In the 1950s George Hunt Williamson (left) allegedly received radio communications from extraterrestrials. He was one of the most influential figures in the contactee movement.

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UFO Sightings Before Roswell

The wave had run its course by May 1897, but cylindrical UFOs with searchlights would continue to be seen periodically for decades to come. A worldwide wave of UFO sightings took place in 1909 in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the eastern United States. As late as 1957 an "airship" was seen over McMinnville, Oregon.

Witnesses reported other kinds of UFOs, too. One such report came from U.S. Navy Lieutenant Frank H. Schofield, who served as the Pacific Fleet's commander-in-chief in the 1930s. Standing on the deck of the USS Supply on February 28, 1904, Schofield and two other sailors watched "three remarkable meteors," bright red in color, as they flew beneath the clouds toward their ship. The objects then "appeared to soar, passing above the broken clouds . . . moving directly away from the Earth. The largest had an apparent area of about six suns. It was egg-shaped, the larger end forward. The second was about twice the size of the sun, and the third, about the size of the sun. . . . The lights were in sight for over two minutes." (Monthly Weather Review, March 1904)

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Far eerier stories lurked in the background. Only years later, when it was possible to talk about such things, did they come to light. One account surfaced more than 70 years later. In the summer of 1901, a 10-year-old Bournbrook, ­England, boy encountered something that looked like a box with a turret. Two little men clad in "military" uniforms and wearing caps with wires sticking out of them emerged through a door to wave him away. They then reentered the vehicle and flew away in a flash of light.

Similar events seem to have been occurring regularly over the early decades of the 20th century along with the less exotic sightings of strange aerial phenomena. These pre-1947 "close encounters of the third kind" were remarkably identical to the post-1947 reports in that the creatures who figured in the encounters were almost always held to be human or humanoid in appearance. In Hamburg, Germany, in June 1914, several "dwarfs" about four feet tall were seen milling around a cigar-shaped vessel with lighted portholes; they then ran into the vessel and flew away. In Detroit during the summer of 1922, through windows along the perimeter of a hovering disc-shaped object, 20 bald-headed figures stared intently at a suitably bewildered young couple. At Christchurch, New Zealand, in August 1944, a nurse at a train station noticed an "upturned saucer" nearby. She approached it, looked through a rectangular window, and spotted two humanoid figures not quite four feet tall. A third figure stood just outside an open door. When this humanoid saw her, the being "drifted" through an open hatchway, and the "saucer" shot straight upward.

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