Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe: Dr. Bruce Maccabee (1942-2024)

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Word has just come in of the passing of the optical physicist and UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee at the age of 82. Bruce was very well-known in UFOlogy for his detailed analysis of  many UFO cases, including the McMinnville UFO photos, Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, the Phoenix Lights, the Gulf Breeze photos of Ed Walters, the New Zealand films, etc. He worked with all of the major UFO organizations: NICAP, MUFON, FUFOR. He also found time to hang out with, and argue with, the likes of Phil Klass and myself. You can read all about Bruce’s investigations on his Website.

Dr. Bruce Maccabee

I knew Maccabee from the time when we both lived in Silver Spring, Maryland (about 1975-1980). He was a sincere fellow who was convinced, for reasons that are hard to understand, of the authenticity of certain very dubious UFO cases, and he would boldly set forth his arguments. We were both interested in astronomy, and sometimes we would drive outside the suburban sprawl to set up our telescopes under darker skies. 

Somehow Maccabee got his hands on the original negatives of the McMinnville UFO photos (apparently the news organization had them in its files from when they were first published, until Maccabee inquired about them – about 25 years later! The negatives have since been returned to a Trent family member.)  Bruce invited me to spend an afternoon with him in a rented photographic darkroom, where we ran print after print from the original negatives, at different magnifications, exposures, etc. I have made high-resolution scans from those prints, and made them available to researchers. Maccabee argued strongly that the object was large, and far from the camera, while skeptics like myself argue that it was a small object, suspended by strings from the telephone wires above it. The late Joel Carpenter made a convincing argument that Trent’s UFO was in fact an old truck mirror, hanging from strings thrown over the overhead wires.

The Trent photos as a stereo pair, by “Blue Shift” on ATS. The “UFO” is seen to be small, and relatively close.

 

Maccabee’s UFO photo analyses seemed fairly reasonable, up to a point. That point was passed when he got involved with Ed Walters, the perpetrator of a series of UFO photos from Gulf Breeze, Florida. These photos were so obviously bogus, and Ed’s stories so preposterous, that no serious person could possibly believe them. But Bruce disagreed. The Tampa Bay Times wrote a review of the book by Ed Walters and his wife, The Gulf Breeze Sightings (Feb. 25, 1990):

One’s first reaction to the pictures is that they must have been faked. (A colleague of mine commented, “I’d search the guy’s house for Chinese lanterns.”) [RS: you can’t make this up. Exactly this has happened, and a ‘Chinese Lantern’ was indeed found!]. Yet they have been endorsed as authentic by Bruce S. Maccabee, a government research physicist, whose report is contained in the book. Maccabee, after investigating the sites and the cameras as well as the photos, concluded that there was no evidence of a hoax.

“Having studied these sightings “every which way’ for more than a year,” Maccabee writes, “I have concluded that they are proof of the existence of UFOs. But what is proof for one person is not necessarily proof for another. What would convince you? You have to make up your own mind.

“The investigation is not yet complete. Ed was abducted on Dec. 17, 1987, and again on May 1, 1988. The investigation into what happened during these and previous abductions is ongoing.”

One of Ed Walters’ UFO photos from Gulf Breeze, Florida.    

 

I can’t get into all of the details about the Gulf Breeze photos and sightings here. Tim Printy gives us an excellent overview of what is wrong with the Ed Walters story.  There has also been controversy over payments to Maccabee from Walters’ publishers for his favorable photo analysis, suggesting to some that Maccabee’s endorsement was ‘bought.’ I don’t think this is the case, because first of all the amount was not exactly life-changing, and secondly, Maccabee gave every indication of being sincerely convinced of Mr. Ed’s veracity.

Bruce’s wife Jan Maccabee apparently had a “weird experience” of something like a ‘predator’ while hunting in the forest.

she became aware that a weird visual “effect” was moving rightward across her field of view at an apparent distance of maybe fifteen to twenty feet.  She described it as if looking through “saran wrap.”  Perhaps a more apt comparison would be like looking at a mirage above a hot road.  She compared this distortion of the scene as being somewhat like the effect of the invisible creature in the PREDATOR movie! 

I never met Jan, because she and Bruce didn’t get together until after I was already in California. This posting has since been removed from Bruce’s website. It is discussed on Reddit here. 

Even more bizarre, in 2022 a video was posted (also since removed) of Bruce Maccabee (apparently assisted by his wife) offering to sell an original copy of the Patterson Bigfoot film

Daniel Perez reported in the March 2023 edition of Bigfoot Times that 80 year old Dr. Bruce Maccabee in Ohio is selling a first generation copy that he acquired from Eric Beckjord. In this article, Daniel says that according to Patricia Patterson, she lent Eric the film to make copies but he returned one of those copies to her instead of the original. Sounds like the ownership of it is going to be the subject of a legal dispute. Asking price, $16 million.

The film reportedly showed never-before-seen details at the end, apparently involving a “littlefoot”. The voice of the man I heard on the video promoting it was nothing like the feisty Bruce Maccabee I used to know. He sounded hesitant and mentally confused, which is not uncommon for an 80-year-old man. Perhaps somebody saved a copy of the video so we can see it?  I knew Beckjord, who died in 2008. I am not aware of him  claiming to possess the original Patterson Bigfoot film (a film he studied to death and practically worshiped), but frankly this shenanigan does indeed sound like something that Beckjord would do. And I do remember Beckjord turning up in Silver Spring, talking with Bruce and Phil and I. So I don’t know what the end of that story is, and who removed the video promoting it.

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