Section I - Summary of the Period
During the summer of 1947 a bizarre and inexplicable situation developed in North America for which, up to the time of the writing of this report, twenty years later, no satisfactory explanation has been forthcoming. Beginning in the latter part of June, people in widely separated places and from all walks of life began to report having seen shining, high-speed, strangely maneuvering objects in the sky. In most of these reports the objects were described as round or disc-shaped. For more than a week sightings were made in continuously increasing numbers. On July 4th the reports rose sharply and spontaneously, and for five days there was scarcely any part of the United States that had not been visited by these strangely elusive aerial objects. Reports came from many points in Canada as well. The number of sightings crested on July 7th, and during the next few days reports began to diminish until, about a week later, only a handful were being made from scattered sections of the country. Although the objects themselves had all but vanished, interest and speculation about them continued for some time after. A wave of sightings of unidentified flying objects had occurred. Flying saucers had become part of the language and the subject of fickle interest and ever-increasing confusion.
As most people familiar with the history of the UFO phenomenon are aware, the events of 1947 seemed to begin on June 24th, the date of the sighting made by Kenneth Arnold, while flying a plane over the Cascade Mountains of Washington. The date is partly justified, for it was the report made by this Boise, Idaho pilot and businessman, who sold fire-fighting equipment throughout the northwest, that opened the first chapter in the modern record of UFO activity. But Arnold's was not the first sighting of the period. For weeks before that people had been seeing unidentified objects in the sky and keeping the matter to themselves. An important result of Arnold's report was to elicit from these earlier witnesses their accounts of those previously unreported observations.
Reports Before June 1947
As early as the middle of April 1947, at the Weather Bureau in Richmond, Virginia, a U. S. Government meteorologist named Walter A. Minczewski and his staff had released a pibal balloon and were tracking its east-to-west course at 15,000 feet when they noticed silver, ellipsoidal object just below it. Larger than the balloon, this object appeared to be flat on bottom, and when observed through the theodolite used to track the balloon, was seen to have a dome on its upper side. Minczewski and his assistants watched the object for fifteen seconds as it traveled rapidly in level flight on a westerly course, before disappearing from view. In the official report on file at the Air Force's Project Blue Book, at Wright-Patterson Field, in Dayton, Ohio, this sighting is listed as Unidentified.
Another early sighting in the official files is the report by Byron Savage of Oklahoma City -- like Arnold, a businessman and private pilot. He had seen an object about six weeks before Arnold, on May 17th or 18th, and his report was one of the first to receive widespread attention in the newspapers immediately after Arnold's report had appeared. The Oklahoma City Times gave it prominent space on June 26th. At the time of his sighting, Savage had been out in his yard it was dusk, and the sky was still light, when he saw an object “come across the city from just a little east of south … its altitude was very high somewhere around 10,000 feet, I couldn’t be sure. Funny thing about it, it made no noise. I don't think it had kind of internal combustion engine. But I did notice that right after it went out of sight, I heard the sound of rushing wind and air. I told my wife right away, but she thought I must have seen lightning.“ He further described the object as being of “a shiny, silvery color,” and very large -- “bigger than any aircraft we have.” He said it was “perfectly round and flat.” In the Blue Book file he described the object as appearing ellipsoidal in shape as it approached, and completely circular while passing directly overhead, on a course toward the northwest. In this account he said that it appeared “frosty white,” and that its speed was about three times as fast as a jet. It disappeared from view in about fifteen to twenty seconds. Although the sighting details provided by Savage are far more complete than those given for many of the official cases listed by Blue Book as “explained,” this report falls in the category of Insufficient Information.
Another case in the Air Force Blue Book files occurred on May 19th, sometime between twelve thirty and one p.m., at Manitou Springs, Colorado. Seven employees of the Pikes Peak Railway, including Navy veteran Dean A. Hauser, mechanics Ted Weigand and Marion Hisshouse, and T. J. Smith and L. D. Jamison, were having lunch when Weigand noticed a bright, silver-colored object approaching rapidly from the northeast. It stopped almost directly overhead and the group of men watched it perform wild gyrations for a number of minutes. Hauser said that the object, after having approached in a straight line, “began to move erratically in wide circles. All this time it reflected light, like metal, but intermittently, as though the angle of reflection might be changing from time to time.” It was difficult to get a clear idea of its shape, and even viewing it through binoculars did not appear to “bring it any closer.” They estimated its height at one thousand feet. For twenty minutes they watched it climb, dive, reverse its flight course, and finally move off into the wind in a westerly direction. “It disappeared in a straight line in the west-northwest in a clear blue sky,” Hauser reported. At no time did anyone hear any noise. An account of the sighting appeared in the Denver Post of June 28. The next day the Post reported that the witnesses had been interviewed by representatives of the 15th Air Force headquarters and the results of the investigation would be sent on to Washington. The results, perhaps unknown to the witnesses even to this day, were “possible birds.”
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Unlisted in the official AF files, but no less interesting than the preceding case, is Dr. Colden R. Battey’s sighting in the last week of May. Dr. Battey, a physician in Augusta, Georgia, had been fishing ten miles off St. Helena Sound, near Beaufort, South Carolina. At about eleven o’clock that morning he noticed a formation of four disc-like objects flying overhead in a southeasterly direction at a terrific rate of speed. The discs appeared to be spinning on their axes and were at an estimated altitude of about 20,000 feet. They were silvery and appeared “highly polished,” and on their undersides, Dr. Battey could see a “circular rim, or projection, about one-quarter of the way from the edges.” No sound was heard as they flew overhead. The formation sped out of view in less than twenty seconds. Dr. Battey’s report of the sighting did not appear in print until July 6th, when the Augusta Chronicle gave it prominent front-page coverage. INS sent it out on the wires, where it was picked up by numerous newspapers around the country.
Other May sightings reported nearly two months after they had been made include several reports by housewives. Mrs. W. C. Clark, of Memphis, Tennessee, reported in the Commercial-Appeal of July 7th, that she had seen two objects “like tennis balls” fly over her yard around the first of May; and in Newark, New Jersey, Mrs. Rose Slawuta described in the Newark Star-Ledger of the same date how she had seen a “shining elliptical object” with a gold band around it, approaching from the west, on May 10th. The Air Force files contain a sighting from Milford, Iowa, on May 29th, which is listed as a “possible meteor.”
The Importance of Arnold’s Sighting
If Kenneth Arnold, while flying on business from Chehalis to Yakima on June 24th, had decided not to assist in the search for a C-46 Marine transport that had crashed on the slopes of Mount Rainier, the introduction to the modern period of UFO activity would have been quite different. He chose to make this side-trip, however, and as a consequence he became one of those persons who are in the right place at the right time. Shortly before three p.m. he was approaching the mountain from the west side, and as he began a turn of a hundred and eighty degrees toward the south, his eye was caught by a flash, as if “a mirror were reflecting sunlight at me.” Alert for other aircraft, he looked around and saw, to his left and north of Mount Rainier, a chain-like formation of nine brightly scintillating objects rapidly approaching the mountain on a roughly southern heading. As they came closer, passing between him and the summit of the mountain, he could see they were nine flat, discoid objects arranged in a diagonally stepped-down, echelon formation, stretched out over a distance that he later calculated to be five miles. They were evenly spaced but for a wider gap between the fourth and fifth objects. As they crossed the snow-covered summit of Rainier and approached a peak to the south of it, he decided to clock their speed; since they were headed toward Mount Adams, the two mountains would make excellent reference points.
He began to time them as the first object reappeared from behind the outlier peak on the southwest flank of Mount Rainier. (He later identified this peak as Goat Rocks, but he may be in error as Goat Rocks is approximately halfway between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.)The objects followed the hogback that stretches to the south, flying erratically and swerving in and out of the lesser peaks "like the tail of a kite.” He noticed that the objects would flip from side to side, in unison, flashing brightly as they did so. He also noticed something else -- a detail he did not mention in his official report: as the objects flipped from side to side, they presented their lateral surfaces and Arnold saw that one of the objects appeared to be different from the rest, in the shape of a crescent. He hadn’t attached much importance to it at first for, as he wrote of it later in The Coming of the Saucers (pp. 22-23), “I thought it was the angle from which I observed this particular one which made it look different and I wasn’t completely positive about it.”
The objects covered the fifty-mile distance between the two mountains in just one minute and forty-two seconds. Amazed, Arnold began making some rapid calculations as he flew over the area to measure the distance. The results were astonishing: the discs had been flying at a speed of 1,700 miles an hour! To allow for miscalculation he reduced this figure by five hundred but even twelve hundred miles an hour was an amazing speed!
When he landed at Yakima an hour later he went straight to Al Baxter, general manager of Central Aircraft, to tell of his experience. The story quickly spread around the airport, and his descriptions and calculations were discussed with great interest by the pilots and mechanics there. And when Arnold later flew on to Pendleton, word of his strange experiences had preceded him, for on his arrival he found a platoon of incredulous newsmen, looking for a good silly-season story. They had only to meet the originator of this preposterous tale, however -- a pilot with more than four thousand hours of flying experience over some of the most mountainous territory in the United States; a reputable salesman of fire-control equipment over a wide area, who did much of his business by air; a deputy sheriff with the Ada County, Idaho, Sheriffs Aerial Posse department and hear his careful recounting of what had happened, to change their initial skepticism to keen interest. They went over and over his calculations of speed and the figure kept coming out the same. Nothing but rockets went that fast in 1947, and no one knew of any rockets being sent up over Mount Rainier.
