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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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History
How a Shoemaker Became America’s Most Controversial Mystic—and Inspired Edgar Allan Poe
Internet Archive, Flickr // Public Domain
Internet Archive, Flickr // Public Domain

Andrew Jackson Davis may not be a prominent figure now, but in the 19th century, he amassed a dedicated following that helped give rise to Spiritualism, a once-popular religion that believed in communicating with the dead. Davis used the teachings of a German doctor named Anton Mesmer to enter trance states that he claimed allowed him to see into space, the afterlife, other worlds, and even the human body. His metaphysical exploits earned him the nickname the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” and while frequently derided by his contemporaries, he inspired at least one well-known American writer: Edgar Allan Poe.

A HUMBLE SHOEMAKER

By all accounts, Davis had a fairly unremarkable childhood. He was born in Blooming Grove, New York, in 1826. His father, a shoemaker, was prone to drink, so Davis and his sister picked up odd jobs to support the family. Most of his schooling came from a then-popular program where teachers taught advanced students, who then taught one another. Ira Armstrong, a shoemaker/merchant he apprenticed under, later recalled that Davis's education “barely amounted to a knowledge of reading, writing and the rudiments of arithmetic.”

In the 1830s, Anton Mesmer’s teachings became popular in America thanks to several impassioned lecturers in New York and New England. Mesmer, who had found fame in Europe in the late 18th century, believed he could use magnets and his own touch to move “magnetic fluids” through the body, healing his patients of everything from the common cold to blindness. Though his theory of animal magnetism, as he called the existence of such fluids, was discredited by the French Academy of Sciences in 1784, medical professionals later became curious about Mesmer’s ability to manipulate his patients into altered mental states. Doctors—conventional or otherwise—studied the phenomenon of mesmerism, traveling across the country to demonstrate their findings.

It’s this mesmerist renaissance that first brought Davis into the public eye. In 1843, a Dr. James Stanley Grimes traveled to Poughkeepsie, New York, advertising his ability to induce trance states. Many Poughkeepsie residents attended the production—including Davis, although he wasn't entranced as advertised. The visit excited the community, especially a tailor and acquaintance of Davis's named William Levingston, who began dabbling in mesmerism himself. One day in early December, Levingston asked if he could mesmerize Davis, and he succeeded where Grimes had failed: Davis, while blindfolded, was able to read a newspaper placed on his forehead, and listed the various diseases of a group of witnesses.

Rumors soon swirled about Davis’s abilities. After that first session, Levingston mesmerized him nearly every day, and hundreds crowded into Levingston’s home to gawk at the spectacle. The sessions followed a pattern: Davis would enter a trance state and diagnose visitors with maladies, and then Levingston would sell remedies. The pair eventually began to travel, taking their show to Connecticut.

Some of Davis’s advice was unorthodox. For deafness, as Davis wrote in his autobiography, The Magic Staff, he once recommended a patient “catch thirty-two weasels ... take off their hind legs at the middle joint, and boil that oil which Nature has deposited in the feet and the parts adjacent thereto.” This preparation, he went on, “must be dropped (one drop at a time) in each ear, twice a day, till the whole is gone—when you will be nearly cured!”

Sketch of Andrew Jackson Davis on a yellow background
Internet Archive, Flickr // Public Domain

However, Davis swore off parlor tricks in 1844 after he claimed to have teleported 40 miles in his sleep. During the episode, he purportedly spoke with the ghosts of the Greek physician Galen and the Swedish scientist and philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg, who hinted that Davis had a higher purpose. Galen gifted him with a magic staff, although he was not allowed to keep it. The tale mirrored that of Joseph Smith, who around 1827 had claimed a holy messenger guided him to golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was written. The year after the teleportation episode, Davis decided to part ways with Levingston, and moved to New York City in the company of Silas Smith Lyon, a doctor, and two Universalist ministers, William Fishbough and Samuel Byron Britton.

There, Lyon placed Davis into trance states several times a day, during which time he would lecture on science and philosophy while also diagnosing patients. Fishbough, meanwhile, would transcribe Davis’s transmissions, which were published as his first book, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelation, and a Voice to Mankind in 1847. Davis combined Spiritualism with utopianism, describing a heaven-like space where all would be welcomed by a Mother and a Father God. Academics of the time soon noticed Davis’s insights were nearly identical to writings that Swedenborg had published years before: Both Davis and Swedenborg claimed to see a spiritual world beyond our own, where all humans could be welcomed into heaven, regardless of religion.

Christian leaders called Davis’s text heretical, while newspapers referred to the book as “ridiculous” and “incomprehensible.” One professor of Greek and Latin at the University of New York said the book was “a work of the devil,” and displayed an “absurd and ridiculous attempt at reasoning.” Joseph McCabe, in his 1920 book Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847, declared that there was “no need to examine the book seriously” since it contained so many scientific errors. Notably, The Church of New Jerusalem, founded on Swedenborgian ideas, never publicly endorsed Davis’s theories.

