McIntyre women spot a UFO out the window.
Courtesy | Phoebe VanHeyningen

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.”