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in the news 1952


USS Missouri

Top: From 1942, a camouflaged Boeing B-17E on patrol over the approaches to the Panama Canal. Ten years later a B-17 would also be one of several aircraft sent up on an "intercept and identify" mission after unknown aerial objects were picked up first on radar, then visually, flying over the canal zone over the course of five hours (story and footnotes below). First opened in 1904 -- and still considered vital to the maritime and defense interests of the United States -- the canal zone passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was officially United States territory until 1977, and was the site of several major Air Force and U.S. Navy installations. Bottom: The U.S. Navy battleship USS Missouri entering the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, in 1952. The locks lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial body created to reduce the amount of excavation work required, positioned 85 feet above sea level.

NINETEEN FIFTY-TWO might be remembered for many things, large and small. The election of Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. Fifty thousand American families afflicted by Polio. The British A-bomb. The first issue of Mad magazine. The theory of the Big Bang.

But for those of a certain bent, 1952 will also be remembered for the second great 'flying saucer flap' which climaxed with the reports of radar and visual sightings over the nation's capital in late July.

Part of the story of that event-filled year is now available in declassified government files. But for the public back then -- at a time when only one in three families in America had a television set -- the story was mostly found in the newspapers and magazines.

This then is a look back at those stories, as they first appeared in print...

DECEMBER 15, 1952:

Winnipeg, Canada Free Press - 15 Dec 52

The Saint

Long Beach, California Independent - 15 Dec 52

Bookmobile for Lakewood's Readers Ready in 2 Months

A bookmobile carrying 4000 book collection will be provided within two months to serve Lakewood, other branches, County librarian John D. Henderson said Sunday...

Meanwhile, business is god at the county's Lakewood branch library, 4152 Norse Way, according to Mrs. Nola Vredenburgh, librarianů

Mrs. Vredenburgh is assisted in operating the existing branch by Mrs. Violet Bly and Mrs. Maude Davis. A third of their customers are juveniles.

Spurred on by flying saucer and trip-to-the-moon talk, Lakewood's youngsters are going for a science fiction in a big way, according to Mrs. Vredenburgh.

"My boy is completely absorbed in those futuristic books," explained one mother to the librarian. "Do you think it's harmful to him?"

"I don't think so, because the boy is traveling in very good company," replied Mrs. Vredenburgh. "Doctors, lawyers and practically everyone is reading those books..."

Long Beach, California Independent - 15 Dec 52

FIVE LOVELY stewardesses from private air lines weren't much perturbed Sunday as they gazed at this mock model of a flying saucer, one of many exhibits at air show. Left to right are Liz Ernst, Pan-American; Marina Vasquez, Philippines Air Lines; Dorothy Thaller, Western Air Lines; Zofia Maulhardt, C.M.A. and Virginia Hall, Bonanza Air Lines.

Long Beach, California Press Telegram - 15 Dec 52

30,000 View Latest Planes at Open House

Thirty thousand persons took part in an open house at Long Beach Municipal Airport Sunday, peering at late model military jet fighters, gazing skyward at airplanes of all types and standing in line to inspect the new United Air Lines' Convair Mainliner.

Official hostesses at the open house were 11 stewardesses, six from U.S. air lines and five representing foreign carriers.

The open house was the closing event of the three-day, 14th annual Wings Over the Nation, sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to promote aviation.

On display from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station was a McDonnell F2H Banshee jet carrier fighter, two Gruman [sic, should be Grumman] anti-submarine torpedo planes and a Lockheed patrol bomber.

The Air Force exhibited an F-47 and F-51 fighter, both veterans of World War II, a new F-94 jet fighter, and its tiny XF-85 Parasite jet. The stubby little XF-85 is designed to be carried in the bomb bay of a B-29 bomber, being released and pickd [sic] up while the bomber is in flight. Only three XF-85s have been built.

Most makes of private aircraft were on display, many exhibited by members of the Civil Air Patrol. The CAP also staged a demonstration of how it gives aid in emergencies.

The UAL Convair is a twin-engine, 44-passenger air liner which was placed into regular service in and out of Long Beach Dec. 1.

In the lobby of the administration building, the Flying Tiger Line, world's largest air freight carrier, had a "flying saucer." The saucer, based on the most popular conceptions of the mystery discs, was built by representatives of Comet Service, local agents for the line.

Beckley, West Virginia Post Herald - 15 Dec 52

Wing Tips
By Bob Connelly, Aviation Editor

One of the most daring and hazardous flights ever made was the one carried out by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd in his history-making trip over the South Pole.

When Admiral Byrd headed for the Antarctic to make his polar flight in a Ford tri-motor plane the late Russell Owen of the New York Times went along to cover the expedition for his paper. Owen won the Pulitzer prize in reporting for his articles on the expedition.

In a book that has been off the presses only a short time Owen has set down a fascinating description of Byrd's polar flight. The book is entitled "The Conquest of the North and South Poles."

Byrd, a native of Virginia, transported his Ford plane to the Antarctic in a steer trawler called the "Eleanor Bolling." Another ship "The City of New York", also went along on the trip to carry supplies for the camp that was later set up in the Anarctic [sic].

It was from this camp, known as Byrd's "Little America," that Byrd made his takeoff for the flight over the pole.

Byrd's expedition reached its destination in the Antarctic in late December of 1928. The polar flight was not made until almost a year later.

While setting up his camp and making preparations for his flight Byrd has [sic] his Ford stored in a hole dug in the snow. The wings of the plane were completely buried in snow and had to be dried out with blow torches when the time came for the historic flight.

In his book Owen says the temperature during one two-month period averaged 44 degrees below zero. Once, he said, it got down to 73 below.

It was on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1929 that Byrd had his Ford plane hauled out of its snow hangar for the long-awaited polar flight, Owen related.

Three men boarded the plane along with Byrd and took off from the flying field near the camp.

On the trip south the plane approached a range of mountains which were at an altitude of between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. The pilot opened the motor wide but as he drew near to the top of a mountain pass through which he was flying he saw he could not make it with the load he was carrying.

He shouted orders quickly to the men in the rear of the plane to toss out anything they could. Two 125 pound bags containing all the food that had been placed aboard the plane were dragged to the trap door and thrown out.

As Owen put it:

"All their food has now been thrown overboard and if they were forced down they would starve. But it was a chance that had to be taken.

"The plane responded as if it had been alive. It jumped upward and cleared the pass by 500 feet."

Owen describes the remainder of the trip to the poles this way:

"They flew on south over a trackless waste of snow that seemed to head downward a little toward the pole as if it were the rim of a huge saucer. How far above it the men were flying they could not tell but Byrd thought it was about 1,000 feet.

"The inside of the plane was a cold cheerless place. It was all metal except for the equipment.

For three and a half hours they flew south. Then Byrd made two observations which checked with the sun compass and showed they were a few miles from the pole.

"When they thought they were at the pole, Byrd dropped the United States flag attached to a stone from Floyd Bennett's grave.

"Having achieved their goal the flying explorers turned back.

"The men back at Little America had been listening to the hum of the motors over the radio. . . They rushed out onto the field when they knew the plane was approaching.

