Nine Hillsdale students will tell the story of “Aliens in the Arb” in a documentary for their Documentary Filmmaking class. The documentary will premiere at 7 p.m. on April 20 in the Plaster Auditorium.
One evening in 1966, women living in McIntyre Residence saw something unnatural in the Slayton Arboretum: a UFO.
“No matter what happened here, it was a complex series of events and it wasn’t isolated,” said freshman Phoebe VanHeyningen, one of the students in the Documentary Filmmaking class.
College women on the Upper East Wing of McIntyre noticed glowing lights outside their window. They said they saw a saucer, about 30 feet in diameter, hovering above the treeline of the arboretum. This unusual sight soon attracted 87 spectators within the dormitory, as well as a band of local law enforcement and fraternity men outside the gates, the filmmakers said.
“We have testimonies from so many of the women in Mac, we have testimonies from the Mac house mom, we have testimonies from the dean of men and from police,” VanHeyningen said. “Then, the government got involved. Former President Gerald Ford said no, that we need to have an actual investigation on this, which ended up being in Project Blue Book. But then, it was forgotten about.”
The class relied on interviews and old footage to produce an analysis of the 1966 sighting. One of their main sources is Gidget Kohn ’69, who was a reporter for The Collegian during her time at Hillsdale.
“We’ve been looking in the archives at what she had to say, and she was feisty,” sophomore Anna Bassols said. “When you think about that feisty reporter who’s going out and getting her information, that was Gidget to a T.”
Buddy Moorehouse, adjunct professor of documentary filmmaking, explained how the class can achieve such results at an expedited rate.
“It’s so much easier to make a documentary than people realize,” Moorehouse said. “All the projects that we do are just shot on your phone. Then it’s all about finding the story and figuring out how you’re going to tell it.”
The accessibility of the course has allowed numerous students to pursue a newfound love for the creative medium, according to Bassols and Vanheyningen.
“This was a totally new experience for me,” Bassols said, “I was kind of worried that I was going to be in way over my head. However, Mr. Moorehouse has been incredibly patient. All of a sudden, we’re making documentaries that look professional quality on our iPhones. It’s just so easy and accessible, which is something I never imagined was possible.”
According to Bassols, the documentary will focus on the unexplainable nature of the event.
“There were sightings a couple nights before in Dexter, so the sightings were incredibly consistent,” Bassols said. “They even set J Allen Hynek out to Hillsdale to investigate them, who was one of the leading UFO experts and was involved in Project Blue Book. The big punch of the story is that he disregarded a lot of testimonies, and said that the sightings could be attributed to something called swamp gas. In recent years, he has come out and said before he passed away that it wasn’t true.”
After months of research, many of the filmmakers said they remain skeptical about the existence of extraterrestrials.
“I haven’t made a decision,” VanHeyningen said. “I still never have. I think the case is just about as closed as it can be at the moment. The thing that got me the most was there’s scientific evidence. I’m not going to spoil it, but, there was a soil sample taken, and there were traces of elements involved in nuclear processes that aren’t native to Michigan.”
Moorehouse, too, said he is unsure whether aliens were truly spotted in the arb that 1966 night.
“I think there is certainly enough evidence that there is something more out there, but it could also be other things as well, so that’s what I’m looking forward to with this documentary,” Moorehouse said. “I think a lot of other students are, too. Whatever it was, they saw something – 87 women saw something that night.”
Moorehouse said he believes the art of filmmaking has made the story come to life.
“When you make a documentary, you can have real footage of whatever it is you’re telling a story about,” Moorehouse said. “If you’re doing a story on a person, we can actually see and hear how this person talked.”
Moorehouse said the documentary will interest students because it will put them in the shoes of the McIntyre women.
“You’re the same age that they were; in some cases, you’re in the same dorm that they were,” he said. “You can ask yourselves, ‘What would I have thought if I had seen this?’”
VanHeyningen said she hopes the documentary will uncover some unknown Hillsdale lore.
“Hillsdale isn’t documented enough,” she said. “Hillsdale has a lot of history. Hillsdale has a lot of weird history. This is part of Hillsdale’s weird history.”