Aliens of America: UFOs and Abductions Through the Years

Do aliens hold the key to saving the human race? Jim Sparks believed so.

Are we alone in the universe?

Ever since humans first looked up at the sky and began wondering about our place in the infinite void of space, we've entertained the possibility that other life could be out there. And we've always hungered for connection with intergalactic creatures, building religions around them and even labeling them as the ultimate bringers of the apocalypse.

Occasionally, though, with surprising frequency, some people have done a lot more than simply imagine aliens. Tens of thousands of people have reported interactions with aliens (and an untold number have had experiences that they've kept to themselves). Ranging from mass sightings to full-on abductions, man's encounters with aliens have inspired dozens of science fiction movies and conspiracy theories. But truth is always stranger than fiction.

Alien UFO in Los Angeles, 1942

UFO Sightings

In 1947, something crashed in the desert near Roswell, Nevada—and sparked a nationwide interest in aliens that continues to this day. According to the U.S. Air Force, the object was a balloon meant to monitor the Soviet Union, but many people today believe that story was a coverup for the government's illicit alien-related activity in the Nevada desert. The event made Area 51 famous—and either catalyzed a bunch of hallucinations in the coming decade or incensed a bunch of aliens enough to inspire them to begin abducting and investigating humans.

After the Roswell incident, UFO reports exploded. A few cases stand out from the rest, though, due to their highly public natures. On December 9, 1965, thousands of people in North America saw a fireball cross through the sky. The town of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania had an even stranger experience: According to residents, a gigantic metallic object emblazoned with odd hieroglyphs crashed in their town but was quickly taken away by the government. Years later, NASA came out and said the object was a Russian satellite—but, eerily, Russian data doesn't match up with the timing of this fallen UFO.

On March 13, 1997, thousands of Arizonians (including the state's governor) saw a huge V-shaped object floating through the sky. The object changed colors and stretched almost a mile wide, and it made its way across the state before disappearing.

These are far from isolated incidents. Reports of UFO sightings date hundreds of years into BC time and span the globe. Alien sightings decreased a bit in the 21st century, but in 2019 they suddenly began spiking. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Pentagon announced it was actively investigating UFOs in May of 2019. (Of course, the government's UFO investigation has been going on since the 1940s).

Still from Project Blue Book by the U.S. Air Force, 1952-1969

1950-McMinnville, Oregon; photo by Paul Trent

Close Encounters and Abductions

Sometimes, aliens descend from their UFOs and actually attempt to make contact. This was the experience of the Sutton family in rural Kentucky, who claimed they encountered a dozen "goblins" in 1955. The family said that first they saw a light streak across the sky, and then goblins floated down from nearby trees. The family shot at them with their guns and eventually left to get a sheriff; when they returned, the creatures were gone.

In 1952, a woman named Kathleen May took her children and some neighborhood kids to investigate an object they had just watched fall from the sky. When they arrived at the site of the crash, they saw a ten-foot tall creature with glowing red eyes; it had massive hands and was making an ominous hissing noise. They fled, and all of the witnesses fell ill after the incident.

Perhaps no direct encounter with aliens has been more influential than what happened to Betty and Barney Hill in 1961. One night, the Hills were driving through New Hampshire's labyrinthine White Mountains when they realized that a peculiar light in the sky appeared to be following them. They eventually made it home to Portsmouth, though when they arrived their watches had stopped working and their shoes were scuffed—and neither of them could remember a full two hours of the previous night.

Betty and Barney Hill Abduction Case

With the aid of a psychiatrist, the couple eventually admitted what had happened: Grey creatures with bright eyes had led them into a massive metal disc. They'd examined the Hills, wiped their memory, and released them. The couple's story led to an Air Force inquiry and inspired Project Blue Book, an investigation force that focused on alien abduction reports. It also shaped alien abduction narratives for years to come. Before the Hills, most encounters with aliens had been friendly and harmless; afterwards, speculation about abductions and probes blossomed rampantly.

The couple's story also became the blueprint for a certain type of alien. Known as "greys" in UFO circles, the Hills' distinct aliens were spotted again and again over the years. This means that either dozens of people have experienced the same delusion, perhaps drawing subconscious inspiration from the Hills' story—or it means that a race of big-headed, bright-eyed, grey aliens are really descending down to Earth, investigating humans and floating back to wherever they came from, data in tow.

