This Month in UFO History
David J. Hogan, author of UFO FAQ, takes a look at a moment in UFO history from September 1964.
September daytime temperatures in Sacramento, California, average about 87 degrees, with nighttime lows of 58. Typical September rainfall there amounts to less than half an inch. In 1964, that splendid weather, plus the allure of the heavily wooded Cisco Grove campground inside nearby Tahoe National Forest, encouraged a local boy, 28-year-old Donald Shrum, and two friends to head out for a late-summer weekend of bow hunting.
Not long after becoming separated from his companions (a common-enough occurrence among hunters), Shrum witnessed a brightly illuminated 150-foot cylindrical UFO—and then spent the long night of September 4-5 treed by a pair of extraterrestrial humanoids. The 4- to 5-foot-tall creatures stared up at Shrum and shook the tree. Shrum hung on tight. When they tried to scale the trunk, Shrum retreated higher into the branches.
Perhaps anxious to get their hands on Shrum and then depart, the aliens brought out a burly, human-shaped robot—dully metallic, with a smooth, helmet-shaped head dominated by two orange glowing eyes and a hinged jaw. The thing had an intimidatingly expansive chest, broad shoulders, and large, articulated hands. Gusset joints at the robot’s shoulders, elbows, and knees allowed enough flexible mobility for some particularly vigorous shakes of the tree.
Hey, who’s hunting who here?
Shrum tightened his grip.
A second robot soon joined the first, and for the remainder of the night Shrum floated in and out of consciousness when vapor emitted from the robots’ mouths drifted up into the branches and knocked him senseless. Shrum was an experienced hunter who knew how to sleep in a tree without falling out, so despite the blackouts, he stayed put. During waking interludes, Shrum notched arrows and fired down at the robots, striking sparks but doing no apparent damage.
Shrum found a pocketful of coins, which he methodically threw at the visitors.
Then the young hunter remembered his matches. He began to peel off his clothes (even his cap), and set each article aflame, dropping them onto his tormentors. By the time he was done, Shrum wore nothing but his socks and underwear, and that 58 degrees began to feel a little chilly.
The vapor periodically came up into the branches, and Shrum continued to pass out and then revive. Finally, as dawn approached, Shrum awoke—hanging from the tree at an odd angle and held in place by his belt. But the belt was with my pants. Did the spacemen finally drag me out of the tree? And if they did, why put me back?
The Air Force has some ideas
In the tradition of many dramatic UFO/ET sightings reported since “flying saucers” became big news in 1947, Shrum’s account was his alone. Nobody but Donald witnessed the immense ship and its aggressive occupants. Disinclined to be laughed at, and fearful of losing his job at Aerojet Engineering, Shrum shared his story with his hunting companions but chose his other confidantes carefully.
Well, check that. He did say something about his adventure to his mother-in-law, who was on the phone to nearby McClelland Air Force Base in a hot minute. Soon after, when two USAF investigators paid Shrum a visit, the young hunter stuck to his account. The Air Force men listened, and instead of making threats—which seems to happen more often in movies than in real life—they made a heroic attempt to convince Shrum that he hadn’t seen aliens and robots at all. No, one investigator explained, You ran into a Boy Scout troop doing a prank.
Shrum ran that through his mind for a long moment. Why would he have spent all night in a tree, lighting his clothes on fire, for a bunch of Boy Scouts?
Doubt must have been painted on Shrum’s face, because the Air Force men quickly tried another tack: It could have been Japanese tourists. We get a lot of them around here. Japanese tourists. They’re pretty curious, you know.
Well, sure, that could be it. The Japanese tourists discovered Shrum up the tree and gathered ’round for some picture-taking. Japanese tourists. In the woods. All night.
Because Shrum suggested no eagerness to spread his story around, the Air Force investigators stopped offering explanations, and wrote Shrum off as harmless. But they did take with them the two arrowheads that Shrum had bounced off the robots’ metallic hides.
The Air Force never returned the arrowheads.
Make mine Marvel
Neither Donald Shrum nor his friends ever tried to profit from his harrowing experience. There is no solid reason to doubt Shrum’s truthfulness. Still, there is this:
The March 1963 issue of Marvel’s Tales of Suspense comic book (#39) introduced a superhero named Iron Man. As conceived by writer-editor Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Don Heck, Iron Man wore a bulky, helmeted iron suit, dull gray in color with gusseted joints and large metallic hands. This so-called “Mark 1” suit—very like the ones described by Shrum—continued through Tales of Suspense #47, cover-dated November 1963 and on sale in late summer, just one year before Shrum’s ordeal.
Submitted here are the cover of ToS #39, and an anonymous artist’s rendering (with Spanish-language notations) of the robots described by Shrum. Could Marvel’s bit of pop culture ephemera have been deep within Shrum’s mind when he embarked on his hunting trip?
If anyone knows for sure, they’re not talking.