Brigadier Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commander of the Eighth Air Force, made an announcement. The object, “which created a storm of speculation today…was a weather balloon and its kite.”
“The object was flown from Roswell to Fort Worth by the Air Force, where it was identified by Warrant Officer Irving Newton, of Medford, Wisconsin, of the Base Weather Station” as a white radar-tracking balloon. “Several of the balloons were released daily,” Ramey added, “according to changes in the weather.”
The Union story quoted Ivan R. Tannehill, the Weather Bureau’s chief forecaster, who disagreed. Since these balloons had been around for years, he said, it was unlikely that they would be mistaken “all over the country and all in one week for mysterious objects” flying at “supersonic speeds.”
But Ramey’s verdict was: case closed. The object was “definitely a United States Army device.” It was so “harmless,” he cancelled sending it to Wright Field in Ohio for further investigation. It was in his office “and’ll probably stay right there.”
That afternoon, every national newspaper published a warning. The Tribune-Sun’s headline is typical: “SEEIN’ SAUCERS EXPOSES YOUR PATHOLOGICAL RECEPTIVENESS.”
According to the United Press story, three scientists had expressed grave concern. “The hysteria stirred up over the ‘flying saucers’ could well mean that psychological casualties in an atomic or rocket war would far outnumber deaths from atomic bomb explosions.” The hysteria, they claimed, was a result of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945: people now suffered from “war nerves.”
“The emotional state of many persons has been overactive since the first atomic bomb exploded,” said Dr. Edward Strecker, director of the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases. Many of his patients suffered from “pathological repetitiveness,” swearing that the “bomb that wrecked Hiroshima made them impotent.”
A second scientist, unnamed, said, “It may not be necessary to drop atomic bombs on large cities. The urban areas might do just as well with psychological [hysteria], making a nation unable to defend itself.” Or even unable to go to work — a price paid for “thinking in the primitive state.”
The third scientist, an unnamed astronomer (most likely Donald Menzel), said that it was time for the nation and its “saucer screwballs” to “calm down.” These two words ran in almost every national headline.
Thursday, July 10, 1947
Asked if he’d ever seen flying saucers, president Harry S. Truman replied, “Only in the newspapers.”
Along with Dr. Strecker’s theory of mass hysteria, other sources explained why people saw strange things. Donald Menzel, the astronomer, said that every observation had a natural explanation. It was either a trick of light or a hallucination.
The most prevalent theory was something called the “Chosen One,” in which Providence selects an otherwise nondescript human “for a terribly important mission” (for example, Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). People who are “chosen” are privy to vastly important, secret knowledge, and therefore rise above their normal lot in life. They do so, of course, to seek publicity.
Another explanation was published nationwide: such sightings were “a convenient, subjective way to criticize modern life and release personal resentments.”
The post–Atomic Age had had enough of that attitude, the story affirmed, and enough of conspiracy theories, too. From now on, such nonsense deserved “the giggle factor.”
Army Air Force headquarters “delivered a blistering rebuke” to officers at the Roswell Air Base, wrote the Union, for mistaking a weather-observation balloon for something as lunatic as a flying saucer.
A contrite Mac Brazel confessed to reporters that he was so “sorry” about his “mistake”; if he ever found anything “short of a bomb,” he wouldn’t tell a soul.
Although the Union stuffed a solitary report deep in the second section (Bill Brown had spotted a round, silvery object, with a “Plexiglas observation bubble” over Palomar Mountain), the story claimed that local sightings had “dropped to a trickle” overnight. As they had nationwide. Within a week, reports of flying saucers nearly ceased.
After the Roswell debunking, writes Ted Bloecher, in the backlash that followed, “the kinds of stories that made headlines were…impossible to take seriously. If a report wasn’t an out-and-out hoax, it was an embarrassingly obvious mistake.” And “when cranks and practical jokers got into full swing, an aura of ridicule descended upon the subject that has lingered” ever since.
- 1. Edward Ruppelt: “By the end of July, 1947, the security lid was down tight…by 1950 UFO reports were about as popular as sand on spinach.”
- 2. J. Allen Hynek: “Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and the public should not be taught that it is.”
- 3. Jacques Vallee: “Witnesses of UFOs are generally characterized by their silence.”
- Berliner, Don, UFO Briefing Document, New York, 1995.
- Bloecher, Ted, “Report of the UFO Wave of 1947,” University of Arizona, sad money, 1967.
- Hynek, J. Allen, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry, Chicago, 1972.
- Jung, Karl, “A Fresh Look at Flying Saucers,” Time magazine, August 4, 1967.
- Korff, Kal K., The Roswell UFO Crash: What They Don’t Want You to Know, New York, 1997.
- McAndrew, Captain James, The Roswell Report: Case Closed, New York, 1997.
- Ruppelt, Edward J., The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, New York, 1956.
- Sturrock, Peter A., The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, New York, 1999.
- Vallee, Jacques, UFOs in Space: Anatomy of a Phenomenon, New York, 1965.
More Thinking Flashes in the Sky: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3