These aliens were spotted in another one of the most notorious cases of alien abduction ever to shake America—the story of Travis Walton. In 1971, Walton and five other forestry workers were making their way through the woods when they saw a bright light in the distance. Walton strode towards it, only to be shocked brutally by the glow. The five others ran off and reported their coworker missing. When Walton was discovered five days later, he reported that he'd been taken onto a ship and investigated by grey aliens who used some kind of gas to render him unconscious. Walton also said he met several other strangely good-looking humans, clad in blue uniforms, who conducted experiments on him in a large warehouse that appeared to be full of other flying saucers.

A UFO in Palomar Gardens, California, taken by George Adamski. Mary Evans Picture Library/

Alien Saviors?

Not all aliens are unfriendly and invasive mad scientists. (Perhaps, just like humans, some of them believe in harsher methods of investigation than others?) In fact, many people across time have said they've received important advice from aliens.

For example, alien abductee Jim Sparks says that he has had a long-term relationship with extraterrestrials known as the Keepers, who first appeared to him in 1988 and have since outlined steps humanity must take in order to save ourselves from self-destruction.

At first, Sparks said, the encounters were invasive, and he felt that his visitors (who appeared several times a month) were "probing through to the deepest fiber of my mind." Eventually, he decided to try and listen to what the aliens had to say.

The aliens told him that humans are "isolated" in the universe "by ignorance" and are "not ready to join the intelligent life that exists in other realms" because we're "too dangerous to be set free in the universe to do as we please." They showed Sparks video footage of beautiful scenery on Earth, then followed it with clips that showed humans destroying the natural environment. After one of these viewing sessions, a telepathic voice said, ""YOU ARE KILLING YOUR PLANET. YOUR PLANET IS DYING."

"There are better ways," Sparks was told, of "deriving your energy and food needs, without causing your planet any damage." Sparks later founded an organization dedicated to conserving forests.

Why We See Aliens

So, why do we see aliens? That's a huge question, and it's one that many psychologists and Internet conspiracy theorists have tried to figure out.

In general, psychologists conclude that the 2.5% of the American population who claim they've encountered aliens aren't actually making up what happened to them. Most people really think their stories are true, meaning that a lot of people are hallucinating or experiencing sleep paralysis…or that the aliens are actually making contact.

Some scientists blame alien abductions on humans' desire to feel special and not alone in the universe; others connect it to American exceptionalism. Still others insist it's the consequence of pareidolia, a modern incarnation of man's tendency to follow glowing blue lights in dark woods. If those old superstitions were fundamental in shaping our view of the world, then modern interactions with aliens might be a new myth, a new religion for modern times. Alien invasion "provides a language of longing for something — an angelic visitor, the complete fulfillment of our own technological potential, revelation about the nature of the universe — which remains elusive," writes Claire Coffey for The Outline. "Still, there are signs that alien belief is poised to become one of the world's ethical religions. Alien beliefs often implicate the world in wickedness and call for repentance — many accounts of alien contacts include calls for an end to war and an increase in peaceful human cooperation."

Some people choose to believe, looking beyond earthly logic and science. According to one report, one in five Americans believe that at one point or another, aliens have visited Earth. Do you?

The Original "I Want to Believe" Image from the X-Files Fox

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Meet Luna and James—The Travel Vloggers Who Invited You into Their Bedroom

One French couple took the concept of sharing their lives through vlogs to another level.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included videos and links from a YouTube channel that was posing as Luna Okko and illegally uploading her content.

In their videos, Luna and James seem in many ways like typical travel vloggers.

They're young, charming, attractive, and willing to share their adventurous lifestyle with the world—maybe just a little more willing than most…

If you watch some of the content on their YouTube channel a YouTube Channel that illegally appropriates their content, you might not even notice the difference. They use the same editing style and camera techniques that are popular with a thousand other vloggers—with dreamy, royalty-free music playing over slow-motion street views, close-ups of food, and shots of Luna applying her makeup.

Their narration switches back and forth between French to English as they offer a tour of their vacation rental in Vietnam, or go exploring in Budapest and Krakow. They walk you through every part of their lives, from going out for food to waiting at the airport, to sending a package to one of their fans. They even tried the vlogger trend where they let their Instagram followers vote to decide all their activities for a full day.

Occasionally their videos will make reference to other websites where they share different kinds of content, but for the most part there is little to distinguish these vlogs from hundreds of similar videos that are uploaded every day.

Maybe the camera lingers a little longer on a shot of Luna in a revealing outfit—already a favorite tactic of travel vloggers—but honestly the biggest indication that there is something off about these safe for work clips is the fact that they are not more popular. Luna and James built their shared career through other platforms, where they share parts of their life that wouldn't be allowed on YouTube.

There's an aspect of all vlogging that is fundamentally exhibitionism for the creators and voyeurism for the audience. You're getting a peak into the privacy of other people's lives and into the fairly mundane activities that fill their days. But back in 2017, Luna and James took that exhibitionism to its logical conclusion by choosing to also share their sex life.

