If you ask any person on the streets of Tucson where they are from. the chances are high that they are from somewhere else. A frequent state of origin is Michigan for these folks. Illinois would be next on that list. If you ask them why they came to Tucson, the most popular answer is: “The weather. I was tired of shoveling snow.”
One Tucson transplant, however, came for a very specific and unusual reason: tolerance, specifically related to the study of UFOs.
His name was J. Allen Hynek.
The then-74-year-old said in a 1984 interview with the Chicago Tribune: “People are more open-minded in Arizona. There’s more of a willingness to accept new ideas out here than in Chicago, which is a hotbed of inertia.”
J. Allen Hynek hailed from Chicago. He was an astronomer, professor, and UFO researcher. He participated in an advisory capacity in three U.S. Air Force UFO studies: Project Sign (1947-1949), Project Grudge (1949-1952), and Project Blue Book (1952 – 1969). After the projects concluded, he continued to conduct his own independent UFO research.
He was a UFO debunker and even stated that he enjoyed debunking. However, his opinions about UFOs would shift, slowly and gradually over the years, noticeable in the 1950′s. Evidenced by words he wrote in the April 1953 issue of The Journal of the Optical Society of America titled “Unusual Aerial Phenomena”:
“Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and people should not be taught that it is. The steady flow of reports, often made in concert by reliable observers, raises questions of scientific obligation and responsibility. Is there … any residue that is worthy of scientific attention? Or, if there isn’t, does not an obligation exist to say so to the public—not in words of open ridicule but seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places in science and scientists?”
The shift would come after examining many cases involving credible witnesses, including astronomers, pilots, police officers, and military personnel. He concluded that some reports represented “genuine empirical observations”.
Friendship with Dr. James McDonald
Hynek did have ties to Tucson, a hotbed of UFO activity, prior to his 1984 relocation. He was good friends with Dr. James E. McDonald, a physicist at the University of Arizona and fellow UFO researcher. Despite their friendship, McDonald had some “sharp words” for Hynek over the years:
McDonald wrote a letter to Hynek in 1970, “castigating him for what McDonald saw as his lapses, and suggesting that, when evaluated by later generations, retired Marine Corps Major Donald E. Keyhoe would be regarded as a more objective, honest, and scientific ufologist.” (Wikipedia). Hynek would later elaborate in an interview in 1985:
“By way of background, I might add that the late Dr. James E. McDonald, a good friend of mine who was then an atmospheric meteorologist at the University of Arizona, and I had some fairly sharp words about it. He used to accuse me very much, saying you’re the scientific consultant to the Air Force, you should be pounding on generals’ doors and insisting on getting a better job done. I said, Jim, I was there, you weren’t you don’t know the mindset.” - J. Allen Hynek in an interview with Dennis Stacy
In Hynek’s 1972 book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. He introduced a means of identifying UFO encounters with what became known as the Close Encounter Classification System.
1st Kind: Sighting of one or more UFOs.
2nd Kind: Sighting of a UFO with associated physical effects (e.g. heat, electrical interference, etc).
3rd Kind: Sighting of an animated being (presumably an alien but not specifically defined as such).
Of course, there was also Hynek’s involvement in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He served in advisory role on Steven Spielberg’s film and participated in a non-speaking role near the end of the movie (right).
Death in Arizona
Hynek died less than two years after he moved to tolerant Tucson, on April 27, 1986. He died of a malignant brain tumor in at Memorial Hospital in Scottsdale.
Was Hynek right about more Arizona residents being tolerant and open-minded than certain other states a quarter of a century ago? Yes.
Today, the use of the words “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” might spur a little debate, specifically related to some Arizona-related political topics. Overall, though, away from politics, many residents do subscribe to a more to a “live and let live” mentality, in my opinion. Sure, I might catch a glimpse of a roll of the eyes from someone I meet when I reveal my favorite writing topic.
If someone says to me: That’s great, but I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, that’s fine with me.There are many other topics of discussion. Many of my closest friends don’t believe, or believe in things that I don’t. I don’t believe in all of it. Yet, we have tolerance, open-mindedness, and respects for each others’ beliefs.
Live and let live.
Hynek chose to live the last years of his life in Arizona for this very reason.