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As a result of his meeting with newsmen in Pendleton, Kenneth Arnold's story was filed in a reasonably serious, straightforward manner, and appeared in newspapers all over the country the next day. In the more than one hundred and fifty newspapers examined for this report, a wire service account appeared in nearly every one, most often as a front-page feature.
In the Air Force files the sighting is explained as a "mirage," although it has often been referred to as an "unknown." Even the intelligence officers assigned to investigate the case, Lt. Frank Brown and Captain William Davidson, of Hamilton Field, California, were impressed with Arnold's sighting, for their report, in part, says: "It is the personal opinion of the interviewer that Mr. Arnold actually saw what he stated he saw. It is difficult to believe that a man of [his] character and apparent integrity would state that he saw objects and write up a report to the extent that he did if he did not see them."
Dr. J. Allen Hynek, scientific consultant of the Air Forces investigation of UFOs, was said to have found "inconsistencies" in Arnold's report when reviewing the case for Project Sign in late 1948 or early 1949. According to the Project "Saucer" Press Summary, released in April 1949, the problem lay in reconciling Arnold's estimate of speed and distance with his estimate of the objects size. Edward J. Ruppelt, in his book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, describes this question of estimates in more detail (p. 33). Arnold reported that the objects had been seen at an estimated distance of twenty to twenty-five miles, and estimated their size to be about "two-thirds the size of a DC-4," or from forty-five to fifty feet in length. The objection raised was that an object that size cannot be resolved by the human eye at that distance; therefore, Arnold's estimate of distance was said to be in error, the objects having been much closer and traveling at subsonic speeds well within the range of normal aircraft. This argument ignored the fact that Arnold had established the distance with fixed reference points, and that it was his estimate of size that must have been in error, the discs probably being a great deal larger than he guessed. In view of Dr. Hynek’s opinion that the objects were probably some kind of conventional aircraft, it is curious that the case is listed as a “mirage” rather than as “possible aircraft.”
Within just days of the publication of Arnold's report, other accounts began to appear. At least twenty people from more than a dozen widely separated places reported that they, too, had seen similar objects. Some of these sightings had occurred before June 24th, some had been made on the same day as Arnold's, and a few were made on the days following. Most of the reports came from the northwest. The floodgates were now open for the rush of reports that were soon to follow. But it had taken a man of Kenneth Arnold’s character and forthright conviction to open them by making public his own report. If it had not been for Arnold, which witness, and which report, might have been the first? It is not possible to single out any of the early witnesses, or cases, for not enough information about them is available. One point is certain, however: it is difficult to imagine that the sightings of strange aerial objects would have remained "hidden" much after June 25th.
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Other Reports, June 1 - 24
At least two-dozen sightings were reported to have been made before June 24th. As far as can be determined, none of them appeared in newspapers before that date. There are six reports in the Air Force files for the period June 1-23. One of these, a foreign report describing objects seen over Budapest on June 10, is not included in this report. The first official case for June describes an air-to-air observation by pilot Forrest Wenyon on June 2nd, near Lewes, Delaware (AF files have his name as Horace P. Wenyon). Wenyon reported seeing an object shaped like a mayonnaise jar as it flew across the nose of his plane (see Section III, p. 9, for details). Another pilot's report was made by stunt pilot Richard Rankin, who saw two flights of a group of objects at Bakersfield, California, on June 23rd (see II-3). (The Air Force lists the date of this sighting as June 14th, although the press accounts, published on July 1st, give it as June 23rd.) None of the official sightings for this period are classified as “unknowns.”
Of twenty-nine sightings occurring between June 1st and June 23rd, nearly two-thirds were made in the west, and nine in the northeast; about half the sightings were of a single object, while the rest describe two or more objects. Thirteen of these reports involved a single witness.
On June 24th, the day that Arnold saw his formation of nine discs, there was a sharp increase in the number of UFO sightings, from six on the previous day, to twenty. Of these reports, all but two occurred in the Pacific Northwest. Over half these reports appeared in the papers within several days of Arnold's account and one (Case 40) may be a ground confirmation of his sighting, although the reported directions are at odds with Arnold's. Most of the June 24th sightings are daylight reports; five occurred at night. About half of the reports are, like Arnold's, of multiple objects. The Air Force files list three sightings for that day: besides the Arnold report, one describes objects seen in the Oregon Cascades by a prospector, who noted electromagnetic effects on his compass while the objects were overhead (see IV-3); it is considered unidentified by the Air Force. The other, by the Lt. Governor of Idaho, was made in Boise, Idaho, and is considered to be "astronomical," although the sighting was made at three thirty in the afternoon (see III-16).
Published records have referred to a total of forty-nine UFO reports for the period June 1st through June 24th, by more than seventy-five witnesses, two thirds of whom have been fully identified. These figures raise an interesting question: why did none of these seventy-five witnesses report their unusual observations until after Arnolds story had been published? In a number of those reports, the witnesses tried to account for their initial silence. Richard L. Bitters, editor of the Wapakoneta (Ohio) Daily News, reportedly felt that his sighting of June 23rd was simply not a news story, and did not publish it until two weeks later when he changed his mind at the height of the wave (III-6); on the same night, two other Ohio residents made a similar sighting but delayed reporting it "until others had told of seeing them" (Case 28); E. B. Parks, of Hazel Green, Alabama, felt that the phenomenon he observed about the same time was "so unusual that it was not reported for fear others would disbelieve the account of it" (Case 29). Richard Rankin, who had not attached any "otherworldly" significance to his sighting of June 23rd (or 14th) at Bakersfield, California, assumed that he was observing the Navy’s experimental "Flying Flapjack," the XF5U-1, even though "I couldn’t make out the number or location of the propellers, and I couldn’t distinguish any wings or tail" (II-3) so he hesitated to describe what he had seen "until others were reporting the same thing." And so it went: if the reason for not reporting these earlier sightings at the time they occurred is not exactly stated in every case, it is at least implicitly apparent the witnesses were afraid to report them because they were so unusual.
The Element of Fear
The 1947 UFO wave is perhaps the most fascinating of any to examine because of its unique position at the very beginning of the contemporary period of UFO activity in this country. There were no "attitudes" about UFOs in June 1947. There were no preconceptions, no misconceptions, no "policies" by either press or public, or by any official agencies, and certainly no pattern existed concerning the phenomenon by which comparisons might be made. Few people recalled the reports of "ghost rockets" over Sweden during the summer of 1946, and it was only during the crest of the 1947 wave, on July 6th and 7th, that any connection was made with those earlier phenomena. A few World War II veterans, who had observed "foo fighters" over Germany and in the South Pacific during the war, were now reminded of those earlier incidents by the widespread reports of flying saucers. But for most witnesses, the experience of observing strange aerial manifestations was completely without precedent and profoundly baffling.
We now know that after 1947 it could be expected that a UFO witness might be afraid to report a sighting publicly for fear of ensuing ridicule and intimidation. This is a reaction we have come to expect, one of the many psychological complexities of the UFO phenomenon that has developed out of prevailing public and official attitudes over a long period of time. But in 1947 there were no such precedents to create this type of fear; these witnesses had seen something unaccountable and their fear was of the unknown, a reaction to something totally new and unexpected. There was no place, outside of science fiction, for this kind of inexplicable experience: the appearance of some new phenomenon was not just frightening, it was against all common sense, and if something in someone’s experience does not make any sense, it is not likely that this experience is going to be made public, at least not until it is discovered that others have shared the same baffling experience. And so to many, it must have come as something of a relief to read of Kenneth Arnold's sighting, and to discover that they had not taken leave of their senses and were not the only ones to have come face to face with something they were quite unable to explain or understand.
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Sightings After June 24th
Arnold's report appeared in the afternoon and evening papers in the northwest on June 25th. On the 26th, morning papers were already carrying new reports. The first two to appear were those of Byron Savage, in Oklahoma City (see I-1), and W. I. Davenport, in Kansas City (see II-1). Savage, a businessman and private pilot, like Arnold, must have felt a special bond with the Boise observer, for he is quoted as saying, "I know that boy up there really saw them."
The Davenport sighting had occurred on June 25th and he, like Arnold, reported having seen nine objects, but with some major dissimilarities: the objects traveled in a loose formation, made noise, and left vapor trails. The only thing they had in common with Arnold’s objects was their number, and their great speed.
So soon did Savage and Davenport file their reports that these two cases appeared simultaneously with Arnold's on the morning of June 26th as front-page, banner-headline stories in the Portland Oregon Journal. Later that same day, other reports began to appear.
There are thirteen reported sightings on record for June 25th, five of which were reported by the end of June. (Several of these cases are of uncertain dates, based on the newspaper data that were available.) Most of the sightings took place in western states, but New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri also are also represented. Three of these sightings occurred after dark. Six are multiple object reports, four of which described two UFOs. At least nineteen people were involved in the reports, most of whom were identified.
On the following day, June 26th, the number of sighting dropped to eight, six of them, from the Utah-Arizona area, and one each in Oklahoma and Illinois. All were daylight observations except the one in Illinois, which is the only multiple-object report in the group. In this report, the witness, Mrs. J. M. Harrison, of Chicago, described watching a large fireball pass over at two a.m.; as it moved toward the northwest it diminished in size and broke up into two dozen small discs which whirled around so rapidly she was unable to make an accurate count of them (Case 64). The sightings of June 26th involved a total of thirteen witnesses, eleven of whom were identified by name.