"The door of the plane opened and Byrd appeared. He was lifted onto the shoulders of cheering men. The hard work of months had been worthwhile for every one of them. Dick Byrd who had been the first to fly to the North Pole had also been the first to fly to the South Pole."

DECEMBER 16, 1952:

Oakland, California Tribune - 16 Dec 52

Ben Burroughs


There has been a lot of chatter . . . about visions in the sky . . . people call them flying saucers . . . they amaze and terrify . . . folks of profound reputation . . . have been honest witness to . . . this phenomenal occurrence . . . that takes place up in the blue . . . shaped like saucers glowing brightly . . . flying with the speed of light . . . seen by many different people . . . in the daytime and the night . . . varied concepts have been given . . . as to what they really are . . . some say they are apparitions . . . others space ships from afar . . . as for me I think the saucers . . . could be visitors from Mars . . . learned people from the heavens . . . who make playthings of the stars . . . only one thing is for certain . . . and that is they do exist . . . some day we will solve the mystery . . . that is if we will persist.

Kingsport, Tennessee News - 16 Dec 52

University Airport Manager Sights A 'Flying Saucer'

CHARLOTTESVTLLE -- An orange-colored "flying saucer," that first hovered and then sped away with a "terrific burst of speed" was sighted Sunday in the Charlottesville area, it was reported Monday.

Roy Franke, manager of the University of Virginia airport at Milton, his wife, and a 19-year old student pilot, Harry Pond Jr., sighted an object over the airport Sunday at about 11:45 a.m.

They told Frederick P. Morse, professor of mechanical engineering and director of aeronautical training at the university, who wired a report to military intelligence officials at the Pentagon in Washington.

Franke said Pond sighted what he first believed to be "leaves floating around in the sky," but that on further examination they saw a disc with an orange glow hovering over the leaf-life objects.

Franke estimated the "saucer" as at an altitude of 10,000 feet "or better." It hovered for a few seconds, moved with "terrific" speed to the northeast, then turned directly east.

From the ground, Franke said the object appeared to be about 20 inches in diameter. He estimated the top speed of the disc when it disappeared to be about 1,000 miles per hour.

Cairns, Australia Post - 16 Dec 52

Flying Saucer Reported

-- Over Bendigo --

"Silver Disc Spinning"

MELBOURNE, Dec. 15. -- A flying saucer is reported to have been sighted over Bendigo at 6.30 a.m. to-day. Mr. Ken Torpy of Bendigo said he heard motors "like 10 jet planes" and looked up.

He saw a silver disc spinning slowly against a clear blue sky. It then rose and travelled in a northerly direction.

He rushed inside after observing the disc for about a minute, but when he returned with his wife it could no longer be seen, although both he and his wife could still hear the noise.

DECEMBER 17, 1952:

Lubbock, Texas Evening Journal - 17 Dec 52

Report Of "Flying Saucer" Debunked

WEST ORANGE, N. J., Dec. 17 -- A "flying saucer" found in a quarry turned out to be a decoration made for a dance.

A quarry worker reported Monday he had found the silvery cone-shaped object- on a cliff in the quarry, but an oil company engineer told newsmen Tuesday he and an associate had built the "saucer" for the dance.

DECEMBER 18, 1952:

Long Beach, California Press Telegram - 18 Dec 52

Flying Discs Give Way to Yule Season

FLYING saucers are evidently seasonal phenomena. Reports of strange objects in the sky are widespread and frequent during summer months. With the coming of fall and cooler weather they drop off, and currently there is virtually no flying saucer news to stir the imagination of the American public.

This is, of course, the Christmas shopping season, and it's possible the saucers are in the sky but citizens are too busy with other things to be spending much time gazing heavenward. However, there have been no recent reports of Air Defense Command observers sighting anything unusual on radar screens or otherwise, so presumably Christmas shoppers can go about their business; without the haunting fear they are missing anything interesting upstairs.

The latest summary of the saucer investigation from a semi-official source indicates no new information has been developed. The Dispatch, publication of the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., in a rather complete report, leaves one with the disappointing impression that the Air Force hasn't found a tiling it could put its finger on, photograph or shoot at.

It says that radar has picked up some unusual objects, but these later were identified as such things as balloons, birds, aircraft, ice formations in the air. While Air Force interceptors have orders to shoot at anything known or appearing to be hostile, the Dispatch says that there is nothing in reported flying objects which associates them "with materiel or vehicles that are directed against the United States from another country or from other planets."

It adds that none of the three military departments or any other agency of the government is conducting experiments with flying objects which could be the basis of flying saucer reports.

Thus, despite a lot of speculation and some mighty good yarns from unofficial sources, the plain truth is that, the people best equipped to find out, and charged with that mission, have never established that there are any "flying saucers" in the sky -- unless flying saucers are simply conventional objects mistaken by witnesses for something mysterious.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin Herald Times - 18 Dec 52

Shop for New Fair Season

This is no time of the year to be thinking of ferris wheel rides, at least in this part of the country. It's too windy to eat cotton candy and it's rather chilly in the grandstand and the cattle judging ring out at the fair grounds.

But someone has to think about the Manitowoc County fair and the amusement it will have to offer -- the men who run them. Secretary A.F. Rank and the members of the Fair Board recently returned from the international convention at Chicago where they talked with others of similar interests about their "gimmicks" and "crowd-getters."

When folks who have fair blood in their veins talk about "gimmicks" they mean giveaway, and mean it in terms of thousands. For example, they were impressed by reports of 100,000 free squirts that used up 100 bottles of cologne at one state fair. Another gave away 150,000 lemon drop cookies.

"Crowd-getters" meant such things as a dog derby at Toronto. Swimming races for dogs of all sizes and weights with no pedigree requirements bring throngs of youngsters who train the contestants, their parents and assorted, startled and often-splashed spectators.

This exchange of information on shows, stunts and educational exhibits was serious business to members of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. They're out to beat their 1952 records. There were more than 2.500 fairs in this country and Canada and their attendance topped 70,000,000. They also meant big business in terms of gate receipts, prize money and exhibits.

With an eye to the cash register, most of the fair clan went shopping. All fairs have midways where rides ring up profits. Merry-go-rounds have been relegated to the very small fry or adults, it seems, since the shoppers found a "Trip to the Moon" and a "Ride Through Space" with sparks, whistles and roars offered for the "grown-up" youngsters.

There was a time when a ride in a pony cart was a big and impressive event. Doc Rank and his aides know this no longer holds true. That "stuff" belongs in a faded, protected and obviously timid childhood.

For the big five day and night show in August next year the veteran fair promoter probably is seriously considering some of the midget speed boats, high powered racers, railroad hand cars, or flying saucers. He might wind up with several supersonic jet planes that give all the sensation of rocketing into space at terrific speed. Flying lights flash on and off, the cockpit rocks and rolls and there even is a jet blast at the take-off.

Imagine mother or dad resisting the pleas of their offspring who want to ride the newest in toys at our fair next year.

DECEMBER 19, 1952:

Winnipeg, Canada Free Press - 19 Dec 52

Hundreds See 'Saucers' Fly In Formation

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- Hundreds of persons here gawked skyward Thursday and many claimed afterwards they had seen four to 10 "flying saucers" flying in formation.

