In a previous post, we gave an overview of Project Blue Book, the 1952-1969 United States Air Force investigation into UFO sightings. For that post, we featured publicity interviews produced by the Air Force that explained the project. This week, we’ll feature some of the home movies that were submitted by citizens as evidence of sightings.
While the records of Project Blue Book are primarily textual (to the tune of 84,000 pages), there are a handful of films that were used in the investigation. In total, there are 18 home movies that were shot around the United States between 1952 and 1967. Six of them are presented here.
These films were scanned in HD from 16mm blow-ups of 8mm films. They have not been edited or altered. Can you identify the UFOs in these films?
Project Blue Book may have closed in 1970, but that doesn’t mean that citizens no longer see things the sky and attribute them to extraterrestrial origins. Recent news reports certainly suggest otherwise. Without even looking for them, I came across several stories of UFO sightings while preparing this material. In one case, observers in Maine called the local police when they mistook a spotlight for a UFO hovering over Augusta. In Texas, multiple UFO sightings turned out to be paper lanterns used at a wedding. And then there are these videos, all posted in September, documenting sightings in Canada, Germany, and over the Indian Ocean.
As a final note, it is useful to understand how the Project Blue Book home movies differ from the bulk of the film holdings at NARA. As one might expect given our mandate to acquire and preserve federal records, most of the films in the National Archives’ holdings were produced by government agencies. There are some cases, however, when an agency acquired outside films for essential functions, like when the Department of Justice uses film as evidence in a federal trial or when source material is collected for an investigation like Project Blue Book. In these cases, the acquired films become a record of the activities of that agency.
The Federal Theater Project of the New Deal era ran from 1935 to 1939. Its task was to employ the talents of people in the theater business, as well as the skilled craftspeople the theater required to function, as it entertained Americans throughout the country while they suffered through the Great Depression.
Actors, directors, playwrights, stage and costume designers, vaudeville performers, stage technicians, marionette craftspeople, dancers, and performers of nearly every kind found employment with the Federal Theater Project. Over a four year period more than 2,700 stage productions, of both classics and newly written plays and productions, were produced and performed by more than 12,000 theater professionals and enjoyed by an audience of over 30 million people in a majority of cities, towns, and states across America.
The film “Federal Theater in Los Angeles, 1936” (National Archives Identifier #12377/Local Identifier 69.64) shows the variety of talent and productions offered to the public and the benefit of the relief the project provided to unemployed Americans. In an age before television Americans were particularly drawn to the glamour of the stage and the escape it provided from hard times.
Portable or caravan theaters were organized to go to the people in more remote sections of cities like New York. Special efforts were made to provide entertainment for children and also children confined to hospitals and orphanages. Portable theater was made available to veterans in hospitals and elderly folks. It was hoped the newly formed casts and theaters would continue after the Federal Theater lost its funding in 1939.
WPA: Federal Theater Project Actors rehearsing scenes from the production “Brother Mose” in Newark, New Jersey, 04/08/1936 National Archives Identifier: 196522 From: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, compiled 1882 – 1962 Collection FDR-PHOCO: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 – 1962
In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records.
As of September 30, 2013 the following records have been declassified.
No moving images were declassified during this quarter.
No sound recordings were declassified during this quarter.
Descriptive information for declassified records can be accessed by searching for the item number, ex. “341-IR-38-56”, in NARA’s Catalog (OPA). You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. For example, searching on the declassification number “NND 64803” returns entries that are part of Declassification Project 64803. A list of declassified textual records can be found on the National Declassification Center’s web page.
The two films in today’s post provide an overview of the goals of Project Blue Book and the investigation’s findings up to 1966. The interviews in these records are particularly interesting because they appear to have been scripted and filmed by the Air Force for public release.
The first featured film was shot four months after the genesis of Project Blue Book, and two days after a press conference held by the Air Force to address a rash of UFO sightings over Washington, D.C. In this interview, Major General John A. Samford explains the Air Force’s mandate to identify and analyze potential threats that come by air, while also assuring the citizenry that there was no known threat.
Major General John A. Samford and Donald Keyhoe, 7/31/1952
The fabric “UFO” dangling from the ceiling in the opening sequence of this film just might be the best thing I’ve seen all month.
