of mister gass
This entry is the first of four weeks of stories for the Halloween season.
Above: The original Air Force investigation file.
Above: Point Place, off Lake Erie.
WHETHER IT IS BY an official military investigator, or just a person reading a rainy-day book, the first issue in consideration of any reported sighting of unusual aerial phenomena is credibility. When the witnesses are Air Force fighter pilots, or scientists at experimental flight test centers, or police officers -- or any of the like -- it is human nature to give increased deference to their stories, and to treat them with some degree of respect.
But when the claim to have witnessed something unusual comes from a young child or an uneducated laborer or a hardened criminal or a known huxter -- or as in this case, someone with a diagnosed psychiatric condition -- what then?
Above: Point Place and Maumee Bay.
OHIO'S MAUMEE BAY rests at the end of the one-hundred and thirty mile journey of the Maumee River as it empties into Lake Erie, just south of Ohio's border with Michigan. Starting in Fort Wayne the river meanders northeastwards not only through woodlands and wetlands, but through history itself. The story of the Native Americans who camped, hunted and fished along its shores stretches back beyond memory, and the Maumee River Valley has been home to nations.
And it has been home to conflict as well. Here the Huron fought the Iroquois. Here the British fought the French. And here as well, General "Mad Anthony" Wayne fought the native defenders assembled in a confederacy of resistance, and seized the Northwest Territory on behalf of a young and aggressively expanding United States.
With that seminal victory came gradual change. Canals. Roads. Buildings. Towns.
And change, too, to the islands of Maumee Bay.
Above: Islands of Maumee Bay.
THE ISLANDS OF MAUMEE BAY have always been an integral part of life there. At Gard Island, Native Americans chose their burial ground. At Turtle Island, where migrating birds nested by the thousands, they 'secured hundreds of dozens of eggs in season'. Much later came a lighthouse. And later still, on other islands, 'yacht clubs'.
But some were left to their wild state. Which is where this tale begins.
It was just after 4:30 in the morning. Twenty-four year old Ralph Kenneth Gass was returning to his home from a reunion with Navy buddies, when something near the islands caught his eye...
HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
OFFICE OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS
REPORT OF INVESTIGATION
Incident - 1 1/2 miles from Lake
Erie Shoreline near Point Place and
Naval Armory on U.S. Route 25, be-
tween Monroe, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio
28 June 1949
REPORT MADE BY
PHILIP F. HOOKER emb
None, this is an initial report.
Investigation requested by Director of Intelligence, Headquarters, USAF, Washington, D.C., thru Technical Intelligence Division, Headquarters, Air Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Information received that RALPH K. GASS, 812 North Erie Street, Toledo, Ohio claims to have seen four strange objects, one of which landed on an island 1 1/2 miles from shore in the vicinity of Point Place and the Naval Armory, U.S. Route 25, between Monroe, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. GASS interviewed, reiterated claim, drew sketch and gave description of objects, including dimensions. Toledo police records list GASS as AWOL from U.S. Navy on 30 October 1944 and apprehended 20 December 1944. Toledo Veterans Administration records list GASS's service-connected disability as 30% psychoneurosis, anxiety state and 10% fracture, left carpal navicular, post operative. Statements verifying this attached.
1. This investigation is predicated upon a telephone conversation between Mr. G.T. TOWLES, Technical Intelligence Division, Headquarters, Air Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio and Mr. JOHN E. MORRILL of 5th District, Office of Special Investigations, regarding the claim of Mr. RALPH K. GASS to the effect that he had seen four strange objects, one of which landed on an island extending 1 1/2 miles from the shoreline near Point Place and the Naval Armory on U.S. Route 25, between Monroe, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.