The "things" were reported very high and moving in a north-easterly direction.

Similar reports came earlier this month when at least nine persons said they saw a shiny, spherical object streaking over the harbor.

Hugh Ferguson, a typewriter mechanic, said his attention was attracted to the sky by a plane landing on the harbor.

"Then I spotted these things high above and beyond the plane," he said. "They were about the size of saucers and were moving forward very fast and seemed to be rotating. First I saw two, then a minute later I saw three more, close together. They were going parallel to the harbor. I didn't believe in flying saucers before but I sure do now. I saw them."

DECEMBER 20, 1952:

Titusville, Pennsylvania Herald - 20 Dec 52

You're Telling Me!
by William Ritt

RESIDENTS of the Isle of Wight report sighting a flying saucer, which was shaped like a huge tadpole with a flaming tail. A saucer, we'd say, in name only.

Albuquerque, New Mexico Journal - 20 Dec 52

Flying Discs May Be Spots Before Eyes, Says Doctor

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 -- Flying saucers may be only "spots before the eyes" that all of us can have -- especially folks with upset stomachs or migraine headaches -- a Los Angeles doctor said today.

Dr. Edgar F. Mauer said the oft-reported discs which have made some folks wonder about visitors from outer space may well be "muscae volitantes" or possibly "scintillating scotoma" -- the technical monikers of "spots" before the peepers.

In a communique to the technical magazine Science, he said muscae volitantes are caused by the shadows cast upon the retina by certain tissue cells of the eye itself.

They can pop up before anyone's eyes under certain conditions, "such as exposure to a uniform bright surface, or when looking through a microscope."

People who are near-sighted frequently see them, and a digestive disorder can contribute to their appearance. Declaring that the spots in themselves are of no importance and have no effect on sharpness of vision, the doctor said:

"Anyone who has observed this visual phenomenon will recall that the object seen is brilliant and that it moves erratically . . . These objects also agree with some of the 'observations' made on flying. discs in that it is impossible to judge their distance and speed."

Another good bet as a possible saucer explanation, he said, is scintillating scotoma -- spots frequently seen by people suffering from migraine headaches. They show up in various colors, can be observed in the dark as well as the daylight, and usually last about 20 minutes.

DECEMBER 21, 1952:

Long Beach, California Press Telegram - 1 Dec 52

Drew Pearson
Flying Discs Over Panama Canal?


It didn't get into the papers, but the Panama Canal Zone was completely mystified by two flying saucers which flew over the area for five hours and 36 minutes on November 25.

The Air Force actually sent up two B-25's, one B-17, and one Navy patrol bomber to try to intercept the flying objects, but failed.

An official cable to Washington from the Panama Canal Zone states that "two unidentified objects" were sighted over the canal zone November 25 from 6:06 p.m. to 11:42 p.m.

The sighting was made by radar attached to antiaircraft guns. The two flying saucers, or whatever they were, remained over the canal zone for 5½ hours, traveling at an estimated speed of 275 miles per hour and maneuvering from 1000 feet to 28,000 feet in altitude.

Since no U.S. aircraft were supposed to be flying in the vicinity at that time, the air defense commander was sufficiently stirred up over the mysterious sighting to send three Air Force bombers and one Navy patrol bomber up to intercept the flying saucers. However, they were unable to catch the elusive objects, which made absolutely no sound.

Syracuse, New York Herald American - 21 Dec 52

-- Some New Books --

"In the Name of Science," by Martin Gardner; Putnam, New York

SCIENTISTS AND pseudo-scientists may malign each other with impunity, but their tilting ground usually is their own sanctum sanctorum. To declare that any of these high priests or cultists is a charlatan is libelous, outside the profession itself.

But now Martin Gardner, who specializes in scientific articles and gets them published in such journals as the Scientific American, Journal of Philosophy and others, walks in where angels fear to tread.

IN A BOOK called "In the Name of Science" he comes pretty close to labelling dangerous to society a dozen or more contemporary figures, who have achieved not only wide publicity but considerable wealth from their endeavors. Easing into a brilliant and often amusing defense of his position, Gardner says:

One curious consequence of the current boom in science is the rise of the promoter of new and strange 'scientific' theories. He is riding into prominence, so to speak, on the coattails of reputable investigators . .  In 1951 tens of thousands of mentally ill people throughout the country entered 'dianetic reveries' in which they wound back along their 'time track' and tried to recall unpleasant experiences they had when they were embryos. Thousands of more sophisticated neurotics, who regard dianetics as the invention of a mountebank, are now sitting in 'orgone boxes' to raise their bodies' charge of 'orgone energy'. Untold numbers of middle aged housewives are preparing to live to the age of 100 by a diet rich in yoghurt, wheat germ and blackstrap molasses.

IN WHICH the reader will recognize some of the most recent fads, later on the author divests his material of its anonymity and uses names, dates and facts.

The study of the cranks and whims of the present is preceded by a glance back to some of their predecessors. Generally these proved more amusing than dangerous and a generation that could take a joke on themselves better than we can today laughed off their gullibility.

Every field of science has had its individualists and disputed theorists, and for his book, Gardner has selected for discussion the most typical and amusing representatives in every branch from anthropology to physics and psychology. There are chapters on the food and medical faddists, Velikovsky's historical works, eccentric sexual theories, and several famous scientific hoaxes, including the famous "Moon Hoax" of the New York Sun in 1835, the Orson Welles "Men from Mars" broadcast, and the more extreme Flying Saucer experts.

DECEMBER 22, 1952:

Lima, Ohio News - 22 Dec 52

"FLYING SAUCER" GROUNDED -- A ripped and torn cardboard object containing miscellaneous wiring and broken light bulbs is examined by Ralph Young, employe of a West Orange, N.J., quarry where the disk came to earth. Altho it resembled the popular conception of a flying saucer, the cone-shaped "space machine" turned out to be a dance hall decoration. It was at first thought to have been dropped from an airplane.

Lebanon, Pennsylvania Daily News - 22 Dec 52

Radar's Weakness

Radar, that marvel of electronics, has a weakness not unknown to man. It "sees" flying saucers where none exists. And what's more, it can on occasion be led astray by hot air.

This is the solemn finding of the august Civil Aeronautics Administration. Seems that images of what appeared to be flying saucers last summer cluttered radar screens at several CAA airport control towers. The government agency determined to investigate, not that it was concerned as to the possible existence of supersonic peeping toms from Mars or some other planet.

Trouble was the strange radar images raised hob with air traffic control. For instance, controllers following the orderly progress of a couple of Constellations would get confused, not to say exasperated, to spot, quite suddenly, an unknown target on the screen from a flight definitely not cleared by Airways Traffic Control.

"Concerned with the possible detrimental effects on air traffic control," CAA ordered its Technical Development and Evaluation Center to investigate. The findings now are public.

An accusing finger is pointed at the meteorological non sequitor [sic] known as a temperature inversion in which hot air is found over cold, whereas, as every schoolboy knows, air normally becomes progressively colder from the ground up.

