The Case of the Alien Hand
It was Monday, March 24, 2003, when the voice of CSICOP Executive Director Barry Karr came over my intercom: How would I like to travel to Wyoming County to examine an “alien hand”? (Barry knew I was familiar with the nearby county from my investigation of the fabled Silver Lake Serpent a few years ago [Nickell 1999].) He soon transferred the call from Jane Monaghan, assistant county attorney, who described the unusual object. Whatever it was, she assured me, it was not from an animal. It had pea-green “skin” over what looked like bone. She then put me in touch with Deputy Sheriff Susan Omans, whose daughter had found the object lying in hay outside their horse barn the previous Saturday.
I agreed to meet Deputy Omans at her office in the Wyoming County Courthouse in Warsaw, New York. I packed a kit of items I thought I might need-camera, close-up lenses, scale, stereomicroscope, evidence-collection materials, notebook, etc.-and was soon on the road. By shortly after two in the afternoon I was looking at the strange object (figure 1), and for the next two hours I was alternately photographing, examining, and discussing it with a number of local folk, including deputies, a district attorney, courthouse staff, and of course Jane Monaghan and Sue Omans. A photographer from the local newspaper had already been by. Having grown up in a small town myself, I well knew how quickly word of something unusual could spread.
The object was clearly not a human hand, since it lacked an opposable thumb, and it did not look like an animal paw or bird claw; neither did it have the characteristics of a plant root. In short, it did not appear to be any of the things people had suggested or I had envisioned-except for one, a genuine or simulated “alien hand.” As I told Deputy Omans, I think she acted commendably, securing the unusual object, handling it cautiously, and seeking to have it identified.
Among the first things I did after removing the curious object from its zipper-lock plastic bag were to photograph it and examine it with various lighted magnifiers, including a Bausch & Lomb 103 illuminated coddington loupe.
It did not look like diseased or decomposed material, and I decided to risk the often very instructive sniff test. The “skin” smelled exactly like latex. Some of the dozen or so curiosity seekers who came by were reluctant to put their noses in potential harm’s way, but I coaxed each in turn and received unanimous agreement that it smelled like latex. I found that, indeed, the material stretched with the elasticity of a balloon or rubber band. The underlying structure did resemble bone and even had recognizable knuckles and other joints. Close inspection, however, also revealed an unmistakable seam mark on either side of the long “bone” (figure 2)-evidence of the casting process that utilized a two-piece mold.
The “skin” being torn here and there, I discovered underneath, at the tip of the “little” (?) finger, a silver-color metal ring which further indicated manufacture (figure 3). I suspected it might have been a means of suspending the figure’s articulated skeleton for dipping in a solution of green, liquid rubber. With the stereomicroscope, I even examined a fiber embedded in the “skin” of the back of the hand, its ends sticking out-an indication that it had been trapped in the rubber before it had solidified.
With Sue Omans’s permission, I took small scrapings of the “bone” and removed a little piece of green “skin” for further examination. At my lab the next day, I subjected a bit of each to a flame test, using tweezers to hold it in the flame of an alcohol lamp. The “bone” flamed readily, unlike actual bone (or at least actual terrestrial bone) but consistent with plastic. The “skin” was also readily flammable and produced black smoke, just like rubber.
The mystery object had obviously been broken from a larger piece, which I suspect was an entire figure. Although it might have been a ghoul or leprechaun, I think the structure of the hand indicates an “alien"-probably the stereotypical little humanoid “extraterrestrial” with big head and wraparound eyes, the product of cultural evolution of an image (Nickell 1997).
One possibility is that it was a lawn figure that was displayed, say, at Halloween and later ended up, perhaps wind-tossed, in a field. If it was not already broken, a mowing or bailing machine probably did the damage and it could have found its way into a hay bale, thus explaining its presence in some hay outside the Omans barn. If the figure was manufactured in some quantity, perhaps an entire specimen will eventually surface for comparison and final identification.
Until then, I am telling anyone who asks that it was a real alien hand-not genuine but real (a distinction often made by carnival showmen). It appears to have come from the remote realm I can only name Planet Latex.
- Nickell, Joe. 1997. Extraterrestrial iconography. Skeptical Inquirer 21:5 (September/October), 18-19.
- Nickell, Joe. 1999. The Silver Lake Serpent: Inflated Monster or Inflated Tale? Skeptical Inquirer 23:2 (March/April), 18-21.