In 1952, Shell R. Alpert, US Coast Guard photographer, shot this formation of four bright lights through the window of his photo lab in Salem MA, in the middle of the 2-week “Washington flap”.
It’s hailed as a classic UFO photo. It was in all the papers!
Was it a genuine UFO? A misunderstanding? Or a hoax?
Articles about the UFO sighting
A 1963 analysis for the Blue Book proposed the UFO was an accidental reflection of an interior light that Alpert somehow failed to notice.
As the witness approached the window the objects dimmed, as he returned to his point of initial observation and at the second observation as he re-entered the room the lights were again brilliant…
It is believed that the photos represent light reflections from an interior source (probably the ceiling lights) on the window through which the photo was taken.
Blue Book analysis, Oct 1963
The crucial pieces of the puzzle may not be what you think. I think it’s the camera. And the performance.
When a UFO photo is analyzed, it’s best to have the negative and all the connected negatives on the roll of film. We need to know if the photographer took some failed shots.
But Alpert’s camera used cut film (individual negatives, individually loaded) and he developed the film himself. We’ll never know if he took failed shots.
I think that he probably did.
I think his final photo that the world knows… was prepared earlier.
What really happened? Here's my theory that accounts for the fact that nobody else saw the lights – not the other witness in the room or anyone else in or around the building – and therefore the lights were not outside.
It’s the middle of a 2-week UFO flap in the area. Alpert wants in on the action.
He takes some practice shots to create a UFO effect. This was most likely achieved with a double exposure – photographing the exterior scene and the lights (four lamps in some other location) on the same negative.
He develops the shots, throws out the failures, and picks the best one
Alpert thinks: “I have my UFO photo, but they’re just gonna say it’s a hoax. What I need… is a witness!”
Later (next day, next week, whatever), he excitedly fetches his friend to see the lights out of his window.
Excitedly being the key word:
I rushed out of the lab...
I dived for the camera...
[he] called me to hurry...
While his buddy is searching the sky in vain for the UFO, Alpert snaps the shutter.
Oh no, the UFO vanished! It all happened so fast, his buddy didn’t see anything – except for Alpert taking a photo.
Left alone, Alpert chucks out the shot he just took and digs out his prepared perfect UFO negative and photo.
And another UFO story gets its page in the history books.
See also: Another hoaxer who decided the best way to produce a credible UFO photo is to have a live witness who didn’t quite see the UFO but did see the photo being taken (or polaroid developing, in this case): The stupidest UFO photo in Australia.
I amended this post after viewing historical images of the building and a full crop of the photo, showing the window is open and therefore this isn’t a reflection of interior lights but more likely a double exposure.
Many thanks to Jeff Knox for help with the research.
I'm blogging about the Three-Dollar Kit.