2. On 23 June 1949, Mr. RALPH K. GLASS, 812 North Erie Street, Toledo, Ohio was interviewed regarding strange objects he claims to have seen while enroute from Monroe, Michigan to Toledo, Ohio and which he reported to the Research and Development Section, Department of the Navy on 23 June 1949. Mr. GASS stated in substance regarding the above mentioned incident with quotations as follows:
a. After attending a gathering of his old shipmates at Monroe, Michigan he was returning to his home in Toledo, Ohio on U.S. Route 25 when he happened to look to the rear of his car and noticed an "object" in the air coming from a north-northeasterly direction. This object startled him and he looked again and then stopped his car, after which he observed three other similar objects. This occurred at 0432 hours on 23 June 1949. After stopping his car, he took his binoculars from the glove compartment and tried to the best of his ability to observe every detail of the "craft". Shortly after 0432 hours one of said "craft" landed on an unoccupied island which extends 1 1/2 miles from the shoreline into Lake Erie, between Point Place and the Naval Armory on U.S. Route 25.
b. According to his observation, the "craft" had a "long extension landing gear built like a tripod, but with two units forward of the main spar and one aft. The craft that landed did not have 'wheels' but hoof-shaped gear in place of wheels, with one hoof on each hydraulic landing gear. Each unit when extended seemed to be approximately eight feet long and while on the ground the craft set approximately five feet above the ground."
c. "After the one craft landed a hatch opened from the port side of the craft" and two men were observed to get out of the craft, one seeming to be a military officer since he wore "shoulder-boards" on his uniform; the uniforms of the men appeared to be of a blue-gray color, one man wearing an officer's cap and the other an overseas cap; and the men wore "Russian or military type" boots. Upon alighting from the craft, the man, observed by Mr. GASS to be an officer, held a sack which the second man filled with two "handfuls of soil", after which both men re-entered the craft and closed the hatch, which appeared to be "hydraulically operated". After the hatch was closed the craft remained still for 30 seconds and then took off. The craft was on the ground for a "total of 4 1/2 or 5 minutes." Mr. GASS said that while the one craft was on the ground he observed a "whiny" sound, but could not determine whether it came from the craft on the ground or the three craft hovering above.
d. While the hatch was open he observed "a number of tubes running at an angle of 70° to 80° down to the bottom of the craft. The tubes were located inside the hatch and seemed to be reaction chambers of some type, or expansion chambers."
e. The craft "took off in a northwesterly direction with a 70° angle of ascent and was slow at the beginning with a sudden burst of speed upward." After the craft had reached an altitude of "approximately 1200 feet" it joined the three other craft which had been hovering above the island while the first craft landed and the four aircraft then flew off, continuing in the northwesterly direction "at an approximate speed of 600-650 miles per hour, comparable to an American jet aircraft. Their speed increased at a rate which could not be judged any further, but as a layman I judged the speed at approximately 1600-1900 miles per hour, or that of a super-sonic speed. The four (4) craft disappeared above the horizon at an altitude of approximately 8000 feet, and were climbing at a steady rate" before they went out of sight.
f. From his observation, two of the three craft in the air were made of stainless steel and the third was of a "bluish" cast, while the fourth craft which landed was also made of stainless steel; the dimension of these objects or craft were "approximately 80 feet in length and 45 to 50 feet in width; the profile of the craft resembled a "wing section of an aircraft, the thickness of which was eight to ten feet at the widest part"; and the weight of the aircraft was approximately 40 to 60 tons.
g. "The control of the craft from a propulsion standpoint was handled internally" and there was "no external trace of any jet or reciprocating engines."
h. The weather conditions were clear and the clouds were high, with a ceiling of approximately 4000 feet.
i. He had called the city desk of the New York Daily Mirror, New York City, at 0530 hours, 23 June 1949 and tried to relate his story to them and was told they were not interested in his story; he then called the Research and Development Section of the Navy at Washington, D.C.
j. He held the rating of Fireman 1/c in the Navy on an L.S.T. during the war; his serial number was 7232106; he was discharged on 3 December 1947 with a 40% disability which was due to a nervous condition which he said had improved since that time. He is a general machinist by trade but is unemployed and is living on his disability pension.
3. During this interview, Mr. GASS was requested by this agent to make a sketch of the object or craft which he claims to have seen. Mr. GASS attempted to make a sketch of the craft at this time, but apparently didn't seem satisfied with his efforts and requested this agent to call back the next morning for the sketch. Mr. GASS displayed the binoculars he used to observe the objects. They bore the following information: "Monarch, Made in Tokyo, Japan, 8 x 25, 61613".
4. This agent requested Mr. GASS to accompany him to the location where the strange object was supposed to have landed, and tentative arrangements were made. It was agreed that Mr. GASS would call this agent the next morning (24 June 1949) when he was ready to proceed to that vicinity.
5. On 23 June 1949, after conducting the above interview with Mr. GASS, this agent made a check of the Bureau of Identification and Records, Toledo Police Department, Toledo, Ohio. Records revealed that RALPH K. GASS, 812 North Erie Street, Toledo, Ohio was listed as AWOL from the U.S. Navy on 30 October 1944. Filed with the records were fingerprint card and U.S. Navy Circular requesting arrest as a deserter offering $50.00 reward and giving his serial number as 7232106. Also filed was another Navy circular stating that RALPH K. GASS was apprehended 20 December 1944 by the U.S. Navy. Records also revealed that RALPH K. GASS was born 26 August 1924 at Toledo, Ohio.
6. At approximately 0300 hours, 24 June 1949, Mr. GASS made a telephone call to the Lorraine Hotel, 12th and Jefferson Streets, Toledo, Ohio and informed this agent that he would not be able to accomplish the sketch as requested since he had broken the compass to his drawing set and would not be able to replace it until the next morning. At this time Mr. GASS inquired whether it would be suitable to wear "dungarees" on the previously mentioned trip to the island where the objects were supposed to have landed.
7. On 24 June 1949, at 0830 hours this agent again contacted RALPH K. GASS by telephone at his residence, 812 North Erie Street, Toledo, Ohio and informed Mr. GASS that it would be impossible to make the trip to the vicinity where the strange objects were supposed to have landed. During the conversation this agent asked Mr. GASS if he had been able to make a sketch of the object he claimed to have seen and Mr. GASS replied that he hadn't, but that he could have one ready by 1130 hours that day.
8. On 24 June 1949, this agent interviewed Mr. L.E. GREER, Training Specialist, Veteran's Administration, 501 Huron Street, Toledo 4, Ohio regarding Mr. RALPH K. GASS. Mr. GREER stated that Mr. GASS had been in enlisted status in the Navy from 10 November 1942 to 3 December 1947 and had spent two years of this time overseas; that Mr. GASS had joined the Navy after completing his tenth year of school, that his disability at the time of separation from the Navy was 10%; that his Claim Number was 12173224; his Social Security Number was [DELETED]; and that he had been receiving training at the University of Toledo Junior College under Public Law 346. Mr. GREER further stated that Mr. GASS had enrolled 2 February 1948 at the University of Toledo Junior College and was taking an engineering course (day school, 12 hours per day); that his attendance at the school was bad; that he had to be reinstated at two different times by two different professors; and that GASS finally left school at his own request on 15 April 1948. Mr. GREER referred this agent to Dr. H.A. RICHARDSON, Chief, Out-Patient Service, Veterans Administration, also at that address, for further information. Attached is an extract from VA Form 7-1902i, dated 9 March 1948, regarding RALPH K. GASS, C-12-173-224, which was obtained from Mr. GREER.
9. On 24 June 1949, this agent interviewed Dr. H.A. RICHARDSON, Chief Out-Patient Service, Veterans Administration, 501 Huron Street, Toledo 4, Ohio, who reviewed his files on RALPH K. GASS and found that Mr. GASS had a service-connected rating, dated 1 February 1949, by the Veterans Administration of "30% Psychoneurosis, anxiety state; and 10% Fracture, left carpal navicular, post operative". Attached hereto is Veterans Administration letter dated 24 June 1949, signed by Dr. H.A. RICHARDSON, bearing the reference number 66SR10, C-12 172 224, GASS, RALPH KENNETH, to that effect.
10. On 24 June 1949, this agent interviewed Dr. CHARLES A. BOHNENGEL, Psychiatrist, Veterans Administration, 501 Huron Street, Toledo 4, Ohio, who reviewed the files on RALPH K. GASS and found that Mr. GASS had a moderate psychiatric disability. Attached hereto is "Transcript of N.P. Examination Conducted at V.A. Office on December 20, 1948" on RALPH K. GASS, Claim No. C-12 173 224, which was obtained from Dr. BOHNENGEL.
11. On 24 June 1949, at 1130 hours, this agent proceeded to Mr. GASS's residence and upon arriving there found Mr. GASS had not made the sketch as promised, and after much persuasive discussion Mr. GASS consented to prepare the sketch which is attached hereto.
1. Photostatic copy of sketch prepared by RALPH K. GASS, 812 North Erie Street, Toledo, Ohio.
2. Photostatic copy of SUMMARY OF MEDICAL DATA AVAILABLE IN C-FOLDER AND NOT OF RECORD ON RATING SHEET, extracted from VA Form 7-1902i, dated 3-9-48.
3. Photostatic copy of Veterans Administration Letter bearing RALPH K. GASS's service connected disability rating dated 24 June 1949.
4. Photostatic copy of TRANSCRIPT OF N.P. EXAMINATION CONDUCTED AT V.A. OFFICE ON DECEMBER 20, 1948, regarding RALPH K. GASS.
C L O S E D
IT IS UNFORTUNATE that this is all that remains of the original file. The missing sketch leaves the picture of Mr. Gass's craft only to the imagination. And the lost transcript ensures that no one will ever know what Mr. Gass's psychiatric examination revealed.
But it is equally unfortunate that Agent Hooker canceled the trip to the location of the sighting -- just one and one-half miles offshore -- where any evidence of the truth of the matter might remain.
Fifteen years later a police officer in Socorro, New Mexico would claim to see a strange blue-orange flame in the sky, slowly descending. Speeding to the area he said he saw an oval-shaped craft resting three feet above the ground, supported by legs, with 'two people in white coveralls very close to the object', the size of children or small adults. One, he said, seemed to look at him and 'seemed startled -- seemed to jump quickly'. The object, he said, was whitish, with an aluminum sheen. As he drove closer, he said he lost sight of the object and the men behind a hill, and then as he stopped and exited his car he suddenly heard a roar, then a high-pitched whine, and saw the craft rise in the air with flames shooting underneath, and noting, 'object was traveling very fast; it seemed to rise up, and take off immediately across country'. He reported that as it left the high-pitched whine stopped and it traveled silently away.
The police officer likewise drew a sketch of what he had witnessed for Air Force investigators, which unlike that of Ralph Gass, remains to be found in the declassified Air Force files:
For in being a police officer, he was taken seriously by all involved, and inspection of the area revealed -- as relayed in a teletype by the FBI -- "four regular depressed areas approximately sixteen by six inches in rectangular type pattern averaging about twelve feet apart". The then-director of Project Blue Book, Major Hector Quintanilla, would say, "There is no doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite an impression on him. There is also no question about Zamora's reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw and frankly, so are we." It is still listed by the Air Force as an "unknown".
Such is the role personal credibility plays in the investigation of sightings, and it was Ralph Gass's misfortune to have his judged, and found wanting.
But misfortune was nothing new to Ralph Kenneth Gass, who had hardships with money, problems with the law, difficulties with his body, troubles with his mind, and whose only claim to fame ultimately lay in being the earliest self-proclaimed witness to UFO occupants to be found in any Air Force investigatory file.
1. The story of officer Lonnie Zamora will be covered in Death of a Legend, to be published November 5, 2011.
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