It was early that year that Luna and James discovered a live streaming platform where strangers would pay to watch them engage in sexual activity, but the couple evidently found that they enjoyed communicating with their fans and soon transitioned to become the first of their kind p**n vloggers (you can thank ad filters for those asterisks) with a series of videos called The Sex Diaries, which opened with some normal vlog material, building up to more explicit content.

Others have attempted to emulate their formula, but none have been as successful at attracting an audience or capturing that polished slice-of-life aesthetic. Even some of their most popular imitators—like aspiring rapper Andy Savage and his girlfriend Suki—are deeply cringe-inducing.

At the peak of their popularity on one adult video site, Luna and James had hundreds of thousands of subscribers, more than 100 million views, and were selling merch branded with their shared pseudonym/motto—Okko, which they define as "the personal journey of letting go of social constructs in order to achieve understanding through real life experiences and adventures." Luna and James were even profiled for the Taiwanese version of Marie Claire.

It's hard to say how much of their popularity could be attributed to their vlogging approach and how much was based on the simple draw of watching two attractive people do the usual horny things, but there is something undeniably powerful about the intimate window they offered into their lives.

They didn't sexualize everything in their lives. They were romantic and playful with each other, and they built the kind of parasocial relationship with their audience that makes it feel like you're friends with these people…then those friends invite you into their bedroom.

Whether that excites you or disturbs you, it's a dramatically different model for both vlogging and for explicit content, which both tend to treat sex as compartmentalized from the rest of life. Videos posted online tend to be either all about sex or not (explicitly) about sex at all. But then, a similar separation is found in every known human culture.

While most other species of social animals engage in the reproductive act in plain view of their peers, humans retreat to private spaces. With the exception of ritualistic "bedding ceremonies," human societies tend to maintain a clear barrier between public life and sex life. The fact that Luna and James chose to erase that boundary is genuinely shocking. It suggests a kind of radical openness and honesty that some people claim to practice, but few actually do.

But as it turns out, that sense of radical openness was an illusion. While Luna and James were sharing their real life, as with every vlogging couple, they were only sharing the parts that looked nice. They represented their lives as a polished, romanticized version of reality. And as with many vlogging couples, the revelation of trouble in paradise came as surprise to their fans.

Luna left James in Bali in December of 2019, heading back to Europe. Initially Luna referred to this as "taking a kind of break" and started posting solo travel/sexual vlogs under the title Luna's Journey, while James rebranded the couple's YouTube channel as Le James, and began posting a safe for work vlog there.

They may have been drifting apart for a long time and only feigning their prior passion for each other for the sake of their shared business interest. The couple officially split in January.

Was a desire to move in different creative directions at the root of their split? They had seemed to have such a strong relationship. In part, that may have stemmed from the filtered nature of vlogging, but even after their breakup James claimed that he "was really so sure that [Luna] was the one."

Is there something corrosive about exposing even the most intimate aspects of your relationship to such a wide audience? Or was this a case of the normal sort of passion and dissolution that so many couples go through in their 20s?

Luna has continued to use some of the accounts that she and James used to share; and in recent episodes of Luna's Journey, she has been appearing with her new boyfriend, Evan—going hiking with friends, renting a camper van, and having sex in each place they visit. The videos are as popular as ever, and Luna and Evan now have their own shared Instagram account.

James, meanwhile, has been using his new YouTube channel to document his attempt to rebuild his life after losing his relationship, his job, and his home in one fell swoop. He has relocated to Portugal and built himself a tiny home in the woods. He goes surfing, works on various projects, and muses about life. He does still post his own adult content on a number of platforms, but his YouTube vlog seems to be an entirely separate venture.

Building my own CABIN in the woods! (Tiny House)

Clearly, for James at least, there was a sincere desire to share his life outside of any interest in sexual exhibitionism. But to what extent was the sexual component of Luna and James's videos together an inevitable extension of elements that are prevalent throughout vlogging?

Does the audience's obsessive interest in the romanticized lives of vlogging couples already verge on fetishizing? Is there a substantial difference between the fantasies represented in their selective version of reality and the fantasies found on every adult site on the Internet?

Luna and James are not the first vloggers to split, only to then continue broadcasting their separate lives to an eager audience as they move on and form new relationships. If it's become ordinary to watch people we don't know working through that kind of personal drama, is it so strange for them to also give us access to their sex life?

Alternatively, is this part of a model for how adult content can begin to normalize sex and sexuality?

