A Local Life: Richard H. Hall, 78

Richard H. Hall, 78: Leading Ufologist

Richard H. Hall described himself as skeptical but open-minded.
Richard H. Hall described himself as skeptical but open-minded. (Photo By John B. Carlson)
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By Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Richard H. Hall was never abducted by aliens and never saw a UFO with his own eyes. Yet his life became a quest to delve into the unending, mysterious universe and find life beyond Earth.

"I am, in the legitimate sense, in the philosophical sense, a skeptic," Mr. Hall said in a 1997 CNN interview. "I think there is evidence of something. I am critical about it. I am open-minded, [and] I am trying to find out."

Mr. Hall, who was 78 when he died July 17 at his home in Brentwood of colon cancer, was "the last of a breed," said John B. Carlson, a University of Maryland astronomer. Carlson said that Mr. Hall's generation of UFO enthusiasts approached questions of the universe using the scientific method, not as believers in an intergalactic phantasm. "He was scientific, careful," he said. "He was a researcher."

Mr. Hall's pursuit began as a boy growing up near Hartford, Conn., with a simple mention by his mother that she had seen something strange in the night sky.

"Could there be something out there?" he asked himself at the time, according to his friend Susan Swiatek, who is Virginia director for the Mutual UFO Network. The Colorado-based group, of which Mr. Hall was once a board member, is an organization of UFO enthusiasts and ufologists -- those who study unidentified flying objects.

As a young man, Mr. Hall indeed thought there was something out there, and that prompted his lifelong investigation into who piloted UFOs and why they would come to Earth.

Mr. Hall became a leading figure in the field of ufology and wrote widely in the subject. He edited the book "The UFO Evidence" (1964) and a second volume in 2001. He also had a stint as a columnist for UFO Magazine and wrote essays for niche publications. And he was a proponent of what's known in ufology jargon as the "Extraterrestrial Hypothesis." He believed that UFOs, in fact, carried alien life-forms in spacecrafts that visited Earth.

Mr. Hall started his career as a student of extraterrestrial life at the beginning of the space race, when the American public was eyeing the heavens and wondering whether anyone else might share our universe. The study of UFOs was in its infancy when he came to Washington in 1958 to work for the new National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a privately funded organization that sought to persuade the Air Force to investigate UFO sightings. Its director was Donald Keyhoe, a former Marine Corps aviator who wrote such books as "The Flying Saucers Are Real" and became an oft-quoted expert on extraterrestrials.

Mr. Hall wrote of learning about NICAP while studying mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans. As a scholarship student, his duties included opening, sorting and delivering the mail. Keyhoe had written a letter to the university's "one-man astronomy department" asking for scientific support for the UFO organization. Mr. Hall, a fan of Keyhoe's book, said he immediately offered his services to NICAP after graduating.

Mr. Hall became an assistant to Keyhoe, but life as a ufologist wasn't lucrative. He left the organization in the late 1960s because of his impending marriage, which soon ended in divorce. He worked as an abstracter and editor for the Congressional Information Service in Bethesda, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Columbia Telecommunications and the National Council on Aging.

Mr. Hall continued to write about UFOs and serve with many organizations that investigated UFO sightings and phenomena. The larger scientific community has often dismissed ufology because of a lack of empirical data to support the research. "There are tens of thousands of reports of UFO sightings, but all you need is one good one to prove it," said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

"The bottom line: Ninety percent can be explained as something prosaic," Shostak said. "Ten percent, you don't know what it was, and ufologists say that's the margin in which there are aliens. The fact that we don't know 10 percent is not evidence."

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