The Truth is Out There: An Excerpt from REAL-LIFE X-FILES

Some of you out there may be celebrating International Skeptic’s Day today, while others may be gearing up for the new X-Files miniseries which is set to start airing next week. Regardless, we thought it was a perfect time to offer a close encounter with Joe Nickell’s classic book, Real Life X-Files.

As a former private investigator and forensic writer, Joe Nickell has spent much of his career identifying forged documents, working undercover to infiltrate theft rings, and investigating questioned deaths. In this book, he turns his considerable investigative skill toward the paranormal, researching the most well-known and mysterious phenomena all over the world—spontaneous human combustion, UFO visitations, auras, electronic poltergeists, and many, many more—with an eye toward solving these mysteries rather than promoting or dismissing them.

Enjoy this excerpt from Real Life X-Files where he debunks a report of a UFO over Louisville, Kentucky:


Flying Saucer “Dogfight”

Did an extraterrestrial craft actually fire on a police helicopter? If not, what was the nature of a UFO that two officers reported attacked them over Louisville, Kentucky, in 1993? Is this the case that proves the reality of alien invaders?

Flying Saucers

The modern wave of UFOs began on June 24, 1947, when businessman Kenneth Arnold was flying his private airplane over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Arnold saw what he described as a chain of nine disc-like objects, each flying with a motion like “a saucer skipped across water.” Whether Arnold saw a line of aircraft or mirages caused by temperature inversion or something else, the flying saucer phenomenon had taken flight. Once again reality followed fiction. Popular science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories had been publishing wild tales of extraterrestrial visitations, complete with imaginative covers illustrating strange, circular spaceships.

UFO reports continue to be common. Most fall into two categories, the first being termed “daylight discs”—metallic, saucer-shaped objects. When properly investigated, these often turn out to be weather, research, and other balloons; aircraft; meteors; kites, blimps, and hang gliders; wind-borne objects of various kinds; and other phenomena. Photographs of such discs often turn out to be lens flares (the result of interreflection between lens surfaces), lenticular (lens-shaped) clouds, and other causes, including, of course, deliberate hoaxing. Many faked UFO photos have been produced simply by tossing a model spaceship in the air or suspending it on a thread. One fake photo, offered by a Venezuelan airline pilot, was made by placing a metal button on an aerial photograph and then rephotographing the view (Nickell 1994, 1995).

The second type of UFO sighting consists of nighttime UFOs—so-called “nocturnal lights” —which represent the most frequently reported UFO events. They are also the “least strange” ones, according to the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, astronomer and former consultant to the U.S. Air Force’s UFO research program, Project Blue Book (1952-1969). According to him, “An experienced investigator readily recognizes most of these for what they are: bright meteors, aircraft landing lights, balloons, planets, violently twinkling stars, searchlights, advertising lights on planes, refueling missions, etc. When one realizes the unfamiliarity of the general public with lights in the night sky of this variety, it is obvious why so many such UFO reports arise” (Hynek 1972,41-42). (Note that balloons appear in both categories. They were extensively used in the past and were frequently reported as strange craft. A balloon can achieve high altitudes and, if caught in jet-stream winds, can reach speeds of more than two hundred miles an hour. Or it can stop and seem to hover, or move erratically, or execute sharp turns, depending on the winds. It can even appear to change its shape and color. Depending on how sunlight strikes the plastic covering, the balloon can appear to be white, metallic, red, glowing, and so on. In fact, so often have balloons of one type or another been reported as UFOs that, when lost, these chameleons of the sky have often been traced by following the reports of saucer sightings [Nickell 1989, 21].)

Most UFO researchers—proponents and skeptics alike—agree that the majority of UFO reports can be explained. The controversy is over a small residue—say two percent—of unsolved cases. Proponents often act as if these cases offer proof of extraterrestrial visitation, but to suggest so is to be guilty of the logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantiam (that is, “arguing from ignorance”). Skeptics observe that what is unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable, and they suspect that if the truth were known, such cases would fall not into the category of alien craft but into the realm of mundane explanations. But what about the attack on a patrolling police helicopter?

