20.12.10

25 YEARS AGO: MAGONIA 21, DECEMBER 1985

The main article in this issue is Michael Goss' examination of the legend of the preserved pterodactyl. The classic literary example of this is Conan Doyle's The Lost World, where Professor Challenger returns from his expedition to the deepest jungles of South America with a living specimen, presenting the creature with its "putrid and insidious odour" to an amazed audience of zoologists at London's Queen's Hall. Unfortunately someone left a window open and the creature escaped!

However in 1856, sixty years before Doyle's fiction was published, an allegedly factual real-life pterodactyl crawled its way out of the ground as workmen were digging a railway tunnel in northern France. Mike follows this story from an item buried in the pages of the Illustrated London News to the status of a Fortean classic. He also demonstrates how the story was clearly labeled as a hoax from the start! This is an example of where 'literary criticism', and a love of Greek and Latin puns, can quite genuinely explain an allegedly anomalous event.

John Harney raised a storm from some of our readers with his account of 'The Galileo Fallacy', in which he dared suggest that Galileo was not quite the heroic martyr, and Pope Paul V not quite the evil tyrant that they have been portrayed as in some accounts. He was vigorously challenged in the following issue. John is currently reviewing a new biography of Galileo for this blog; it will be interesting to see his views, and if they have changed

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the Rendlesham events, it's worthwhile to re-read Steuart Campbell's interpretation of what happened. Although largely agreeing with Ian Ridpath's 'lighthouse' explanation, he gives it a twist by suggesting two other light sources that may have been involved: the Shipwash and Outer Gibbard lightships, which were much further out into the North Sea. The main target of his criticism was the team of Butler, Street and Randles and their book Sky Crash, and he is pretty dismissive of the testimony of Colonel Halt and other base personnel: "Even Halt appears to have embroidered his account to Butler and street ... If, as has been alleged, drug abuse is extensive amongst USAF personnel, it is not surprising they had difficulty in separating fact from fiction..."

Deep in the suburban fringes of south Lancashire Peter Hough came across a 'Man in Black' case that sounds more like something from the mothman-haunted backroads of West Virginia. Following a dramatic UFO sighting which gets reported in the local paper, our witness receives strange phone calls from a man pretending to be the Director of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. Following up the story, Hough and his co-investigator Jenny Randles came up against a Keelesque story of empty houses, mysterious non-visitors and the curious incident of the warm toast and the dog that didn't bark!

One small detail in the account sets a lot of bells ringing. The witness's husband was present at the first interview Hough conducted: "... although he played no part in the proceedings, having a somewhat disapproving attitude. Mrs Hollins's strong personality had obviously overridden any objections he may have had to my presence". The strange case of the silent husband seems to be a pattern we have encountered before in the UFO and Fortean world, from Manhattan to North Wales.

As an aside, the Book Reviews in this issue includes John Harney's brief notice on Andy Collins's Brentford Griffin, a splendid first-hand account of the investigation of a baffling incident in the history of West London. I note that on publication it was priced at £1.25. Today (20 December 2010) a copy is being offered on eBay at £95 ("or best offer"), and at £80 on Amazon. How fortunate for those of us who had the foresight to lay aside a few copies at the time!

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