On June 27th, the number of sightings rose again to at least nineteen. (Several other sightings reported in the Montreal Star a few weeks later may have been confirmations of the fireball meteor recorded by the American Meteor Society and described in Popular Astronomy, January, 1948, pp. 39-40; it was reported seen at 8:56 P.M. EST over upper New York state, moving roughly from the area near Albany toward Watertown, according to the astronomer, Dr. Charles P. Olivier.) Eight of the June 27th reports were from New Mexico, and three came from Washington state; one of the latter, from a town near the Columbia River called Woodland, was a most unusual and well-reported multiple-object sighting (see II-2). Three reports were made in Texas, but two of these, in El Paso, lack even the barest of details, including definite dates. Two reports were made in Arizona and one each came from Arkansas, British Columbia, and Vermont. (The Vermont report, Case 86, might also be a confirmation of the New York meteor reports.) Four of these nineteen sightings occurred at night, although the two El Paso reports are uncertain; the remainder of the sightings were made by day.
For June 28th through the 30th, sightings averaged about a dozen per day; thirteen for June 28th (including two of uncertain date), twelve for June 29th, and fourteen for June 30th. The low percentage of after-dark reports remained about the same as earlier during these three days: thirty daylight sightings, seven after dark, and two uncertain. Over half of these reports came from the west. Other reports came from Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. Fifteen were multiple object reports, and of a total of nearly eighty witnesses involved during these three days, about sixty of them were identified in news accounts.
The Air Force files include seven reports from the period of June 28th through the 30th, none of them being classified as unidentified. Among the more interesting of these cases is a sighting by Carl J. Zohn, a Naval Research Laboratory missile expert, made at White Sands, New Mexico on June 29th (see III-18), and an air-to-air sighting made near Grand Canyon by a Navy pilot of two objects plummeting to earth on June 30th (II-12). Few of the thirty-nine reports for this period received headline attention when they were printed, and by June 30th newspaper coverage was not quite as widespread as it had been several days earlier. But UFO sightings would very shortly pick again as the July 4th holiday approached.
Explaining the Inexplicable
It can be expected that when people are confronted with some novel experience, they will try to account for it in some rational way. The more bizarre the experience, however, the less rational the explanations become. Flying saucers were about as bizarre an experience as one could imagine, so it is therefore not surprising to find that by the end of June, opinions and "explanations," as well as flying saucer reports, were on the increase.
The San Francisco Chronicle for June 27 printed a roundup of opinion regarding Arnold's sighting from assorted "experts." Captain Al Smith, a United Air Lines pilot, believed that what Arnold had seen were "reflections of his instrument panel," presumably in the Plexiglas canopy of his plane, although this is not stated. Elmer Fisher, Portland, Oregon meteorologist, suggested that Arnold had encountered "a slight touch of snow blindness from the mountain peaks."
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Dr. J. Hugh Pruett, University of Oregon astronomer and meteorologist, said that "persistent vision," often experienced after looking at objects such as the sun, "could have kept such reflections before him as they passed." Getting back on safer ground, Dr. Pruett added that the objects "were not of meteoric origin, for meteors do not dip and sway."
In his syndicated column on the same day, AP Science Writer Howard W. Blakeslee also tackled the Arnold report, stating that "in clear air the flash of sunlight from a plane can easily be seen for fifty miles. This flash is round, the shape of the sun. Any other reflection at a great distance is also likely to be round, coming from a small area on the plane." He also grappled with the problem of the high speeds: if these objects had been jet planes, "their speeds probably would be noticeable and could fit into the estimates, where sight gave the impression of something traveling at 1,000 miles an hour." He secured his grasp on this assessment by explaining that the eye rarely makes an accurate estimate of speed through the sky. To be fair to Blakeslee, perhaps he did not know that Arnold had established the distance between him and the objects based on familiar landmarks; on the other hand, perhaps he chose to ignore it.
Another "explanation" was offered on the same day by Lt. Colonel Harold R. Turner, at White Sands, New Mexico. In an AP account carried in many papers, Turner maintained, like Blakeslee, that Arnold had seen jet planes. "The White Sands Proving Ground commandant said that jet planes have circular exhaust pipes and that these, when heated, might give an illusion of discs." He, too, may have been ignorant of the facts: for example, that Arnold saw the objects first as they were approaching, north of Mount Rainier, in which position their "circular jet exhausts" would not have been visible. On the next day, following a series of reports from New Mexico, Colonel Turner rejected jet exhausts in favor of "meteorites," explaining that "they appear much larger and apparently are coming closer to earth than usual" (see III-9). It is perfectly clear that Colonel Turner did not know what a meteorite was, let alone flying saucers.
But someone who did know the difference between meteors and meteorites made a statement that was printed in the Denver Post of June 28. Dr. H. H. Nininger, an expert in the field of meteoritics, declared that the object observed by Byron Savage may have been a meteor; and in commenting on another New Mexico sighting of the previous day, this one reported near Shiprock by an associate, Dr. R. L. Hopkins (Case 81), Nininger said he believed that what Dr. Hopkins saw "could have been a meteorite falling somewhere in southeast Arizona." Dr. Hopkins, of Maitland, Florida, had been visiting Nininger at his laboratory in Winslow and had been near Shiprock, New Mexico, when the sighting was made. Regarding the objects Arnold had seen, however, Dr. Nininger said that those could not have been meteors; the descriptions of them sounded to him more like "mechanical objects."
Some explanations were as bizarre as the UFO reports themselves. One of the most original and imaginative explanations came the same day (June 28th) from the operator of a bottle-capping plant in Everett, Washington, and was carried widely by the wire services. Offered with apparent seriousness, this solution proposed that the little aluminum discs inside the bottle caps were set free when the bottle caps were melted down, rose up the chimneys on columns of hot air, and were then carried aloft by the winds to be reported as flying discs by numerous people throughout the country.
On June 30th another Army official spoke out. AP reported that Colonel Alfred F. Kilberer, intelligence officer of the Eighth Air Force, in commenting upon recent reports made in Texas, said bluntly that "the reports might be true, but I doubt it." Two days later he, like his colleagues in White Sands, had further thoughts on the subject: in the Houston Post, AP quoted him as saying flying saucer reports were nothing more than "an interesting study in human psychology."
By June 30th sightings for that month had been made in at least thirty states and in two Canadian provinces. The largest number of sightings (twenty) had been made in Washington; runners-up were Oregon and New Mexico (thirteen each); Utah, Arizona and Texas (eight each); California and Idaho (six each); and the remaining states accounted for four or less, making a total of 128 sightings for the month. Daylight sightings predominated, totaling ninety; night sightings came to twenty-eight and ten were of undetermined times. Most people had reported seeing “round objects” or “discs;” some described the objects as “oval.” Witnesses numbered more than 220 persons, representing a wide cross-section of professions, including pilots, scientists, police, public officials, physicians, teachers, students, forest rangers, newspaper men, railroad engineers, military men, housewives, a barber, a dentist, and a postmaster. Observations were made from planes in the air, from moving automobiles, from the inside of homes, through windows, but mostly from open areas outdoors. Instruments that had been used to observe UFOs included binoculars and theodolites, and in one report (Case 13) a photograph was said to have been taken (IV-3).
The vantage point of time allows us to view past events with an objectivity that was impossible as those events were taking place. Looking back today on the UFO sightings of June, 1947, it appears to be unmistakably evident that by the end of the month there was already enough evidence to justify a thorough scientific investigation into these unexplained appearances. It is understandable that such an idea occurred to scarcely anyone in mid-1947. What is so difficult to understand is why it took another nineteen years of continued observations and reports to get such an investigation underway.
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The Buildup of Sightings, July 1 - 3
Although June had been a month of numerous and unusual UFO observations, the best was still to come. July began with an upsurge in the number of reports on the very first day of the month twenty-four reports, an increase of ten over the previous day. The following day produced only one less. (These figures, it must be reminded, are based only on the references examined for the purposes of this report.) Except for the southeast, the sightings for these two days appeared to be spread throughout the country fairly evenly, with about half coming from the western states. There are no reports in the Air Force files for July 1st and 2nd. Almost two hundred witnesses, nearly as many as for the entire month of June, were involved in these sightings, but half of them in one sighting alone: over a hundred spectators at an amateur ball game in Cincinnati saw two of the discs move slowly over the field on the evening of July 2nd (Case 161). In twenty of these forty-seven sightings more than one object was seen. It was several days before these observations were carried by the wire services, and comment in the press for those two days is almost nil.
On July 3rd the number of sightings rose again, with references to thirty-three UFO observations found for that date (including one of uncertain date). Distribution was still fairly general, but indications of a concentration in California that had begun the previous day, with eight sightings, continued on July 3rd, with five more. Among the more interesting reports for that date was the one made by John Cole, at Harborside, Maine, who is described in the Air Force files as an astronomer: a group of objects milling within a loose formation like a swarm of bees (III-18). It is considered unidentified by the Air Force. Another interesting report describes the landing, seen by a family of ten in Northern Idaho, of eight huge objects (II-12). This report should have been among those in the Air Force files because it had been reported to intelligence officers from the Spokane Army Air Base, and an intensive air search was carried out by two missions of the National Guards 116th Fighter Group. Local sheriffs deputies also made a ground search, but since no apparent trace of the objects was found, a report was probably never forwarded to Wright Field in Dayton.
