When this now-famous photograph of an unidentified flying object near Grand Haven’s Coal Tipple was first reported by The Grand Haven Tribune on July 10, 1973, it landed Grand Haven in the national media spotlight and sparked a wave of Western Michigan UFO-sightings which lasted throughout that year and well into 1974. To this day, the Western Michigan area remains a hotbed of UFO-related incidents, second only to Roswell, New Mexico. The mania which began in the summer of 1973 spawned movies, documentaries, and the best-selling book by former Grand Haven High School Math teacher Roger VanderHinkle. Most recently, West Michigan was featured in a 2013 episode of UFO-Hunters, on The History Channel, which examined the 1994 UFO sightings in Muskegon and Holland (with eyewitnesses that included Holland Police Officers and Muskegon Airport’s Radar Operator).
Although authenticity of the 1973 photograph is still debated, both the original photograph and its negative were examined at the time by a team of Photography & Imaging experts at Grand Haven’s Loutit Library. With additional help from local Kodak Film-Lab Technicians and a National Geographic photographer vacationing nearby, the Team published a detailed report in August 1973, which concluded that, “Although the disc-shaped object cannot be positively identified, the photograph itself appears to be authentic. Aside from a slight coffee stain on the original photograph, there is no evidence to suggest the photo or its negative have been altered or tampered with. However, determination of whether the photographed object is of terrestrial or extraterrestrial origin falls outside the scope of this investigation.”
Grand Haven resident Randy Smith turned 20 in the summer of 1973, and had his own close encounter during that year’s Coast Guard Festival. Now owner of the E.T. Shirt Shack at Chinook Pier, Smith was forever changed by his experience on August 2, 1973. “My friends and I were partying at the beach”, recalls Randy, “Right in the middle of listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon on a portable 8-track player, we looked up and saw a giant round object hovering right over us. The 8-track player died, and the UFO just hovered there, not making a single sound. We were all completely freaked out. Suddenly it shot away and over the pier at such an amazing speed that it simply couldn’t have been anything man-made. The 8-track player never worked again after that night.” Smith is no longer concerned whether people believe his story or not. “I know aliens exist”, says Randy today, “And some people may think I’m crazy, but I’m not as crazy as the insanely low prices at the E.T. Shirt Shack.”
In the forty-plus years since that infamous July of 1973, sightings of strange, unexplained lights and objects in the sky have become so commonplace in Western Michigan that the area from Muskegon south to Holland, and east to Grand Rapids, has become known as the Lakeshore Triangle. In 1997, after decades of painstaking research, former Grand Haven High School Math teacher Roger VanderHinkle published his landmark book, ‘Alien Threesome’. Despite critics in the scientific community who label his work as ‘faux science combined with wishful thinking’, VanderHinkle’s book purports to document ‘proof’ of a mathematical and physical connection between Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and Grand Haven’s historic Coal Tipple – together forming a quantum-level energy-entanglement network which VanderHinkle believes is of alien origin.
Grand Haven’s most recent UFO sighting, in February 2012, was later shown to be an illusion created by wishful thinking, cannabis and a peculiar cloud formation, but many local sightings remain unexplained to this day, including the 1973 photograph which started it all on July 10 – this day in history.