Thursday, 24 April 2008

Capt. John Ferriter's Martian Mystery

A few months ago, I posted a piece that focused upon certain events early in the life of my grandfather, John Patrick Ferriter, (1873 – 1957). In that first story, I described his early military service, as a Private in the U.S. Army on the high plains during the early 1890s. Subsequent to that experience, “Pop” as my cousins called him, took advantage of his skills with codes and electrical devices and became a telegraph operator. By account, his abilities were “first rate”, and he made his career working as a telegrapher during the two decades leading up to the U.S. involvement in WWI.

When wartime came, John Patrick Ferriter, although now in his forties, joined the U.S.Army. Review of his military files suggests that he may have taken certain liberties with his educational background, claiming several years of study as a student of law. To our knowledge Grandfather Ferriter had benefited from little formal education, but was a man of powerful intellect, and was self-educated to a considerable extent. No doubt he had studied some law also, but not at law school. At any rate, in 1917 he was commissioned into the Army Signal Corps as a lieutenant, and sent to the battle front in France.

After returning from the War, John Patrick was given the opportunity to retain his commission, and stay on active service, which he did, not retiring until the mandatory age of 60, in 1933, as a Major. During his Army career, my grandfather travelled widely, being stationed at various times in the Philippines, in China, as well as at several domestic postings. He was also an expert in signal transmission, and codes. He held several early patents involving telegraphy and signal handling, and during the early 1930s pushed unsuccessfully for deciphering of the codes used by Japanese forces in China.


In 1924, as a Captain, John P. Ferriter became involved in what may have been the very first serious and concerted effort to receive information from intelligent life forms extraterrestrial in nature. Eighty-four years ago, the first serious attempt to listen to “off planet” voices was made by a few imaginative Americans using the new technology of radio.

Today, whenever someone hears a radio station, it is safe to assume the signals originated on Earth. However, in the summer of 1924 there wasn't the same certainty. In 1924, Mars was in opposition, not in a strategic sense, but in an astronomical one. It was opposite to the sun in the sky, thus placing the Red Planet substantially closer to Earth than is usually the case: approximately 45 million miles away.

So, in the summer and early Fall of 1924 some experts and amateurs as well were carefully making last minute adjustments to their radio sets, hoping to hear signals from Mars. A day of world-wide radio silence was declared for that day when Mars and Earth would be in closest proximity to one another.

It was a fortuitous time to get in touch, and there was motivation to try. Since the end of the 18th century, Mars had beguiled astronomers with its clear atmosphere, dark markings, and icy polar caps. It was a world thought to be not only habitable, but inhabited. If so, then radio waves broadcast by sophisticated Martians could be traversing the empty spaces of the solar system and, if detected, would bring us proof of their existence and information regarding their situation.

Interpretation of the signals merited high level attention. A Martian broadcast might be in the form of a speech delivered in an alien tongue, or Earth might be serenaded by a harmonious Martian tune! Most serious investigators expected any transmissions to use a code based on some mathematical key, and some expected information of an advanced civilization. This had military significance.

William Friedman, America's premier cryptographer (he would later break the Japanese Purple Code), was on standby alert, in case the messages from Mars proved enigmatic - announcing that he was available to interpret any otherworldly codes. At this time, Friedman served as Chief of the Code Section in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, and had already gained recognition by deciphering a series of messages between two defendants in the Teapot Dome scandal. Captain John P. Ferriter served on the staff of the Chief Signal Officer.

Monitoring centered on Saturday night in October, when the two planets were at their closest. However, strange signals were reported even before the nearest approach of the planet. Radio operators in Vancouver reported on Thursday that they were receiving a series of "four groups of dashes in groups of four". Both the form and origin of the strange signals were unidentified, and a close watch was promised. In London a specially constructed 24-tube set picked up "harsh notes" of an unknown origin. WOR engineers in Newark, New Jersey reported similar sounds at nearly the same wavelength. A Bostonian reported a strange ringing, ending with an abrupt "zzip".

On the day of radio silence, C. Francis Jenkins, who had invented an experimental television system, turned a crude TV camera at Mars’ closest approach. Jenkins pointed this camera at Mars on the day of radio silence. His camera filmed a signal containing a face and symbols coming from the planet. He and astronomer David Todd sent the film to the nation’s cryptology expert, William Friedman.

As noted, William Friedman was not only a cryptologist, he was also the Chief Codes Officer, and reported to the Chief Signals Officer of the U.S. Army. So, the military was contacted. The Army also admitted that on the same day they also had received signals from Mars. The following is a quote from Captain John Ferriter of the Signal Corps:

‘The signal consisted of dashes of 6 seconds duration, with intervals of 7 seconds followed by a voice repeating words of 1-4 syllables.’

The Jenkins/Friedman film disappeared and was not discovered until a few years ago when a reporter found it in the archives of the Virginia Military Institute. The film has been reviewed by at least one avowed UFOologist, Dr. Elaine Bickle. In interviews and lectures Dr. Bickle has stated:

” I have seen the original ‘film.’ It is beyond doubt a communication from Mars.”

Unfortunately, the film has again gone missing, without explanation for the disappearance of the 1924 film or for the disappearance of papers reporting whether or not William Friedman ever deciphered the code.

Here is what I know. By any standard, John P. Ferriter was a remarkable man, of remarkable abilities. He was in the right place and at the right time to have made the statements attributed to him. I for one am secure in accepting that he may have identified signals as received during the day of radio silence as having been extraterrestrial in nature.

I also know that in today’s radio signal saturated world, the luxury of a day of radio silence will never come again. If hearing those strange voices depends upon such silence, then we will simply need to rely on John Patrick’s determination as to what he heard, remembering that no one will ever again be in a position to perfectly dispute them. That’s good enough for me.

1 comment:

RedCairo said...

Got here via the Rune Soup blog. Wow, this is really interesting!!

PJ