Thursday, August 20, 2009

1968: The Electrician and the Alien

Argentinean author Alejandro Agostinelli has treated readers of his Magia Crítica blog to a hilarious news report from 1968 that combines an interest in both ufology and cryptozoology – well, not exactly, but it showcases a story almost as outrageous as that of Buck Nelson and his “space dog” Big Bo.

Siete Dias magazine – The Argentinean equivalent of LIFE magazine – ran a story in its August 11, 1968 issue regarding the adventures of Silvano Di Venanzo, described as “an itinerant electrician” from the town of La Concha in southern Tucumán, where electricity was not yet available, forcing him to practice his trade in neighboring communities. But when rumors that a flying saucer had landed in a wilderness not far from La Concha, Di Venanzo found a way to lessen his financial burden.

Arund that time, the itinerant electrician had managed to catch a rather unusual specimen: a Manuyato (procyon cancrivorus), a mammal belonging to the same family as ferrets, described in the publication as “a sort of fox-faced monkey with the uncanny ability to weep like a human female.” The photo of this specimen available from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute at shows what resembles an upright raccoon.

There was a further grotesque detail that made this particular Manuyato more valuable, as it had three hands instead of two, prompting some locals who saw the specimen to remark that it appeared “to have come from Mars”, and without further delay, Di Venanzo traveled to the city of Tucumán, where he managed to obtain a certificate “from one of the province’s most serious scientific organizations’ stating that the Manuyato was an unidentified specimen. To make the poor deformed creature even more unrecognizeable, the electrician dipped it in green vegetable dye and toured southern Tucumán province with “the Martian Manuyato”, charging local yokels 100 Pesos a pop to see the alleged alien.

It was only a matter of time, says the Siete Dias article, before the police arrested the hoaxer. But Di Venanzo presented the certificate issued by the Miguel Lillo Institute, and the authorities were forced to release him. The article ends by saying that the electrician managed to hoodwink people out of an estimated thirty or forty thousand Pesos.

No further information on the itinerant electrician and his “alien friend” is available, but one can't help think of P.T. Barnum's admonition about how the unsuspecting are easily parted from their hard-won earnings.

(Photo courtesy Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)