Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.  

This week’s entry: Alleged UFO-related entities

What it’s about: Since time immemorial, humans have been watching the skies, wondering whether we’re alone in the universe. Starting in the 1950s, a small segment of the population became convinced that we’ve been contacted, visited, abducted, and probed by all manner of alien creatures, from the classic “grays” to little green men from Mars, to various Earthbound monsters and other unlikely sightings.

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Strangest fact: People have tried to attach extraterrestrial explanations to creatures from folklore. People all over the Americas, but mostly in the Caribbean and Central America, have claimed to have seen the chupacabra, a spiny monster that drinks the blood of livestock. While the rational explanation is that the monster is most likely a rabid or scabies-infected coyote (whose symptoms would give the animal a chupacabra-like appearance), alien/UFO-theorists have taken the chupacabra as one of their own. And while the bat-like Jersey Devil has well-established origin story as the 13th child of a woman impregnated by the devil, there’s no origin story that can’t be retconned with an alien explanation.

Biggest controversy: Anyone who’s watched the History Channel is no doubt familiar with the incredibly historic ancient alien hypothesis. There are several versions of the theory, all of which center on the idea that aliens visited, and influenced, prehistoric human society. One branch assumes that world religions are in fact attempts to explain far-superior lifeforms as divine. Another suggests that humans evolved from apes with a boost from aliens, either through genetic modification or good old-fashioned interbreeding. A third version insists that it would have taken alien technology to build the pyramids of Giza and Machu Picchu, the Moai statues of Easter Island, and Stonehenge.

Thing we were happiest to learn: We were shocked—shocked!—to learn that many of the aliens on the list weren’t extraterrestrial invaders, but instead clever hoaxes. Our favorite is the Martian Monkey, which three men in Georgia in 1953 created by removing the tail from a dead monkey, removing its hair, and dying it green. They then scorched a section of pavement and left the monkey in the center. A police officer came across the body, and as soon as word got out, the police department was flooded with calls by locals convinced they had seen a flying saucer. Eventually the Air Force was called in to investigate before the hoaxers gave up the ghost.

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And the Chupacabra turned out to be old man Sykes, who stood to inherit the old mansion!

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Alien hoaxes are all too easy to perpetuate, because people are far too likely to jump to the conclusion that anything they can’t explain must come from outer space. The “Panama Creature” turned out to be a waterlogged dead sloth. The “Crawfordsville Monster” was in fact a flock of birds. Stillborn “alien baby” Aleshenka was in fact premature and severely deformed, probably because of radiation from the Kyshtym disaster, the third-worst nuclear accident in history behind Chernobyl and Fukushima.

A surprisingly small number of alien encounters involve Reese’s Pieces

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Also noteworthy: Many people have been claimed to have been abducted by aliens over the years, and their accounts often have striking similarities. The first well-publicized alien abduction story was that of Barney and Betty Hill, a married couple who claimed to have seen a UFO in 1961. Mrs. Hill began having vivid dreams of being interrogated by gray-skinned aliens in military uniforms. At the end of the interview, the aliens said they would erase her memory, but she insisted she would remember. She and her husband both reported missing time the night of the sighting, as they arrived home three hours late with no explanation. Under hypnosis, the two corroborated each other’s story. Dozens of other people’s stories in the years since have featured similar elements—being taken on board a craft to be examined or questioned by aliens with grey skin. Even small details sometimes recur, like a pencil-sized device that shines a light that subdues abductees. On the other hand, various abductees have had wildly varying descriptions of aliens of all shapes and sizes.

Squid-faced humanoids? Why not Zoidberg?

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: From this list of aliens people insist they really, really saw, is a list of aliens who are acknowledged as fictional. While it does include Cylons, Vogons, and K-PAX, not to mention categories like “squid-faced humanoids,” it’s somehow missing every Star Trek alien (except tribbles), Wookiees, Newcomers, Psychlos, whatever those things were in Independence Day, and Poochie. Get your act together, Wikipedia!

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Further down the wormhole: While the alleged UFO-related entities page itself shies away from skepticism, the main UFO page contains a list of things people commonly mistake for UFOs, including aircrafts, kites, satellites, and moon dogs, a rare phenomena where the nighttime sky reflects a halo around the moon, often concentrated into bright points. The disambiguation page also takes you to Moondog, an avant garde musician who would often busk in New York City while wearing a Viking helmet. Moondog is part of a long tradition of outsider musicians, as is Jandek, a mysterious man who since 1978 has released more than 70 albums of atonal folk music, but kept even the most basic details of his identity secret until 2004. We’ll take a listen next week.