An inversion, CAA explains, allows dissimilar air to scrape above the earth, thus creating eddies. Radar beams normally speed through the air in nothing flat and never return to the scope unless they bounce from something solid like an airplane at [sic] rain cloud.

But atmospheric eddies are tricky, CAA reports. They bend radar beams back to earth, creating the illusion of flying saucers on otherwise responsible radar screens.

CAA, though, is one government agency not to be caught on a limb jutting out to interstellar space. The agency adds it still recognizes the need for securing additional evidence on the problem, through observations with more versatile equipment.

So it appears another report, another explanation of flying saucers, may be forthcoming. Buck Rogers fans, though, will just have to be patient.

East Liverpool, Ohio Review - 22 Dec 52

Quite Clear!

It has taken the ultra-cautious Civil Aeronautics Administration until now to formulate its opinion on flying saucers, but considering all the newspaper and magazine treatises on this needed conversational escapism during the past months the number of people whose minds are not already made up and locked up on this theme would not make a quorum for a sewing circle.

The CAA let the Air Force and other defense bodies have the initial limelight in determining if Men from Mars were looking us over. The CAA now opines there were no saucers at all and what people saw were only "secondary reflections of the radar beam by atmospheric conditions." Primary reflections by persons who swear they noted gnome-like men waving gaily from the space-ship portholes won't be dislodged by these secondary second-thought decrees.

Anybody want the CAA technical dope on the cupless saucers? The radar beam reflections, it seems, "were produced by isolated refracting areas which traveled with the wind at or near the temperature inversion levels. These areas, possibly atmospheric eddies created by the shearing action of dissimilar air strata, were not of sufficient density to produce direct returns, but could bend the radar beams downward to give a ground return."

All clear? Any questions? Continue: "Horizontal movement of these areas would produce a movement twice as great in the image being received on the radar scope, and in a parallel direction."

Oakland, California Tribune - 22 Dec 52

Another Displaced Person

The mystical snow-field where
     Santa Claus lived
Has a giant air-base now,
And commentators report to the world
Where the reindeer had their mow.

No spot on earth is safe today
From prying human eyes,
So Santa has moved his work shop
To a platform in the skies.

Etheric speed is nothing new
To his eight-deer famous team,
As swift as thought they travel
The stars' magnetic beam.

Flying saucers? You guessed it!
Santa has them by the fleet,
For our increased population
We have forced him to retreat.

We may drive the dear old fellow
To Venus, Mars, or worse,
Send him packing to the farthest
Corner of the omniverse!

So remember it's top-secret
That he's left our own North Pole,
And if you see a reindeer-saucer
Don't you tell a soul!

-- Eunice Mitchell Lehmer

go to comments on this entry


1. The polar missions of Admiral Byrd, as described in "Wing Tips", would form the basis for later tales of an opening in the polar regions leading to a "hollow earth" -- said by some to be the home base of flying saucers.

2. The sighting report told in "University Airport Manager Sights A 'Flying Saucer'" received the final classification of "debris in air". The following are the documents on the incident as found in the declassified files of Project Blue Book (click on any image to open a larger version in a new window, then click on image in new window if necessary to enlarge)...

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3. The reference to an earlier incident in "Hundreds See 'Saucers' Fly In Formation" in Prince Rupert, Canada, probably refers to the following news story, found in the declassified files of the Canadian government...

Blue Book
4. The following are selected documents regarding reports of aerial objects over the Panama Canal as reported in Drew Pearson's column headlined "Flying Discs Over Panama Canal?" above...

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A reproduction of the entire Air Force file is available at NICAP as two PDF documents here and here.

5. The book "In the Name of Science" by Martin Gardner, as reviewed in the article "Some New Books" above, is considered by many to be the progenitor tome for all subsequent debunking attacks on "pseudo-science". The chapter on "flying saucers" is as follows...


Flying Saucers

CHARLES FORT died in 1932, fifteen years before the flying-saucer craze began. It is a pity he did not live to witness this mass mania, because in many ways, it was a triumph of pure Forteanism. Mysterious objects are seen in the sky. They elude all "official" and "scientific" explanation. Wild Fortean hypotheses are invented to explain them, and discussed seriously by the man in the street as well as by seemingly intelligent authors and editors. As we shall see later, Fort himself collected hundreds of press clippings about mysterious lights and objects in the sky, and speculated at length on their extraterrestrial origin. But first, let us chronicle briefly the major events in the history of the flying-saucer delusion.

It all began on Tuesday, June 24, 1947. Kenneth Arnold, owner of a fire control supply company in Boise, Idaho, was flying his private plane above the Cascade Mountains of Washington. Arnold is a handsome, athletic chap (former North Dakota all-state football end) in his middle thirties, who uses his plane for distributing his fire-fighting equipment. As he neared Mt. Rainier, nine circular objects, in diagonal chain formation and moving at high speed, passed within twenty-five miles of his plane. He estimated their size as slightly smaller than a DC-4 which also happened to be in the sky. They flew, he later wrote, "as if they were linked together," swerving in and out of the high mountain peaks with "flipping, erratic movements."

At Pendleton, Oregon, Arnold told a reporter that the objects "flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." Next day, the wire services blanketed the nation with the story, using the word "saucer" to describe the objects. Actually, Arnold's original statement did not say the objects were saucer-shaped. But the word caught on, and the mania was underway. Newspapers all over the country were swamped with phone calls from excited people who had seen "saucers" over their farms, towns, and cities. Most of these stories were printed and put on the wires with little or no checking. If the observer did not use the word "saucer," the local paper or press-service stringer put it in, and if the wire story failed to mention "saucer," papers receiving it were likely to use the word in their headlines. In a few weeks, saucers had been reported from every state in the union, as well as Canada, Australia, England, and Iran.

Occasionally, sky objects of other shapes broke into the news. There were balls of fire, ice cream cones, flying hub-caps, doughnuts, and one wingless, cigar-shaped craft with rows of lighted windows, long orange-red exhaust, and blue flames dancing along the underbelly. David Lawrence, in his U.S. News, disclosed that the saucers were secret U.S. aircraft, "a combination of helicopter and a fast jet plane." Walter Winchell had inside information that the strange platters were from Russia. Andrei Gromyko, in a rare burst of confidence, revealed that possibly the saucers were coming from a Soviet discus thrower who didn't know his own strength.

Three military men lost their lives investigating the saucers. The first tragedy occurred shortly after the original sighting. A report reached Arnold that a weird doughnut-shaped craft had spewed forth large quantities of lava-like rock on Maury Island, a few miles off the coast near Tacoma, Washington. Arnold flew to Tacoma to investigate. On the way, incidentally, he spotted another cluster of about twenty-five small (two or three feet across), amber-colored saucers.

The entire Maury Island episode later proved to be a hoax elaborately planned by two Tacoma men who hoped to sell the phony yarn to an adventure magazine. Both men eventually made a full confession. Arnold, however, was completely taken in by the hoax, and his phone call to Air Force Intelligence, at Hamilton Field, California, brought two officers to the scene. On their way back, the left engine of the B-25 bomber they were flying burst into flames. Two enlisted men also in the plane parachuted to safety after being ordered to jump. Eleven minutes later the plane crashed and both officers were killed.

