Stefan Michalak's Story: No Aliens Required.
Stefan Michalak's drawing of the spacecraft that set him on fire.
I started reading about UFOs and the paranormal when I was a little kid. I can still remember, with great clarity, one of the first pieces of “indisputable evidence” I’d seen from the UFO enthusiasts. Back in those days, I ate it all up, believed without questioning, and therefore the picture of a man, laying in a hospital bed, with a grid-like burn across his stomach, which he claims was caused by hot exhaust coming out of a spaceship, is indelibly inked on my memory.
I found that picture again today. The man in the picture is named Stefan Michalak, a Pole by birth and Canadian by immigration. What I didn’t know at the time was that the story behind that picture is so bizarre, and so ridiculous, that it’s absolutely stupefying that anyone could have ever taken it seriously.
The date was 20 May, 1967. The location was a place called Falcon Lake, 75 kilometers north of the Canadian/American border, a sort of resort and vacation town in Whiteshell Provincial Park. For those of you not used to the metric system, a provincial park is the same thing as a state park, and 75 kilometers is a little short of 47 miles.
On this particular day Stefan Michalak was out and about in the park. At the time, he was employed as an industrial mechanic, with a thorough knowledge of metalworking, welding, and so forth. He was also an amateur geologist. Whiteshell Park was mostly untamed wilderness, known for its geological formations, and several mines had been set up in the surrounding area.
That morning, Michalak had left his motel and arrived at the park around 9 o’clock. He was on the hunt for silver; several other geologists had discovered veins of quartz which promised a good haul of the precious metal. Michalak found a vein of quartz in a marshy area near a stream, ate lunch, and had gone back to inspecting the minerals when he was startled by the sound of geese flying overhead. Looking up to watch them fly, he was even more startled to see two large, “red, cigar-shaped” spacecraft with “bumps on them” descending out of the clear blue sky at a roughly 45 degree angle.
The craft that was farther away paused for a moment and then flew off into the sky, changing colors from red to orange to gray as it departed to the west. The closer of the two continued to descend, finally coming to a stop over a flat rock about 160 feet away. It too changed color, going from red to gray to what looked like “hot stainless steel” surrounded by “a golden dlow.”
This is where the story takes a turn for madness. Apparently, Michalak had been wearing welder’s goggles to protect his eyes from chips of flying rock as he made his geological inquiries in the quartz vein. Now, they came in useful to protect him from brilliant lights that shone out of openings in the flying saucer, burning his eyes and creating red afterimages.
He stayed still for about a half hour, sketching the object. It was roughly 40 feet across, 10 feet high, and had a small dome on the top that was an additional 3 feet high. It stank of sulphur, which came to Michalak’s nose courtesy of a warm wind being produced by the machine. There was also a whirring sound, similar to a motor, and the sound of hissing gases.
Suddenly, a door opened in the side of the craft and, above the other noises, Michalak could hear human voices, though not clearly enough to make out proper words, apparently. He approached the craft, shouting out in English “Okay, Yankee boys, having trouble? Come out and we’ll see what we can do about it.” Apparently, at this time he thought it was an American aircraft that was having some technical problems. When no response was forthcoming, he greeted the ship in Russian, Italian, French, German, Ukrainian, and again in English.
The voices fell silent. Being, apparently, either the bravest man in the world or a damn fool, depending on your position, he approached the craft and stuck his head in the door. Inside he saw flashing lights, panels, and blinking lights like “on a computer.”
The door, much to his surprise, suddenly snapped shut. Three pieces folded down “like a camera shutter” to seal it, and the flying saucer took a sort of funny little hop. Instead of the door, Michalak was now looking at some sort of rectangular grate, with evenly spaced round holes. A blast of hot gas came out of the vent, setting his shirt and hat on fire and burning him badly. As he struggled to tear off his flaming clothes, the ship silently ascended and flew off on a gust of hot wind. Not only was he badly burned, but his glove had melted when he touched the skin of the ship, and after its departure, he vomited a number of times, felt queasy, and so on.
Michalak recuperating w/ gridlike 'exhaust burns.' Not shown: anything involving spacemen.
Here’s where the first of very many inconsistencies in his story appears. He, and his supporters, state that he walked back to the motel. On the way he tried to solicit help from a policeman, who either a) ignored him and drove straight past, or b)drove past him, turned around, and upon hearing the story, drove off.
