PORTLAND — Ralph Blum knew how to sell a book.
The author stood at the window of his fifth-floor hotel room in downtown Portland, peering into the sky.
“They’re out there!” he exclaimed, a rapt expression on his face, arms outstretched. “I know they’re out there!”
Blum was in the Rose City to promote his new book, “Beyond Earth: Man’s Contact with UFOs,” written with the help of his wife Judy.
This was 1974, decades before blaring news headlines reported that U.S. fighter pilots had repeatedly spotted unnerving “unidentified aerial phenomena,” prompting comment last month from former President Barack Obama, among other notables.
At the time that “Beyond Earth” came out, Blum had a small fan base thanks to a couple of science-fiction novels he’d published, including “The Simultaneous Man,” about a secret government mind-control project. His fiction, The New York Times wrote, tended to elicit “a complicated set of responses [that ranged] from amusement and delight to compassion and anger.”
But what about his nonfiction? For that is what “Beyond Earth” was.
Interested in both the rigorous, professional search for unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and the experience of people who said they had interacted with space aliens, Ralph and Judy Blum had traveled around the U.S. to dig into the subject.
That meant talking to two Mississippi shipyard workers who claimed they had been abducted by E.T.s “who appeared to be wrapped in aluminum foil.” It also meant interviewing former Nebraska police officer Herbert Schirmer, who also had come to believe he’d been taken aboard an alien craft.
At 3 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1967, Schirmer wrote in his status log: “Saw a flying saucer at the junction of highways 6 and 23. Believe it or not!”
It’s not clear what happened to him after he made that notation.
But whatever happened, Schirmer soon began to experience severe, chronic headaches that wrecked his law-enforcement career. Later, hypnosis supposedly revealed that extraterrestrials had subdued him that night with a “paralyzing ray” before carrying him onto their ship.
The hypnosis, Schirmer said, brought back memories of a conversation with one of the aliens. Wrote The Oregonian:
“The creature said no harm was intended, that contact through peaceful invasion would be coming soon. Sightings, [the alien] said, were to confuse the people on earth, whose languages were translated by computer.”
Blum, who died in 2016 at 84, also talked to Apollo 9 commander James McDivitt for the book. The astronaut said he had spotted a UFO while in space during NASA’s Gemini 4 mission.
“There was something out in front of me, or outside the spacecraft, that I couldn’t identify,” he said in a 1975 interview. “… It was rotating around. I noticed something out in front that was a white cylindrical shape with a white pole sticking out of one corner of it.”
McDivitt said he quickly grabbed a camera and took photographs, and then, “as the sun shone on the window, I could no longer see out, and the thing just disappeared.”
The photos ended up showing nothing.
After returning to Earth, he said he “went through each frame of all of the pictures that we took [during the mission], and there wasn’t anything in there like what I had seen.”
This was explosive stuff, and “Beyond Earth” racked up sales.
Fiction hadn’t made Blum famous, but UFOs put him in the “big time,” he acknowledged. “Things started to happen.”
Famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury provided a blurb for the cover of “Beyond Earth,” stating: “We have needed a new, comprehensive UFO survey for many years now. … This is that book.”
By the time Blum and his wife landed in Portland, phone messages were piling up. Right before The Oregonian reporter arrived at their hotel room for the interview, Blum said, a call came through from the U.S. Defense Department.
“They’re going to release pictures of spaceships taken on the last Skylab mission,” he insisted.
The government was trying to get ahead of events, he added. He warned of coming “flaps” — that is, the arrival of an armada of spacecraft that would shock and roil Earth’s governments and people.
“We have friends in White Sands at the proving grounds who see scores of them flying over all the time,” Judy Blum said.
The White Sands Missile Range is a military site in New Mexico.
The Blums were very much in demand in the weeks after the publication of “Beyond Earth,” but Oregon was considered a particularly good place to spread the UFO gospel. Twenty-four years before the husband-and-wife team arrived to hawk their book, a Dayton, Oregon, farmer named Paul Trent snapped one of the best-known photographs of a classic space saucer. Trent described the UFO as “a round, shiny, wingless object,” which hovered in the sky before suddenly zipping away.
Ralph Blum said the truth soon would be known about that Oregon image — and about so much more.
It’s now been more than four decades since the “Beyond Earth” media blitz, and we don’t really know much more about unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, as the government prefers to call them. The “flaps” have not arrived. The aliens are keeping their powder dry.
But the subject is now finally moving to the front of the news queue.
An unclassified intelligence report is set to be released later this month that will say the U.S. can’t explain the strange sightings made by fighter planes in recent years, The New York Times just reported. The government apparently has at least concluded that the UAPs “did not originate from any American military or other advanced U.S. government technology.”
“What is true, and I’m actually being serious here,” former President Obama said last month, “is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.’’
Ralph Blum would go on to write the popular New Age self-help volume “The Book of Runes,” and he would state in an interview: “There are three things you don’t do with the runes. You don’t judge, you don’t make comparisons, and you give up needing to know why.”
Still, he likely would not have been impressed with Obama’s remarks about UAPs. Back in 1974, the Harvard graduate and former Fulbright scholar insisted the U.S. Air Force already knew the truth.
“Now they have radar so effective they can prove aliens exist,” Blum said.
But while working on “Beyond Earth” had convinced Blum that UFOs/UAPs were indeed visitors from, well, beyond Earth, he admitted he wasn’t sure of much more than that.
“I like best the theory I heard from a 16-year-old high-school boy,” he said. “He said they were visitors from the future.”