According to Arnold's several thud-and-blunder accounts of all this, the plane was carrying a corn-flakes box filled with samples of the mysterious lava. No trace of the box was reported found in the wreckage. "Were both of these men dead long before their plane actually crashed and is that the reason their plane was under little or no control?" Arnold asks. In all his writings about the saucers he betrays this suspicion of mysterious forces and conspiracies thwarting his efforts to get at the real truth.

The second tragedy was perhaps the most dramatic event in the history of the saucer mania. It occurred in January, 1948, at the Air Force base near Fort Knox, Kentucky. A round, white object spotted in the sky was chased by Captain Thomas F. Mantell, Jr., in a P-51 fighter plane. The object rose rapidly. Mantell followed it to 18,000 feet, then radioed to the ground, "Going to 20,000 feet. If no closer, will abandon chase." That was the last message from him. Apparently he blacked out in the high altitude, and after reaching about 30,000 feet the plane went into a fatal dive.

At first the military forces brushed aside the flying-saucer mania as mass delusion, but after the reports grew to vast proportions, the Air Force set up a "Project Saucer" to make a careful investigation. After fifteen months they reported they had found no evidence which could not be explained as hoaxes, illusions, or misinterpretations of balloons and other familiar sky objects. Later, President Truman also issued an official denial that the military were working on any type of airborne craft which corresponded to saucer descriptions.

In February, 1951, the Office of Naval Research distributed a ten-page report on the Navy's huge skyhook balloons, used for cosmic-ray research. The report pointed out in detail the ease with which these giant plastic bags -- a hundred feet in diameter -- could be mistaken for flying disks. The balloons reach a height of 100,000 feet, and are often borne by Jetstream winds at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. If the observer guesses the balloon to be farther away than it is, then, of course, estimates of speed can be incredibly high.

At a distance, a balloon loses entirely its three-dimensional spherical aspect. It takes on the appearance of a disk. From beneath, instruments hanging below the balloon's center, can easily be mistaken for a "hole," giving the disk the shape of a doughnut. If viewed from the side, the disk seems to be flying on edge, like a rolling wheel.

Through a telescope or binoculars, the flatness of a balloon is greatly magnified because of a curious optical illusion. A telescope does not present an image of the object as it would appear if you were closer to it. Instead, it takes the image, exactly as it appears in the distance, and enlarges it for the eye. You seem to be closer to it, but the perspective it would normally have if you were that close is not present at all. As a result, a globular object viewed through a telescope looks remarkably like a plate. If you have ever looked through binoculars at cars coming toward you on a long highway, you may recall how odd and flat the cars appear.

In addition, the plastic composition of a skyhook balloon offers a surface that seems highly metallic in reflected sunlight. Most of the saucer reports describe the disks as silvery in color. At sunset the balloons may shine in the sky for thirty minutes after the earth has become dark. "If your imagination soars," the Navy release said, "the light reflection from one side may impress you as the glow of an atomic engine. The wisp of the balloon's instrument-filled tail may impress you as the exhaust. The sun's rays may suffuse the plastic bag to a fiery glow."

The first skyhooks were sent up in 1947, the year flying saucers were first reported. Arnold's original description of what he saw above the Cascade Mountains tallies remarkably well with what he would be expected to see had he flown near a group of smaller plastic balloons often used in place of the single large one. He estimated their size as smaller than a plane and the distance as about twenty-five miles -- or twice the length of Manhattan Island. At this distance they would have been mere specks in the sky, and since Arnold was seeing them with unaided eyes, we cannot trust his guesses as to their actual size, shape, distance, or speed. Estimates of speed presuppose accurate knowledge of distance, and this in turn cannot be gauged unless the exact size is known.

Similarly, all the details of Captain Mantell's unfortunate death suggest he was chasing a skyhook. Moreover, it is known that such a balloon was in the area on the day he made his fatal climb. Even the descriptions of several hundred small "saucers" which sailed over Farmington, New Mexico, on March 17, 1950, read like descriptions of balloons -- though of course they could not have been skyhooks. They were white and round. They "fluttered." They seemed to "play tag" with each other in the sky.

One of the few points on which all observers of flying saucers agree is that there is no noise. This excludes, of course, any known type of propulsion, but is precisely the way a balloon behaves. Observers have sometimes insisted that what they saw could not be a balloon because it was moving against the wind. They forget that wind directions in the stratosphere may be quite different from wind directions on the ground. At the time of the Navy's report, 270 skyhooks had been released from various spots in the United States, often remaining in the sky more than thirty hours. Frequently, lost balloons were actually traced by following press reports of flying saucer sightings!

After the Navy's release on skyhooks, reports of flying saucers decreased markedly, and green fireballs, streaking across southwestern skies, caught the public fancy. In the spring and summer of 1952, however, there was a new wave of saucer sightings, as well as a dramatic saucer scare in the nation's capital when mysterious blips of light kept appearing and vanishing on radar screens. Many factors seem to be involved in the saucer mania. Although skyhook balloons, singly or in clusters, may account for most of the reliable reports, one must not forget that many other types of balloons are riding the skies. Weather balloons often carry steady or blinking lights and various shaped metal gadgets. Radar-target balloons trail large targets of aluminum foil. Guided missiles, and experimental aircraft of unusual design, may also account for some of the saucer sightings.

In addition, one must consider a score of possible illusions arising from faulty observations of planes, flying birds, the planet Venus, reflections of lights on clouds, and similar phenomena. The theory that the disks are mirages produced by unusual weather conditions has been advanced by Donald H. Menzel, a Harvard professor of astrophysics, and will be defended by him in a forthcoming book, The Truth About Flying Saucers. Normally such illusions would be rare, but under the pressure of mild mass hysteria, they greatly increase in number and, of course, are more likely to be reported. Even delusions without external cause can be induced in the minds of neurotics if there is a strong public belief with which the delusions may be identified.

Lastly, there are the lies and semi-lies. A book could be written about flying saucer hoaxes perpetrated in the past few years by pranksters, publicity seekers, and psychotics. Unfortunately, exposure of the hoax seldom catches up with the original story.

Even more difficult to expose are the semi-lies -- accounts which have a basis in fact, but may be grossly exaggerated. For example, an observer sees a balloon but is convinced it is a saucer. Others are skeptical and this irritates him. So to convince them, he adds details, or exaggerates what he has seen. He may do this without being aware of it, and later recall the episode not as he saw it, but as he has added to it in his desire to convince himself and others. This is a well-known human failing and there is no reason to suppose it could not be involved in hundreds of so-called saucer sightings.

It is possible, of course, there may be some type of experimental aircraft resembling a disk and flying without sound that is still officially top-secret. But this seems extremely unlikely. Information now available on the cosmic ray balloons, together with the factors mentioned above, are sufficient to account for all that has happened. Official denials by the military and by the President have the earmarks of authenticity. Naturally, it will always be impossible to prove there never was a flying saucer. Believers in the elusive platters are likely to be around for decades. But there is every reason now to expect that the saucer mania will go down in history as merely one more example of a mass delusion.