Of the July 3rd sightings, twenty were made by daylight, ten by night, and for three the time is uncertain. There were fourteen multiple object reports, six of which describe formations of three objects. At least sixty-five witnesses were involved, of which fifty were identified by name.
During the five weeks from June 1st through July 3rd, sightings had been made in at least thirty-six states and three Canadian provinces; yet a UP story from Chicago, date-lined July 3rd and found in many morning papers for July 4th, headlined a rundown of reports, “Flying Saucers Seen Over 8 States.” An AP account from Washington on the same date was a little closer to the truth: it reported that sightings had been made in ten states.
With the increase in sightings from July 1 to 3 came the expected increase in editorial comment and official statements. On July 2nd the Portland Oregonian headlined an editorial, “Er -- Quack, Quack.” The headline accurately condensed the substance of what followed.
On the following day, July 4th, official statements were forthcoming from Wright Field, where reports were being received and examined, and from elsewhere. In a July 3rd dispatch from Chicago, Major Paul Gaynor was quoted as saying that a preliminary investigation of reports had dropped "because of lack of concrete evidence." And from Washington, AP quoted an unidentified spokesman as saying that "the Air Force people are inclined to believe either that the observers just imagined they saw something or that there is some meteorological explanation for the phenomenon." Among the meteorological possibilities was a fanciful one involving icing conditions in high clouds that "produced large hailstones, which might have flattened out and glided a bit." The Washington spokesman added that a preliminary study of the reports "has not produced enough fact to warrant further investigation." Conversely, a report by INS from Wright Field, at the same time, stated that "officers of the Army Air Forces Air Material Command at Wright Field were asked by General Carl Spaatz, the Army’s air commander, to check on the reports and try to ascertain what the discs are." Lt. William C. Anderson, public relations officer at the field, said: "So far we haven’t found anything to confirm that the discs exist. We don’t think they are guided missiles. As things stand right now, it appears to be either a phenomenon or a figment of someone’s imagination." According to these spokesmen, the investigation at Wright Field was continuing, in spite of what spokesmen in Washington were telling the press.
These contradictory official statements established the ground rules and set the tone that would characterize the Air Force handling of the subject for the next twenty years, demonstrating clearly that its primary concern was not one of scientific investigation, but rather one of public relations.
The July 4th Deluge
Within twenty four hours after the release of these official statements events would begin to take place that would leave everybody civilians and military personnel alike in a state closely approximating Ruppelt’s description of a flap. Reports of sightings, coming almost simultaneously from hundreds of bewildered citizens, were made to newspapers and police stations all over the country, and adjacent areas as well, from Southern California to New Brunswick, and from Louisiana to North Dakota. People everywhere were experiencing the beginning of one of the most massive waves of UFO sightings on record. Reports came from all kinds of observers: from picnickers and holiday crowds, from policemen and public officials, and from pilots, farmers, professional men, housewives and bus drivers.
( I – 7 )
At Twin Falls, Idaho, sixty picnickers watched three formations of more than thirty-five objects flying overhead (II-5); and later in the evening, at Hauser Lake, near Spokane, more than two hundred persons saw a lone disc in the sky overhead (II-6); the entire crew of a United Airline flight watched two groups of discs near the Idaho-Oregon border at dusk (III-10); dozens of police and scores of citizens reported seeing numerous discs flying over Portland, Oregon, early in the afternoon (III-15); air-to-air sightings were made by two private pilots, one in Idaho and the other in California (III-10); in Seattle, a Coast-guardsman took the first widely-publicized photograph of a flying disc overhead (IV-3); in Boise a UP newsman and friends watched a single disc fly directly overhead at a tremendous speed and disappear over the horizon in a matter of seconds (III-6).
But reports were not confined to the west: in New Orleans, a salesgirl saw a speeding disc fly over Lake Pontchartrain (Case 223); a group of people in Port Huron, Michigan, counted an assortment of almost twenty discs flying in various directions after dark (Case 276); a blazing ball of fire was seen hovering near the home of an Alexandria, Virginia woman early in the morning of the 4th (II-6); and a physician at the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental Diseases saw an object with whirling jets, or wings, similar to an object reported seen several hours earlier by a Saint Louis mechanic and his family (II-14); and in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a farmer's livestock bolted when objects swooped overhead (IV-1).
Sightings continued into the evening hours with numerous after-dark reports of fast-moving lights and illuminated discs coming from many areas. The total number of reports through midnight on July 4th was more than double the number for the previous day. References to no less than eighty-eight specific sightings were found, spread over an area comprising twenty-four states and one Canadian province. Well over four hundred people from all walks of life witnessed the phenomena. Approximately two-thirds of all these observations took place within the daylight hours or dusk, and almost all of the daylight reports described discs, or round, or oval objects; included with the night reports were several accounts of fireballs. More than half of the sightings described a single object; the rest involved two or more, with some groups flying in V-formations. Most of the sightings were, as in earlier reports, very brief, describing objects flying in a straight course at tremendous rates of speed; reports of longer duration were also made, however, like the United Air Lines sighting in which the crew watched two formations of objects for a period of nearly fifteen minutes (III-10,11). A number of slow-moving and hovering objects were also described.
The effect of all these celestial displays was extraordinary. The next day, July 5th, newspapers all over the country gave front-page, banner-headline coverage to the sightings. Local papers featured reports of sightings coming from nearby areas, but the wire services carried more than thirty specific sightings from various locations. The Portland, Oregon reports and the United Air Lines sighting was by far the most publicized, given in a detailed and straightforward manner. As the Portland ("Er -- Quack, Quack") Oregonian remarked of the UAL case: "Their report, detailed enough to shake the most incredulous, left them (the observers) equally shaken." The photograph taken near Seattle by Coast-guardsman Frank Ryman was also given "top billing" in many newspapers as graphic evidence of the reality of the reported objects.
Sightings on July 5th continued at a high rate, although the references examined turned up eleven fewer sightings than on the previous day for a total of seventy-seven specific observations. These appear to be distributed over an even wider area than on July 4th, with reports from thirty states and one province. The number of witnesses again totaled in the several hundreds and covered the same broad spectrum of occupations as on the previous day. There are other similar features to the previous days reports: two-thirds of the sightings occurred during daylight hours or dusk; a little more than half of these reports described single objects; and discs remained the most predominate shape reported, with several notable exceptions, such as the object described by two TWA pilots while flying over Neapolis, Ohio: the UFO had the shape of a propeller. (This is remarkably similar to a report from Spokane, Washington, on July 6th; (see II-17 for details.) On July 4th Oregon had the greatest number of reports, with sixteen; California was second, with ten. On July 5th, California led with fifteen, while Washington followed, with seven.
Generally speaking, newspaper coverage for these two days was matter-of-fact, reasonably detailed, and notably free of ridicule and innuendo. The sudden wide-scale nature of the phenomenon, the graphic vividness of the descriptions, and the undisputed character of the witnesses resulted in a serious-minded handling of the reports by the press. Unfortunately it was not possible for the press to sustain an objective attitude after July 6th, for a number of reasons. The single most important factor in stifling objective news coverage was the unprecedented outpouring of absurd "explanations," personal opinion, and outright invective against UFO observers, all of which served no other purpose than to confuse the issue and cast a pall of suspicion on all witnesses. And by July 7th, when cranks and practical jokers got into full swing, an aura of ridicule descended upon the subject that has lingered for twenty years. For this the press must bear a major responsibility, since it freely gave over its obligation of presenting the facts in favor of currying to the voices of irresponsibility and confusion.
( I – 8 )
The Voice of Confusion
Hard on the heels of the July 4th reports came the claims and disclaimers of the experts invariably persons who had not seen UFOs, but spoke with some assumed authority for those who had. These so-called experts knew what the witnesses had seen, even if the witnesses themselves did not. Among the more irresponsible statements that appeared on July 5th was the one that originated in the Los Angeles Herald-Express, and was carried widely by AP. The story quoted an "unidentified" scientist, allegedly a nuclear physicist at the California Institute of Technology, who proposed the theory that the discs were the result of "transmutation of atomic energy" experiments that were being conducted at Muroc Air Base, White Sands, and some unspecified location near Portland, Oregon, as well as elsewhere. "These saucers so-called are capable of high speeds but can be controlled from the ground. They are twenty feet in the center and are partially rocket-propelled on the take-off." He maintained that "people are seeing things. Such flying discs actually are in experimental existence." Dr. Harold Urey, in Chicago, immediately threw cold water on this claptrap: "Transmutation of atomic energy sounds like gibberish. You can transmute metals, not energy." Another disclaimer came almost as soon from Colonel F. J. Clark, commanding officer of the Hanford Engineering Works of the Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, who said he knew of no connection between atomic energy experiments at Hanford and "flying saucers."
Another "authority" on secret government devices was national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Louis E. Starr, of Portland, Oregon. AP reports that in Columbus on July 5th, in a speech to Ohio VFW members, Starr stated that he was "momentarily expecting word from Washington" concerning the "fleets of flying saucers," which would "help explain the discs." A telegram containing the information, said Starr, "was due here at three p.m. (EST)" and he promised to read it to his listeners. It seems never to have arrived. Whatever Starr’s sources were he wasn’t telling, but he did say he felt "too little is being told to the people of this country." AP does not mention how long VFW members waited around for that telegram.
