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Take me to your leader (but not your reporter)

July 20, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

If one of my peers had told me it on the playground, I'd've immediately labeled it a schoolboy rumor.

If an adult had told me, I still would've dismissed it as bumpf.

But seeing it in black and white in the paper of record -?The Adirondack Daily Enterprise - made me a believer.

Besides, there was visual proof - a photo of the little creature, flanked by an ace reporter on one side and the long arm of the law on the other. The reporter was the ADE's Tony Piro; the cop was Chuck Pandolph. And as for the creature? It was anyone's guess.

The photo appeared above the heading, "Is This Man From Outer Space Or Just Another Mental Case?"

This news was splashed across the Saturday, March 29, 1958's edition of the Enterprise, and when I read it I - like a whole lot of other people went electric. A spaceman hereand now? I read every detail: He was gray, three feet tall, made unintelligible sounds and wore a helmet with a green gas being pumped into it. He'd been found wandering in the woods between MacMasters road and Donnelly's farm.

He had no weapons, only a scroll with some sort of hieroglyphs on it. At first he was reluctant to get into Officer Pandolph's police car, but he finally did after Chuck let him examine the controls and two-way radio.

As of press time, he was no longer in the area, having been whisked off to a secret air force facility for further observation. Also, there was no sign of his spaceship, but it was probably the huge fireball that'd soared across the sky the night before.


Mother knows best but keeps her counsel

I reread it and then went into the kitchen to talk to my mother.

"You read the Enterprise today?" I asked.

"Of course," she said.

"So, what'd you think of the spaceman?"

"What do you mean, what did I think of it?"

"Is it true?"

"Well," she said, "Bill McLaughlin wrote it."

"What's that mean?"

"Just that it might be a hoax," she said. "He's been known to do it."

"But it's written right there in the Enterprise," I said, tapping the front page for emphasis.

She shrugged.

"It could be true, couldn't it?" I asked.

"Could be," she said. "You'll just have to figure it out for yourself."

And that was it for my mother's input.

That was my mother. She was a great believer in reality, and she believed a whole lot of it was horrible. But she also figured that was something the young had to learn on their own, which they would, and far too soon.

I went back in the living room and reread the article. Then I fell deep in thought, wondering if it was true

The issue concerned an adult's worldview versus a child's. Adults have a lot more information than kids but kids have a lot more imagination than adults. For all I know, this is why geniuses do all their great work before they hit 30. It's almost certainly why kids are more fun than adults.

Anyhow, when it came to the spaceman, my imagination ran wild. There was some factual basis the Russians had launched Sputnik the previous October; we'd launched a satellite of our own that January, so space travel was a real possibility (at least to me). Plus, all of us had come of age with Buck Rogers: Captain Video: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; The Rocket Rangers; and The Space Patrol. Intergalactic visits seemed right around the corner.

Beyond that, I guess I wanted to believe it. I mean, I already thought Saranac Lake was the center of the universe, but if a genuine spaceman landed here, that'd definitely prove it.

At first I was elated, thinking of all the fame that'd come our way. But the more I thought about it, the sadder I became, as I started to identify with the little spaceman. Here he was, billions of miles from home, with no way of getting back or even communicating with his homeys. He was stuck in a world he knew nothing of, surrounded by strangers, alone, friendless - an exhibit in an intergalactic freak show.

Then something else hit me - he was going to die here.

This wasn't morbid - in fact, it was only logical for someone who grew up in Saranac Lake in the '50s. The town's the main business had been tuberculosis and a cure for it had been found less than 15 years earlier. And since Saranac Lake was still full of former patients, as a kid, I'd heard hundreds of times, "I came here to die from TB." So for the space man to come here to die made perfect sensr as well. It wouldn't be TB that'd kill him, but I'd seen War of the Worlds and knew our atmosphere could be lethal to beings from outer space. Or maybe he'd get mumps, measles, cat scratch fever or something. The possibilities for his demise were endless.

I went to bed in a funk that night ... and the next one too: With no further word about our spaceman, I imagined only the worst.


All in fun

But Monday afternoon my melancholy vanished as soon as I read Bill McLaughlin's column, whose headline read, "Frantic Phone Calls Plague Police, Paper," and under it the subhead, "No Kidding, It Was All in Fun."

Apparently, what started as a harmless (and to its originators, an obvious) hoax, had turned into a nightmare of sorts. Word of our spaceman spread like wildfire, with one rumor giving rise to another. Aside from unrest in the Tri-Lakes, calls poured in from Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and beyond. WPTZ in Plattsburgh called the ADE's publisher late Saturday night to establish the truth. Even the Associated Press checked up on it.

So did I feel bad I'd been taken for a sucker? Not at all.

First, it wasn't just me: A whole lot of grown-ups got fooled at least as badly as me.

Second, no one - from Planet Earth or any other solar system - got hurt by it.

And finally, My Home Town did get famous -?if only for a little while and for all the wrong reasons.



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