A decades-old alien abduction story is about to get new life(forms).

“Shortly after sunset on the night of March 20, 1988, Professor John Salter Jr. of the University of North Dakota and his son, John III, were intercepted by aliens as they drove through Wisconsin in a 1987 Ford pickup, according to the professor.

“The time between 6:25 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. was completely lost to the professor and his son. This is the time period when Salter, who is Chairman of Indian Studies at UND (University of North Dakota) , believes he and his son had a close encounter with humanoids from the Zeta Reticuli System.”


So began my story from September 1990 that became my favorite news piece I ever wrote for North Dakota State University’s student newspaper, The Spectrum. I say “news” because that’s the way my editor and I decided to handle Salter’s alien story – report it as news, even if we didn’t have corroborating witnesses or confirmations of anything.

Because, I mean, jeez, how could we?

Image of news story about John Salter alien abduction
Courtesy of NDSU Archives. Read it.

At the same time, we didn’t want to come off as making fun of a respected university professor and former civil rights activist; Salter was definitely both. 

According to Salter’s obituary (he died in 2019), he “…participated in several street demonstrations and a sit-in with social activist Medgar Evers. A photo of (Salter) sitting with other sit-in participants while white patrons dumped condiments on them became a popular depiction of violent segregation at the time.” The professor also was the first-ever recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Award in North Dakota.

So, yeah, we decided we’d run the alien abduction piece as news, but accompany it with an opinion piece so I/we could express doubts or misgivings. 


Something I didn’t know then, but I do now thanks to the magic of the Internet, is that aliens and “humanoids” from the Zeta Reticuli System were not new to the Human press. In fact, the lead feature story of December 1974 issue of Astronomy titled “The Zeta Reticuli Incident” recounted the purported 1961 abduction of Betty and Barney Hill of New Hampshire by “extraterrestrial humanoids.” Terrence Dickinson, the young publication’s editor, wrote the piece. 

It is entirely possible that abduction by aliens and half-breed humanoids (Salter’s words) from the Zeta Reticuli System were all something he’d read about earlier in life and brought back years later, consciously or otherwise, for his own experience/tale.

Alien-UFO-Cartoon-2

Who knows?

What we do know is that with a more recent re-publishing of portions of “The Zeta Reticuli Incident,” current Astronomy Editor David J. Eicher called it “a silly tale” and an example of “bad journalism.” He wrote that it probably cost Dickinson his job, and definitely “set the fledgling magazine’s credibility back a long way.” Finally, he said that when he joined Astronomy in 1982, the publication’s crew “still jokingly referred to this legendarily awful story as ‘The Zeta Rediculi Incident.’”

John Wenz, who was the magazine’s associate editor at the time, added, “This story shouldn’t have run. It’s a solid truth. But it did. It’s a good tale of hokum that went awry.” 

A silly tale? Bad journalism? Hokum?

Not so fast.


Given recent revelations and reports from the U.S. Department of Defense, the intelligence community and respected news media ( read the stories by 60 Minutes, The New York Times and The Washington Post), those descriptions might be giving Astronomy Editor Terrence Dickinson’s 1974 alien abduction story short shrift.

Aliens-UFO-Cartoon-4
“The Far Side” by Gary Larson

Word is we’ll learn a lot more sometime in June, when Congress is expected to receive, from the director of national intelligence “…an unclassified report on everything government agencies know about UFOs, including scores of unusual sightings reported by military pilots.” 

The report is coming because there’s concern in many circles that at some point there could be a national security threat from these UFOs, aliens and humanoids. To which anyone who’s ever seen “Independence Day” replies, “Um, yeah. No shit.”

However, for what it’s worth, Salter “…stressed the friendly nature of the relations between himself, his son and the aliens.”

Regardless, I can’t wait for the report. Honestly. Mostly because of the story I heard from Prof. John Salter Jr. more than 32 years ago.

Until we hear it, the recently created Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program presumably will continue to track and document encounters with UFOs, or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) as the U.S. government has relabeled them. Apparently they’re much more common than we’ve ever been told before.

It’s too bad Salter isn’t around to anticipate the government report on UFOs. Three short years after his death, the government is going to come clean.

That’s the hope, anyway. We shall see.


Maybe Salter and his son were abducted by aliens. Maybe there was a sharing of DNA. Maybe the humanoid was able to communicate with them telepathically. Who am I to say? Who is anyone to say, except the father and son?

Meanwhile, I have to agree with former CIA director John Brennan, who said it would be “…“a bit presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire universe.”

Which sounds kind of familiar, given what this once young and admittedly fallible aspiring reporter and columnist wrote back in 1990:

“All I can say is this – we, the human race, would be pretty egotistical to believe that we are the only living, thinking creatures in the universe. Who are we to say that there is no life out there. And if there is life, who are we to say they would not contact Professor John Salter Jr., and communicate with him?”

Aliens-UFO-Cartoon-1

So here’s to John Salter, Jr., former civil rights activist, university professor, coordinator of the North Dakota chapter of the Mutual U.F.O. Network and, last but certainly not least, alien abductee. 

I wish he were here with the rest of us to hear the report. My guess is any derision or behind-the-back sniggering he endured during his lifetime would have been muted significantly if he were still around.

And one last thing – 

As I did then, I shall do again:  I urge you to go ahead and chuckle and laugh and jab your friends in the ribs, but I implore you – when it comes to UFOs and alien abductions, keep an open mind. 

Jerry Seinfeld quote about dogs, humans & aliens
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Featured image via Shutterstock. Image of The Spectrum courtesy of the NDSU Archives. Cartoons are screenshots from social media posts that did not include citations. If a cartoon is yours, please let me know and I will include proper attribution immediately. Thank you.

3 Comments

  1. It’s an intriguing topic. It seems likely there is other intelligent life in the universe, but too many of the stories do come off as hokum. Why would advanced beings from across the galaxy even bother with our infantile species?

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