In Detroit, INS quoted another "expert" -- this one an unidentified meteorologist -- who proposed that UFOs were from Mars; not spaceships, but merely "signals." With a freewheeling logic he asked, "why should it not be as logical for Mars to try to contact earth as for earth to contact Mars?" Admitting that it was an "unusual" theory, he offered no clues as to how these signals were converted into seemingly physical objects, nor did he specify what earthly experiments were currently being carried out in an attempt to contact Mars. His decision to remain anonymous was most judicious.
The Portland Oregonian ("Er -- Quack, Quack") of July 6th quoted several professional men and their various professional theories. Dr. Frederick A. Courts, assistant professor of psychology at Reed College said: "There may be some mass psychological explanation to the sudden rash of 'flying saucer' reports. When people expect to see something they frequently do . . . The whole thing could be the result of a general semi-hysteria due to the nervousness of the public over reports of atomic warfare and guided missiles." Disagreeing with his colleague was Dr. A. A. Knowlton, physics professor at the same college, who said: "In view of the persistence of these reports, we cannot dismiss the 'flying disc' matter as simply another instance of mass hysteria." He went on to cite the impressiveness of the United Air Lines report, and suggested that the objects were "the result of secret experiments with guided missiles, either by our own or by foreign countries."
Colonel E. S. Ellison, head of the Portland Weather Bureau, remarked that a great number of balloons were sent aloft each day by meteorologists and at high altitudes these balloons frequently reflect the rays of the sun like metal; "balloons, however, could not reach the great speed attributed to the 'saucers' because even above the atmosphere, wind currents seldom exceed one hundred miles an hour." Dr. J. Hugh Pruett, Eugene meteorologist, who had earlier suggested that "persistent vision" might explain the objects that Arnold had seen, now observed more prudently that "I don’t know what on earth these mysterious objects can be." He was certain, however, that they were not meteorites, for if they were, "someone would have found traces on the ground by now."
By Sunday, July 6th, a number of other astronomers had made their opinions known. Significantly, not one of their utterances indicated even the slightest degree of scientific curiosity about what this new phenomenon being seen in the sky might be. UFO reports were summarily dismissed by most of these scientists.
At a convention for astronomers held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, diligent newsman polled the "experts" for their opinions. Dr. Harlow Shapley, director of Harvard College Observatory, said that unless he saw a disc himself, he had absolutely nothing to say. Dr. Charles P. Olivier, president of the American Meteor Society, (who later became a NICAP Board Member), told reporters that none of the astronomical observers with whom he was in touch around the country had seen anything resembling such objects, and added that while reports did not appear to resemble meteors, sightings might be expected to increase toward the end of July, when the Delta Aquarids made their annual appearance. Dr. Roy Marshall, of the Fels Planetarium in Philadelphia, wrote off all reports as "plain hysteria;" unless he saw one himself, he commented, he wouldn’t comment.
In Chicago, two of the country’s leading astronomers agreed that the reported discs "couldn’t be meteors." Dr. Gerard Kuiper, head of the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory at Williams Bay, Wisconsin, agreed with Dr. Oliver Lee, head of Northwestern University’s Dearborn Observatory at Evanston, when the latter proposed that the objects were "man-made" and probably "radio-controlled." Lee said that "the Army, Navy and Air Force are working secretly on all sorts of things." He exhorted inquisitive newsmen to "remember the A-bomb, and radar signals to the moon."
( I – 9 )
Judging from statements such as these, the "spirit of scientific inquiry" had no relevance when it came to UFOs, as far as the scientific fraternity itself was concerned. In twenty years the situation remains much the same, to the discredit of the American scientific community.
U. S. Government scientists and military officials were no less disdainful, according to a July 5th AP dispatch from Washington. Ivan B. Tannehill, chief of the U. S. Weather Bureaus division of synoptic reports and forecasts, said: "I’d like to see one first before I make a guess." An Atomic Energy Commission scientist echoed his statement: he’d be glad to guess what the saucers were "if someone will bring one in."
Dr. Newborn Smith, of the National Bureau of Standards, likened flying saucer reports to those of the Loch Ness monster: "Once the report gets around that someone said they saw something, a lot of people think they saw it too." He didn’t think the discs were "natural phenomena," but suggested sightings may have been due to the "reflections of a distant plane." If he saw a good picture of one, "he might be able to tell what it is."
A spokesman at the Naval Observatory in Washington said only that from descriptions given so far, the discs "did not seem to be astronomical phenomena." A CAA spokesman said that all he knows "is what I read in the papers."
In an AP item from Sacramento on July 5th, public relations officer Major Duncan Annam, of McClelland Field, said there was no cause for undue alarm about the objects. "Lots of people are worried to heck about the things," he said, "but there’s nothing to get excited about. If there were anything to them the Army would have notified us." He was inclined to believe they might be some "Army training experiment," but he admitted that this was just a personal opinion. He added that there had been no radar confirmation of reports around the Sacramento area.
And in Circleville, Ohio, residents got in an uproar over a strange device that was found on a farm. Attached to it were the remains of a balloon, and while it was evident that it was a meteorological device used to measure wind velocities, the seeds of confusion had been sown throughout the land and objectivity was in short supply. But the situation would worsen, and the sightings would increase.
Crest of the Wave, July 6th - 7th
While the Sunday papers of July 6th were giving front-page coverage to the reports of the previous two days, the number of sightings for that day soared to more than double those of July 5th. A total of one hundred and fifty-seven sighting references were found for observations made in thirty-seven states, three provinces and the District of Columbia. California again led with the highest number, a total of twenty-one sightings; Alabama was next with nineteen an increase due to a concentration of multiple-object reports by hundreds of residents during the evening hours. Another concentration of sightings occurred in Missouri, where a total of eleven observations were made. Over half of the reports for July 6th describe single objects, and witnesses numbered at least five hundred. Once again about two-thirds of the sightings were made during the daylight hours, or dusk. One photograph was taken, in Birmingham, Alabama, but little is known of it other than the brief mention in the local press accounts (IV-4).
Of the four reports found in the Air Force files for July 6th, three involved military personnel. One report, from Birmingham, was made by an Army sergeant and several of his neighbors (III-3). Nothing in the official report indicates the widespread nature of UFO activity over Birmingham that night, but local newspapers provide what may be independent corroboration of the sergeant’s report. This case is officially explained as "fireworks."
The second official report was made by a Fairfield-Suisan Air Base Captain who, with his wife, saw an oscillating disc fly over their home at an unspecified time during the day; while no time has been mentioned, there were a number of reports of single objects during the afternoon of July 6th in the northern Bay region of California; without reference to a specific time, however, it is impossible to correlate any of these sightings with the Captain's report. It is officially listed as Unidentified (III-3).
The third military case is an air-to-air observation made by a B-25 pilot and his crew over Clay Center, Kansas, while flying from Ogden, Utah, to Kansas City. The object -- a bright disc -- reportedly paced his plane off the left wing until the pilot tried to close in for a better look, when it flew off at high speed. This object, seen at 1:45 p.m. (CST) in the afternoon, was listed by Dr. Hynek as "astronomical" (III-11).
The fourth official case, which was non-military, described the landing and ascent of a small disc near Tempe, Arizona, during the afternoon. For reasons unknown, the folder containing this report at Project Blue Book was empty, when examined for purposes of this report. It is listed as "insufficient information" in the official files (II-13). Another landing report, not among those in the Air Force files, describes a brief landing and ascent of another small disc seen near Pocatello, Idaho, at dawn. This object remained in an upright attitude, like a wheel, as it touched down and then took off (II-12).
( I – 10 )
Among other unusual reports for July 6th is one that describes a power outage at dawn in Acampo, California (near Lodi), which was associated with a "red glow" in the sky (IV-3). It is unfortunate that local newspaper accounts could not be consulted for more precise details.
On July 7th, the peak of the wave, the number of UFO reports reached a new high, with references found for one hundred and sixty-two sightings from thirty-seven states, a geographical distribution similar to the previous day. Washington led with twenty-two sightings; California, still an area of concentrated UFO activity, followed with twenty. Further east, Illinois became an area of heavy activity, producing seventeen reports. Daylight sightings once again outnumbered night reports by about two-to-one. As in the previous four days, single-object sightings exceeded the multiple-object reports, by about twenty on July 7th. Once again the total number of witnesses for that day was about five hundred. Three photographs have been referred to: the widely publicized Hixenbaugh photograph taken in Louisville, Kentucky; a photo taken near Pontiac, Michigan, of two objects, by tool-maker Albert Weaver; and two photos taken of a single object by William Rhodes, in Phoenix, Arizona. (See Section IV, on photographs.) The Phoenix case is in the Air Force files and is termed "possible hoax," although Kenneth Arnold describes, in The Coming of the Saucers (p. 52), how Intelligence Officers Frank Brown and William Davidson regarded the Rhodes photographs as among the several "we consider to be authentic."