Close Encounter

“UFO Fires on Louisville, Ky. Police Chopper” was the headline on the Weekly World News’s May 4, 1993, cover story, complete with fanciful illustration. But if the tabloid account seemed overly sensational in describing the “harrowing two-minute dogfight”—before vanishing into the night—it was only following the lead of the respected Louisville Courier-Journal. The Courier had used similar wording in relating the February 26 incident (which had not been immediately made public), headlining its front-page story of March 4—”UFO Puts on Show: Jefferson [County 1 Police Officers Describe Close Encounter.”

Unfortunately, the Weekly World News did not cite the Courier’s follow-up report explaining the phenomenon. Yet the tabloid’s tale contained numerous clues that might have tipped off an astute reader. The first sighting was of what looked like “a fire” off to the patrol craft’s left; the “pear-shaped” UFO was seen in the police spotlight “drifting back and forth like a balloon on a string”; after circling the helicopter several times, the object darted away before zooming back to shoot the “fireballs” (which fortunately “fizzled out before they hit”); and then—as the helicopter pilot pushed his speed to over one hundred miles per hour—the UFO “shot past the chopper, instantly climbing hundreds of feet,” only to momentarily descend again before flying into the distance and disappearing. That the “flowing” object was only “about the size of a basketball” and that it had “hovered” before initially approaching the helicopter were additional clues from the original Courier account that the tabloid omitted.


Scott Heacock (left) puts the finishing touches on a model hot-air balloon like the one he had launched in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 26, 1993. Looking on is psychologist Robert A. Baker. (Photo by Joe Nickell)

The Courier’s follow-up story of March 6 was headed “A Trial Balloon?” It pictured Scott Heacock and his wife, Conchys, demonstrating how they had launched a hot-air balloon Scott had made from a plastic dry-cleaning bag, strips of balsa wood, and a dozen birthday candles—a device familiar to anyone who has read Philip J. Klass’s UFOs Explained (Vintage, 1976,28-34, plates 2a and 2b). No sooner had the balloon cleared the trees, said Heacock, than the county police helicopter encountered it and began circling, shining its spotlight on the glowing toy.

The encounter was a comedy of errors and misperceptions. Likened to a cat chasing its tail, the helicopter was actually pushing the lightweight device around with its prop wash. In fact, as indicated by the officers’ own account, the UFO zoomed away in response to the helicopter’s sudden propulsion—behavior consistent with a lightweight object. As to the “fireballs,” they may have been melting, flaming globs of plastic, or candles that became dislodged and fell, or some other effect. (Heacock says he used the novelty “relighting” type of birthday candles as a safeguard against the wind snuffing them out. Such candles may sputter, then abruptly reflame.)

Although one of the officers insisted the object he saw that night traveled at speeds too fast for a balloon, he seems not to have considered the effects of the helicopter’s prop-wash propulsion. Contacted by psychologist and skeptical investigator Robert A. Baker (with whom I investigated the case), the other officer declined to comment further, except to state his feeling that the whole affair had been “blown out of proportion” by the media. Be that as it may, a television reporter asked Scott Heacock how certain he was that his balloon was the reported UFO. Since he had witnessed the encounter and kept the balloon in sight until it was caught in the police spotlight, he replied, ‘I’d bet my life on it.” To another reporter, his Mexican wife explained, “I’m the only alien around here.”


Hynek, J. Allen. 1972. The UFO Experience. New York: Ballantine.
Nickell, Joe. 1989. The Magic Detectives. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus.
—.1994. Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 15.
—. 1995. Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 190-92.

Galley Giveaway: Let’s Get Fictional #1

UKY01 Birds of Opulence Selected.inddAs our fans and followers may have noticed, we have some exciting works of fiction due out this Spring. We’ve had the pleasure of working on them for months now, waiting for this moment—the time when we finally get to share them with you!

From now through 5:00 pm Eastern on Wednesday, January 13, enter for a chance to win one of five available advance reader copies of The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson. Fill out the form below to enter our contest and read this compelling tour de force before it’s published next month.

