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Foreign Relations: 12 Notorious, Alleged UFO Incidents

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Long before Leonardo da Vinci sketched a flying machine or the Wright Brothers took flight at Kitty Hawk, there were reports of aircrafts soaring through the sky. Though some of those stories of Unidentified Flying Objects (or UFOs) may date as far back as Ancient Egypt, they are firmly ensconced in today's pop culture and accounts of their sightings remain fascinating for believers and skeptics alike. Here are 12 of the most intriguing incidents of alleged UFO sightings.

1. EGYPT // MID-1400S BCE

According to the Tulli Papyrus—the reported writings of Thutmose III, who reigned in the 1400s BCE—something unexplainable was spotted. An excerpt from the annals detailing the incident reads:

In the year 22, in the 3rd month of winter, in the sixth hour of the day, the scribes of House of Life noticed a circle of fire that was coming from the sky. From the mouth it emitted a foul breath. It had no head. Its body was one rod long and one rod wide. It had no voice. And from that the hearts of the scribes became confused and they threw themselves down on their bellies, then they reported the thing to the Pharaoh. … It was recorded in the scrolls of the House of Life.

His Majesty was meditating upon what happened. Now after some days had passed, these things became more numerous in the sky than ever. They shone more in the sky than the brightness of the sun, and extended to the limits of the four supports of the heavens … Powerful was the position of the fire circles. The army of the Pharaoh looked on with him in their midst. It was after supper. Thereupon, these fire circles ascended higher in the sky towards the south … The Pharaoh caused incense to be brought to make peace on the hearth … And what happened was ordered by the Pharaoh to be written in the annals of the House of Life … so that it be remembered for ever.

The validity of these writings remains uncertain. The original papyrus was lost and only copies of copies of it remain.

2. ROME // 218 BCE

One of the earliest reported UFO sightings can be traced back to about 218 BCE. Around 200 years later, Roman historian Livy recorded a number of strange incidents, likely using some lost list of those earlier sightings. One of the historian's writings included “A spectacle of ships (navium) gleamed in the sky” in Rome. In a report on UFOs [PDF], NASA’s Richard Stothers deemed these sightings "trustworthy and accurate," due to the time-consuming and costly nature of investigations into omens during this era.

3. SPAIN // 1433

On January 5, 1433, the entire court of King Juan II of Castile allegedly claimed to have seen a UFO. Fernán Gómez de Cibdarreal, the king’s physician, reportedly detailed the sighting in a letter. While its authenticity is uncertain, here is an excerpt:

I shall not tire your lordship with this narration, since we had just arrived [to Ciudad Rodrigo] when, walking on Wednesday the 5th of this month of January [1433], we suddenly saw a great flame of yellow fire attached to the sky move from one end to the other; it had inside like a black root and all its borders were more whitish than the middle; and it left with a great roar, causing horses and mules to ran in fear, and my own mule didn’t stop until it touched another mule.

4. NUREMBERG, GERMANY // 1561

BY HANS GLASER, 1561. IMAGE CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN

This famous alleged UFO sighting is documented not only in words, but in a woodcut by Hans Glaser. The piece shows the sky full of strange objects and “immense” smoke rising from the earth. Glaser and many others reportedly claimed to have witnessed the occurrence in Nuremberg on April 14, 1561.

The artist included a description with his work as well as a message to skeptics. He wrote: "Although we have seen, shortly one after another, many kinds of signs on the heaven, which are sent to us by the almighty God, to bring us to repentance, we still are, unfortunately, so ungrateful that we despise such high signs and miracles of God. Or we speak of them with ridicule and discard them to the wind, in order that God may send us a frightening punishment on account of our ungratefulness."

5. TEXAS // 1897

"Texas’ most famous UFO crash" occurred in April 1897. On that day, a cigar-shaped object reportedly crashed into a windmill in Aurora, a small town just north of Fort Worth. The legend has conflicting claims. Some say the alien inside the craft survived, while others believe it died and the residents of the town gave it a Christian burial.

At the time of the crash, E.E. Hayden (sometimes reported as S.E. Haydon), a reporter from the Dallas Morning News, wrote that the spaceship “collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went into pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge's flower garden. 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."