Despite this criticism, Davis attracted passionate defenders. George Bush, a Swedenborgian scholar and distant relative of George W. Bush, was among his champions. He insisted that a simple youth like Davis had no access to Swedenborg’s texts and must have been communing with spirits. In 1846, when the French mathematician Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier postulated the existence of the planet Neptune, supporters were quick to write the New York Tribune claiming Davis had already discovered the eighth planet. “As to the asserted fact that this announcement by Mr. Davis was made in March last,” Bush declared, “I can testify that I heard it read at the time; and numerous gentlemen in this city are ready to bear witness that I informed them of the circumstance several months before the intelligence reached us of Le Verrier’s discovery.”

Detractors were just as vocal. When Fishbough admitted to extensively editing Davis's words, a reviewer at the London Athenaeum couldn’t contain his derision: “That a seer ‘commercing’ with the Mysteries of Nature should have needed an editor in this technical sense is remarkable enough," he wrote. "It might have been supposed that the Revelations which brought to an uneducated man the secrets of Science might have brought him grammar, too, to express them in.” Fishbough countered that it would have simply been too much work for Davis to pay attention to such tiny details.

"MARTIN VAN BUREN MAVIS"

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of the more prominent people occasionally making fun of Davis was Edgar Allan Poe. In the satirical “Mellonta Tauta,” Poe wrote in a preface that “Martin Van Buren Mavis (sometimes called the ‘Toughkeepsie Seer’)” had translated the story—thus poking fun at Davis and his acolytes. Poe also included Davis in his “50 Suggestions,” brief witticisms published in 1849 that took aim at popular beliefs and theorists of the time: “There surely cannot be ‘more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of’ (oh, Andrew Jackson Davis!) ‘in your philosophy,’” Poe wrote.

Yet Davis’s The Principles of Nature may also have inspired the prose poem “Eureka,” in which Poe proposed his theory of the universe. The work has puzzled critics since its inception: Poe’s use of humorous nicknames in the text (he refers to Aristotle as “Aries Tottle”) point to “Eureka” being a satire, but historians have pointed out that several of Poe’s intuitive concepts actually anticipated the study of scientific phenomenon like black holes and the expanding universe.

Several historians have also remarked on the way Davis’s demonstrations in New York influenced Poe’s short story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which follows a mesmerist who puts an old man into a trance on his deathbed and watches his body float between life and death. Davis had claimed his trances put him in a state near death, freeing his mind to travel to spiritual realms. In his book Occult America, writer Mitch Horowitz notes that Poe completed the story in New York the year he met Davis. Dawn B. Sova also mentions in Edgar Allan Poe A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work that Poe used his observations of Davis’s trance sessions to complete the story.

For his part, Davis himself seemed somewhat taken with Poe. Of meeting him in 1846, he wrote in Memoranda of Persons, Places and Events, “My sympathies are strangely excited. There are conflicting breathings of commanding power in his mind. But … I saw a perfect shadow of himself in the air in front of him, as though the sun was constantly shining behind and casting shadows before him, causing the singular appearance of one walking into a dark fog produced by himself.”

Charlatan or not, it was an eerie observation to make of a writer who would meet his end three years later.

Davis himself would live a long and rich life. He continued to lecture and write books until the 1880s, doing away with his scribe for later publications. He then earned a traditional medical license and moved to Boston, serving as a physician until his death in 1910. Though he sought to distance himself from the spectacle of spiritualism later on in life, Davis’s humble background and curious rise to fame made the “Poughkeepsie Seer” one of the movement’s most notable figures—and one who still maintains a strange resonance today.

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10 People Whose Hearts Were Buried Separately From the Rest of Them
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though it may seem bizarre today, having your heart buried apart from the rest of your body wasn’t uncommon for European aristocracy of the Middle Ages and beyond. The practice arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors had a tendency to die in “heathen” places that weren’t seen as desirable burial locations. But transporting a whole body back to Europe made things pretty stinky, so corpses were stripped of flesh and ferried back to Europe as skeletons, with the inner organs (including the heart) removed and buried where the Crusaders had died. By the 12th century, members of the English and French aristocracy also frequently had their hearts buried separately from the rest of them.

Heart burial became less practical and more symbolic by the 17th century, partly as a religious practice associated with the Jesuits and other Counter Reformation groups. (Some scholars think the heart’s powerful symbolism became particularly important while the Catholic Church was undergoing a moment of crisis.) In Western Europe, it became common for powerful individuals, such as kings and queens, to ask that their hearts be buried in a spot they'd favored during life. In more recent years, Romantic poets and other artists also picked up the practice, which has yet to be entirely abandoned. Read on for some examples.

