"Proof' of UFOs? // Photographs have been authenticated, but seeing isn't necessarily believing

Published Feb. 25, 1990|Updated July 6, 2006

UFOs have become so identified with weirdness, mental aberration and fraud since the Air Force-sponsored scientific report on the phenomenon was published in 1968 that it's difficult to take alleged sightings seriously. Nevertheless, a series of photographs taken in Gulf Breeze, Fla., between November 1987 and April 1988 appears to defy debunking. The photos, mostly Polaroid shots, were taken by Ed Walters, a home developer in Gulf Breeze, near Pensacola. They were published at the time in the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, a weekly, but the photographer remained anonymous. Now Walters and his wife, Frances, have decided to tell their story in a book, The Gulf Breeze Sightings (William Morrow, $21.95).

The objects depicted in the photos are not shaped like saucers. They look more like Chinese lanterns, or possibly pregnant percolators, with a bright disk at the base and a bulb on top. In between there appear to be two rows of windows, or portholes.

One's first reaction to the pictures is that they must have been faked. (A colleague of mine commented, "I'd search the guy's house for Chinese lanterns.") Yet they have been endorsed as authentic by Bruce S. Maccabee, a government research physicist, whose report is contained in the book. Maccabee, after investigating the sites and the cameras as well as the photos, concluded that there was no evidence of a hoax.

"Having studied these sightings "every which way' for more than a year," Maccabee writes, "I have concluded that they are proof of the existence of UFOs. But what is proof for one person is not necessarily proof for another. What would convince you? You have to make up your own mind.

"The investigation is not yet complete. Ed was abducted on Dec. 17, 1987, and again on May 1, 1988. The investigation into what happened during these and previous abductions is ongoing.

"UFO sightings have been reported since the late 1940s. In the intervening years the reports of hundreds of honest people have been ignored or even publicly disputed and disparaged because of a lack of thoroughly convincing proof that true UFOs were actually flying through our atmosphere. Now, however, that proof is here. Now is the time to begin re-examining the situation. Now is the time for us to finally learn what has been happening throughout the world over the last 40-odd years. And now is the time to prepare for what the future has in store for the whole human race."

The photographs have already been attacked by critics who say they are double exposures _ images of paper cutouts superimposed on outdoor scenes. Maccabee concedes that the early snapshots were taken with an old Polaroid camera that made it possible for the film to be exposed twice, but later Walters used a newer model that ejected the film as soon as the shutter closed, making double exposures difficult. Walters also constructed, at Maccabee's suggestion, a stereo device consisting of two Polaroid cameras mounted at the ends of a board, allowing two slightly different views of the same scene. In Maccabee's opinion, the possibility is negligible that Walters, who is not an expert photographer, could have faked the whole series of photos with double exposures.

Maccabee also finds it highly unlikely that Walters could have constructed and photographed tiny UFO models dangling from strings or a large inflatable one floating on a tether. The pictures show no telltale signs of such fakery. Besides, Maccabee says, Walters is a credible witness who has not been caught in any lies and has passed a polygraph test.

One might ask why Maccabee didn't take some pictures of his own or hire a professional to do so. It is at this point that things go from strange to outright weird.

According to the Walterses' account, the UFOs seemed to want Ed Walters, and only Ed Walters, to take their picture. They would show themselves when Frances was around, and she shot some of the photos, but the objects virtually posed for Ed.

They buzzed him with a sound only he could hear (in his head) to announce their presence, often at his house. They also tried to communicate with him in a computerlike voice, and they gave him a name, "Zehaas," which he suspects was their way of saying cejas, Spanish for eyebrows _ his are prominent. On one occasion a creature wearing a "box-like" garment appeared at the Walterses' window. It was 4 feet tall and had big, black eyes that "covered the top half of its head," but no eyebrows.

Walters believes he was abducted at least twice, and he is still undergoing regressive hypnosis in an effort to recover his memory of those occasions. This suggests there will be a sequel to The Gulf Breeze Sightings. No doubt there will be a TV movie as well.

Some will find the Walterses' tale persuasive; others will find it laughable. I am neither convinced nor amused. The photographs are intriguing, but in an age of extensive movie special effects, seeing is not necessarily believing. The 1968 Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, known as the Condon report because the project director was Dr. Edward U. Condon of the University of Colorado, contained a number of fake UFO photographs. The "objects" pictured included a cloud formation, the moon, a film defect, a lens flare, a hand-tossed model, a suspended model, a hand-held model, various double exposures and a lens cap suspended outside a van window. Ed Walters' photos resemble none of these even slightly.

The Condon report recommended against further scientific study of the UFO phenomenon because the field did not appear fruitful for major discoveries, but it conceded that the situation might change. Someday, it said, there might be justification for the establishment of a U.S. government agency to investigate UFO reports. Despite The Gulf Breeze Sightings, there still appears to be no such justification.

What would the agency study? Ed Walters' mind?

Walters says he is angry at the UFOs because they used and abused him, and he wants the world to know about it, now that the photos have been authenticated.

"The personal stigma I carry in revealing the true story of these emotional events becomes less and less important when compared with the reality of the UFO _ proof positive," he writes.

Reality? As Maccabee says, look at the photos and make up your own mind.

Daryl Frazell is book editor for the St. Petersburg Times.