6. MISSOURI // 1941

One 20th-century incident became a hidden family secret. In April 1941, Rev. William Huffman of Red Star Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri was asked to minister at the site of a plane crash. There, Huffman said, he found a saucer with three alien bodies. His granddaughter later recounted the story to local news outlet KFVS, claiming that her grandfather had been sworn to secrecy after the incident.

7. WASHINGTON // 1947

Kenneth Arnold’s reported 1947 sighting is well-known for many reasons, including coining the phrase "flying disc." Just weeks before Roswell—one of the most famous incidents of all time—Arnold was flying his plane near Mount Rainier in Washington State when he said he observed a line of crescent-shaped objects in the sky. He estimated that they were clocking 1700 MPH and described their movements as being like "a saucer if you skip it across water."

8. ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO // 1947

Arnold’s sighting was the first in a series, which also includes the famous Roswell UFO report. According to CNN, the Air Force initially claimed to have found remnants of a flying saucer at the site in New Mexico. Later, they claimed the debris was from a weather balloon and then, much later, that it was an apparatus to detect Soviet nuclear tests. Today, the sighting has cult status, inspiring movies and TV, including the show Roswell. Conspiracy theorists consider it to be one of the most famous UFO cover-ups in history.

9. WEST VIRGINIA // 1952

From UFO reporting to urban legend: As the tale goes, on September 12, 1952, a fireball reportedly fell from the sky and a monster with fiery eyes was found at the crash site in Flatwoods, West Virginia. Descriptions of the Flatwoods Monster vary, though it’s believed to be 10 feet tall, with a glowing green body.

10. BRAZIL // 1957

Antonio Vilas (sometimes spelled "Villas") Boas’ report is one of the first recorded alien abductions in the modern age. On October 16, 1957, Boas, a Brazilian farmer, was working alone in a field when he says a reddish light in the sky zoomed toward him. He ran toward his tractor, but four small figures lifted him off the ground.

He gave a long, detailed description of the encounter, including the way the creatures communicated: "No resemblance whatever to human speech ... I can think of no attempt to describe those sounds, so different were they from anything I have ever heard before ... Those sounds still make me shiver when I think of them! It isn't even possible for me to reproduce them ... my vocal organs are not made for it."

He also claims to have had sexual relations with a naked female in the aircraft, although the two did not kiss. He reportedly was returned to his field about four hours after the abduction and was found to have suffered from radiation poisoning.

11. NEW HAMPSHIRE // 1961

Married couple Barney and Betty Hill also claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Under hypnosis, the pair shared similar accounts of the incident. Betty said, "I was taken on board. Barney was taken into one room and I was taken into another. The one who did the testing we called 'The Examiner.' First, they put me on a stool and they checked my eyes, ears, nose, throat. They put me on a table and said they wanted to check my nervous system. Then, they tried to insert a needle-like instrument in my navel, which caused pain so they stopped doing it. Barney's exam was very much like mine in the beginning except they were interested in his bone structure."

Betty also claims the creatures showed her a star map depicting where they came from. She even redrew it under hypnosis, but at the time, it didn’t correlate with any known area of space. However, years later, statistician David Saunders claimed her drawing resembles the Zeta Reticuli system in the constellation Reticulum, confirming (at least in the eyes of her supporters) some of Hill’s story.

12. KENTUCKY // 1976

On January 6, 1976, three women claimed to have been abducted from a car. In 2010, Mona Stafford, the only living witness, recalled her story to Central Kentucky News. She claimed the three women were driving when they thought they saw a plane crash. Wanting to help, they drove closer, only to find an object in a treetop. The car seemed drawn toward the craft, and hours later the women came to the Hustonville city limits. Their eyes and skin were burning, and the hood of the car had bubbled up.

Separated, the women each detailed identical accounts of the incident. And under hypnosis, they recounted the same tale of being removed from the car and examined.

In the years that followed, Stafford claims she and one of the other women were unable to use the telephone. The women were drawn to high places and often watched the sky, with Stafford explaining, "I still feel like that. Like something’s calling me, and I go out. I’m not a prophet, I’m not predicting nothing, but there’s something in me that says something’s going to happen this time."

