While we’re all anxiously anticipating the Pentagon’s UFO report, it’s worth reminding everyone that this country’s been plagued by weird lights in the sky for, well, damn near forever. Way back in 1639, in fact, John Winthrop, lawyer, Puritan, and Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, jotted down in his diary a report of the first UFO sighting by a European settler in what would soon be known as the United States of America

Public domain

Would this man lie to you?

According to Winthrop – a severe man who, it should be noted, left England because he didn’t feel like the 16-century Church of England was strict enough about Christianity – three equally severe and totally sober dudes were out in a boat on the Muddy River when they saw some funky lights in the sky. The lights changed shape repeatedly, even once contracting “into the figure of a swine,” and darted across the sky. By the time the boaters finished gawking, they had discovered that they’d magically been transported a mile downstream, back to where they started, without rowing and against the current

Five years later, Winthrop reported another UFO sighting, about three more guys in a boat seeing more mysterious lights, this time in the vague shape of a person who vanished into thin air. And then, a week later, he wrote down a third sighting – although he excused that one as probably just the ghost of a demon-possessed man who had exploded a boat a few months earlier. Naturally.

Anyway, another instance of unidentified lights in the sky was reported by a Massachusetts schoolteacher in 1808Mysterious airships plagued San Francisco in the 1870s, Wild West cowboys in the 1880s, and then returned to San Fran in 1896

San Francisco Call, 1896

“Fetch me my shooter, ma! Them aliens is using hydrogen and physics again!”

In 1897, a flying saucer was said to have crashed into a windmill in Aurora, Texas, with insinuations that the spaceship had been making rounds across the Midwest that year, too. And, of course, there are myriad pre-Columbian sightings by the indigenous peoples of the North American continent, going back for millennia and recorded in petroglyphs and tribal myths. 

This isn’t to suggest any kind of Ancient Aliens-style, history-erasing racism, by the way, just to point out that we’ve all been seeing weird stuff in the sky and then telling others about it for literally all of recorded history. Conventional wisdom (and skepticism) might finger the 1940s as the start of America’s alien obsession, but the truth has been out there (or not) for much, much longer.

Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.

Top Image: San Francisco Call, 1896

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