Among the more interesting reports for July 7th was a sighting by five Ohio State University students in Columbus of three objects in triangular formation (II-6); a sighting by a Reno newspaper editor and his wife of a single disc seen flying over that city (III-7); a report of three oddly maneuvering objects seen at Rome, Maine (II-10); a report from the Air Force files describing the analysis of the fragments of a small object that landed in an Omaha street - probably the only UFO report on record explained as "tobacco ashes" (IV-2), and the report of electromagnetic effects in the form of radio interference as six discs hovered over a power line in the Hollywood, California area (IV-3).
Most interesting of all, however, is a series of reports of a large disc accompanied by a group of smaller objects, which were described in several cases as having merged with, and seen emerging from, the parent object. The series began on the evening of July 6th in Tucson, Arizona, and then moving progressively clockwise around the circumference of the United States, with reports a few hours later at Palmdale, California; several hours after that in Tacoma, Washington; and then, during the next day, over Cicero, Illinois; and finally appearing over Manchester, Maine, on the night of July 7th (II-20).
With reports of sightings coming from all parts of the country, Air National Guard planes were being ordered aloft to search for the objects in many areas, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Others stood by on the ground, ready to take off at a moments notice. The results of the air search were negative, which seemed to confirm the growing suspicion among many that there had been nothing in the air to begin with. Incredulity by both press and public was growing hourly and with each new report there was a disclaimer by some skeptic convinced that all of the reports were completely unfounded.
The Triumph of Ridicule
By the time the sightings for July 6th and 7th had been published, the newspapers were no longer presenting the facts with the detail and responsibility that had been given to the reports of July 4th and 5th. Skepticism, and in many cases outright ridicule, dominated news coverage of UFO sightings and those who reported them. A general attitude of "everybody’s-doing-it-now" gave many news accounts more than a faint air of suspicion.
Some of the news reports were entirely misleading and details were manufactured for the sake of creating a more sensational story. For example, a perfectly "ordinary" UFO sighting made in Denver was sent out over the UP wires as follows: "George Kuger of Denver said he saw a flying disc with an American flag on it." There is nothing in the local account of Kuger’s report that mentions flags, American or otherwise, but in hundreds of newspapers across the country, Kuger was made out a fool by the flagrant irresponsibility of the press (Case 427). Another example of its use of ridicule to not only debunk a report but make the reporter look foolish occurred in the wire accounts describing a Chicago woman who, on July 6th, reported that she had seen a "flying saucer with legs." By playing up the woman’s unfortunate expression, "I thought for sure it was coming down and slap me in the face," when in fact she had probably been scared out of her wits, the papers succeeded in turning the report into something patently ridiculous. Had newsmen been more responsible, they would have known that just the day before, several Covington, Kentucky, women had also reported seeing an object with legs (II-15); and we now know that since 1947 there have been numerous reports of objects with similar appendages. In still another case, the woman in Palmdale, California, who described the satellite object case as appearing like "a mama hen with her baby chicks," gave newsmen a real heyday of merriment; and yet this is probably one of the most significant reports to come out of the entire 1947 wave (Cases 528 & 530).
These are only isolated examples of the way in which the press resorted to ridicule because it had prejudged the value of a news story and no longer felt it was necessary or sufficient merely to report the facts responsibly. News coverage during the crest of the wave descended to regrettably low standards and established a modus operandi regarding UFO coverage that has characterized its handling of the subject ever since. It is one of the chief reasons why, twenty years later, it is a subject that remains damned to ridicule: the taint had been acquired at the very outset.
( I – 11 )
Contributing significantly to the aura of nonsense pervading the press were the columnists, such as Hal Boyle, whose syndicated articles described in purposefully humorous fashion various wild and imaginary escapades aboard Martian spaceships. Cranks and crackpots added to the carnival atmosphere and proved to be irresistible to reporters looking for a byline: one San Francisco zany garnered considerable news space by claiming to have projected himself into outer space on an "astral plane" to discover the origin of the saucers; by means of mental telepathy he found out that the objects were "Nimbre A Theatos," or spaceships using the "dark side of the moon" as a base, dropping "Metaboblons" which may be mechanisms to counteract atomic radiation, although he wasn’t certain, as his source of information, "the Dhyanis, rulers of Creation," were being pretty closed-mouthed -- or was it closed-minded? -- about the details. The San Francisco Chronicle made much use of this arrant foolishness, and the wire services gleefully passed it along to readers outside of the Bay area.
Hoaxsters and practical jokers made matters even worse: a number of financial rewards were offered by various individuals and organizations for the capture of a disc; these merely encouraged hoaxters and resulted in the exploitation of many false reports (see section on Hoaxes).
At the same time, more and more confusing and uninformed "explanations" were being offered. On July 8th UP reported from Atlanta that airline pilots were throwing cold water on reports: Perry Hudson, East Airlines pilot, said he’d seen "many beautiful and strange cloud formations in the air but nothing that ever looked like a saucer," so he turned thumbs down on persistent reports, even from his pilot colleagues; if he couldn’t see ‘em, no one else could, either. T. P. Ball, chief pilot for Delta Airlines, termed all reports to be "imagination . . . . It certainly doesn’t seem to be the first wave of an invasion from Mars." Another Delta pilot, J. H. Williamson, said, “a lot of folks must have had too much to drink.” These opinions were echoed by many other pilots, most of whom would not allow that anything more unusual had been seen than "some freak cloud formation." Aviation experts in Washington suggested that dials on instrument panels had been reflected in the sloping glass of the canopies -- neglecting, however, to account for the thousands of witnesses who had not been looking through a plane's canopy.
Other "experts" voiced opinions barren of any basic facts. In California, Professor L. D. Shane, director of the Lick Observatory, pointed out -- erroneously -- that no objects had been sighted by any "scientific observers." In New Jersey, Newark meteorologist William Weiner said that he could see saucers at will: "All you need to do is to rub your eyes very hard and look up at a bright sky." He gave no instructions for spotting them at night. Essex County psychologist Dr. M. W. Openchowski explained that "when a strange thing is reported seen it is reported seen again and again. It is a trait of human nature that people like to be in the know and participate in observing the unusual."
Here and there, an occasional voice of some reason was heard. In Syracuse, New York, Dr. H. A. Steckel, psychiatric consultant for the Veterans Administration, said, "they have been seen by too many people in too many different places to be dismissed so lightly." He was persuaded that they could be the "results of experiments by some unknown Government agencies."
On July 6th, UP reported that Captain Tom Brown, spokesman for the Air Force's Public Relations staff in Washington, D. C., said that the Air Forces had been investigating reports for ten days and "we still haven’t the slightest idea what they could be. But we don’t believe anyone in this country, or outside of this country, has developed a guided missile that will go 1,200 miles an hour, as some reports have indicated." Other government spokesmen repeated this disclaimer: "No such phenomenon can be explained by any experiments being conducted by the Army Air Forces," another Army spokesman reported on July 7th, and Rear Admiral Paul F. Lee, director of the Naval Research Laboratory, concurred. In a statement from Washington carried by UP on July 8th, an unidentified spokesman said the Army was certain of what the saucers were not: they were not secret bacteriological devices of some foreign power; they were not (again) secret Army rockets; and they were not space ships. He added that none of the saucer observers "were able to describe them accurately," but the Army would continue its investigation and, meanwhile, was "keeping an open mind."
Ruppelt reports (p. 39) that ATIC personnel at Wright Field in Dayton considered the UFO situation to be serious -- in fact, very serious. As with the press, confusion surrounded the investigation, confusion almost to the point of panic. While reassuring statements from official spokesmen were being carried by the press to a confused American public eager for some concrete news about the identification of flying saucers, the mysterious objects continued to appear over many areas, but in decreasing numbers.
The Crest Breaks, July 8 – 9
On July 8th the number of sighting reports dropped sharply. References to ninety sightings, about the same as for July 4th, were found, and the distribution was fairly even over twenty-seven states, although California continued to be an area of high activity, with nineteen sightings. Washington was second, with nine; Illinois had eight, and Oregon seven. For the entire five-day period the Pacific coast states were highest in the total number of reports: California led with eighty-six, Washington was second with fifty, and Oregon third, with thirty-two; following were Illinois, thirty-one; Alabama, twenty-three; and Missouri, twenty-two.
Even though the total number of all UFO sighting reports for this period is unknown, conclusions about geographical distribution derived from references examined are not entirely worthless, for the trend for western states to predominate appeared very early in the research; this trend continued consistently with the examination of new material.
( I – 12 )
As with the previous four days, daylight sightings on July 8th were approximately two-thirds of the total number of reports. But the number of multiple-object reports went down considerably, totaling only twenty-three, as compared to fifty-seven single-object sightings. (For the remaining ten cases, the number of objects is not known.) Witnesses on July 8th were again more than five hundred, but most of this large total came from four cases, each of which was reported to have had many witnesses: two in California (Cases 734 and 766); one in Hawaii (Case 769); and one in New Jersey (Case 756). For the remaining ten cases, the number of objects is not known. Witnesses on July 8th were again more than five hundred, but most of this large total came from four cases, each of which was reported to have had many witnesses: two in California (Cases 734 and 766); one in Hawaii (Case 769); and one in New Jersey (Case 756).
