It's rare for a newspaper story to emerge
from the vast and dark unknown and hit at a primal level,
tapping into the fact that many of us feel so alone and
confused about why we exist, and giving us a chance to hope,
Admittedly, those big thoughts were not on my
mind when the director of a UFO-watching group first called to
offer an exclusive Chicago angle on what might be the biggest
story of all humankind--a visit by an alien
No, ET had not phoned home. But, said Peter
Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center, this was "an
excellent, stunning case involving a genuine UFO from some
other part of our galaxy or our universe."
read similar reports--and then put them back on the
shelf--while waiting in the supermarket checkout line. I
recall one tabloid front page announcing that aliens had
abducted Newt Gingrich. Not surprisingly, they gave Newt
Covering UFOs seemed to be stretching the
definition of my job, transportation reporting. I looked at
the clock on the newsroom wall and decided to give Mr.
Davenport two minutes. But he was onto something.
UFO story, published Monday, became the most-read piece to
appear on chicagotribune.com. It was the top story on the
Tribune Web site for four straight days, garnering more than 1
million page views from people around the world.
reaction is proof that we live in a curious world. Maybe a
curious universe too.
It turns conventional notions
about what people want to read and hear about on their head.
And it lays bare the reality that huge numbers of people
explicitly mistrust the government, the military establishment
and the aerospace industry when it comes to UFO sightings and
In our first of many phone conversations,
Davenport assured me that highly credible individuals spotted
a flying saucerlike object Nov. 7, and that it hovered over a
major site on my Tribune beat: O'Hare International
So I interviewed the witnesses and tracked
down some additional observers--pilots, ramp workers,
mechanics and management officials at United
They were all dead serious about what they
saw, and the accounts--whether made from the tarmac or from 25
feet up in the cockpit of a Boeing 777--were
The unidentified aerial phenomenon was dark
gray and shaped like a disc, it hovered in a fixed position
above Concourse C of the United Airlines terminal, and it
vanished with a burst of energy that cut a hole in the
The fact that officials at United
Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration initially
denied any knowledge of the incident--despite evidence I had
that they were well aware of it--made the story even more
Little did any of us know.
organizations from a low-watt radio station in Delaware to a
TV station in Australia phoned me to request interviews. Jay
Leno cracked jokes on the "Tonight Show" about inebriated
workers at O'Hare.
Ufologists contacted me in droves
with thanks for treating the subject in a serious manner and
congratulated the Tribune, as a leading member of the
mainstream media, for publishing a story about an
The reaction is perplexing
and somewhat discouraging. But clearly it speaks to the
persistent fascination with the possibility that we're not
alone in the universe, and there are mysteries of our
existence still to be unraveled.
Callimanopulos understands why the UFO story is so
"When I was doing UFO research, I found that
the sightings hit most people in a very child-wonder place,"
Callimanopulos said. She assisted the late Dr. John Mack, who
became infamous at Harvard Medical School for researching UFO
and alien encounters.
"People think this visit will be
some sort of answer or salvation, that beings from another
world will be able to help us solve the mess we've made on
this planet," said Callimanopulos, a board member of the John
E. Mack Institute, founded in honor of the Pulitzer
"Everyone at some deep level
does wonder why we are here. That is why there are so many
religions in the world and conflicting belief systems," she
said. "If we were to find our cosmic friends, we would have a
real family, finally."
It would be nice if physical
evidence existed to substantiate the claims made at O'Hare on
Nov. 7. Airport surveillance cameras are trained on the
airfield, not the heavens, and FAA radar has so far turned up
How is it that someone smuggled a
camera cell phone into a Baghdad execution chamber to
chronicle the hanging of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
last month, but no one among the thousands of airport workers
and travelers at O'Hare snapped a picture for the cosmic
family photo album?
The answer, along with an
explanation about how the universe works, remains a mystery.
We earthlings possess inquisitive minds, but we are, after