The X-Files is a television program that delved into the world of mysterious and unknown things. The underlying premise of the show is the search for life beyond what we know, especially from out there. Meaning outer space. This program gave people who believe that we are being visited by extraterrestrial a place to point and say, “See I told you we are not alone.”
Whatever your beliefs, it is hard to deny that in the vastness of space there is the possibility that somewhere orbiting a star may be a planet. And it may have some form of life. Little green men? Probably not. But the possibility makes for good stories in the science fiction world.
Before I explain why I have pointed out the possibility of something out there, let me remind you of a story I wrote last year. Remember a story titled, Ektachrome and Me. In the story, I wrote about how I began taking pictures fifty years ago. That story also contained a brief history of cameras and film formats.
After the story came out, a reader in Georgia was fascinated with my explanation of films. His name is William Patterson. He grew up in New Martinsville and some years ago moved south and made a life away from the hills of West Virginia. I remember William from high school, but mostly I knew his brother, Charlie. He and I had some good times back in our high school days.
Back to my story. Sometime after my story came out, William contacted my editor, Lauren Mathews, and told her he wished to speak with me. After a while, we made contact on social media and later we talked on the phone. He explained he enjoyed my story and we talked briefly about the different films and cameras. After we spoke, I did not think much more about the story. A short time later, Lauren contacted me and said Mr. Patterson had been in town and he left something for me at the office. She explained he left me a roll of old film.
When I picked up the film I was a little puzzled at this unexpected gift. I noticed on the side of the roll was the word, “EXPOSED.” With this type of film when you have completed taking pictures the word exposed shows on the outside of the film. 120 format film was commonly used back in the 40s, 50s and 60s. In the seventies, cameras began using the increasingly popular film canisters along with Polaroids. 35mm was still popular and the large format films 120 and 220 were often only used by professionals.
I knew the roll of film William had left for me must have a story to go along with it. I wondered, was I supposed to develop it? Or was I to keep it undeveloped in my collection of camera memorabilia. I was not sure until William contacted me a short time later. I asked how he came about the film. He told me his hobby is buying abandoned storage lockers. He explained that in one of the storage units he had purchased he found this roll of film. I don’t think he gave film much thought until he read my story. I asked if he had any idea about the film’s origin. After a moment he responded, “Maybe it was in camera on a grassy knoll in Texas in 1963. The person who took pictures returned to Georgia and stored it away forgetting about the film.” I chuckled and so did William. Afterwards, our conversation sparked my imagination. Now, I know that his explanation was in fun. But, what if there was something important on this lost roll of film. I knew I had to find out.
Getting a forty year old roll of film developed these days is not easy. But finally I found a lab in New Jersey that still processed 120 format film. I called and spoke with a very nice man who understood my reasoning for sending him the film from West Virginia. I placed the roll of film in the mail the next morning.
A week later, I received an email from the film’s developer alerting me it was on its way. I will have to tell you I was waiting for the developed film with great anticipation. I also realized the film from a storage locker in Georgia must have been exposed to time and heat. Could it be I was waiting for damaged images? A short time later, Mary came home from work and handed me the envelope postmarked, New Jersey. She asked, “Is this what you’re looking for?” In my hand was the answer to the mystery of the Georgia film.
As I opened the envelope the first thing I saw was the face of a dog in a black and white print. Excitement swept over me when I realized the film was still viable. Then I looked at the next picture. It contained several short white lines along with an odd squiggly light colored image. I continued looking at the rest hoping to see anything else more clearly. In one picture, there was a silhouetted image of a transformer on a telephone pole. It had the same white lines and the squiggle place. I now realized what I was looking at were pictures taken of the night sky. I have taken enough pictures myself at night to understand what I was seeing.
Suddenly, I had the feeling of looking into an X-File. Stars appear as short straight lines in long exposures. Stars remain fixed as the earth rotates causing the stars to appear as streaks. The transformer pole never moves and appears as a ghostly image in the picture. Also in each picture there is a small light that seems to move erratically.
Could the picture be of something unknown? Or simply an excited firefly. Fox Mulder would say the truth is out there. If it isn’t, I don’t think we’ll ever know. One thing is for sure, someone long ago exposed a roll of film trying to capture something in the night sky. Will we ever know what it was they saw? Maybe if we look Through the lens.