Several interesting cases on July 8th were air-to-air sightings: a pilot flying near Pell City, Alabama, saw a disc about the size of an automobile wheel (III-12). The son of the governor of New Hampshire saw an oval object below his plane as he and a friend flew near Alton, New Hampshire (III-12). A private pilot flying a seaplane over Puget Sound saw several discs above the Olympic Mountains to the west (III-12). A student pilot, employed by the Spokane Naval Supply Depot, observed a disc with a hole in the center as he flew in the vicinity of Mount Spokane (III-12). And an F-51 pilot from Muroc Air Base observed a flat, highly reflective object high above his plane as he flew over the Los Angeles area, south of the base (III-12).
This last report was the climax of a series of observations involving personnel at Muroc Air Base earlier in the day. Three separate incidents are recorded involving several prominent officers as witnesses (III-4). Ruppelt writes that the Muroc reports were "the first sightings that made the Air Force take a deep interest in UFOs" (p. 37), and they are collectively Case #1 in the files of Project Sign. The official explanation for the three sightings, however, is "balloons" -- in spite of the fact that in each sighting the objects were seen to move into the wind, and in one case were described as maneuvering in "tight circles."
On July 9th the number of sightings dropped even further, to twenty-four, about the same as on the first two days of July. The wave had spent itself and most of the objects had gone back to wherever it is they come from. The twenty-four reports on the 9th were made in thirteen states, and at least fifteen of the sightings were made during daylight hours. There were thirty-five witnesses, and the number of single and multiple-object reports were about the same. In California, reports dropped to a single sighting, and while there were four in Michigan, details of three of these cases, from the northern part of the state, were impossible to obtain. The fourth sighting, from the Air Force files, describes a close-up observation of a ball of bright, sparkling fire, about the size of a bushel-basket, seen hovering just above the ground by a Midland couple as they picked berries in the late afternoon. The object left peculiar traces, and an analysis was made of the fragments (IV-2).
There is one unidentified case in the Air Force files for July 9th, the report of aviation editor Dave Johnson’s air-to-air observation at Boise, Idaho (III-12). Unofficial reports include two independent sightings of a group of about five objects, described in one report as having domes, like "cups riding in saucers" that made a "swishing" noise and left blue trails as they passed over Chicago in the early morning hours (II-13); a Spokane report that described three objects, one of which was observed to land on the banks of the Spokane River, although no traces were able to be found later; and the report of three teen-aged girls in Anchorage, Alaska, who saw a white disc zip across Elmendorf Field. With the Alaskan report, forty-eight out of the fifty states were represented by UFO sightings
Hoaxes and Mistakes
While newspapers still carried a few apparently genuine UFO reports -- often buried among a mish-mash of superficial nonsense -- the kind of stories that made headlines after July 8th were the sort a reader found impossible to take seriously. If a report wasn’t an out-and-out hoax, it was an embarrassingly obvious mistake. One of those mistakes, given the widest possible publicity, had its origins near Roswell, New Mexico, when a farmer named William W. ("Mac") Brazel discovered the wreckage of a disc on his ranch near Corona, early in July. After hearing news broadcasts of flying saucer reports, Brazel, who had stored pieces of the disc in a barn, notified the Sheriff's Office in Roswell, who, in turn, notified Major Jesse A. Marcel, of the Roswell Army Air Field intelligence office. The remnants of the disc were taken to Roswell Field for examination Through a series of clumsy blunders in public relations, and a desire by the press to manufacture a crashed disc if none would obligingly crash of itself, the story got blown up out of all proportions that read "Crashed Disc Found in New Mexico."
According to AP on July 8th, public information officer Lt. Walter Haught made an announcement of the discovery: “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriffs office of Chavez County.” The effect of this reckless statement was equal to an atomic detonation; results were immediate. While newspaper deluged the air base for additional information, a search party was sent out to scour the landing site for additional fragments; the collected remains of whatever it was that had crashed on Brazel’s ranch were taken to Eighth Air Force headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. There, Brigadier General Roger M. Ramey tried to clarify matters by first explaining that no one had actually seen the object in the air; that the remains were of a flimsy construction; that it was partially composed of tinfoil; and, finally, that it was the wreckage of "a high altitude weather device." Warrant Office Irving Newton, a weather forecaster at the Fort Worth Weather Station, had identified the crashed "disc" as the remains of weather equipment used widely by weather stations around the country when sending balloons aloft to measure wind directions and velocity. There remains the possibility that some super-secret upper-atmospheric balloon experiment had crashed near Corona, which would have accounted for all the confusion and secrecy involved in its recovery.
( I – 13 )
Whether the pictured balloon equipment carried widely in the press was actually a photograph of the recovered fragments remained a question, but news editors should have been on their toes: other similar incidents had already been reported, like the discovery several days before of the weather device at Circleville, Ohio. The New Mexico incident created an uproar in Washington, and high Army Air Force officials were reported to have delivered a blistering rebuke to Roswell Field spokesmen for having fostered the confusion. But the damage had already been done and the next day “Another Saucer Shot Down” was typical of the headlines found in American papers.
Hoaxes and practical jokes were taking up just as much news space. One of the first admitted hoaxes had been created by a Los Angeles pilot, Vernon Baird, who had reported that on July 6th that he encountered a flock of "flying yo-yo's" while flying over Bozeman, Montana. One of Baird’s "yo-yo's" got caught in his prop-wash and came apart like a clam, spiraling to the earth below. The story itself came spiraling to the earth very soon after when Baird admitted that he had made it up while "blowing the breeze around the hangar."
Others went to considerable trouble -- more trouble than just making up a far-fetched story: they made up the discs to go with it. One of these ersatz platters came crashing into the yard of a Grafton, Wisconsin, priest; it was promptly identified as a circular saw-blade. In East St. Louis, Illinois, someone sent a number of 11-inch pressed paper discs sailing from a roof-top; these were subsequently identified as locomotive packing washers. More elaborate contraptions were manufactured and sent soaring in Shreveport, Louisiana; in Black River Falls, Wisconsin; and in Clearwater, Florida. A thirty-inch device that landed in a Hollywood back yard on the night of July 9th was given considerable news coverage by the press when the finder put in his claim for a thousand-dollar reward, and while the culprit who originated the Hollywood hoax was not identified, four teen-aged boys in Twin Falls, Idaho, readily admitted their part in a similar hoax the next day, when the situation began to get out of control, as Army Intelligence officers confiscated the "disc" and began an intensive investigation.
One hoax that has gone undetected for over twenty years was uncovered by Dr. James McDonald at the time of this writing (see Case 613 in the Chronology; the information was received after the Chronology had been prepared.) In checking out a number of 1947 reports, Dr. McDonald discovered that the report of Fred Cloud, who saw an object rise up out of storm clouds over Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 7th, was the result of a practical joke by an unidentified "friend." Knowing Cloud had made a flight that day, this "friend" had made up the story when he encountered a newsman he knew, and the story appeared in numerous North Carolina newspapers the next day, much to Cloud's embarrassment. Cloud, whose first name was actually Fayette, not Fred, attempted to explain to the newspapers that the story was false, but they refused to run a subsequent denial of the original report.
Ebbtide, July 10th and After
With scarcely more than a dozen sightings for July 10th, the UFO wave of 1947 had almost completely subsided. Few if any of the reports were carried by the wire services. Concentrations of reports had broken up, although there were four sightings apiece for Colorado and Washington. Most of the reports for that day still came from western states, with two in Idaho, and one each in Arizona and New Mexico. The New Mexico sighting, made by Lincoln La Paz, is listed in the Air Force files as Unidentified (III-19).
The Air Force files also contain two reports of sightings, on July 10th and 11th, from Codroy, Newfoundland. Notes were not made on these, but neither one is listed as Unidentified. Other July 11th reports were made in Florida and in Indianapolis, Indiana. On July 12th, two sightings were made in Boise, Idaho, and in Seattle, several Naval sentries at Sand Point Naval Air Station reported seeing a single object at about the same time that an independent report of three objects was made elsewhere in the city (III-6). Two more sightings occurred in Seattle the next day, and a disc was reported seen by a businessman and his wife in Gardner, Massachusetts (III-1). On July 15th, an official of the Civil Aeronautics Board, flying over Concord, California, made an air-to-air sighting of three groups of yawing objects (III-13).
After mid-July, the number of sightings dropped to an average of about one a day. Between July 16th and 19th, there were no sighting reports uncovered in the records that were examined. (A complete examination of the newspaper references for the period of July 16th through the 30th was not undertaken, so information for this period is fragmentary.)
The Air Force files contain another Newfoundland report for July 20th, which describes a series of "reddish" flashes seen in an overcast sky. The explanation given for this case is a "fireball," although there is a photograph purportedly showing a hole the object made as it passed through the clouds. Flashing lights were seen at Meriden, Connecticut on July 22nd, and between July 20th and 30th, Idaho was the scene of at least a half-dozen more sighting reports. One of these, an air-to-air observation on July 28th made by two more United Air Lines pilots over Mountain Home, was picked up by the wire services (III-13). On July 29th another military pilot reported seeing two discs near Hamilton Field, California; the report by this Army Air Corps Captain was classified as Unidentified by the Air Force (III-5).
Earlier on the same day still another air-to-air sighting was made, this time of a large group of small discs over Union, Oregon. The observer was Kenneth Arnold, and the UFO wave had come full circle (III-14).