Also, click “read more” below to enjoy the first chapter of the work that Pulitzer Prize finalist Maurice Manning has called “lyrical and visionary, unconventional, and infused with beauty.”

Continue reading


2016 Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

Congratulations to the 2016 inductees to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame!

Yesterday, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, announced the 5-member class of inductees.  Following Wendell Berry’s induction last year as the Hall’s first living writer, nominations were opened again for one living author to be included in the 2016 class. This year’s honor went to Bobbie Ann Mason.

“Bobbie Ann has been one of Kentucky’s premier writers for more than 40 years,” said Neil Chethik, Executive Director of the Carnegie Center. “She’s a pioneer in short-story writing and a true literary artist. We are thrilled to be honoring her.”

We hope you’ll join us at the Carnegie Center for the 2016 Induction Ceremony slated for Thursday, January 28, 7:00 PM, honoring Bobbie Ann Mason and her fellow inductees!

2016 Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame:


James Lane Allen
Harlan Hubbard
Alice Hegan Rice
Jean Ritchie
Bobbie Ann Mason
The University Press of Kentucky is proud to have published books and writing by all of the members of this year’s class. Explore the titles below:

ICYMI: Holiday News Break Edition

Welcome back from the holiday break! Pardon us while we brush off the cobwebs and shake out the mothballs in our brains…

Our break was full of all kinds of exciting news and tidbits, like this fascinating article from Terri Crocker (The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War) in the New Republic:

New Republic Shot

“Perhaps it is time we stopped expecting history to behave like a good story—featuring obvious heroes and villains, a dash of irony and a clear moral, with a football match thrown in for good measure—and start assuming it looks more like real life: messy, inconclusive and hard to pin down. Since history is, after all, just life that happened in the past, it’s time for us to get over our need for simplicity, and accept that the past, just like the Christmas truce, is always a lot more complicated than we want to believe.”—Terri Crocker for the New Republic

Crocker also published an editorial, “Civility: The True Lesson of World War I’s 1914 Christmas Truce” in the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal.

Over the break we also celebrated Bradley Birzer’s russell_kirk7.inddRussell Kirk: American Conservative, a biography of the great public intellectual, being named one of the Library of Michigan’s Notable Books of 2016. Kirk’s The Conservative Mind shaped conservative thought in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Elsewhere, Russell Kirk was listed as one of the Best Books of the Year by Daniel McCarthy, editor of the American Conservative

The high-flying, tumbling, falling, gutsy heroines in Molly Gregory’s Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story have been featured in the New York Timesthe New Republic, Variety.com, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and now in the Washington Post.

“Much like the story of women in almost any industry, this one is a tale of struggle, progress and tempered triumph. . . . In her engaging and enlightening book, Gregory digs into this little-known corner of Hollywood history and gives voice to the women who have risked their lives for a few (perilous) moments on the big screen.”—Becky Krystal, Washington Post


For the late holiday shoppers, The Baltimore Sun suggested Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of Our Greatest President, and the Louisville Courier-Journal had a whopping 38 suggestions for local books to give as gifts, including: Kentucky By Design, The Birth of Bourbon The Manhattan Cocktail, and Venerable Trees.

Bawden_Miller_CoverThis morning, on the first day back in the office after break, we were greeted with a lovely surprise from the inimitable columnist Liz Smith, who offers this excellent preview of Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era, one of our most anticipated books of 2016!

“[A] dazzlingly entertaining new book. . . . [Conversations with Classic Film Stars] is a treasure trove of info, scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.”—Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

We hope you had a restful holiday (or a grand adventure!) Holler at us in the comments or on Twitter and let us know how you spent your winter break.


