24 May 2010


Maurizio Verga. When the Saucers Came to Earth: The Story of Italian UFO Landings During the 'Golden Age' of Flying Saucers. Edizione UPIAR, 2007.

It has taken a good while to get hold of this book but the wait has been worth it. [But is now readily available to readers through the Amazon links below this review] At one level this is a collection of Italian UFO landing cases from 1912 to the end of 1954, at another it is a fascinating journey into cultural history.
Verga provides not only the summaries of these stories, but also many reproductions of illustrations, and notes which track them down to their source and assess their reliability. Some of the stories are well known, others will be scarcely known even to Italian UFO buffs. Among the former is that of 'R. L. Johannis' who is supposed to have encountered a landed UFO and occupant back in August 1947. Verga reveals that Johannis was actually the pen name of a well known science fiction writer and pre-Daniken ancient astronaut enthusiast, Luigi Rapuzzi. His story first emerged as a postscript in an (unpublished) Italian translation of Flying Saucers Have Landed. Not surprisingly Verga labels this as a "possible hoax".

A very definite hoax was that of a classic 'multi witness close encounter' at Tradate , which turns out to have been a quite elaborate prank by some of the young regulars at the local bar, mainly aimed at a hapless local journalists. Such pub pranks were apparently quite a common occurrence in pre-TV Italy. Another notorious hoax of the period was that of the Monguzzi photographs. Both of these hoaxes used quite simple materials and look incredibly naive by today's standards, yet they have fooled a good number of ufologists

Other stories retain much more of their air of mystery, perhaps none more so than that Rosa Lotti of Cennina, who claimed to have met a strange landed object and two dwarfs who grabbed her flowers and one of her stockings, of which Verga provides by far the most detailed account in the English language. This is a story with a strange fairytale atmosphere, seeming far removed from the high tech world of today's ufology. Another even more traditional story is that of the 100 year old farmer Aquilante who claimed to have been kidnapped by two beings who morphed between giants and dwarfs, and either flew him or walked him for miles, a tale reminiscent of being taken by the fairy host and deposited miles away. This might well be the first contemporaneously reported abduction story of the modern age.

Other stories contain images of the technology of the period, UFOs with propellers, rivets, levers and the like, and Verga suggests they are part of the cultural milieu of the period. It is this milieu which is captured by the many illustrations of newspaper clippings, general magazine covers (where flying saucers competed with the photographs of glamorous young ladies for the reader's attention) and science fiction books and comics. These show how the image of the flying saucer had massively permeated popular culture, and that it was drawing at least to some extent on preexisting imagery.

The press of the period seems to have had a very lax attitude; if there wasn't an exiting enough flying saucer story in your neighbourhood, then just make one up. The same has also been reported as occurring in France at the same period.

Another quite separate collection of dubious stories are those 'remembered' often in suspiciously vivid detail, decades after the event. Some of these are among the stories 'collected' (or more likely just made up) by teenage UFO buffs in the 1970s and 1980s, often to get their name in the magazine Il Gionarle dei Mesteri (The Journal of Mysteries), a sort of cross between Fate and Fortean Times.
Both Verga and V. J. Ballester-Olmos who writes the introduction conclude that these stories have much more the properties of "a myth unfolding with the passage of the years" than anything else, though among the things triggering such a myth there may be the occasion genuine anomaly.

This is of course the conclusion that we in Magonia reached about 40 years ago, and in a sense even the crude and rather credulous compilations of these sorts of stories were pointing that way all those years ago.

If there is no unique, physical UFO phenomenon, there is still this extraordinary body of contemporary folklore which remains largely untapped. This is not just an excellent UFO book, it is a work of folklore of outstanding quality. -- Peter Rogerson

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