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Gorman Dogfight

by Merry Helm

December 10, 2018 — On this date in 1948, Lieutenant George F. Gorman wrote a letter stating, “…the Air Materiel Command has issued orders classifying the information as Secret. And this makes it a General Court Martial to release any more information. The Command has asked that my commanding officer and myself be court-martialed for releasing what information we did.”

The incident the young lieutenant was referring to has since become known as the Gorman Dogfight, one of the early “classics” in UFO history.

On the evening of October 1, 1948, Lieutenant Gorman was returning from a cross-country flight with his squadron of North Dakota Air National Guard. When the pilots got to Hector Airport in Fargo, Gorman decided to log some night-flying time, so he stayed up and circled his F-51 around the city. As he was preparing to land, the control tower advised him that a Piper Cub was in the air. Gorman saw the Piper 500 feet below, but then what appeared to be the taillight of another plane flashed by on the right. The tower insisted there weren’t any other planes in the sky, so Gorman told them he wanted to investigate and took off after the moving light.

He closed to within about l,000 yards to take a good look, later saying, “It was about six to eight inches in diameter, clear white, and completely round without fuzz at the edges.

It was blinking on and off. As I approached, however, the light suddenly became steady and pulled into a sharp left bank. I thought it was making a pass at the tower. I dived after it and brought my manifold pressure up to sixty inches, but I couldn’t catch up with the thing. It started gaining altitude and again made a left bank,” he said. “I put my F-51 into a sharp turn and tried to cut the light off in its turn. By then we were at about 7,000 feet. Suddenly it made a sharp right turn and we headed straight at each other. Just when we were about to collide, I guess I got scared. I went into a dive, and the light passed over my canopy at about 500 feet.”

Gorman said he cut sharply toward the light, which was once more coming at him. When it again appeared they’d collide, the object shot straight up in a steep climb-out, disappearing overhead. Gorman again went after it, but his plane went into a power stall, and the object disappeared. The dogfight had lasted 27 minutes. Gorman was so shook up, he had a hard time landing his plane, even though he was a veteran pilot and flight instructor.

The official explanation the Air Force gave was that the light was merely a lit weather balloon. But Gorman’s story wouldn’t die. In April 1952, LIFE Magazine did a story on UFOs, stating, “The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation; here LIFE offers some scientific evidence that there is a real case for interplanetary saucers.”

The article went on to describe the Gorman Dogfight: “For 27 hair-raising minutes, Gorman pursued the light through a series of intricate maneuvers. He said it was…going faster than his F-51 (300-400 mph). It made no sound and left no exhaust trail. After Gorman landed, the light having suddenly flashed away in the upper air, he found support for his story — the chief of the control tower had followed the fantastic “combat” with binoculars.”

That’s right. Both men in the control tower saw the whole thing, and so did the two men in the Piper Cub. The Gorman Dogfight has now become one of the most noted UFO encounters in PROJECT BLUE BOOK, the Air Force’s official record – and denial – of such things.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

We’re Not Spies

by Merry Helm

December 11, 2018 — When World War I broke out, a large number of North Dakotans still had fairly strong ties to the old country. At this time in 1916, the Bismarck Tribune published a story that showed the lengths to which some had to go to prove they weren’t spies for the enemy:

“The North Dakota railroad commission is a firm believer in ‘Safety First,’” the story read. “That is why the commissioners, when they [soon] enter Canada…, will be armed with showy, official letters of introduction from Governor Hanna [stating] Messrs Stuttsman, Anderson and Mann, regardless of their names and personal appearance, are law-abiding, respectable, innocent American citizens. Chairman Stuttsman is of German ancestry, and Mr. Mann is a very good Dutchman. Mr. Anderson’s name places him above suspicion, but even he is taking no chances… Governor Hanna’s letters [assure] there never was a more harmless trio dispatched from the good state of North Dakota.”

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

James Rosenquist

by Merry Helm

December 12, 2018 — Today is the birthday of one of the world’s most famous pop artists, James Rosenquist.

A reviewer, Michael Kimmelman, wrote, “…when he is most effective, Mr. Rosenquist brings together bits and pieces that don’t necessarily mean anything on their own but evoke a world where a hair dryer can resemble an ICBM, and a hospital can become a Chinese restaurant.”

The Chinese restaurant he refers to is none other than the Grand Forks hospital where Rosenquist was born in 1933 – the same hospital that later became a Chinese restaurant. When, several years ago, Rosequist was introduced at a UND lecture as ”the most famous artist ever born at the Happy Dragon Chinese Restaurant,” Rosenquist laughed and said that he thought it was really ”the Happy Hour Restaurant, but it’s the Happy Dragon.”

When he was only 15, Rosenquist received a scholarship to attend classes at the Minneapolis School of Art. Four years later, he entered the University of Minnesota to further study painting. But to pay the bills, Rosenquist worked for a local contractor painting billboards and large advertising images on grain silos. In 1955, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students’ League, but a year later he left school to again take up life as a commercial artist, this time painting giant billboards in Times Square and across the city.

After several years he rented a small studio space in Manhattan and became friends with some of the most important artists to emerge from that generation, including Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschneberg and Jasper Johns.

Using images from popular media in his paintings, Rosenquist was soon identified with an emerging new art style. Borrowing from his earlier experience as a billboard painter, he created enormous pieces with jarring images from advertisements, personal themes and politics. A painting he did in 1965, called F-111, had 51 separate panels and wrapped an entire room. His 1992 piece, Time Dust, is thought to be the largest print in the world, measuring 7 by 35 feet.

Rosenquist said, “I’m amazed and excited and fascinated about the way things are thrust at us…we are attacked by radio and television and visual communications…at such a speed and with such a force that painting now seem(s) very old fashioned…why shouldn’t it be done with that power and gusto, with that impact?”

Rosenquist was soon included in a number of groundbreaking group exhibitions that established this experimental style was labeled Pop Art, a term Rosenquist hates. On the flip side, there were a large number of art lovers who hated Pop Art for its own sake, calling Rosenquist a Kitschnik and a New Vulgarian. However, the movement went on to have a truly significant and far-reaching effect on the art world.

The NY Times review ended by saying, “A sly storyteller, a charmer and old-style rabble-rouser, he still has a restless imagination, huge energy, and an uncanny knack for spotting how two unlikely things go together… Pure poetry.”

Here’s to James Rosenquist, the best artist ever born in a hospital turned Chinese restaurant.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.