Happy Birthday Bogie

Today is Humphrey Bogart’s birthday; and in celebration, we wanted to share one of our favorite stories about him:

Filmmaker Tom Mankiewicz—son of famed director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra) and the nephew of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz—spent a memorable summer in Rome on set with Humphrey Bogart. In his memoir, My Life as a Mankiewicz, Mank describes the night when Bogart gave him his first real drink:

Dad made The Barefoot Contessa in Italy in 1953, directing his own screenplay. It was the first film he made for his recently formed independent production company (Figaro) and starred Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Dad was nominated for his writing. Edmond O’Brien won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Dad and Mother had decided to take me to Rome with them. I was going on twelve.
[ . . . ]
I remember one cold, cold night when the film was shooting in a cemetery. I’d been dressed for the day in shirt sleeves, and the wardrobe man got me a jacket. I was still shivering. Humphrey Bogart walked by and noticed: “Are you cold, Tommy?”
“I sure am.”
“Here, try some of this.” Bogart pulled out a flask, took off the top, and filled it with a thimbleful of scotch.
I’d never had a drink of hard liquor in my life, only an occasional sip of wine at home. But what the hell, he was Humphrey Bogart. I downed it, just like they do in the movies. My throat started burning. I coughed. And then, son of a bitch, my chest did feel warmer. Bogart grinned.
In a half hour he passed by again. “Still cold?”
“A little bit.”
He filled the top again. I drank.
Later on Dad came by to take me home. “Ready?”
I looked up at him with a stupid smile. “Yesss . . .” The smile remained plastered on my face.
Dad looked around, zeroing in on Bogart. “He’s drunk. It has to be you, you prick.”
“Christ, Joe, the kid was cold. I was just trying to help out.”
To this day I have the singular honor of having received my first real drink from Humphrey Bogart.
James Still

At Year’s End

LyonCvrCompFinal2.inddIt’s the darkest time of year when the days are longest;  and, more and more, all of us here at the University Press of Kentucky are finding ourselves curled up with a book of an evening.

Perusing A Kentucky Christmas, our Marketing and Sales Director (Amy) was struck again by the late, great James Still’s classic poem “At Year’s End.” Even after twenty years, something about this poem speaks to us during this season. Here it is just as it appears in A Kentucky Christmas with Still’s own special inscription:



Five Days of Giveaways: It’s a Festive Free-for-all on Friday

We’re in the holiday spirit here at the University Press of Kentucky, and we wanted to share a little of that cheer with our fans. All week we’ve been giving away a new book in a new way to a lucky someone.

We thought we’d close out our #5DaysOfGiveaways with a bang! Or, at the very least, a party… We’re calling it Festive, Free-f0r-all Friday, and here’s how it works:

We’ll be sharing menus and recipes to help you throw the greatest, most Bluegrass-y, Kentucky Holiday Celebration from some of our favorite Kentucky cookbooks. Join in on our fun on any of our social media accounts, and you’ll be automatically entered to win. One lucky fan/follower/subscriber/etc. will win a prize pack of ALL the books we’ve given away this week! Including The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook, a bourbon cocktail book (your choice), Out of Kentucky Kitchens, and The Blue Grass Cook Book, the prize pack will help you host a holiday fit for a Kentucky Colonel.

But what’s a party without a plan? Here are some great holiday menus (new and old) to get the festivities started!

Civil War Recipes Christmas Menu: 9780813120829

  • Boiled Turkey with Oyster Sauce Beet Root
  • Roast Goose with Applesauce
  • [Hot] Cole-Slaw
  • Boiled Ham
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash
  • Savory Chicken Pie
  • Salsify Cakes
  • Mince Pie
  • Plum Pudding
  • Lemon Custard
  • Cranberry Tart

The Kentucky Fresh CookbookThe Kentucky Fresh Cookbook Christmas Dinner Kentucky Style

  • Roasted Tenderloin of Beef
  • Lemon Parmesan Beans
  • White Cheddar Grits
  • Linen-Napkin Dinner Rolls
  • Endive and Pear Salad with Walnuts
  • Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake

The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook Christmas Breakfast

  • Blood Orange Ambrosia
  • Shaker Pumpkin Muffins with Walnuts and Flax Seed
  • Country Ham and Green Onion Breakfast Casserole

The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook by Albert SchmidThe Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook All-Bourbon Winter Feast

  • Pork Tenderloin in Spiced Apple Kentucky Bourbon Sauc
  • Kentucky Bourbon Acorn Squash
  • Windsor Mincemeat
  • Kentucky Colonel Bourbon Balls
  • Kentucky Bourbon Bread Pudding with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce