Cosmic Truths of the Ages, Revealed
The first thing you'll notice about Phyllis Galde when she comes to the door of her Lakeville split-level is her T-shirt. "UFOs are real," it reads. "The Air Force doesn't exist." Beneath this koan is a picture of a flying saucer. At first, you might suspect that the shirt is a cute novelty. It's not. Galde is a believer.
A 57-year-old grandmother with a pronounced Midwestern drawl and an endearing habit of using heck as an invective, Galde looks less like a committed student of supernatural phenomena than she does a school teacher or church organist--both of which she once was. Nor does her home, at the terminus of a suburban cul-de-sac, show any outward signs of housing America's oldest and most esteemed journal of the paranormal, which it does.
For the past 55 years, Fate, the magazine Galde runs, has been busy publishing stories about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, time travel, astral projection, life after death, the latent psychic abilities of house pets, angelic visitations, haunted houses (which, as it happens, includes Galde's own), government conspiracies, the lost continent of Atlantis, voodoo cults, and, of course, UFO encounters. But this is no mere pulp tabloid. Authoritative, even academic, in tone, Fate dares to take all of the above seriously.
"Everyone has a psychic story or has seen something that's changed their life," Galde says. "I think that's why Fate has endured for so long while a lot of magazines have come and gone. It has a good reputation because sometimes we'll say, 'This is a bunch of baloney.' We look objectively at things."
Take alien abductions, for instance. Although Galde herself has had experience with UFOs--more on that shortly--Fate contains none of the expected lurid tales of cavity probings or Elvis sightings. Instead you will find a measured discussion of the possibility of extraterrestrial contact. Here, by way of example, is an excerpt from a March, 2003 exposé on abductions:
There is an extensive tradition of people who were kidnapped "from above" in human history--Elijah, Romulus, the founder of Rome, and a host of unnamed ones--combined with many thousands that disappear every year without a trace. If these alien-born humans have the power, obviously, to return to Earth, what keeps them from staying? Perhaps they fear the reprisals of their alien masters, or the loss of certain faculties ('powers' so to speak) that they may have developed or acquired on other worlds. Perhaps they have been thoroughly brainwashed and no longer see Earthbound humanity as kin.
So it goes with other dispatches from the frontiers of fact: "Talking to Angels" (December 2000); "You Can Hear Dead People" (February 2001); "Crop Circles--The Mind of God?" (May 2002); "Civil War Ghosts of Atlanta" (August 2003); "Giant Octopus in Ocean's Depth" (November 2001); "The Medium and the Murderer: Jack the Ripper Exposed by Psychic in 1888" (October 2003); "DRAGONS ARE REAL!" (November 2002).
Strangest of all, every word in Fate is true.
Fate's nerve center is in Galde's basement. At first glance, the magazine's office is disappointingly ordinary, suggesting nothing more than your average semi-prosperous home business. There are a few desks with computers, and a number of youngish, shoeless employees hanging around. But a cursory inventory of the books lining the walls offers some clue as to what goes on here: The UFO Encyclopedia, Occult Theocracy, The Goat Foot God. Galde points out a corner between the photocopier and a fish tank. This, she says, is the location of an inter-dimensional vortex through which spirits occasionally pop in for a visit.
Galde is sensitive to hauntings. Growing up in a turn-of-the-century North Dakota farmhouse, she was visited nightly by phantoms. Only later, when she returned to the house as an adult, did she discern that the visitors were the spirits of departed relatives. But Galde isn't the only one in the Fate office who has experienced eerie phenomena: Her housemate and coeditor David Godwin has, while working late at night, occasionally seen a man in a suit wandering about--a lonely soul looking for company, Galde figures.
Twice, as a child, Galde had what she believes were encounters with extraterrestrials--nothing more than curious lights in the inky Midwestern night, perhaps, but enough to excite her imagination. These, along with a steady diet of science fiction, opened her mind to the possibility of the paranormal.
"I've always been kind of sensitive about spirits," she says. "A lot of people in our family have a slight bit of psychic ability. The more you're involved with it, the more you pay attention to it. It's just like art appreciation: You're able to see colors, and see designs and brushstrokes, after you've learned about art or done painting yourself."
Galde has never had direct contact with aliens. But some years ago she began having vivid dreams in which she cavorted with tiny beings dressed in gold lamé stretch-suits. Eventually she grew worried that she was advertising herself as a target for alien abduction, and forced herself to stop dreaming.