By August the 1947 UFO wave was history. Ruppelt writes that "by the end of July 1947 the security lid was down tight. The few members of the press who did inquire about what the Air Force was doing got the same treatment that you would get today if you inquired about the number of thermonuclear weapons stock-piled "in the U.S.’s atomic arsenal (p. 39)." According to Ruppelt, no one had any idea what was going on relative to UFOs behind the barbed wire enclosing the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright Field. Suspicion-breeding secrecy seems to have been the policy from the very beginning.
( I – 14 )
During July more that seven hundred specific sightings had been made, with more than two hundred taking place in the three Pacific states alone. UFOs had been seen by thousands of North American citizens in every walk of life. (Sightings were not confined to North America, however; reports had appeared from such widely scattered locations as China, South Africa, France, South America and Iran.) But by the end of July, no more news reports of strange aerial visitors appeared in the press, outside of a small item buried in a local newspaper somewhere. To the satisfaction of many, the objects had departed and their existence amounted to nothing more than a rather unsettling memory. There was but one more flying saucer story to gain wide attention in the press -- an elaborate hoax that ended up in tragedy.
The Maury Island Mystery
The Maury Island Mystery allegedly began on June 21st, three days before Kenneth Arnold's first sighting. It subsequently involved Arnold, as well as Emil J. Smith, the United Air Lines pilot who saw nine discs on July 4th. It culminated on August 1st in the unfortunate deaths of two intelligence officers when their Army B-25 crashed near Kelso, Washington, on the return trip to Hamilton Field, following their involvement in the so-called "mystery."
About the middle of July, Arnold received a letter from a Chicago publisher who offered the pilot two hundred dollars to investigate an alleged sighting at Maury Island, near Tacoma, Washington. Arnold considered the offer for several days, and after consulting Dave Johnson, of the Boise Daily Statesman, he decided to accept the offer. On July 29th he flew to Tacoma and, just before making a landing at La Grande, Oregon, to refuel, he saw his second group of UFOs. Flying on to Tacoma, he found a reservation waiting for him at the Winthrop Hotel, which was strange, since he had told no one of his precise plans.
Shortly after his arrival, he got in touch with one of the Maury Island witnesses, Harold Dahl, who said he was a harbor patrolman and that he had seen six doughnut-shaped objects on June 21st. One of these objects had spewed out tons of metallic fragments some of which had damaged his boat and injured his son. Dahl first discouraged Arnold from pursuing his investigation, but the Boise pilot was not about to be put off after having come so far. Dahl next introduced Arnold to his boss, Fred Crisman. Crisman claimed that on the day after Dahl’s experience, while he made an investigation of the reported sighting and the fragments, said to have been found in abundance on the Maury Island beach, he had seen the objects himself when they made a second appearance over the area.
Samples of the alleged saucer fragments were displayed and Arnold, intrigued because of certain similarities to a Boise, Idaho, report of July 8th (IV-2), decided to ask United Air Lines pilot E. J. Smith to join him in Tacoma. Smith, who lived in Seattle, arrived a few hours later, and Crisman and Dahl once again told their stories, with Crisman doing most of the talking.
Following this meeting, peculiar things began to happen. A reporter from one of the local papers phoned the two pilots in Arnold’s room and said that an anonymous man had tipped the paper off about everything that had transpired in the hotel room for the past two days. These calls continued and Arnold, plainly worried, decided to call Lt. Frank Brown, intelligence officer at Hamilton Air Base. (Brown had earlier investigated Arnold's sighting, as well as a number of others in the northwest.) Brown's trip to Tacoma was approved by his superiors and, with Captain William Davidson, he flew to Tacoma on the afternoon of July 31st in a B-25.
The intelligence officers met Arnold and Smith at the hotel, and the group was later joined by Crisman and Dahl. The officers listened to the story but apparently were not much impressed, for they made plans to return to Hamilton Field that evening, and without taking any of the "saucer fragments." However, before they left, Crisman loaded a box full of the material in Brown's car. On the flight back to Hamilton Field, a fire broke out in one of the bomber's engines. Two passengers parachuted to safety, but Brown and Davidson were killed when the plane crashed near Kelso, Washington, in the early morning hours of August 1st.
The unfortunate crash of the B-25, as well as the anonymous phone calls to the paper, combined to create a sinister air of mystery in the press, deepened by the reluctance of both Arnold and Smith to elaborate on their reasons for being in Tacoma. The mysterious informer told the paper that the B-25 had been carrying "saucer fragments," and even divulged the names of the two intelligence officers before the names had been released by the Army.
Arnold and Smith now found themselves in an awkward position, because they had summoned the two officers in the belief that they had come upon something important. Smith contacted intelligence officers at nearby McChord Air Base, to explain their part in the events. Intelligence officers began an intensive investigation, the results of which were made public about a week later.
In a statement released on August 8th, Fourth Air Force spokesman Lt. Colonel Donald L. Springer announced that the Maury Island sighting by the "harbor patrolmen" was unfounded, and “did not occur.” Colonel Springer had investigated the boat that was supposed to have been damaged by the fragments and "found it intact." (This was confirmed by both Arnold’s and Smith’s examination of the alleged "damage.") The "fragments" were molten metal slag, said by Colonel Springer to be found "in great quantity in both that area and in other areas" where there were smelters located. "In view of this, headquarters will not pursue this particular Tacoma investigation any further."
( I – 15 )
In addition to this, Ruppelt writes that it was learned that Crisman and Dahl had sent rock fragments to the Chicago publisher as a joke, stating that the rock "could have been" part of a saucer. "He (Dahl) said the rock came from a flying saucer because that’s what [the publisher] wanted him to say" (p. 44). The publisher was the same man, of course, who had offered Arnold the two hundred dollars to investigate the report.
According to the San Francisco News of August 4th, "Mr. Dahl went to the United Press Bureau at Tacoma and denied he had any parts of a flying disc. He exhibited metallic stones, which he said he picked up on the beach at Murray (sic) Island shortly before the flying saucer craze swept the country."
The official report, according to Ruppelt, identified "one of the two men" as the anonymous informer who had been calling the Tacoma paper. (This was probably Crisman, as some of the calls were made to the paper while Dahl was in Arnold’s hotel room.) Furthermore, neither Crisman nor Dahl were "harbor patrolmen: " they owned a couple of boats they used to salvage floating lumber in Puget Sound. Crisman, according to Arnold’s own account in The Coming of the Saucers (p. 68), disappeared understandably soon after the crash of the B-25. Ruppelt reports that the government seriously considered prosecuting the two men but decided against it, as the story originated as a "harmless joke that had mushroomed, and the loss of two lives and a B-25 could not be blamed directly on the two men."
Arnold and Smith had been caught up in one of the most embarrassing and tragic hoaxes in the history of UFOs. The Maury Island "mystery" was a most unfortunate conclusion to the events of the 1947 UFO wave. It left a permanent impression in the minds of many that chicanery of this sort was typical of the entire subject of UFO phenomena. It is not surprising that people remembered this type of story and promptly forgot the hundreds of genuine sightings that had taken place.
In spite of the many negative aspects of the 1947 wave, there remains a substantial body of data that calls for serious consideration. Much of this 1947 material has not been readily available before. The events described in this report, taking place as they did at the beginning of the contemporary period of UFO phenomena in this country, have historical significance, in that many patterns of appearance and behavior can be traced back to 1947. Reports of UFOs in formation, UFOs buzzing cars, UFOs with satellite objects, and landings by UFOs, give additional weight to similar reports received in later years.
Three branches of the Establishment share the responsibility for preventing any serious investigation of the UFO problem: the press, the government -- primarily, but not exclusively, the Air Force -- and the scientific fraternity. Until these three influential groups unequivocally discard their long-standing bias against considering UFOs worthy of serious attention, the subject is bound to remain in limbo.
Since 1965, the press has displayed a somewhat more objective editorial policy with regard to the UFO problem; wire service coverage of UFO sightings, however, has not matched this editorial policy. For example, during February and March 1967, NICAP had received hundreds of first-hand reports of sightings, as well as many local newspaper accounts weekly, indicating that a UFO wave of considerable proportions was taking place. Yet this increase in sighting reports was not reflected either in the general press or by the wire services.
The extent to which government agencies, other than the Air Force, have been involved in the UFO problem is by no means clear at present; it appears certain, however, that the CIA has had a strong influence on the situation - at least since 1953. As for the Air Force itself, its role during the past fifteen years, apart from collecting UFO data, has been that of a public relations organization engaged in a determined program of statistical flummery. It has contributed little significant knowledge to the subject, nor is this its basic concern. Its primary responsibility is national defense, and since it has repeatedly stated that UFOs do not constitute a threat to national security, it would seem appropriate for it to terminate its connection with the subject as soon as possible.
Up until 1966, the scientific fraternity has made no real effort to shed light on the UFO mystery, although a few individual scientists have collected and investigated reports privately. The vacuum created by this dismissive attitude was temporarily filled in October 1966, with the selection of the University of Colorado as the recipient of a $300,000 grant from the Air Force (later increased to $500,000), to initiate a thorough investigation of the subject. Under the direction of Dr. Edward U. Condon, the Colorado Project, as it has been called, is scheduled to conclude its probe in mid-1968, with a report of its findings and recommendations to the National Academy of Sciences for review. Results of their inquiry will be made public at that time. Until these results are made known, whether negative or positive, the situation will undoubtedly remain the same as it is at present. But whatever those results may be, they will have a profound effect on the future status of UFOs.
( I – 16 )