At this point, the reader may well ask, "What has all this to do with pseudo-science?" The answer is: very little if it were not for the fact that a widespread belief has developed that flying saucers are not only real, but are spaceships from another world. This view has been exploited in numerous magazine articles and three hardcover books published by reputable presses.

The first magazine to promote the extra-planetary theory was Fate, a pocket-size pulp specializing in articles on telepathy, spiritualism, and other occult subjects. The publisher is Raymond Palmer who formerly edited a science-fiction magazine called Amazing Stories. It was as editor of this magazine that Palmer was responsible for the greatest of all science-fiction hoaxes. It is known as the Great Shaver Mystery, and involves a series of stories which first appeared in Palmer's magazine in 1945. The tales were Palmer's expansions of briefer drafts by a Pennsylvania welder named Richard Shaver. Drawing on his "racial memories," Shaver described in great detail the activities of a midget race of degenerates called "deros" who live in huge caverns beneath the surface of the earth. By means of telepathy and secret rays, the deros are responsible for most of earth's catastrophes -- wars, fires, airplane crashes, shipwrecks, and nervous breakdowns. What happened to Judge Crater? He was kidnapped by the deros! The monsters even stole copy from Palmer's desk!

Shaver's stories were presented as solid fact, and so convincingly that thousands of naive readers were, and perhaps still are, taken in by them. More adult science fiction fans, who objected to Palmer's ethics in running this series, finally kicked up such a protest that the publisher of Amazing ordered the stories killed. Shaver's latest work, distributed by Palmer, hangs the saucers on a race of Titans (the original masters of the deros) who fled into outer space two hundred centuries ago and are now returning.

It is not, therefore, to Arnold's credit that his first article on flying saucers -- titled "I Did See the Flying Disks" -- appeared in the first issue of Fate, Spring, 1948. In addition, Palmer recently announced a privately printed book on the saucers, soon to be on sale for five dollars, which he has written in collaboration with Arnold.

Arnold has contributed several other pieces to Fate. His "Phantom Lights in Nevada" (Fall, 1948) is about strange disks of pale red or yellow light seen hugging the ground at night in the Oregon Canyon Ranch, near McDermott, Nevada. "More than fifty of the shepherds of the area have seen the mysterious lights," he wrote, "and it has been noted that dogs bark at them, proving they are visible to animals as well as humans." Another article by Arnold, "Are Space Visitors Here?" (Summer, 1948), describes globes of a blue-green-purple color. They were seen by a fisherman in Ontario, and Arnold suspects they are spacecraft from another planet. His latest piece, "The Real Flying Saucer," appeared in the January 1952 issue of Other Worlds -- another Palmer magazine.

Arnold himself published, and sells for fifty cents, a pamphlet of fifteen pages titled The Flying Saucer as I Saw It. This pamphlet, like the saucer, must be seen to be believed. The Maury Island hoax is taken seriously and there is even a drawing of the giant doughnut belching forth lava rock. Arnold reveals that a Tacoma reporter who wrote about the episode died suddenly of unknown causes (presumably killed by saucer men). A plane crash on Mt. Rainier, in which thirty-two Marines perished, is likewise linked to the disks on the ground that the crash occurred shortly before Arnold's first saucer sighting. Furthermore, in 1947 a suspension bridge near Riggins, Idaho, was mysteriously ignited by "something" of such intense heat that the steel cables burned like wood!

Arnold accepts the report that one saucer, chased by a pilot, made evasive maneuvers in response to the pilot's thoughts. Two pages are devoted to pictures of "radar angels" -- white splotches of light which sometimes appear on radar screens, though what connection they have with saucers is not made clear. There is a photograph of a mummified man fourteen inches tall, discovered in 1932 in the Rockies and now owned by a man in Caspar, Wyoming. Arnold thinks this lends credence to reports that tiny men have been found in saucers that have crashed ( Fate, Sept., 1950, ran an article by Ray Palmer on this mummy). He also thinks there is some sinister connection between the saucers and mystery submarines reported off the coasts.

A press clipping is reproduced in which Arnold says to a reporter, "I realize it's the 'data of the damned' to make a report on these things... Who's to determine what is and what isn't a fact?" The quoted phrase is, of course, Fort's. Arnold prints a number of Fort's "data" on mysterious sky objects, and adds that he himself has a collection of many similar reports.

The second magazine to publicize the spaceship theory was True. In its January 1950 issue, an article by Donald Keyhoe opened as follows:

After eight months of intensive investigation, the following conclusions have been reached by True magazine:

1. For the past 175 years, the planet Earth has been under systematic close-range examination by living intelligent observers from another planet.

2. The intensity of this observation, and the frequency of the visits ... have increased markedly during the past two years.

Two months later, True ran another piece on saucers. Written by Commander Robert B. McLaughlin, on active duty in the Navy, the article developed the theory that the platters were piloted by Martians small enough to fit into twenty-inch disks. "It is staggering to imagine intelligent beings that small," McLaughlin confessed, "but we must not disregard any possibilities." The Commander speculated at some length on the craft's mode of propulsion, coming to the conclusion that it probably has three sets of motors, using light radiation (from an atomic source) as pressure "against a heavily shielded curved reflector."

The most recent article arguing the extra-planetary theory appeared in Life, April 7, 1952, at a time when other magazines and newspapers had almost relegated the disks to limbo. This article may have been a major cause of the revival of saucer reports in the months which followed. Einstein was prompted by the revival to issue the statement that he had no curiosity about the saucers, and Father Francis J. Connell, dean of Catholic University's School of Sacred Theology, pointed out that Catholic belief does not exclude the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. "If these supposed rational beings should possess the immortality of body once enjoyed by Adam and Eve," Father Connell said, "it would be foolish for our superjet or rocket pilots to try to shoot them. They would be unkillable."

Donald Keyhoe's book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, was issued in 1950 by Fawcett Publications, publishers of True. It gives the impression of a sincere, though scientifically naive, effort by a journalist and former Marine pilot to round up all the information he can on the topic. He tells the story of his research chronologically, almost like a work of fiction. As it progresses, you see the author's growing suspicion that military officials are not playing square with him. Gradually, he comes to the conclusion that the Air Force's "Project Saucer" was set up not only to investigate, but also to conceal -- to conceal from the public the fact that the saucers are from another planet.

"As I waited for a taxi," he writes, "I looked up at the sky. It was a clear summer night, without a single cloud. Beyond the low hill to the west I could see the stars. I can still remember thinking. If it's true, then the stars will never again seem the same."

Keyhoe is convinced that the earth has been under periodic observation by another planet, or planets, for at least two centuries. He thinks this observation increased in 1947 as a result of our series of atom bomb explosions which aroused the curiosity of the space men. Their visits are "part of a long range survey, and will continue indefinitely. No immediate attempt to contact the earth seems evident. There may be some unknown block to making contact, but it is more probable that the space men's plans are not complete."

Keyhoe believes that Mantell was not only chasing a space ship, but that the space men -- by some unknown power -- killed Mantell before he could reach them. In an earlier chapter, he writes, "The secret of the spaceship's power is more important than even the hydrogen bomb. It may someday be the key to the fate of the world."

