From the Archives: The monstrous legends of the 1970s
As Halloween approaches, pumpkins are carved, costumes are crafted and ghost stories are circulated. October also always brings an opportunity to explore the tri-campus community’s haunted grounds, with the ghost of Washington Hall and the spirits of Saint Mary’s documented in past autumn editions.
This year, our team shifted to hunting monsters. And interestingly, so did Notre Dame in the 1970s. Our archives from the ‘70s are filled with sightings, lectures and theories of scary creatures that usually only exist in nightmares and under our beds. Enjoy this week’s spooky edition of From the Archives, as we detail the 1970s’ fascination with monsters and aliens.
UFOs sighted across the country and at Notre Dame
October 17, 1973 | Kit Baron | Researched by Chris Russo
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an uptick in UFO sightings. A similar barrage of UFOs were sighted across the country in 1973, with one spotted in the South Bend region. The Observer’s Kit Baron covered the local sightings, but the Oct. 17, 1973 edition also included reports from the United Press International (UPI).
The national sightings had varying degrees of consistency. Still, Dr. Allemn Hynek of Northwestern University did not question their presence.
“Where they are coming from and why they were here is a matter of conjecture,” Hynek said. “But the fact that they were here on this planet is beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Many of the UFO sightings were coupled with reports of distorted radio signals, suspicious lights and strange creatures.
And on Notre Dame’s campus, three Breen-Phillips residents reportedly caught a glimpse of an “exceptionally fast-moving and brilliant “star” on the evening of Oct. 16, 1973. They said that the object traveled in a circular motion while shifting its light intensity. The students’ claim was corroborated by other reports across the region, including in LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and DeKalb Counties, each description also noting similar patterns of movement and color.
Local police officer Don Hayden confirmed that most reports described “it” to be white and yellow, remaining “stationary for a short period” and then changing location “with great speed.”
The Observer continued to release UPI reports of UFOs sighted across the country. Subsequent reports had been filed by police and civilians. The Georgia State Patrol dispelled rumors of contact with extraterrestrials after citing that a glowing green cylinder was merely a commonly-used automobile trouble flare.
Despite quelling rumors, reports of UFO sightings continued to pour in across the country. The human fascination with life on other planets has endured into this century, but we are still waiting for another UFO spotting in the tri-campus.
Nessie visits Notre Dame
Nov. 6, 1970 | Bob Schueler | Researched by Spencer Kelly
The first unusual encounter at Loch Ness dates back to 565 C.E. when Saint Columba reportedly scared off “a large, strange animal” that was swimming towards a man in the titular Scottish lake. In the 1,400 years since, the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster, aka “Nessie,” has only grown.
In November of 1970, the legend of Nessie came to campus as the Notre Dame Memorial Library — now known as the Hesburgh Library — held an exhibit titled “Scotland’s ‘Raire Beastie,’ the Loch Ness Monster.”
Library staff member Paul Smyers was responsible for creating the exhibit. All the pictures and maps came from his personal collection of Loch Ness monster memorabilia, purchased the previous summer when Smyers visited the Loch Ness lake in northern Scotland.
The exhibit presented the proliferation of Loch Ness monster research conducted over the previous decade. In 1962, a group of British scientists formed the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau to study the lake’s renowned resident. They also set up aerial reconnaissance cameras around the lake, positioned so that nearly the entire surface of Loch Ness was covered.
In 1966, the photos were studied by the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre of the Royal Air Force. The joint force concluded that Loch Ness contained at least “two animate objects weighing about one and a half tons each.”
British Air Force minister Lord Shackleton — even as a self-proclaimed “disbeliever in monsters” — said the Air Force’s findings were intriguing.
“I find it very hard to discount the findings of the JARIC-RAF reports,” Shackleton said.
In 1963, a joint research team from the University of Chicago and the University of Birmingham in England began investigating the mystery. By 1968, UChicago biologist Ray Mackal reported the team captured multiple sonar sequences of objects rapidly ascending and descending in the Loch Ness waters.
“These actions resemble those one might anticipate from large, air-breathing aquatic animals when surfacing,” Mackal said.
Finally, the Loch Ness Bureau reported that the lake “contains a breeding herd of fifteen to fifty creatures.” While they were unsure of what species these creatures might be, the leading candidates were a giant eel, salamander, mollusk or sea slug.
Despite these valiant efforts, the Loch Ness monster mystery remains unsolved 31 years later. But if the Zodiac Killer can be found, it seems like Nessie’s days of anonymity must be numbered.
The real Dracula in Washington Hall
March 11, 1975 | Valerie Zurblis | Researched by Christina Cefalu
Professor Radu Floresco, a visiting faculty member from Boston College’s department of history, revealed the gory origins of the Count Dracula legend to a packed Washington Hall on the evening of March 10, 1975.
Count Dracula, usually known as the bloodthirsty vampire who terrorized the citizens of Transylvania, was popularized in Bram Stoker’s 1987 novel “Dracula.” As a Transylvanian native, however, Floresco only knew Count Dracula as the “George Washington” of Romania, who defended the country against a Turkish invasion in the 15th century.
Fascinated by the stark contrast between Stoker’s “Dracula” and his own knowledge of the Romanian historical figure, Floresco began to research the origins of the novel’s tale. Interestingly, the name Dracula evolved from the Romanian word “dracul,” which means “son of the Devil.” In other findings, Floresco theorized Stoker’s fictional character drew inspiration from Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, who was a murderous medieval ruler. During his six-year reign, he gruesomely killed 100,000 of the then-500,000 people he ruled.
The basic themes and scenes recorded of Vlad Tepes — such as his fixation on the impaling of human entrails with stakes — align with Stoker’s narrative in “Dracula.” Floresco befriended Boston College professor Raymond McNally, who discovered medieval Russian documents with stories also revolving around impalement and other gruesome horrors. The two traveled to Transylvania, where Stoker’s influence was noted, as many people there had conflated the heroic Count Dracula with Stoker’s monstrous one and the folklore of vampires persists.
Floresco noted that the President of Romania at the time had banned Stoker’s book and all adaptations of that classic novel to prevent the “defacing of the national hero.” Count Dracula is a prime example of how the myths of legend and the facts of history are not always so easily separated.