I call this inconsistent because the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman who supposedly “drove by” Michalak produced a detailed report. In his version of events, Michalak flags him down. The officer asks what is wrong, and Michalak states that the officer ought to stay away because he may be radioactive or contagious or something. The officer noted that although he couldn’t smell alcohol on Michalak, he looked rather drunk, with bloodshot eyes. He also refused to answer direct questions coherently. He showed the Mountie his burned hat, but when the officer asked him why his head was not burned, he refused to answer. He also refused to allow the officer to look at his shirt, which the Mountie had noted was burned. Michalak appeared to have, in the words of the police report, “had taken a black substances, possibly wood ashes, and rubbed it on his chest.” At no time did Michalak allow the officer to get close enough to see whether or not he was really burned, and when he was asked questions like “if touching the spaceship was hot enough to melt your glove, why isn’t your hand burned?” he sullenly refused to answer. He was kind enough to make a sketch of the spaceship for the officer, despite the fact that he claims he made one while actually at the lake. Why didn't he just pull that one out and show it to the Mountie? Just another unanswered, unanswerable, question.
Mountie's report. Click for larger image.
The officer offered to give Michalak a ride, which he refused. According to the badly burned man, he then walked to his motel, was afraid that he would expose others to radiation if he went in, and instead hung out in the forest outside for a while. Around 4pm, the pain got so bad that he went in and asked for a doctor, only to hear that the nearest doctor was 45 miles away. Insert scathing comment about Socialized Healthcare here.
So he took a bus back home. But before that, like all good UFO witnesses, he called a newspaper, and asked them for a “ride home, but no publicity.” Once home, he spent a few weeks recovering, eventually getting back his strength an appetite (he claims to have lost roughly 20 pounds in 2 weeks), although he was left with occasional blackouts. The burns on his upper chest and forehead healed quickly, but those on his stomach faded, came back, faded, and came back repeatedly. He was looked at by a bevy of doctors and a few psychologists, who came to the conclusion that he was relatively free of mental defect.
It should be noted here that the RCMP and investigators wanted to see the alien landing site. They took Michalak out into the forest, but he was unable to find the site, which, quite rightly, made the investigators suspicious. Later he contacted them again, claiming that he'd found the site on his own, and recovered his tape measure, some soil samples, and so on. Later in this article, when the question of radiation is raised, bear in mind that all of the soil samples that tested positive for radioactive were gathered by Michalak himself. He would have had ample time to, shall we say, fiddle about with them.
Later on, investigators talked with Michalak, and one of them became, for some unknown reason, totally convinced that the man had suffered a booze-induced hallucination, and perhaps injured himself in some clumsy, probably hilariously slapstick, manner. The UFO enthusiasts instantly leap on this fact like hyenas on a wounded turkey. The official investigators were biased, they say. They had already made up their minds, they say. But here are the simple facts relating to the case: Michalak claimed that not only had he not been drinking on the day of the encounter, but he had not drank any alcohol, at all, all weekend. A quick check with the local bartender confirmed that, the night before the encounter, Michalak had come in and had at least 5 bottles of beer. When returning to the site with investigators, they stopped at a bar and he had quite a few “Presbyterians”, a drink made with Rye Whiskey and a 50/50 ginger ale/water. But, I assure you, he is not to blame: some research performed shortly before I wrote this sentence indicates that Presbyterians are delicious. Anyway, the thing that I don’t understand is why Michalak would so adamantly deny his drinking habits. All he had to say was “I’d had some beer the night before, but that’s not related to this.” But instead, he steadfastly denied it, even in the face of the bartender who’d served him. (Coincidentally, the UFO enthusiast will go on at great length about how the bartender was never shown to truly be a ‘reliable witness.’ He’s making the claim that a guy drank some beer; I don’t need a full background check to believe he might be telling the truth. In fact, compared to the guy claiming he was set on fire by space people, he seems a veritable font of veracity.)
One of Michalak's drawings of the spacecraft. I can't find a legible copy.
