The silvery meteor hovering over Mission Hills? A “nine-foot helium-filled” balloon used for atmospheric forecasts, said Kurt Muerdter of the Weather Bureau. The bureau released one daily to record winds aloft. They rise “at the rate of 1000 feet a minute”; they “drift with the wind and rarely exceed 15 miles an hour. When they reach approximately 30,000 feet, they explode.”
Meade Lane, a student of parapsychology, offered a different explanation: “Flying saucers are now believed to be etheric constructions — i.e., constructed of etheric matter.” They materialize just as a dead person or a solid object is known to materialize under proper experimental conditions (séances).
“The disks can disappear by returning to the etheric level or vibratory state.” They show themselves “to attract attention to etheric worlds and life. They come in peace. They would like to try earth life for themselves.” Lane said his information came from a “hitherto dependable trance control.”
A United Press wire service story quoted Orson Welles. On October 30, 1938, Welles had done a radio broadcast of War of the Worlds on the Columbia Broadcasting System. The program began with soft dance music and a weather report. Then Welles said, “We interrupt this program…” He read a news flash: strange explosions on Mars. For the next 40 minutes Wells read urgent “news bulletins” about an invasion of Martians. He even gave emergency-response instructions for evacuation.
Thousands of panicked listeners phoned the CBS studio or the police, begging for more information. Some heard the broadcast in cars and drove mindlessly until they ran out of gas. A study said that, of an audience of six million people,1.7 million believed the broadcast to be true; 1.2 million were “genuinely frightened.” (It was even said that Adolf Hitler called the event “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”)
Welles told the UP wire service he’d bet ten to one that the flying saucers of 1947 would “fizzle into fancy” the way his radio broadcast did in 1938. “I want everybody to know that I didn’t have anything to do with this saucer hoax…. I scared the shirts off Americans once. That was enough.”
Welles said that after the infamous airing, people began seeing strange objects in the skies — even armies of Martians. “People are imaginative and gullible.” But if these “saucers do turn out to be from Mars, I’ve been predicting that sort of thing for a long time.”
Welles added that he was currently filming Macbeth, starring himself, coming soon to a theater near you.
Earlier in the week, a scientist theorized that the strange craft might use a “transmutation of atomic energy.” Dr. Harold Urey, atomic scientist at the University of Chicago, replied: “You can transmute metals, not energy.” Urey said the phenomenon in general was “gibberish.”
Several organizations adopted a “put up or shut up” policy. The World Inventors Exposition in Los Angeles offered a $1000 reward for a saucer “in the next five days.” The Athletic Round Table, of Spokane, Washington, also offered $1000. A man in Chicago would pay $3000 for physical evidence. To which a Chicago paper replied: “A flying saucer in the hand was worth $3000 today, but those seen in the sky were still a dime a dozen.”
“Hoaxters and practical jokers made matters even worse,” wrote Ted Bloecher. “A number of financial rewards were offered by various individuals and organizations for the capture of a disk; these merely encouraged hoaxters and resulted in the exploitation of many false reports.”
Tuesday, July 8, 1947
The San Diego Evening Tribune-Sun reported that in the previous week there had been sightings in most of the 48 states, in Canada, and in Mexico. One of the few states that had no reports: Kansas — because, a wag boasted, “we’re a dry state.”
The story also claimed that “the Army Air and Ground Forces announced they were investigating the reported cloud-hopping disks with an open mind. But privately, high-ranking Army officers said they believed the saucers were a hoax, and some persons were the victims of hysteria.”
The Army also said that it was “significant that none of the disks had yet registered on Army radar.”
But beginning on July 1, trackers at the Roswell Army Air Force base had been following an unidentified blip. It puzzled them because it did things no known — or even experimental — plane could do. Trackers paid special attention because Roswell’s 509th was the only base in America with the atomic bomb. On July 4, the blip disappeared somewhere north of the town.
On July 6, Mac Brazel brought samples of something that had crashed on his ranch to Roswell sheriff George Wilcox. The sheriff could not identify the strange fragments — light as a feather yet bulletproof — and phoned Major Jesse Marcel, intelligence officer of Roswell’s 509th Bomb Group. Marcel visited the site, showed the samples to Walter Haut, the 509th’s press agent, and that afternoon Haut sent a press release to the wire services. The Roswell Daily Record broke the story: “RAAF CAPTURES FLYING SAUCER ON RANCH IN ROSWELL REGION.”
Next time: The Rise of Ridicule.
- Detroit meteorologist (quoted in the Tribune-Sun): “Flying disks may be signals from Mars…. I admit it’s an unusual theory, but have you got a better one?”
- Wen-Gwang, Bang, Chinese Academy of Science (in Berliner): “In this field, prejudice will take you farther from the truth than ignorance.”
- Donald Keyhoe: “The more I learned about flying saucers, the less I knew.”
Berliner, Don, UFO Briefing Document, New York, 1995.
Bloecher, Ted, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, NICAP, 1967.
Keyhoe, Donald, The Flying Saucers Are Real, New York, 1950.
McAndrew, Captain James, The Roswell Report: Case Closed, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.
Ruppelt, Edward J., The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, New York, 1956.
Vallee, Jacques, UFO’s in Space: Anatomy of a Phenomenon, New York, 1965.
Project 1947, “UFO Reports,” project1947.com.
Articles in various newspapers.
Read more: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4