this piece “Tales of two centenaries – The Damned & the identified”, by way of a slight Dickensian flourish (namely playing with the title of his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities”), let me elaborate the other centenary that attracted me.  
A great deal of attention has been given here in Australia this year (2019) to the great England to Australia Air Race of 1919, which was won by a flying team of 4 – pilots Ross and Keith Smith and their mechanics Walter Shiers and James Bennett. A new book “Anzac & Aviator – the remarkable story of Sir Ross Smith and the 1919 England to Australia air race“ by Michael Molkentin, and documentary “The Greatest Air Race” narrated by Aussie astronaut Andy Thomas, tell the the amazing and wonderful story.
What has that got to do with our focus here?  Well it comes down to this early 1947 letter that appeared in the Advertiser newspaper of Adelaide South Australia months before Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in June 1947, 25 February 1947 to be precise..  The letter was in response to “aerial phenomena” sightings in South Australia.  These were also described in “Return to Magonia.”
‘Objects in the sky.
To the Editor
Sir- When the late Sir Ross Smith was covering the last phase of his epic flight from England to Australia, and was scheduled to arrive in Adelaide during the early afternoon, the late Harry Butler left Adelaide in his small monoplane, nicknamed the Red Devil to meet the big Vickers Vimy over the Adelaide Hills, being a little ahead of his schedule, Harry Butler filled in his time with aerobatics and stunting. Most of which occurred over our nurseries situated just S.E. of Mount Barker. 
While watching him very intently, two large black objects travelling at terrific speed in a parallel course, passed very high above him, travelling from north to south. These were quite large and were very high but nevertheless their speed was such as to make Harry butler’s machine appear as if it were stationary. 
The day was cloudless and for a moment I thought my eyes were playing tricks, but subsequently my foreman, who was half a mile away at the time, asked me what the two black things were that passed Butler’s machine. During the evening of the same day, my father in law who lived about a mile away asked an identical question. Both these people gave the same description and direction of flight which exactly coincided with my own observations. 
The speed and density of the objects definitely precluded any possibility of there being a mirage.
H N Wicks.
Balhannah Nurseries Balhannah.’ 
I described my research and investigation into this intriguing story on my blog “The Search for Historical UFO reports” back on 25 December 2015, from my report to a November 2011 Magonia Exchange & Project 1947 discussion:
Our intrepid 1919/1920 "Knights of the Air."
Captain Ross Smith
I have now had the opportunity to look at the Adelaide Advertiser around that date. The coverage of the events leading up to the Vimy landing (The Smith plane) suggests that the 1947 recollection by H.N. Wicks of the 1920 events may be confused. The "two large black objects" may well have been the biplanes being flown by Captains A.R. Moore and Captain Loftus. These planes eventually escorted the Vimy piloted by the Smiths - the stars of the day's spectacle - called "Our Knights of the Air" by the local paper. Elsewhere in the papers coverage we see reference Captain Butler having a delayed take off, finally leaving sometime after 1pm. The planes of Moore and Loftus appear soon after, preforming "evolutions" over the aerodrome. The Vimy was first seen at 1.45 pm not far from Mount Lofty. It was soon joined by the two local planes piloted by Moore and Loftus, finally landing soon after 2.12 pm. As for Captain Butler's plane, it seems his flight was 
a matter of some anxiety. He turned up at 2.45 pm, saying he had been unable to "pick up" the Vimy, described elsewhere in the coverage as "a mammoth compared with the other machines." He put his inability to find the Vimy down to the mist in the hills. 
So I suspect that the various observations of Mr. Wicks recollected in the 1947 letter to the editor, were of Captain Butler flying over the area and the other two objects sighted were the two other local pilots Moore and Loftus. 
Happy to hear of any other suggestions. So far I haven't picked up on any March 1920 accounts or letters suggesting mysterious objects flying around that day.” 
In the spirit of “Redemption of the Damned” I rest my case (for the moment, pending further research of the Wick’s account) and leave you with this piece - “Tales of two centenaries – The Damned & the identified.”


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