Romantic and preposterous as these speculations certainly are, they seem like the remarks of a cautious scientist when compared to the second of the three books which have been written about the topic. Frank Scully's Behind the Flying Saucers, published in 1951 by Henry Holt, is filled with so many scientific howlers, and such wild imaginings that when True magazine, Sept., 1952, revealed it to be a hoax, there was little cause for surprise. Scully is the Hollywood columnist for Variety. His previous book, Fun in Bed, suggests his status as a scientist and thinker.

The major theme of Scully's book is that the saucers are flown here by "magnetic propulsion" (whatever that is) from Venus. They travel with the speed of light (or faster) and are piloted by Venusians who are exact duplicates of earthlings except they are three feet high and have teeth completely free of cavities. A mysterious "magnetic specialist" whom he calls "Dr. Gee" is Scully's chief source of information.

Four saucers have landed. Three crashed, but the fourth took off again. The crashed ships, including several dozen Venusian bodies, are now being studied at undisclosed government laboratories.

According to Scully, the saucers are made of a hard but extremely light metal completely unknown to our chemists. All the dimensions of the ships are divisible by nine. Their cabins revolve on an unfamiliar gear ratio. One ship "defied all efforts to get inside of it, despite the use of $35,000 worth of diamond drills." The Venusians carried "heavy water" for drinking, and concentrated food wafers. A tiny radio operated on unknown principles. Booklets were found written in pictorial script which our experts are now trying to decipher.

All this is thoroughly mixed with a continual sniping at the Truman administration for its "hush-hush policy" on the saucers, its bungling bureaucracy, and its cowardly failure to take the people into confidence. Debunkers of the saucers are charged with following "Party lines."

The third and most recent book on the topic -- Gerald Heard's Is Another World Watching?, Harper's, 1951 -- is the most terrifying of the three. Terrifying because there is the very real possibility that Heard (a sincere and devout mystic) actually believes everything he writes. He is the author of many learned, scholarly works in the fields of religion, psychology, and anthropology, as well as a number of mystery novels. As might be expected, he writes with considerably more polish than either Keyhoe or Scully, quoting occasionally from Shakespeare and John Stuart Mill, and making a great pother about fairness in all his reasoning.

Heard thinks the saucers come from Mars. Considering their small size, plus the speed with which they maneuver, he concludes that only an insect would be tiny enough, and have a hide sufficiently tough, to withstand the crushing inertial effect of sudden turns. These and other lines of thought convince him that the ships are piloted by Martian "super-bees" about two inches long and possessing an intelligence much higher than man's. Here is Heard's description of what these bees may look like:

A creature with eyes like brilliant cut diamonds, with a head of sapphire, a thorax of emerald, an abdomen of ruby, wings like opal, legs like topaz -- such a body would be worthy of this super-mind. I am sure that toward it our reaction would be: "What a diadem of living jewels!" It is we would feel shabby and ashamed and maybe, with our clammy, putty-colored bodies, repulsive!

Of course ... we must allow that we should find it hard to make friends with anything that had more than two legs...

Like Keyhoe, Heard believes the space men are here as scouts to investigate atomic explosions. Our sun is a Cepheid, or pulsing star, Heard states (which of course it isn't), and might possibly explode if our atomic blasts destroy its delicate chemical balance. Already our atom bombs have increased the size of spots on the sun, and sunspots "may be warnings of indigestive troubles -- as spots on our own face sometimes tell about our deep interior conflicts... Is it not possible that the Martians, who have so much to fear from sun trouble, may have read these signs?"

The Martian scouts, Heard believes, are seeking information about us but are careful to avoid direct contacts. A huge "mother ship" has been established as an earth satellite. From this ship the smaller, saucer-like craft go "ashore" to do the scouting. Mars' two satellites, he suspects, are not natural moons at all. They are artificial launching jetties for Martian spaceships!

A half dozen photographs of saucers are reproduced in the front of the book. The only two pictures clear enough to show anything were taken by Paul Trent, a farmer in McMinville, Oregon. They were printed in Life's June 26, 1950 issue. Trent's saucer bears a striking resemblance to the top of a garbage can tossed into the air.

Both Heard and Keyhoe take for granted that science has established the high probability of intelligent life on Mars. Actually, this is not the case. The fact is there is no evidence one way or the other. At the most, some obscure color changes on the planet may be interpreted as vegetation varying with the seasons. The so-called canals of Mars have had a highly dubious history. They were first reported in 1877 by an Italian astronomer, and later defended by the American astronomer, Percival Lowell. Unfortunately, later observers, with much better telescopes and great visual acuity, have been unable to see them. The consensus among modern astronomers is that the "canals" were subjective interpretations with no reality outside the minds of Lowell and others who fancied they could see them.

The quickness with which the public will accept evidence of life on nearby worlds is astonishing. One of the best examples was the famous Moon Hoax perpetrated by the New York Sun in 1835. This was a series of articles reporting what the great British astronomer Sir John Herschel had seen through a new telescope at Cape Town, Africa. The articles described life on the moon, with accompanying drawings of apelike creatures who "averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of thin membranes. ... Our further observation of the habits of these creatures, who were of both sexes, led to results so very remarkable, that I prefer they should first be laid before the public in Dr. Herschel's own work . .. they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures, notwithstanding some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum."

The hoax was intended as a satire, but it was accepted as fact by about half of New York City, and many believers remained unconvinced even after the reporter, Richard Locke, publicly admitted the deception!

A somewhat similar, but more upsetting, prank was played on the American public the night of Halloween, 1938, when Orson Welles presented a radio version of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The broadcast opened with dance music, which was then interrupted by a series of news flashes. The first flash reported a gas explosion on Mars. The second, an earthquake tremor in New Jersey. Finally, there was a spot broadcast from Grovers Mill, New Jersey, describing a huge, cylindrical spaceship out of which came bug-eyed monsters armed with death rays. Other cylinders land and the monsters manage to destroy most of New York before they die of disease germs for which they had no resistance.

Six million people heard the broadcast, and it is estimated that approximately one million took it seriously enough to be in some degree frightened. Thousands wept, prayed, closed their windows to shut out poison gas, or fled from their homes expecting the world to end. Phone lines were tied up for hours. The panic was from coast to coast, but the greatest hysteria was in the southern states among the poorly educated. If the Moon Hoax could be believed in 1835, and an invasion from Mars taken seriously in 1938, perhaps it is not so hard to understand a widespread acceptance of the spaceship theory of flying saucers in a decade that has split the atom and bounced radar off the moon.

Charles Fort, in one of his books, devotes a chapter to observations of cigar-shaped objects in the skies. He concludes: "Some of the accounts are not very detailed, but out of the bits of description my own acceptance is that super-geographical routes are traversed by torpedo-shaped super-constructions that have occasionally visited, or that have occasionally been driven into this earth's atmosphere."

