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The day there were UFOs in Olney

Mike “Meak” Carlin
The book cover

Mike “Meak” Carlin grew up in Olney and spent a lot of time hanging in “The Yard” – the Lowell Elementary School yard, at 5th Street and Nedro Avenue.

“So many hijinks happened in that schoolyard,” Carlin recalled. “It was all very innocent and juvenile.”

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Carlin and his friends were pulling pranks all the time, and one day in 1977 he decided to get some “Fake News” into the popular weekly neighborhood newspaper, the Olney Times. He visited the office on 5th Street and handed a worker a piece of paper that said two of his friends had finished first and second in a fly-catching contest.

Much to his delight, the news was included in the paper’s “Roving Reporter” section, and that spurred him to try to top his successful prank.

The National Enquirer printed stories about UFOs, he figured, so why not report a sighting of UFOs in Olney.

So, he and a friend visited the office and reported seeing three cigar-shaped UFOs flying in formation above The Yard, hovering in place and then speeding away.

Carlin was overjoyed when he read that week’s issue. The headline, on the front page, said it all: Olney Boys See UFO’s.

“They bit on it,” he said. “It was really funny.”

Carlin has written a book about growing up in the neighborhood in the 1970s. It’s called Olney Boys See UFOs and is dedicated to his beloved uncle, Dominic D’Adamo, or Uncle Don.

“It’s a memoir of growing up in Olney,” he said, pronouncing it AHHLL-nee.

Carlin, now 62, grew up at 5841 N. Lawrence St., near The Yard. He graduated from St. Helena Grammar School and Cardinal Dougherty High School (class of 1979).

“It was a super-tight neighborhood,” he recalled. “It felt like a small town. Olney people are, like, thicker than thieves.”

Carlin said he had fun writing the book on the happenings in 19120. He wrote some of the content on a blog and on Facebook, but decided to make it a book during COVID.

“I really wanted to do this thing right,” he said.

For the book, he interviewed 37 friends, including sports comedian Joe Conklin, who got his start as a seventh-grader at a St. Helena show, impersonating Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Howard Cosell, Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill.

The comments from those 37 friends are a big part of the book, as they are bold and in larger type.

“These guys are legendary within their families,” Carlin said.

The content is mostly light and is filled with kids of that era and all their nicknames. Billy “Ears” McGinley was in charge of giving out nicknames, the author said.

The book includes mentions of Sister Walburga and the tough nuns at St. Helena and going home for lunch. There’s also talk of playing sports in The Yard, seeing a streaker at 5th and Nedro during the celebration of the Flyers winning the Stanley Cup in 1974, the time Carlin the prankster sprayed disappearing red ink on a girl’s white coat, competitive bike jumping in a back driveway, an angry Fairhill Street resident named Mr. Stevers who took the boys’ hockey net into his house and a Presidents’ Day weekend incident when two of Carlin’s friends threw snowballs at an Abraham Lincoln impersonator on 5th Street.

There was the time Carlin and his friends decided to call the cops on their own friends as they were playing basketball inside Lowell Elementary School when it was closed for the summer. They watched as some of them got thrown in a paddy wagon and placed in a cell at the 35th Police District.

“That’s some funny Olney s— right there,” Carlin wrote of that episode.

And Carlin, who had a Bulletin paper route, wasn’t finished with the UFO storyline. Later in 1977, the Olney Times – which closed in 2008 – reported that two boys saw a UFO near Fisher Park “taking energy from the railroad electric wires.”

“Mic drop,” Carlin wrote in the book.

Carlin and his friends spent almost all of their time in Olney, but occasionally made road trips on the Y bus to shop at and cause mischief in stores – Gimbels, Arthur Treacher’s and others – on Cottman Avenue, from Castor Avenue to Roosevelt Boulevard.

Carlin and his wife Rose have four children and five grandchildren. The family lived for 13 years near Front and Spencer streets until 1998, when they moved to Lansdale.

“My kids had the Olney experience. They probably have their own book in them,” he said.

Carlin is marketing the book himself. Former Olney residents have enjoyed the book, and he is looking to reach all the people who left that neighborhood for the Northeast. He’s taken part in some book signings and author events. The book is also in 15 public libraries in Philadelphia and Montgomery County. There’s an “Olney Boys See UFOs” page on Facebook, and an audio book is in the works.

The first-time author has had a great time recounting all those wild stories.

“I’m along for the ride,” he said. ••

The book is available at amazon.com.

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