Many years ago, Galde also came under the spell of Edgar Cayce, known widely as "The Sleeping Prophet." Cayce, who died in 1945, is perhaps history's best-known psychic: From a trance-like state, he predicted that California would one day slide into the Pacific Ocean and that Atlantis would be discovered in 1968 off the coast of Florida. (That neither has come to pass has not diminished him in the eyes of his devotees.)
Inspired by such experiments with ESP, Fate recently commissioned an off-site "remote viewing" of Area 51, where the U.S. government keeps its stock of flying-saucer technology. The results, recounted in the June issue, were more poetic than conclusive: "Scattered about this desert are some worn-out boots and a smashed, broken kid's watch with a Mickey Mouse face, with works missing," reported one Fate reader. "The desert sky is very beautiful here at night and reminds me of Egypt when the sky is a cobalt blue with silvery stars, as I rest inside an oasis with palm trees."
There may be no scientific evidence to support such psychic tourism, but Galde likes to point out that science has always lagged a step or two behind Fate. Two years ago, for instance, the magazine published a story positing the existence of an enormous squid. Then, this last April, fishermen pulled just such a creature out of the icy waters near Antarctica.
The story of Fate properly begins on June 24, 1947, in the sky over Washington's Mount Rainier. On that afternoon, a traveling salesman and amateur pilot named Kenneth Arnold was returning home from a business trip in his small plane when he saw nine metallic objects darting through the sky. They moved, he later said, "like a saucer would if you skipped it across water." When he landed, Arnold dutifully reported what he'd seen. The next day, a Portland newspaper reporter coined the phrase "flying saucer." And so the UFO craze was born.
Shortly after Arnold went public with his close encounter, he was contacted by Ray Palmer, an editor for the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. Even by the standards of the company he kept, Palmer was a strange, shadowy character. Crippled in a childhood car accident, he stood less than five feet tall. He was also a notorious raconteur: Palmer is widely credited with orchestrating (or at least perpetuating) the world's first UFO hoax, when, only two days after Arnold's sighting, an Oregon man claimed that debris from a UFO had killed his dog.
Palmer was, at the time, working for Ziff-Davis, a Chicago publishing house that owned a number of fly-by-night pulp magazines. A few years previous, he'd begun receiving rambling letters from a Pennsylvania welder named Richard Shaver about a race of underground goblins called Deros, who, Shaver claimed, were controlling events on the Earth's surface with ray guns. Harold Browne, Palmer's associate editor, later called the stories "the sickest crap" he'd ever run into. Palmer loved it.
When Amazing Stories began publishing the so-called Shaver Mysteries, circulation jumped tenfold almost overnight and letters began pouring in from Americans claiming to have had experiences with the Deros and their mysterious mind-control rays. Palmer had inadvertently tapped a deep and still-rich American vein: The paranoid conspiracy theory.
Jerry Clark, who worked as an editor for Fate in the 1970s, once had occasion to meet Palmer. "He had the instincts of a carnival barker--always working up a hustle," Clark says from his home in Canby, Minnesota. "But he wasn't a con man. Palmer saw the Shaver mysteries as a chance to get some controversy going. But he also believed it on some level. Or he believed there was some truth in it."
Despite Palmer's reputation, he and Arnold struck up a partnership. Along with a fellow Ziff-Davis editor, Curtis Fuller, Palmer put together his own pulp magazine. The first issue of Fate, from the spring of 1948, featured Arnold's account of his UFO encounter, titled "The Truth About Flying Saucers."
This was the beginning of the Cold War, when malevolent forces descending from the skies seemed like something more than an idle phantasm. Fate was a runaway success, eventually reaching 100,000 subscribers. Yet, says Clark, there was also tension between Palmer and Fuller over what shape the magazine ought to take: Palmer wanted a fast and loose outlet for sensationalistic semi-fictional fare like his Shaver stories; Fuller, a conservative businessman who made his money with an RV camping magazine, was more interested in scientific anomalies and paranormal phenomena. In 1955, Palmer sold his interest in Fate to Fuller and moved from Chicago to Amherst, Wisconsin, where he drifted into oblivion.
Clark, who began writing book reviews for Fate in the '70s, eventually grew very close to Fuller and his wife Mary, who became the magazine's associate editor. "They were people who it was easy to respect," he says. "They had this extraordinary decency and integrity. Just really good people."
In those days, Fate operated out of a nondescript office building in Chicago's north suburbs. Among Clark's duties was dealing with readers who through luck or single-minded determination managed to track down the office's location. "Mostly the readers were normal, nice people who just had this one unusual interest," he recalls. "But there were also some raving loons. I remember this one time a guy showed up claiming he was receiving messages through his TV telling him to kill people. Of course, I tried to usher him out the door. But I was also trying not to do anything to upset him. You do develop great social skills."