1. RICHARD I

Richard I, a.k.a. “Richard the Lion-Heart,” ruled as King of England 1189-99 but spent most of his reign fighting abroad, which is how he earned his reputation for military prowess. (He also may or may not have eaten the heart of a lion.) He died after being struck by a crossbow while campaigning in Chalus, France, and while most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was interred in a lead box at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen, France. The organ was rediscovered during excavations in the 1830s, and in 2012, forensic scientists examined it—now mostly reduced to a grayish-brown powder—to learn more about Richard’s precise cause of death (some think a poisoned arrow dealt the fatal blow). The crumbling heart was too decayed to tell them much about how Richard had died, but the scientists did learn about medieval burial rituals, noting the use of vegetables and spices “directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.”

2. ROBERT THE BRUCE

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots 1306-29, asked for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But it didn't get all the way there—the knight he entrusted it to, Sir James Douglas, was killed in battle with the Moors while wearing the heart in a silver case around his neck. Other knights recovered the heart from the battlefield, and brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland for burial. Archeologists rediscovered what they believed to be the heart in 1920 and reburied it in a modern container; it was exhumed again in 1996, and reburied beneath the abbey’s lawn in 1998.

3. ST. LAURENCE O’TOOLE

St. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin and one of that city’s patron saints, died in 1180 in France. His heart was sent back to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, where it rested inside a heart-shaped wooden box within an iron cage—at least until 2012, when it was stolen. The dean of Christ Church Cathedral has speculated that the heart might have been taken by some kind of religious fanatic, since it has little economic value, and much more valuable gold and silver objects were ignored. (Weirdly, the thief, or thieves, also lit candles on one of the altars before fleeing.) The item has yet to be recovered.

4. THE PRINCE-BISHOPS OF WÜRZBURG

The prince-bishops of Würzburg (part of modern Germany) practiced a three-part burial: their corpses were usually sent to Würzburg cathedral, their intestines to the castle church at Marienberg, and their hearts, embalmed in glass jars, to what is now Ebrach Abbey. The practice was common by the 15th century, though it may go back as far as the 12th. Their funerals at the Marienberg castle also featured what may be one of history’s worst jobs: a servant was required to hold the heads of the corpses upright during the funeral, which featured the body seated upright and impaled on a pole. The funerals lasted for several days. There were more than 80 prince-bishops; a German cardiologist who made a special study of heart burial says "about 30" of their hearts found their resting places in the abbey.

5. ANNE BOLEYN

According to legend, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading in 1536, her heart was removed from her body and taken to a rural church in Erwarton, Suffolk, where the queen is said to have spent some happy days during her youth. In 1837, excavations at the church uncovered a small, heart-shaped lead casket inside a wall. The only thing inside was a handful of dust (it’s not clear whether it was actually the heart), but the casket was reburied in a vault beneath the organ, where a plaque today marks the spot.

6. LOTS OF POPES

Twenty-two hearts from various popes—from Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903—are kept in marble urns at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome. Traditionally, the hearts were removed with the rest of the organs as part of the postmortem preservation process, and kept as relics just in case the pope became a saint.

7. FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN

Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, and most of him is buried in that city’s Pere Lachaise, but he asked for his heart to be buried in his native Poland. His sister carried it back to their home country, where it is preserved in alcohol (some say cognac) within a crystal urn inside a pillar at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. In 2014, scientists conducted a late-night examination of the heart to make sure the alcohol hadn’t evaporated, although their secrecy frustrated scientists who hope to one day examine the organ for clues about what killed the composer.

8. THOMAS HARDY

The burial place of Thomas Hardy's heart in Dorset
Visit Britain, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in his hometown of Stinsford, Dorset, but friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy’s literary prominence. But when town officials found out that Hardy’s body was destined for the abbey, they threw a fit, and so a compromise was reached—most of Hardy went to Westminster, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard (where it has its own grave marker). A persistent, but unproven, story has it that a cat ate part of the heart when the doctor who was removing it got distracted; a gruesome addendum says the animal was killed and buried alongside the organ.

9. PERCY SHELLEY

When the poet Percy Shelley died sailing the Mediterranean in 1822, local quarantine regulations dictated that his body had to be cremated on the beach. But his heart allegedly refused to burn, and a friend, the adventurer Edward Trelawny, supposedly plucked it out of the flames. After a custody battle among Shelley’s friends, the heart was given to Percy’s wife Mary, who kept it until she died. Her children found it in a silk bag inside her desk, and it is now said to be buried with her at the family vault in Bournemouth, England.

10. OTTO VON HABSBURG

The powerful House of Habsburg practiced heart burial for centuries, with many of the organs buried in copper urns in Vienna's Augustiner Church. In 2011, Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was dissolved in 1918), had his heart buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary. The rest of him was buried in Vienna. The erstwhile crown prince said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary as a gesture of affection for the country—one half of his former empire.

Additional Sources: "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe"; Body Parts and Bodies Whole.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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