According to General Samford, between 1947 and the time of the interview (a span of about five years), there were between 1,000 and 2,000 reports collected. “The great bulk” of them could be explained as hoaxes, mistakes, or naturally occurring phenomena. The rest of the sightings, which were made by “credible observers of relatively incredible things” were what the Air Force was “attempting to resolve” with Project Blue Book.
Also present in this film to offer a differing opinion is Major Donald Keyhoe. Keyhoe was a vocal believer in the existence of extraterrestrial visitors. His book, The Flying Saucers are Real, is referenced in this interview.
In the second film, produced toward the end of the Project Blue Book investigation, clearer goals and data are set out by Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Tacker (who, himself wrote a book called Flying Saucers and the U.S. Air Force) and Major Hector Quintanilla, who led Project Blue Book from 1963 until the investigation’s cancellation in 1970.
A note on this film: the quality of the original is quite poor. This video is the result of a full HD transfer and some audio processing to improve sound quality. Use of the closed captioning option is recommended.
According to Major Quintanilla, there were two defined goals of Project Blue Book. The first was to determine if the reported UFOs were a threat to national security. Secondly, the Air Force wanted to analyze the sightings to find evidence of technology that could lead to useful research and development.
By this point, more than fourteen years into Project Blue Book, Quintanilla reported 10,000 sightings, with 646 that were truly unexplained. Major Quintanilla also emphasized that Project Blue Book was a completely unclassified investigation and that all information was available and open for journalists to request (this is true, although all reports have names redacted for privacy reasons).
As in the 1952 film, the overarching message of this publicity interview is that the reports did not prove that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrial beings. Further, the official statement read by the interviewer at the conclusion of the film asserts that the sightings did not represent a real threat. In fact, some believed that public panic was a greater risk to national security. Emphasizing the lack of imminent danger was helpful in allaying fears.
In 1985, the United States Air Force released a final statement about Project Blue Book (available on the NARA website), indicating that citizens should report sightings to scientific organizations or to local law enforcement if they feel there is an immediate danger.
The fact sheet also provides a final set of statistics for Project Blue Book. Between 1947 and the close of the investigation at the end of 1969, a total of 12,618 UFO sightings were reported. 701 of those, or about five percent, remained unexplained by the Air Force.
Quoting from the fact sheet, Project Blue Book resulted in three main conclusions:
(1) no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security; (2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as “unidentified” represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge; and (3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” are extraterrestrial vehicles.
Finally, the Air Force wanted to clarify that no alien bodies or vehicles had ever been held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (Whether or not these objects may have been held at another location is a question left unanswered.)
For those who want to do more in-depth research into Project Blue Book, NARA holds 42 cubic feet (approximately 84,000 pages) of records, available for viewing on microfilm in the research room at Archives II in College Park, Maryland. These records are searchable online at the unaffiliated Blue Book Archive.
Thanks go to Mike Taylor for searching the textual records to find additional background information on these two films (we couldn’t find any).
Stay tuned for home movies of UFO sightings– more of the motion picture records of Project Blue Book preserved at the National Archives!
This week I’m posting photographs from the Bureau of Public Roads and its successor the Federal Highway Administration. These images relate to the Washington, D.C. area and are just a few examples of what can be found in the series Historical Photograph Files, 1896-1963 (30-N) and General Photograph Files, 1954-1984 (406-G), which both contain photos of urban and rural areas throughout the United States and in some cases foreign countries.
Local Identifier: 30-N-36721 (Box 290), Construction of the Cabin John Bridge over Cabin John Creek, originally known as the Washington Aqueduct Bridge No. 4, Maryland. July, 1859.
Local Identifier: 30-N-21003 (Box 285), East Entrance of “Zoo Park”, Washington, D.C. 1919. Photograph by J. K. Hillers.
Local Identifier: 30-N-35-2136 (Box 285), Pennsylvania Avenue from Treasury, Washington, D.C. 1935. Photo by J.K. Hillers.
Local Identifier: 406-G-134-64-495, Ceremony opening the final link of the Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C. with Federal Highway Administrator Whitton and Maryland Governor Tawes cutting the ribbon, and John B. Funk, Chairman of the Maryland State Highway Commission assisting, Maryland. August 17, 1964.
Local Identifier: 406-G-61-65-77, U.S. Route 1 North of College Park, Maryland. 1965.
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