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Retrobituaries
Haruo Nakajima, the Original Actor Beneath the Godzilla Suit
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Haruo Nakajima (second from left) during the filming of Godzilla Raids Again (1955).
Wikipedia // Public Domain

If you can’t picture actor Haruo Nakajima’s face, that’s because his most famous movie role had him hidden inside a monster costume. The Japanese performer—who played cinema’s most famous reptilian beast, Godzilla, in both the 1954 original film and 11 sequels—died on August 7, 2017 at the age of 88 from pneumonia, but not before giving the world a glimpse of the man beneath the scaly suit.

Nakajima was born on January 1, 1929, in Yamagata, Japan. As the third of five children, he knew he wouldn't inherit his father's butcher shop (which traditionally went to the eldest son), so he enrolled in an acting program at the age of 18 after working for a brief period as a truck driver for the occupying Allied forces.

Nakajima launched his movie career by working as a stuntman in samurai movies. His most famous bit part was in Akira Kurosawa’s famous 1954 adventure-drama Seven Samurai, but his big break occurred while filming the 1953 World War II military film Eagle of the Pacific.

The script required Nakajima to jump from a burning plane, and when director Ishirō Honda saw him in action, "he thought, 'This guy is full of energy,'" the actor recalled to Great Big Story in March 2017. “They came to see me as someone who had guts, and I think that’s why they wanted me for the role of Godzilla.”

In the original 1954 Godzilla film, underwater hydrogen bomb testing disturbs an ancient sea creature from its aquatic habitat, and the beast proceeds to wreak havoc upon mainland Japan. Since Nakajima initially had no idea what the titular monster would look like or how it would move, he prepared for his role in an unusual way.

“I spent 10 days at the zoo,” Nakajima later recalled, according to Jonathan Clements’s book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. “I’d watch the way the elephants walked, the monkeys, the gorillas, but especially the bears. I used to take two lunches with me. One was mine, and the rest of it I’d throw to the bears. When one of them snatched it up and shoveled it into his mouth, I’d watch the way he did it.”

Not that it was easy to move in the Godzilla suit. The original costume was made from ready-mixed concrete (rubber was a scare commodity in post-war Japan) and reportedly weighed around 220 pounds. It was also suffocatingly hot: Nakajima sweated so much beneath the soundstage’s bright lights that by day’s end he said he could fill half a bucket with perspiration wrung from his undershirt.

When Godzilla first arrived in movie theaters in 1954, an anonymous Nakajima watched the film from the front row to gauge the audience's reaction. "When the film was a success I was so surprised," he told Great Big Story. "I was so happy."

Nakajima starred in Godzilla movies for most of the next two decades. He also appeared in dozens of other monster movies as a contract actor for Japanese film studio Toho, which created the Godzilla franchise. But after filming Godzilla vs. Hedorah in 1971, Nakajima's exclusive contract wasn't renewed, and he donned the scaly suit just one last time for 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan. The actor retired in 1973, and spent his remaining years attending comic cons and movie conventions, making the occasional Godzilla film cameo, and running a Toho-owned mahjong parlor.

Even though Nakajima enjoyed a successful career, he would never experience international fame: "Back then, people didn't speak positively of suit actors," Nakajima told Japanese magazine Josei Seven in 2014, according to Kotaku. "There'd be whispers going around that working inside [a suit] is not an acting job."

Yet the Godzilla franchise became a worldwide phenomenon. The films ushered in a new era of sci-fi monster movies, and after World War II, they served as a campy—yet palpable—reminder of the dangers of nuclear combat.

As for Nakajima himself, “there are not a lot of actors that you can compare him to,” Akira Mizuta Lippit, a cinematic arts professor at the University of Southern California, told The Washington Post after Nakajima’s death. “He, in fact, invented the kind of acting that he then performed. In that sense, he’s absolutely unique."

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Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD
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History
Inside the Never-Before-Seen Scrapbook of the Rubber Skin Lady, a 1930s-era Sideshow Star
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Agnes the Rubber Skin Lady and other performers, including Frieda Pushnik, Major Small, and John Williams the Alligator-Skin Boy.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

As a young girl growing up in Milwaukee, Dr. Dori Ann Bischmann loved exploring her parents' attic. One day in the early 1970s, she discovered a mysterious trunk that piqued her curiosity.

Inside, there was some children's china, an antique baby doll, a beaded hat and bag from the 1920s, and an old scrapbook. The book had a picture of two puppies on the cover.