One thing that UFO enthusiasts like to harp on is the fact that several times, Michalak was shown to have slightly higher than normal radiation levels, as though he’d been irradiated by whatever the hot exhaust gas was. What they don’t ever mention is that the investigator eventually determined that his watch had the same level of radiation. Back then, watch faces were painted with a paint containing radium, to make them glow faintly in the dark and be easier to read. So one of two things immediately leaps to mind: the investigator accidentally skewed the results by holding his watch too close to the Geiger counter, or that a suitably clever man could have made himself slightly radioactive through the use of a similar substance. Sure, it’s possible that he was radioactive because of his spaceship encounter, but I ask you: which is more likely? Cunning man concocts strange tale, doofus skews radiation test results, or spacemen travel a gazillion miles through space just to blow-dry a geologist?
Anyway, the story doesn’t end with Michalak’s recovery from illness. Not by a long shot. He brought several teams of investigators there a number of times. On one occasion, Michalak claimed to have found a number of pieces of “strange metal” in a crevasse near the supposed landing site. After analysis, the metal itself was non-radioactive, similar in composition to commercially available sterling silver, and covered in a thin layer of sand. Supposedly, they had been found under a few inches of dirt, and although Michalak had “many more” samples, he provided investigators with only a cursory glance at a few of them.
That in and of itself should be weird enough that it scuttles this whole case as far as believability goes. There’s a guy who has a chance encounter with a spacecraft, months later he returns to the site and easily finds some well-hidden alien artifacts, they turn out to be composed of materials you can buy at a hardware store, and then he won’t let anyone see them, but brags about how many he has and how important they may be? And it turns out the guy is a metalworker, you say? Well golly, surely he wouldn’t know how to work with metals and produce fake samples.
What do we really have when this case is all said and done? A story with at least one major inconsistency (involving the police officer) and one strange inconsistency (in regards to the beer.) We have what the UFO enthusiast would call undeniable scientific proof (the radiation readings) that are highly likely to have been botched. We have an insane story about space-age alien debris left behind at the scene, and the highly eccentric actions of the supposedly reliable witness. The only thing that isn’t instantly explained away are the burns on Mr. Michalak.
And yet, ask yourself: do his burns really prove anything? They prove that he was burned, and nothing more. You don’t need a spaceship piloted by aliens to set clothing on fire. Give me ten minutes and a total lack of adult supervision, and I can burn every stitch of clothing off of your body. No aliens required at all.
And the burns on his stomach? Once again, there’s nothing extraterrestrial about that. The burns on his stomach prove only that he was burned. It proves nothing about the existance of spacemen. Give me a potato masher and a campfire, and I can duplicate what happened to him. I mean, it would help if you got me liquored up or if I had some deeply profound reason to do so, but you get the idea.
So if, as I suspect, this story is a big crock, why did he do it? Well, let’s go through the usual suspects. Did he become famous? Yes, extremely. In fact, he refused a ride home from a police officer, and then went and called a newspaper to ask for a ride home. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a guy that didn’t want to become famous. He went back to the site over and over with teams of investigators, went on talk shows, so on and so forth. He even got to be the subject of an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Did he become rich? Not really, but he sure took a good shot at it. He wrote a book, which for some reason was printed in a limited run, in Polish. In later years, he expressed extreme anger at the fact that he didn’t make a lot of money off of the book, in fact, the publisher may have lost money on the deal. But just because he didn’t end up making a profit doesn’t mean that he didn’t make up the story in an attempt to make a profit. It just means he did a lousy job of it.
The cover of Michalak's book. Click for larger image.
So he got fame, excitement, and took a shot at fortune. What other reasons could their have been? Well, he had originally been in the park prospecting for silver ore. What better way to keep your competition out of an area than to claim that you were attacked and almost killed there? Throw in his attempts to convince the world that the park was highly radioactive as a result of the activities of space aliens, and there’s about as much proof that he’s trying to keep competition away as there is that the event really occurred. The fact that he later staked a claim in the area certainly doesn’t hurt.
When it boils down to it, there’s nothing about this case that I couldn’t reproduce in my kitchen. Give me a case of beer, my stove, and a handful of supplies, and I could be Stefan Michalak. No aliens needed. Is it possible that he's telling the truth, that he was burned by a flying suacer? Yes. Is it also true that all of the holes in the story and his extremely odd behavior unequivocably point to this whole thing being a work of fiction? Yes.
Be seeing you.