Maybe you believe we’ve been visited by travelers from other worlds (or dimensions or times). Or, maybe not. You might think instead that there are far more reasonable explanations for the reports of UFO sightings scattered across human history. Ball lightning, weather balloons, things like that.
Either way, the accounts themselves, and the lore that’s grown up around them, culture to culture, are intriguing — thus the countless movies, books, television and radio programs and other forms of media devoted to the possibility of good, bad or indifferent extraterrestrial life.
Many of these stories are familiar to all of us, so it’s always nice to come across something new, like a description of a sighting or encounter previously undiscovered.
One I read about recently was reported to have occurred more than two centuries ago, in 1801, in a port city in East Yorkshire, England called Hull. A glowing orb described as moon-like by locals — with a “black bar” across its face — appeared in the sky and “loomed” there, according to contemporaneous accounts. It’s those accounts that got me interested in the 1801 sighting. There are reports of strange, unidentified aerial objects older than this one — but like our famous 1947 Roswell incident, this event was covered extensively by the newspapers of its day.
According to the United Kingdom’s Sunday Express tabloid, a historian named Mike Covell uncovered multiple stories on the sighting by combing through newspaper archives from the early 1800s.
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The general account: The moon-like orb, after hovering for a time over the Humber (a tidal estuary on England’s coast) broke into a number of distinct smaller objects — or, as the Northampton Mercury wrote on July 11, 1801, “It seemed then to form itself into seven small distinct moons or globes of fire which disappeared for the space of a few seconds … Its reappearance was equally brilliant, at first showing itself like the face of the moon, afterwards in five circular balls, and lastly like several small stars which gradually faded away, leaving the whole atmosphere brilliantly illuminated.”
According to the Chester Chronicle, also in July 1801, “During the time of it being visible, a faint blue light fell upon the surrounding objects, like that of distant torches. And when entirely gone, the appearance was serene, like a fine summer’s morning.”
There are many ways of keeping up with the latest in UFO sightings, or reading about the history of such accounts — but I read about the reported 1801 Hull incident in an unexpected place: A list of locations where UFOs have been reported throughout history, compiled by the travel website Orbitz to promote “Extraterrestrial Tourism.”
For each location and reported incident, the website has created a classic science-fiction movie-style poster. Roswell of course made the list, and its poster, ominously titled “They’re Here …,” reads in part, “… U.S. armed forces encounter a crashed flying saucer and capture its alien occupants. The military engages in a cover-up, and continue to deny the encounter to this day.” No beating around the bush there — the words “allegedly,” or “reportedly,” are nowhere to be seen. But this is a travel site, after all, not a news site.
Also making the list are Egypt, where “unearthly fiery disks” were reported in 1440 B.C.; Italy, where in 91 B.C. a “globe of fire” reportedly touched down, rose into the sky again and flew (to the east); Germany, where a craft bearing “the likeness of two large, flaming shields” was spotted in 776 — and where, in 1561, citizens of Nuremberg witnessed an “epic battle” in which “blood red circular arcs and globes” engaged in aerial combat for more than an hour, then fell to earth. Locations in Japan, West Virginia, Norway and Sweden were also included.
The posters are worth checking out, at Orbitz.
On one hand, Roswell’s inclusion on such a list seems like a foregone conclusion. Without mention of the 1947 incident, what kind of “Extraterrestrial Tourism” list would it be? But the locations of many high-profile reported UFO sightings aren’t anywhere to be found — and in terms of the travel destinations promoted by the site, Roswell is in pretty good company.
It’s a reminder of what an asset to the area crash-site-related tourism has been, and continues to be.
To paraphrase The X-Files, the market is out there.
John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.