If it's safe to assume that a lot of the hang-ups and dysfunctions that disrupt our sex lives are tied to shame, can adult content that treats sex more as a normal part of life—rather than a surreal world where pizza delivery and the existence of step-siblings is somehow overtly sexual—help us as a society to move past that shame and develop healthier relationships with our own sexuality?

While these vlogs are not devoid of the problems that pervade the adult film industry—e.g. unrealistic standards of beauty, preferences for certain interracial pairings, and prioritizing visually stimulating activity over the pleasure of the participants—maybe they could be part of moving things in a more sex-positive direction. Maybe...

It's a complicated situation without a lot of clear answers. But if there is one certainty that we can all take from this, it's a piece of advice that may only apply to James at the moment but that we should all keep in mind going forward: Never watch your ex's sex vlogs.

When our summer vacations went out the window, my friends and I were devastated.

We had big things planned—a group of us had spent months looking forward to backpacking around Europe! Thankfully, our flights were refunded, but our hearts were still broken. Paris, London, and Amsterdam will have to wait.

When thinking about alternatives, we realized there are so many amazing places to visit in the U.S. My friend Sophie suggested a camping road trip. I mean, backpacking was never going to be glamorous to begin with, but some of us didn't like the sound of sleeping outdoors for such a long period of time.

That's when my friend Amy mentioned Getaway. They offer outposts with beautiful, secluded cabins tucked away between the trees. We read their Journal posts, plus I emailed their team for reassurance it was safe, and they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

They reassured us that they've upped their cleaning procedures to make the cabins as safe as possible and that the cabins are at least 50-150 ft away from each other. We also wouldn't have to go to a check-in desk, so we could go straight to our cabin without interacting with anyone else during our stay. Plus, it's super affordable, too.

Getaway offered a compromise: we would still do camping, but with comfort. We organized everything we needed and set out on our road trip in Sophie's Jeep.

Our first stop was at McKinney Falls State Park. The creek was stunning. The park had two waterfalls which filled the swimming holes, and we didn't hesitate for a second to jump into the refreshing water. After our morning there, our next stop was the Old Baldy Trail for a hike. This trail was steep and took some effort, but boy, was it worth it for the beautiful views from the top.

The next stop was Blue Hole Regional Park. We hiked the whole trail, which is 1.6 miles, and then swam in the swimming area. The trail was mostly flat, and it was a pleasant, leisurely hike with gorgeous scenes. We really packed the day full of activities.

By the time we were ready to head to Getaway, we were exhausted. When we arrived, I was happy to see that the Getaway cabins are nicely spread out—you can still glimpse the other cabins in the distance through the trees, but they feel far enough away to maintain privacy.

Our cabin had everything we needed: AC and heat, a private bathroom with a toilet and a hot shower, a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, mini-fridge, a fire pit, and all the kitchen essentials. We also found a deck of cards and some books. It was nice to see a cozy bed after such a long day.

The first night we settled in and took advantage of the shower. Then we stashed our phones in the cellphone "lockbox" for the night. The cabins have a giant window with views of nature, which meant we could appreciate it without having to rough it. We toasted three rounds of s'mores as we chilled in the Adirondack chairs around the flickering fire.

When it started to get cool, we headed back into the cozy cabin, made some tea, and went to bed.

The next morning, we felt super refreshed after a good sleep, so we decided we'd go on a hike along the Cypress Creek Nature Trail. It was so scenic, with amazing views of the stunning vistas. After that, we were drained and happy to be going back to our comfortable cabin! That night, we whipped up chicken pesto pasta on the stove and had s'mores over the campfire for dessert. After another long day, we were asleep only a few minutes after climbing into the soft bed.

For our last day at our Getaway cabin, we made scrambled eggs for breakfast before driving to Cooper Creek for a stroll and great views of nature. That evening, we grilled veggies and chicken skewers and ate them at the picnic table while drinking wine. When it got chilly, we went into the cabin and laughed the evening away.

If you're looking for somewhere safe and peaceful to go with your friends or a partner, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!


What I Learned as an American Living in London During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even subtle cultural differences change how a country handles crisis.

On March 3rd, 2020, I left New York City to go spend three months in London with my longtime partner.

You likely recognize that date as shockingly close to when all hell broke loose around the world thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was leaving NYC, there were already stirrings of unease surrounding a mysterious new virus that was making its way from China to the States, but very few people thought it would be anything but a passing inconvenience.

As it turned out, I likely already had the virus when I departed New York. I began running a fever the day I arrived in London. Still, I figured I had probably just caught a cold on the plane (this was before we knew what we know now, that the coronavirus was already extremely prevalent in NYC by March 3rd), and there was no way of knowing for sure, because tests were only available to people in the hospital with COVID symptoms. Soon, my partner also came down with symptoms.