But the images between the covers weren't as cuddly as advertised.

Dori had found the scrapbook of her great aunt, Agnes Schwarzenbacher, also known as Agnes Higginbotham and Agnes Schmidt—but more famously as Agnes the Rubber Skin Lady. On the inside cover of the book a title marked in pen read, "Scrapbook of Show Life."

The newspaper clippings, photos, and signed pitch cards (promotional postcards featuring individual performers) that filled nearly 90 pages gave Dori a glimpse into the life of one of the sideshow's biggest stars of the 1930s. It also unlocked a family secret.

Close-up of a 1932 group photo of sideshow performers, with Agnes the Rubber Skin Lady featured in the center.
Close-up of a 1932 group photo of sideshow performers, with Agnes the Rubber Skin Lady featured in the center.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

Dori had never met her aunt, who passed away in 1962. Nor had she ever heard about how Agnes drew crowds to watch her exhibit the excessive, elastic skin that covered her legs. Agnes could stretch the rubbery flesh anywhere from 15 to 30 inches, although from the waist up she looked completely normal. There are no reports of a diagnosis, but she may have had a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Agnes, who was born in 1902 in Germany and came to America three years later, had shared her unusual skin on stages across the continent. In Toronto, she even performed before royalty. In one of the scrapbook's clippings, she spoke of the event as being one of the greatest thrills of her life on the road: "The audience was a very distinguished one and most famous of all was the Crown Prince of England, now the Duke of Windsor. I was most thrilled when he applauded vigorously."

With each turn of the book's pages, Dori encountered many of the extraordinary people Agnes performed with, particularly at the Ripley's Odditorium at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. At the time, Robert Ripley's "Believe It Or Not!" cartoon was extremely popular, and the Odditorium was the first public exhibition of unique performers and curiosities Ripley had gathered during his travels around the world. More than 2 million people visited his collection at the World's Fair and witnessed live acts like Agnes.

Clippings and pictures from Agnes Schwarzenbacher's circus scrapbook
Top: Crowd gathered at an oddity show capitalizing off Ripley’s success at the World’s Fair. Bottom: Agnes is featured in a newspaper clipping, between two photos of unknown performers.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

Dori was enthralled with her discovery. "I have always been fascinated with people who are unique," she tells Mental Floss. Today, she works as a psychologist and often counsels people who have genetic disorders.

"I see a lot of amazing people overcoming many hurdles," she says. "At the same time I see people who are depressed. I wonder how all of the circus freaks felt on the inside. Were they hurting and depressed and putting on a show outwardly? Or did they find contentment in giving something of themselves to help others?"

While it's hard to know exactly how Agnes felt, there are glimpses in some of the scrapbook's clippings.

"I would like very much to be normal in every respect," Agnes says in one newspaper article. "Don't misunderstand me. I said I would like to, but simply because my skin is rubber doesn't mean that I have become morbid. Far from it. I am, perhaps, one of the most pleasant persons you ever met. And why shouldn't I be? I don't consider myself seriously handicapped. I realize that my skin when stretched isn't exactly normal, but I don't allow the presence of such skin on my body to make me self-conscious."

A page of promotional images from Agnes Schwarzenbacher's circus scrapbook
A collection of performers from the 1933 World’s Fair, and a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

Indeed, Agnes's skin ailment proved to be quite profitable—several articles in the scrapbook claimed that "The salary paid her is the highest ever paid a freak." No numbers are given, and like many sideshow claims, this may have been an exaggeration. But many sideshow performers were paid well, especially for the Great Depression.

"She used a circumstance she was born into to become an independent woman with a high-paying career (for the day)," Dori says. "She traveled and experienced many things other women might not have been able to experience."

Photos of Agnes Schwarzenbacher and her family
Top: A photo featuring Agnes Schwarzenbacher with her father and siblings: Mary, John, Rose, and Carl. Below: A portrait of Agnes dated 1926.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

The Schwarzenbachers, however, weren't as self-confident as Agnes. Her family would have preferred that she covered her legs with long dresses and kept her anomaly to herself. They wanted nothing to do with her performances.

"The family was embarrassed that she was in the circus," Dori says. "I was also told that Agnes went to doctors to see if the tissue could be cut off. Apparently they couldn't in those days because it was too vascularized." (In other words, the tissue was too filled with blood vessels.)