Many of the strange sky objects discussed by Fort were in the shape of saucers, though of course Fort did not use that term. For example -- a gray disk observed in 1870 by a sea captain; or the dark, circular object "with a structure of some kind upon the side of it, travelling at a great pace." The latter was observed one moonlit night in 1908 by employees of the Norwich Transportation Company, at Mousehead, England. "It seemed too large for a kite," they said, "and, besides, its movements seemed under control for it was travelling against the wind."

Fort had many explanations for these sightings. "Perhaps," he wrote, "there are inhabitants of Mars, who are secretly sending reports upon the ways of this world to their governments." On another page he speculated, " ... I conceive of other worlds and vast structures that pass us by, within a few miles, without the slightest desire to communicate quite as tramp vessels pass many islands... "

Fort's most daring hypothesis was that humanity was owned -- owned by higher intelligences who visited earth occasionally to check on their charges. "... something now has a legal right to us, by force, or by having paid out analogues of beads for us to former, more primitive, owners ... that all this had been known, perhaps for ages, to certain ones upon this earth, a cult or order, members of which function like bellwethers to the rest of us, or as superior slaves or overseers, directing us in accordance with instructions received -- from Somewhere else... "

"I think we're property," wrote Fort. This casual sentence inspired one of the best-known science fiction novels of recent years -- Sinister Barrier, by Eric Frank Russell. Russell is chief British correspondent for the Fortean Society, and a half-believer in many of Fort's speculations.

The Society, incidentally, was not impressed at all by the flying saucer mania. In 1947 Thayer devoted issue No. 19 of Doubt to the saucers, but after that reported on them reluctantly. "Forteans have a legitimate gripe," he wrote, "at the usurpation of our long-time franchise upon lights and objects in the sky by the military and its lackey freeprez [free press]."

One suspects, however, that if Fort had lived until the flying-saucer era he would have thoroughly enjoyed reading the flood of Fortean speculations about the celestial platters. And how he would have chuckled at the frantic efforts of the military to persuade a dazed public that nothing sinister or extraordinary was taking place above their heads!

Originally published in 1952 by Putnam, the book was reissued by Dover Publications in 1957 with the following notes by the author on Chapter 5...


Since this chapter was written several dozen hard cover books on the saucers have enjoyed profitable sales. They range in quality from the works of George Adamski, that out-Scully Scully, to two new books by Keyhoe. Keyhoe does not, like Adamski, claim to have ridden in a saucer where he conversed with a voluptuous golden-sandaled Venusian. This restraint has led many reviewers who should know better to take Keyhoe's speculations seriously. Groff Conklin, writing in Galaxy, April, 1954, found the data in Keyhoe's Flying Saucers from Outer Space "ominously persuasive" and "unassailably factual." The editors of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb., 1954, found the same book "uncontrovertible" and thought it likely the most important work ever mentioned in their review column.

In spite of the flood of zany books, articles, lectures, documentary films, and special magazines trumpeting the extraterrestrial saucer theory, the mania seems to have slowly abated as far as the general public is concerned, leaving saucer speculation in the hands of the occultists. Some dozen or so cults of a theosophical type have now integrated the saucers with their other beliefs, the general approach being that the space people are here to prepare the earth for a New Age. In most cases a leader or prominent member of the cult is in touch with the space people by extra-sensory perception, receiving detailed instructions which are then passed on to the neurotic middle-aged ladies who make up the bulk of the cult's membership.

In the fall of 1954 the saucer mania struck France, then fanned out over Europe. The French press outdid even the United States in unbridled reports of fantastic little men observed here and there stepping out of the saucers (see Time, Oct. 25, 1954; Life, Nov. 1, 1954; and the New York Herald Tribune, Dec. 10, 1954).

The wire services in this country have made two valiant but unsuccessful Fortean attempts to replace the worn out saucer craze with something new and less boring. In 1954 it was a "glasspox" epidemic -- a mysterious pitting of automobile windshields. The epidemic started on the west coast then rapidly moved eastward. Even England suffered a mild attack. Then in the hot summer months of 1955 garden hoses began to burrow their way into the soil. Nobody mentioned Shaver's "deros," obviously responsible for this mischief.

The mania of past centuries for seeing sea serpents has many obvious parallels with the flying saucer craze and should be just about due for a revival. One or two sensational eye witness accounts, a solemn article in a mass circulation magazine, and soon half the sailors on the high seas will be bringing back reports about monsters of the deep. The recent flurry of interest in the "abominable snowman" of the Himalayas, an elusive beast who leaves giant footprints but manages to evade being captured or photographed, suggests that public interest in monsters "unknown to science" is still a lively one. (See Ralph Izzard's book, The Abominable Snowman, 1955.)


1. The best discussion to date of the Shaver hoax will be found in two articles by Thomas S. Gardner -- "Calling All Crackpots!" and "Crackpot Heaven" -- in the science fiction magazine, Fantasy Commentator, spring and summer issues, 1945.

2. An enthusiastic Fortean, Arnold once sought to have the Fortean Society sponsor him on a lecture tour. This is disclosed by Tiffany Thayer in Doubt, No. 40, 1953, an issue devoted entirely to a chronological report on saucer sightings.

3. Father Connell provides an appendix on extra-terrestrial theology to Aime Michel's The Truth About Flying Saucers, 1956, a translation of a French roundup of American and European saucer data.

4. Frank Scully's latest work is Blessed Mother Goose, a rewriting of the familiar nursery rhymes so that, as an advertisement has it, they "echo the Catholic way of life."

5. "Dr. Gee" turned out to be Leo GeBauer, proprietor of a radio and television supply house in Phoenix, Arizona. It was he and his friend Silas Newton, Denver geophysicist, who provided Scully with the data on which his book was based. Newton and GeBauer were arrested in 1952 and later found guilty by a Denver court of swindling a Denver businessman out of some $250,000. The two men had sold their victim an electronic "doodlebug" for finding oil, and he had sunk a small fortune in worthless oil leases as a result. The machine proved to be a radio frequency changer that could be bought as war-surplus for about $3.50.

6. For a recent article that takes seriously the many "maps" which have been sketched of Martian canals, see Wells Alan Webb's "Correlation of the Martian Canal Network," in Astounding Science Fiction, March, 1956. Webb subjects these maps to an elementary topological analysis, finding them similar to networks that are man-made (e.g., airline routes), thus leading him to conclude that they have an "animal origin." His theory has one simple fallacy. If the "maps" are merely the doodlings of imaginative astronomers, as most astronomers think they are, the topological analysis naturally still applies. A footnote credits editor John Campbell Jr. with the theory that the canals may be pathways beaten out by migrating herds of animals.

More on Gardner may be read in his obituary in Popular Science. The book itself is available in PDF format here.


The Arrival

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The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Swedish Movie Poster, 1956

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, French Movie Poster, 1956

Teenagers From Outer Space, 1959

Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 1964

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

Devil Girl From Mars, 1955

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, German Movie Poster, 1956

This Island Earth, 1954

Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 1964

Invasion of the Saucer Men, 1957

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, 1956

The War of the Worlds, 1953

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978

The Day of the Triffids, 1963

The Phantom Planet, 1962

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Invasion of The Body Snatchers, 1956

It Came from Outer Space, 1953

Queen of Outer Space, 1958

2001: A Space Odyssey


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