Later in the magazine's history, another unsolicited correspondent arrived at the office completely covered in red paint and carrying his manuscript in a plastic garbage bag.
By the late '80s, UFOs had hit the mainstream and Fate was in steep decline, scraping by on its cachet and the devotion of longtime readers who remembered the magazine nostalgically from the salad days of pulp. In 1988, the Fullers sold the magazine to Llewellyn, the St. Paul-based publisher of New Age and astrology books. The magazine relocated from Chicago to Llewellyn's Wabasha Street headquarters, a former tannery that, according to Galde, is haunted by the ghosts of the animals who died there.
Carl Weschcke, Llewellyn's longtime publisher, decided that Fate would be a perfect complement to his company's lineup. "People wanted to hear magic, and Fate was all about magic," he recalls. "The Fullers were very much believers. They did a considerable service to the world by opening people's minds to alternate realities and alternate explanations.
"That's an important thing," Weschcke continues. "A lot of us look at the world with blinders on. We need to take off those blinders and consider the possibility of another reality. UFOs and things like that--they're all things that impinge on our reality."
If Fate's raison d'être hadn't changed, though, the exigencies of magazine publishing had. Sweepstakes subscription sales, traditionally a major part of Fate's market, had virtually dried up. In an effort to revive newsstand sales, Llewellyn revamped the magazine from its original Reader's Digest size to a more traditional format.
Don Kraig, who edited the magazine for three years in the '80s, estimates that when Llewellyn bought it, Fate's subscription base was hovering around 30,000. Reportedly, the publisher even considered turning Fate into a Goth publication or scrapping it altogether. The former prospect irked the aging readership even more than did the latter.
Galde got involved with Fate by chance--or, if you prefer, fate. In 1982, she was a junior high teacher in tiny La Crescent, Minnesota. One morning, while walking down the hall, she heard a voice. "'Hand in your resignation right now,' it said. It was kind of scary, because I loved teaching," Galde recalls. "But here was the spiritual voice telling me to quit, so I did."
Some years later, while flipping through the phone book, Galde saw the name "Llewellyn" and decided to call about a job. As it happened, the publisher had one available, and Galde became a copy editor. Eventually, she found herself with the plum assignment of editing Fate. In 1991, Galde started her own publishing house, Galde Press, which now features some 90 titles. Galde began mostly with books on New Age spirituality and the paranormal--Enjoy Your Own Funeral is one example. But the press has since branched out into poetry and more traditional nonfiction--for instance, the best-selling World War II memoir A Half Acre of Hell.
In 2001, when Llewellyn decided to sell Fate, Galde jumped at the chance to run the magazine herself. Restoring the magazine to its former status was, she realized, her destiny.
Since taking over Fate, Galde has done her best to change nothing. The magazine's readership tends to be, on balance, rather conservative in its tastes: When Fate recently published a cover illustration by R. Crumb depicting a buxom female Yeti in a skimpy outfit, outraged letters poured in--less, perhaps, an outcry against the indecency of the drawing itself than against the misrepresentation of the noble Sasquatch.
"Our readers are devoutly loyal because, you know, it's not some big corporate thing," Galde explains. "But, boy, if we get our facts wrong, they call us up and give us heck. They also don't like anything too raunchy or sexist or too risqué."
On this gusty November afternoon, Galde and a couple of her part-time staff members are sitting at her kitchen table stuffing letters to Fate subscribers--one of the innumerable small tasks that devolve to the editors of this decidedly non-corporate enterprise. There has been only one ghost sighting this week: While working near the haunted photocopier downstairs, the magazine's web designer, John Zupansic, had invoked the spirits of Curtis and Mary Fuller. Suddenly, he says, his hair stood on end.
"They come around a lot," explains Galde.
Far from finding these unannounced visits disquieting, Galde draws some comfort from the prospect of an active afterlife. "If I die I'll come back and tell you what it's like," she offers brightly.
Indeed, of all Fate's regular features, the most popular is "My Proof of Survival," in which readers write about their near-death experiences and brushes with divinity. Some of the stories are silly--a miraculous never-ending bag of potato chips, for instance--but most are sad and sweet and wonderful: dead parents and spouses returning to say goodbye to their survivors is a common one.
Reading through the heartfelt testimonials of Fate devotees, one gets a sense that they are, by and large, very much like Galde: Nice, normal people who simply choose to believe in a type of magic that's been wrung out of life. Their animating impulse is religious--a dream of a brighter, more comprehensible world, of life after death, of aliens and angels.
Which is, in a roundabout way, why everything in Fate is gospel, even if none of it is true.
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