The family's shame lasted well after Agnes's death. The scrapbook had originally been stored in Dori's grandparents' attic. When her grandmother passed away, no one in the family wanted the book except for Dori's mother, who had married Agnes's nephew.

"My mother was a person who was accepting of all people," Dori said. "She wasn't embarrassed about Agnes. She thought it was a shame that Agnes's flesh and blood did not want her scrapbook. The scrapbook is the story of Agnes's circus years, but also of her family."

Of course, it wasn't unusual for people born with anomalies to be treated in such ways. The sideshow, which had its heyday from the mid-1800s to the 1940s, offered them a rare chance to escape a life of seclusion, earn a living, see the world, and—perhaps most importantly—to enjoy a sense of camaraderie.

In a 1959 article from the New York World-Telegram and Sun, longtime showman Dick Best expanded on this thought more colorfully: "For the past thirty years I have been able to give employment to scores of [sideshow performers], give them financial independence, and companionship. You realize this when you see a mule-faced girl, a guy with three legs, and a girl weighing 500 pounds playing poker with a guy who shuffles and deals with his toes. In a crowd like that nobody sits around feeling sorry for himself or anybody else. You could be accepted there if you had nine arms and ten heads."

The "mule-faced girl" that Best referred to was Grace McDaniels, who Agnes worked with and featured in her album. McDaniels was afflicted with a condition that caused tumors to grow on her lips and mouth. In addition to being called "mule-faced," she was also billed as the Ugliest Woman in the World. Agnes's photos show her with McDaniel's teenage son, Elmer, who traveled with her.

The "guy with three legs," as Best called him, also appears in the scrapbook. His name was Francesco Lentini, billed as the Three-Legged Wonder. He also had four feet, and two sets of genitalia.

Agnes's friend Frieda Pushnik, the Armless, Legless Girl Wonder, is featured more prominently. Born in Pennsylvania in 1923, Pushnik had only small stumps at her shoulders and thighs, with which she learned to sew, crochet, write, and type. At the age of 10 she joined the Rubber Skin Lady at the Chicago Odditorium during the World's Fair. In addition to having collected several of Frieda's pitch cards, Agnes also had personal photos. One of these captures another companion, a dwarf named Lillie McGregor, holding little Frieda. Without legs, Frieda is about half the size of Lillie.

Lillie appears in other photographs with her husband, Harry. They are each seen pulling a person in a wagon with their eyelids. Agnes even saved the Ripley's cartoon that illustrated the stunt.

Clippings and pictures from Agnes Schwarzenbacher's circus scrapbook
Spread of newspaper clippings, including articles about Agnes and a Believe It Or Not cartoon starring her friends Lillie and Harry McGregor, who could pull each other in a wagon with their eyelids.
Dori Ann Bischmann PhD

Lillie McGregor pulls an unidentified man in a wagon with hooks attached to her eyelids at the 1933 World’s Fair.
Lillie McGregor, a friend of Agnes, pulls an unidentified man in a wagon with hooks attached to her eyelids at the 1933 World’s Fair.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

While Agnes's adventures in show life surrounded her with many kinds of unique people, one photo is of a man who shared a similar ailment. Arthur Loos, the Rubber-Skinned Man, had skin that hung loose beneath his chin, much like a basset hound's. He could stretch the flesh 8 inches. If they bonded over their sagging skin, Agnes made no mention of it in the scrapbook.

The man she did bond with was not a performer in the sideshow at all. He was a foreman who operated rides at a fair, a man named Jack Higginbotham. Their marriage is mentioned in one of the book's clippings, which states they were wed in Rockford, Illinois. However, the Rubber Skin Lady's love story was a mere subhead to another sideshow romance that earned the paper's headline: "Bearded Lady and ‘Elephant Man' on Midway are Newlyweds."

Agnes Schwarzenbacher and her husband
Agnes with her husband, Jack Higginbotham.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD

Although her family may have stayed far away from the sideshow stage, Agnes kept them all close. Photos of her with her father, brothers, sisters, and other family members populate numerous pages of the scrapbook.

Had Dori only seen these particular family photos, with her aunt's dresses covering her legs, she would have never known Agnes was different in any way—or what an amazing story she had to tell.

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