Monday, November 29, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

January 24, 1988.

Evening. Cloudy. A somewhat secluded road, a few houses around, far apart.

A pickup truck pulls over. The driver gets out. He walks down the road, shouting, daring someone to show themselves. His name is Ed Walters.

The passenger gets out, holding a video camera, taping the event. He is a newspaper editor who was contacted by Ed that a UFO might appear. His name is Duane Cook.

Cook has been following Ed's story for some time, a story involving the strange appearances of a UFO, aliens sending mysterious messages to Ed via telepathy. Ed is a contractor in Gulf Breeze, Florida, who claims he hears a humming sound inside his head before a UFO appears. As on other occasions, the humming starts low, then grows to such intensity that it becomes painful.

So why doesn't Cook think all of this is just in Ed's head?

Because Ed has submitted pictures to Cook's paper, images showing an otherworldly craft hanging in the night sky. The pictures were taken with a Polaroid camera. In pre-digital days the Polaroid system provided the closest thing to instant gratification. Other cameras used film that had to be exposed, then developed as negatives or slides. Negatives needed enlargers or automated machinery to make prints; slides required a special projector that cast images on a screen. Both processes involved a long turnaround time from taking the shots to viewing them.

A Polaroid camera combined the developing and printing into two simple steps. Snap a shot. The exposed small print would pop out from the camera. Wait sixty seconds for the development process do its magic and after you carefully peeled away the protective top layer, there was the image.

Cook believed that Ed's Polaroids were good evidence of UFO encounters because Polaroids were hard to manipulate to produce fakes.

As Ed keeps shouting at his alien tormenters, it starts to rain. Cook decides it's now too dark to keep shooting. As he starts to get back into the pickup, Ed yells, the UFO has appeared. Ed snaps a shot of the object, his camera's flash going off.

Cook isn't quick enough. By the time he gets out to take a look, the UFO has disappeared, or so Ed claims.

Ed hands the exposed print to Cook. The newspaperman waits sixty seconds and then pulls the protective layer off, revealing an alien craft hovering in the sky, the rooftop rack to Ed's truck illuminated by the camera's flash.

But Ed is upset. He wanted Cook to see the UFO but the aliens are playing hide and seek once again. But Cook isn't disappointed. He tells Ed: "It's more important that you shot it, and I saw you shoot it, and this is what I saw you shoot. This is better if I had seen it and you had not gotten the picture."

Cook adds: "I can flat out guarantee anybody that I saw you take this picture."

Wait a minute. Back it up. At this point in Ed Walter's book, The Gulf Breeze Sightings, I had a problem. (And not for the first time.)

It's stated in the book that Polaroids were hard to fake -- but it doesn't state that such fakery is impossible. With everything going on -- Ed's hysterics about the aliens tormenting him, the rainfall starting up, Cook getting back into the truck -- how can Cook definitely say that Ed gave him the same print that popped out of the camera at that time?

Cook states: "[Ed] came over to my door, pulled the photo from the camera, and handed it to me." (Page 340). Or so he recalls.

With everything happening Cook could have assumed that Ed pulled it from the camera. Under certain conditions perception and memory can play tricks. Maybe another print, one exposed using a special method, was substituted.

Misdirection is a standard trick for magicians. Look over there while I'm making a switch here. So is misperception: the magician influences what you think you see.

No, I'm not saying Ed Walters that evening was only doing a magic trick. But the possibility still exists. And considering that a model of the same UFO was found in Ed's home after he moved away, I find myself leaning towards the skeptical.

I argue that it would've been better if Cook saw the object and Ed didn't get the shot. A hovering UFO is harder to fake than a picture.

Previously in the book another man -- Bob Reid, a videographer for a local TV station -- one night has a similar experience to Cook. Reid is keeping watch over Ed, his mini-van and observation set-up a block away from Ed's house. The videographer and Ed keep in touch via walkie-talkies. Ed leaves his house, walking over to the van to deliver an item to be passed along to someone else. During part of the walk Reid can't see Ed; trees obstruct the view.

Suddenly Ed on the walkie-talkie asks Reid if he sees the UFO. But the videographer can't see the object at that moment because he is looking at the wrong spot in the sky, distracted by a plane. Ed soon shows up, agitated, asking Reid if he witnessed the ET craft during its brief appearance.

Once again another observer misses viewing the elusive alien ship. But Reid believes he has the evidence he needs: his recording of the Ed's distraught state is proof that Ed did see an alien craft, that he was in contact with aliens. After all, Ed's terror is so convincing. It couldn't just be his imagination.

Again, a problem. Certain people can completely convincing on videotape, even though their emotions are faked, reacting in fictional situations. They're called actors. Hollywood awards them for being so apparently real. Maybe Ed did have a terrifying experience but his reaction by itself proves nothing.

Both incidents and the responses by the observers of Ed's actions involve what I call hyper-logic. Whether you're a harden skeptic or a true believer, don't try to win me over with such "logic."

[Disclaimer: I read The Gulf Breeze Sightings years ago and this time I only perused parts of the book to refresh my memory. I didn't read it from cover to cover a second time. My life is too short. But note I did more than scan the index.]

Sources: All from The Gulf Breeze Sightings (1990) by Ed and Frances Walters.

Chapter: JANUARY 21, 1988--TWELFTH SIGHTING--WITH REID ACCOUNT; pages 140-147.


Appendix 2, pages 337 - 341, Duane Cook's January 24, 1988 account.


X. Dell said...

When I was a Boy Scout, we would get these assignments. One was to find a bring back a snipe. Now, I didn't know what a snipe was, and none of the counselors were very helpful in describing the creature.

That's because it didn't exist.

The counselers rigged up strings and whatnot to convince us a snipe was always nearby. And sure enough, we'd go chase whatever moved, while the adults expended most of their energy trying to keep a straight face.

Given the rest of the evidence, I would have no trouble believing that Cook and Reid were on a good old-fashioned snipe hunt.

Anonymous said...

It's also possible that Ed could have created the image on the film simply through his force of will. But I agree, the fact that no one else saw Ed's UFOs, that's suspicious.