65 years ago, a momentous event occurred. The funny part is, very few people know it.
On November 20, 1952, a man named George Adamski set off alone into the rocks and scrub of the California desert. There, he said later, he met a man from Venus. Chances are, if you follow this blog, you’re already well-acquainted with the story, but in case you don’t, here is a quick primer.
1952 was a particularly interesting year for UFOlogy. Flying saucers were the biggest meme of the day. Perhaps most famously, the summer of 1952 came to be known as the “Summer of the Saucers” because it seemed everyone’s neighbor was seeing flying saucers in skies. Shortly after the formation of Project Blue Book, the summer was capped by the particularly spectacular “Washington, D.C. UFO Incident”.
But until Adamski came forward with his story, flying saucers were little more than aerial curiosities. Some people said they were little green men, or worried about alien invasions, but mostly, UFOs were lights in the sky. The coming of Orthon changed all that–and gave humanity some skin in the game. Contact experiences turned a one-way observation into a two-way conversation. If one believes Adamski’s tale, and those of the legions of other Contactees that followed in his wake, we see that this interaction is what the Space Brothers were after all along.
This was huge. First contact with alien beings has to be the single most important event in the history of mankind, right? The giant statue of Adamski and Orthon in Desert Center speaks to that.
Except there is no statue, or even a plaque. The closest thing is an Adopt-a-Highway sign down the road, but that’s the only indication you’d even have that the site had any significance whatsoever other than being a quick route between Parker, Arizona and the Salton Sea.
So what happened? If mainstream UFOlogy believes that these things in the sky are aliens from another planet, and this guy George (actually, these guys George) claims to have met these aliens, why are they so roundly rejected?
This “Georgian Era” of Contacteeism lasted from 1952 until…well, it depends. Was it 1978, when the last Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention expired with its founder, George Van Tassel? Was it 1997, when George King passed away? Or was it 1968, when the Condon Report came out and snuffed out the lights of UFO research and Project Blue Book? I’d say the most likely candidate is 1965. That was the year that John Fuller’s book The Interrupted Journey, about the famous Betty and Barney Hill incident, first saw publication and created a new contact narrative that was, shall we say, “grittier.” And, much like modern superhero movies, this somehow made the idea of alien contact more palatable for mainstream UFOlogists. But perhaps most significantly, it was also the year that George Adamski died.
That gives us 13 years of classical Contact stories, from Adamski to Van Tassel to Bethurum to Angelucci to Howard, and on and on and on. If the history of UFOlogy starts in 1947 with the Kenneth Arnold incident, then that means the Contactees had been around for all but five years of the modern era of UFOs. The Contactees were not a fringe movement–they were a crucial to it. Without the Contactees, would UFOlogy have managed to maintain any sort of public interest between the glory days of early ’50s sightings and the glory days of alien experimentation reports? Their stories were immensely popular, as evidenced by the numerous books written and the conventions attended. But 65 years later, why aren’t we hearing stories of people meeting jumpsuited Venusians in the desert?
The cynics among us could invoke Occam’s Razor and say it’s because benevolent Brothers are no longer in vogue, and besides, those stories were all hogwash to begin with. Students of Contacteeism would be quick to point out that the flag is still carried by the likes of the Aetherius Society and the Unarians. New Agers might say that Contact has evolved toward more nuanced methods of interaction like light language activation, and the conspiratorial could say that we are being deliberately kept in the dark by sinister men and women in black.
I would argue that it’s far more complex than all that, and perhaps a dash of all of the above.
The world during the Georgian Era was ripe for the tales of space brothers: The ’50s found the United States on top of the world with unparalleled power and prosperity, which also made it the biggest target in the world. The simmering fear in the back of everyone’s mind was that their nuclear family could vanish in a nuclear instant. So…extreme hope on one side vs extreme fear on the other.
Here we are, six and a half decades down the line, and that power and prosperity has dimmed, along with the constant fear of nuclear destruction. Our scientific understanding has grown, which cuts right to the heart of many Contact tales. And most people are more interested in the latest iPhone than they are in spiritual evolution from cosmic sources. The light at the end of the tunnel seems more distant than ever. Ironically, this is again something the Contactees warned us about, all those years ago.
They told us to be wary of nuclear proliferation, yet now we’re getting treacherously close to a new cold war with a country formed out of the old one. Fukushima and Chernobyl have shown us the perils of even the best intentions when it comes to nuclear energy. Environmental devastation has led to widespread calamities like more potent hurricanes and droughts. The unstoppable power of the military industrial complex has kept us locked in a semi-permanent state of war. Intense focus on consumerism has created economic circumstances that threaten the very existence of the middle class, and perhaps most tragically, places us so firmly in the physical world that we have lost sight of the intangible joys of life.
Before the hippies, before the peace marches on Washington, before the Vietnam War, the Contactees were carrying the banners of all these causes, and because their banners said “spacemen” on them, they got a lot of attention at the time. Sure, not all their prophecies were so successful…. Wayne Aho said the new age would be here by 1980, and George Van Tassel said the Space Brothers would never allow a hydrogen bomb to be detonated. For his part, Adamski generally steered clear of such specifics, keeping focused on big picture ideals.
I think we need to remember the Contactees. They were a big part of UFOlogy, regardless of what most UFOlogists would say, but even in the greater society, they deserve some credit for pushing the peace movement forward at a time when the US didn’t think it needed one. The Contactees were both ahead of–and yet incredibly stuck in—their time.
Maybe we haven’t achieved the big-picture dreams that the Contactees conjured, but I think we’ve made some strides in the “first steps” category. There’s a greater awareness of our responsibility to the planet; women and people of color have seen their statuses improve dramatically over the decades; we’ve started thinking in terms of global consequence, rather than limiting ourselves to the borders of our white picket fences. There’s a long, long way to go, as evidenced by the current sludge pit that passes for political discourse at the moment, but at least the message of the Contactees hasn’t been completely lost, even if their names have come close.
Viewed from the 21st century, the 1952 worldview seems almost quaint, but to me that’s a refreshing contrast to the vitriol spewing out of our newsfeeds every day. I’d like to think that eventually, we can achieve the Utopian society based on ideals set forth in messages from spacemen and women. But to make these great strides, we need to start with small steps forward. Steps like those Adamski took into the Mojave Desert 65 years ago.