UFOs, 1973, 6 Questions, High School, Canada's National Research Council and A.G. McNamara
Well, dear reader, welcome to the very first post of the UFO Talker blog.
If you have been following the UFO Talker podcast then you know all about the sighting I had with my mom when I was eight years old. To this very moment I feel the same intense urgency that I had that night, just moments after the sighting. What did I see that night? What was that? That feeling of urgency, excitement and wonder has never left me. Let's leave my sighting behind and shift gears. Let's talk about a year that was not only good for rock and roll, but it was a very good year for UFOs.
The year was 1973. I was in grade 11 at the time and I was in one of those creative classes where you could write, make a film or just about anything that wasn't related to history, science or math. At the beginning of the year the class had got together and decided to print a school newspaper. This was my big chance. Somehow I was going to get a UFO story into that paper. 1973 was a big year for UFOs. It was a real, bona fide flap. Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker had their abduction in Pascagoula, Mississippi (as I'm typing this it was only a few days ago that Calvin Parker passed away). A year later I was to read the Ralph and Judy Blum book, Beyond Earth: Man's Contact With UFOs. The first few chapters were on the Pascagoula encounter. During the days before the internet you only got this kind of information from newspapers, TV or from books. I remember when Ralph and Judy Blum's UFO book first came out. They were on lots of TV talk shows promoting their book. I remember thinking how odd it was to have a husband and wife team write a book on UFOs (Ralph and Judy got divorced in 1985 and Ralph passed away in 2016). Back then, if you wanted to know what was on TV, you had to buy a copy of the TV Guide. I remember my mom would buy the coming week's edition on a Friday. I remember when she brought it home I would start flipping through the pages trying to see if there were going to be any shows on UFOs or if Don Rickles was going to be on the Tonight Show (a must see).
Somehow I was going to get a UFO story into the school newspaper. By chance, I happened to hear Mr. Loris Racine talking about UFOs on the radio. He worked for Canada's National Research Council. At that time they were the group responsible for UFO reports in Canada. I sat down at my typewriter and pounded out a letter to Mr. Racine (he passed away in 2015 after having a long career with the Canadian government). I came up with six questions. Being the young person I was, I didn't just want to ask any of the cliche questions of the day. I had to give him questions that would make him think. I wanted my letter and questions to stand out from the many thousands of UFO letters he must be receiving. I mailed my letter off to the National Research Council of Canada and then I waited.
In today's world we think if we haven't received a response from our email within a day, we think we have been ghosted. My response from the NRC took just over a month. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would get a response, but there it was. I remember I had Steely Dan's Reelin' In The Years playing on my turntable when my mom gave me the letter that the postman had just dropped off at our house. It came in one of those brown, official looking envelops. I opened it and pulled out the two page letter. My letter had been passed from Mr. Racine to the Head of the Upper Atmosphere Research Section, Mr. A.G. McNamara.
I didn't know it then, but Mr. McNamara had conducted a lot of research and experiments on the upper atmosphere. He had worked on something called Project Waterhole which had tried to produce a ionospheric hole or plasma density depletion at 300 kms above Earth. He had also worked on experiments with Hydromagnetic Waves.
A.G. McNamara's typewritten letter came back on official NRC letterhead and it was dated November 23, 1973. His first sentence told me something I hadn't been aware of, at least in 1973. The Upper Atmosphere Research Section had the "responsibility of recording and maintaining a file of UFO reports received by the government" (of Canada).
I had sent him a list of six questions. Mr. McNamara answered them in the same order that I had asked them. I didn't keep a copy of the questions that I had sent him (who knew I would be writing about this 50 years later!). For me his answer to question 2 was the most interesting. He talked about Canada's Project Second Storey. You can't talk about Project Second Storey without mentioning Wilbert Smith. Smith, is perhaps, the single most important person in Canadian ufology. Wilbert Smith is a very big topic that I will cover in a later blog. Project Second Storey was a group comprised mainly of National Research Council people and others from inside the Canadian government. They would meet to examine UFO reports and to classify and evaluate them. As the group came to the end of its run "it recommended that the situation did not warrant a large scale official investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena". Notice that A.G. McNamara UFOs as UAPs and this was 1973. McNamara also mentions something that is at odds with a lot of reference material. He said that Project Second Storey "became inactive after 1953". McNamara's letter may have just corrected history as the general belief is that the group ended in 1954. He also mentions that after 1953 "sighting reports were maintained thereafter by the Department of National Defence. As of 1968, this function was transferred to the NRC".
In his answers to questions 3,4,5 and 6 McNamara shows his bias and that was he didn't have much time or interest in the subject of UFOs. This was very apparent when he said, "We assess and file all reports received. We only investigate those which appear to contain information of scientific value". Ouch! I always find it hard to believe that a scientist, even if it's not his field of study, would find no scientific value in investigating UFOs. McNamara states that "(as of November 1973) 142 non-meteoritic sightings have been received in 1973. The reports are filed in the fireball (meteor) file if it is a fireball. If it is not a fireball or a meteor, it goes in the non-meteoritic sighting file". I will spare the reader the rest of his thoughts as he placed little or no scientific interest in UFOs.
It took me a little while to find the letter that A.G. McNamara had sent me so many years ago. I never did get to write that UFO article for the school newspaper. In 1973 gas was around 40 cents a gallon. You could buy a Ford Galaxy 500 for around $3,500 dollars. In Paris the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords which ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1973 I watched just about every TV show on UFOs and read every book on UFOs I could find. Here I am 50 years later still trying to figure out the mystery of UFOs, although my hair is a lot shorter, my memories are a lot longer.
Oh and whatever happened to A.G. McNamara? I'm sure he has long since retired, but I have put a call into the National Research Council to see if I can find him. I would like to interview him to see if his thoughts on UFOs have changed over the years. I'm sure he would be thrilled to hear from me again (insert laughter here).