As we recovered (we were both lucky to have relatively mild cases that lasted only a couple of days), we watched London slowly close down around us. First, theaters and public venues began to close, then office workers were told to stay home. Throughout it all, there was a reigning sense of calm and acceptance among the British people, even as the rest of the world began to panic.

The complaints I heard from British friends and acquaintances were never about the lockdown measures, but rather about the conservative government's hesitance to take more drastic steps and the lack of clarity surrounding what they expected the population to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, I was struck by the difference in tone that I saw on my social media from American friends discussing the pandemic and the calm acceptance of the British people around me. Every post by an American discussing the pandemic used the word "I" over and over again and had a generally panicky tone. Meanwhile, the British were speaking with "we" and jokingly mourning their inability to grab a pint and watch football.

Sure, this composure was not true of every single citizen in the UK, just as panic was not every American's reaction, but there was a distinct difference in the responses I personally saw. In general, people who lived in London seemed quick to ask how they could help each other and their country, while many Americans seemed ready to batten down the hatches and take on an "every man for himself" attitude.

I was struck by this sign I saw outside a local corner shop in London:

Image of sign asking if anyone needs anything during COVID-19

Everywhere in London I saw examples of collectivism. While images were coming out of America of totally bare supermarket shelves thanks to people hoarding food and supplies to ensure their own comfort and safety, in London I watched two older women argue over who should take the last packet of chicken thighs. Both women insisted the other should have it.

Now that I'm back in the US, I haven't seen a thing like that in my local grocery stores, and while I know mutual aid networks are flourishing and neighbors are assisting each other in cities around the US, I've still been struck by our general lack of visible camaraderie.

It's no secret that the British government handled the COVID-19 crisis relatively poorly, but I was still struck by a sense of hard-fought unity I felt I shared with every average Londoner.

The British aren't an overly expressive people, but they're extraordinarily cordial. We Americans usually think of this kind of British decorum as a stuffy relic of the past that's only relevant in the event of an afternoon tea at Harrods, and perhaps that's partly true, but COVID-19 showed me just how deep this cordiality goes.

British decorum is not a form of politeness that's just about saying "Please" and "Thank you" or moving out of someone's way on the sidewalk; it's the kind of regard for your fellow man that makes it second nature to wait patiently in line if that makes a supermarket safer. It's an innate sense of obligation to each other that makes wearing a mask on public transportation an obvious and inarguably appropriate step to take during a deadly pandemic.

Sure, Brexit proves that nationalism is just as alive and well in England as it is in America, and in many ways Boris Johnson is a slightly less terrifying version of Donald Trump. But my time in Britain showed me that nothing can rid the British people of their ability to weather a storm as a united people, while I can't say the same of America.

On March 20th, Boris made the historic decision to close the pubs in the UK. For context, even during WWII, when London was being regularly bombed by the Germans, the pubs mostly remained open. This was the only time during my stay in London that I saw a collective outpouring of emotion.

I walked to my local pub out of curiosity that night (I had been two weeks without symptoms and told I was fine to leave the house), knowing that it would be closed indefinitely first thing the next morning. What I found was a sensibly socially distanced crowd of people laughing and singing and drinking together to mark the unthinkable day when the pubs would shut. Everyone was fast friends with their neighbor, and even the drunkest among us kept their distance and used hand sanitizer often. But there was a feeling of unity in the pub that night that I have never experienced in America. A sense that, as a people, Londoners would get through this by looking after one another in ways their government had nothing to do with.

Londoners survive; that's what they do. But the part of "keeping calm and carrying on" that doesn't fit as neatly on a poster is the additional impetus to help one's neighbors in big and small ways.

As we're forced to reckon with the failings of the American government during this time of political, social, and economic turmoil, I wonder if we should not also be looking at the pervasive sense of individualism that's so innate to our culture. I'm not even sure I fully recognized it until it became starkly obvious to me in contrast to a different culture.

Yes, the American government failed us in the way it handled the COVID-19 outbreak, but shouldn't we also interrogate our personal inability to care for each other without strict mandate from the government? Shouldn't we consider that true change can't come to America until we start taking personal responsibility for each other? Yes, we need to deconstruct the systems of oppression inherent in the American government that allow for widespread injustice. But we also need to ask ourselves everyday if we're asking the government to do the work that we aren't doing ourselves.

In the wise words of people who have been doing mutual aid work for generations: We keep us safe. It's time we take a page from Londoners' book and consider that politeness isn't just nice; it can also be an act of radical resistance.