King of the “Contactees”: The bizarre UFO saga of George Adamski.
In November 1952, a man named George Adamski, a Polish-born, California-bred ranch owner and operator of a burger stand, claimed that he and several friends were walking in the desert near Desert Center, California when an alien spacecraft swooped down and landed near them.
Adamski claimed he went off alone and encountered a second ship, out of which clambered a golden-haired alien named Orthon. Supposedly from the planet Venus, Orthon came with a message of peace, warning Adamski of the dangers of nuclear war. After he got back in his ship and flew away Adamski and his friends said they took plaster casts of Orthon’s footprints–ostensibly to prove he was really there.
Adamski further claimed that he returned to the landing site a few weeks later, on December 13, 1952. As the Venusians’ ship descended to meet him, he took a photograph of it–the first clear picture ever of a flying saucer, which would eventually become easily the most famous photo of a UFO. The following year Adamski began publishing books about his experiences with the “space brothers.” In Flying Saucers Have Landed, published in 1953, and Inside the Space Ships, published in 1955, Adamski waxed eloquent about the fabulous civilization of the Venusians, who wanted to bring peace to Earth. Jesus Christ, according to Orthon, was one of these emissaries. When they wanted to, the Venusians could pass as humans, and Adamski said he met some of them in various Southern California bars.
As pop culture material, flying saucers were big in the early 1950s. Sightings of “unidentified flying objects” went viral in the years after World War II, and with grandiose claims being made by government and private industry about technological progress, they did not seem so far-fetched. There was also a great deal of anxiety about nuclear warfare and nuclear weapons. The bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the badly-botched Bikini Atoll tests the next year, and the USSR’s acquisition of the bomb in 1949 deeply affected the psyche of Americans. The mix of these two elements–fascination and fear–made Adamski’s message of peace, demanded by extraterrestrial visitors, essentially go viral. Adamski’s books were best-sellers and suddenly people all over America, and some in Britain, were coming forward claiming that they too had been “contacted” by Venusians and other races of aliens.
There were a number of problems with Adamski’s claims. For one thing, Venus, where he said was the “space brothers’” home planet, in reality was totally inhospitable to any life, much less life that resembled Earthlings closely enough to go to bars in Southern California. The temperature on Venus is hot enough to melt lead and its carbon-dioxide atmosphere was full of sulfuric acid rain. This was not unknown to scientists in 1954 even though it would be several more years before space probes reached the planet. Furthermore, his “proof” was pretty shaky. A photographic expert examined the December 1952 photo and said it wasn’t a flying saucer at all. It was a streetlight. Its exposed “landing gear” was actually light bulbs. Even Adamski’s own witnesses–the people who had been with him for various sightings–told contradictory stories. In short, Adamski made up the whole thing.
That Adamski was a fraud was evident just by looking a bit into his background. A drifter who supported himself in the early years mostly by manual labor–though he was in the Army during World War I–Adamski got into the occult in California in the 1920s, forming something called the Royal Order of Tibet. Aside from whatever dubious spiritual benefits the Order conferred, it also afforded him an opportunity to make wine. This was during Prohibition, and one of the few exemptions was for religious orders that used wine for sacramental purposes. The Royal Order of Tibet was very small, but it wound up making a lot of wine–enough, conveniently, to provide Adamski a profitable business. This business ended when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. At that point, according to one witness, Adamski said that he had to get into “the flying saucer crap.” Also, it turned out his accounts of journeys through the solar system with the Venusians were eerily similar to a science fiction novel that was ghost-written for him in 1949, three years before he claimed he ever met Orthon.
The flying saucer crap, as it turned out, paid very well. In addition to selling hundreds of thousands of copies of his books, Adamski charged money to give lectures on his adventures with the Venusians and their philosophy, Eventually he had a paid staff and took vacations in Mexico. In 1959 Adamski was punk’d by two UFO skeptics who wrote a fake letter to him on FBI letterhead suggesting that the U.S. government knew all about the Venusians and supported his claims. It was a prank of course, but for the rest of his life Adamski claimed the letter “proved” the government was behind him. He also claimed he received a special medal from the Pope–which turned out to be a cheap souvenir available for sale in the Vatican–and at one point that he was dating an attractive female alien. He died in 1965.
Adamski was obviously a fake, but tell that to the legions of fans who did–and some who still do–support him and believe his claims are literally true. Adamski almost single-handedly began the “contactee” movement, people who claim personal involvement with aliens who have come to Earth in UFOs, usually communicating spiritual, personal-transformation or political messages. The eagerness to believe with which many people approach these claims is evident in the number of people who still believe the literal truth of oft-proven hoaxes like the Gulf Breeze sightings of the 1980s, or the “Voice of Vrillon” prank from 1977. Silly though his claims were, George Adamski remains a prophet of the bizarre UFO subculture, even now almost 50 years after his death.
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