Did Jimmy Carter really see a UFO?

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Dear Cecil: Didn’t Jimmy Carter once claim he had seen a UFO? Was he all by himself, or did other people see it too? Has there been any subsequent investigation? Was it a “real” UFO, or did Jimmy get snookered by swamp gas? Rhoda A., Baltimore

Cecil replies:

Dear Rhoda:

Two guesses, kiddo. In a report filed with the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinois, Carter claimed to have seen his UFO in October, 1969, when he was running (unsuccessfully, at that point) for governor of Georgia. Being a shrewd politician even then, he didn’t file his report until September, 1973–hell, look what happened to Eagleton.

It was around 7:15, shortly after dark, when Carter and a group of about 10 or 12 people spotted the alleged UFO over the countryside near Leary, Georgia. The object stood still in the sky for a period of ten or twelve minutes, slowly changing its color, size, and brightness, and then gradually retreated into the distance, disappearing from view. Carter estimated that the object, at its closest, was some 300 to 1,000 yards away.

Later research, however, has cast doubts on the Big Peanut’s credibility. Robert Sheaffer, a volunteer researcher for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, reported in an issue of Zetetic magazine that what Carter actually saw on that fateful October eve was not a flying saucer, but the planet Venus, a notorious trickster in these matters.

Nor was the fateful eve in October–apparently, during the four year gap between the incident and Carter’s report, the President confused his dates. By checking the files of the Lion’s Club chapter that Carter was scheduled to address that evening, Sheaffer discovered that the actual date was January 6, 1969–a night on which the planet would be sitting in precisely the spot where Carter saw his spaceship. “Either an extraterrestrial space vehicle was covering up Venus,” Sheaffer concludes drily, “or Mr. Carter was looking at the planet.”

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.