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Beyond Roswell: 6 Other Historical UFO Sightings

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"The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer." So started the Daily Record front-page story 66 years ago yesterday that launched a thousand UFO conspiracy theories. Here’s a look at seven other brushes humankind has had with UFOs.

1. Burritt College, Tennessee (1859)

Early risers at Tennessee’s Burritt College spotted a pair of luminous objects (one like a “small new moon,” the other “a large star”) floating just north of the sunrise. Professor A.C. Carnes reported the sighting to Scientific American with skeptical speculation that the so-called UFO was just electricity:

"The first then became visible again, and increased rapidly in size, while the other diminished, and the two spots kept changing thus for about half an hour. There was considerable wind at the time, and light fleecy clouds passed by, showing the lights to be confined to one place."

Scientific American responded with a conjecture that “distant clouds of moisture” caused the sighting.

2. Aurora, Texas (1897)

“The town that almost wasn’t” (according to the tiny Texan town’s history book) found its claim to fame on April 17, 1897, when townsfolk watched a slow-moving airship crash into a windmill. Dallas Morning News reporter S.E. Haydon (sometimes spelled "Hayden") chronicled the crash:

About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship… It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went into pieces with a terrific explosion….

The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.

The Martian (as it was deemed by an Army officer from neighbor city Fort Worth) was buried at the Aurora Cemetery, but not before townspeople gave the pilot a proper funeral with “Christian rites.”

In a 1979 Time article, however, at least one resident claimed the whole thing was a hoax: "Hayden wrote it as a joke and to bring interest to Aurora," Etta Pegues, 86, told the magazine.

3. Mount Rainier, Washington (1947)

Kenneth Arnold, an aviator and businessman, ushered in what Ufologists consider the modern UFO age on June 24, 1947. Flying over Washington’s Cascade Mountains searching for a missing aircraft, he instead found several objects which he told reporters looked like “a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.”

Arnold’s sighting—he clocked the objects’ flight from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams at an unprecedented 1200 miles per hour—was made immortal by newspaper reporter Bill Bequette, who coined the name “flying saucer” in his story on the Associated Press news wire. By the end of July 1947, the U.S. media covered 800 reports of UFOs.

4. Lubbock, Texas (1951)

On August 25, 1951, three professors from Texas Technological College—a geologist, a chemical engineer, and a petroleum engineer and department head—saw 20 to 30 lights flying over one of the professors' backyards at 9 p.m.

Five nights later, a Texas Tech freshman named Carl Hart, Jr. snapped five shots of the same formation of lights. A lieutenant investigating the “Lubbock Lights,” Edward J. Ruppelt, released a statement about the photos, declaring, “the photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine.” The official Air Force explanation? They were birds—probably ducks or plovers—with street lights reflecting off of them. 

5. Washington, D.C. (1952)

At 11:40 p.m. on July 19 in the capital, air traffic controllers noted pale blips flitting on their radarsFighter jets were dispatched to chase down the objects, leading to sensationalist headlines the next day. In the Cedar Rapids Gazette of Iowa, the front page screamed “Saucers Swarm Over Capital.”

6. Leary, Georgia (1969)

At a Lions Club in Leary, Georgia, two years before he was elected as the Peach State’s governor, Jimmy Carter reported watching a self-luminous, color-changing object arc across the sky. He’d mention it in a 1973 report, saying, “It didn't have any solid substance to it, it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was."

Years later, Carter shied away from his extraterrestrial sighting, saying that it was only a UFO because it was, in fact, unexplained, and that he knew it couldn’t be an alien ship, thanks to his background in physics (he was also an amateur astronomer). In a 2007 interview with The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, he debunked rumors that the CIA refused to give him information about UFO cover-ups.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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