UFO Conjectures

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Purity and Psychology of Early UFO Reports

These excerpts from NICAP's assessment(s) of UFO accounts prior to and right after Kenneth Arnold's iconic "flying saucer" sightings indicate how clean UFO sightings in the 1947 time-frame were, and why most were not ballyhooed:

           "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."

Here are examples of sightings [from NICAP] that show, as I see it, how UFO sightings in the early 1947 period were reported without an interpretive patina that could mar the essence of the accounts:

 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.”

(The "birds explanation" in the report right above came after the fact, and was part of the loony explanations that so-called "experts" eventually imparted to flying saucer and UFO reports.)

In the 1940s and early 1950s, citizens, who had been solicited to keep their mouths shut during WWII (about lots of things, many mundane, such as what manufacturers were making in their factories or how food stuffs were being rationed) had a hesitancy to be public about strange things they experienced or saw.

This wasn't an instilled fear of government reprisal but, rather, a mind-set left over from the codicils of WWII behavior.

People were inclined to be closed-mouth.

Moreover, there wasn't an inclination to be socially bombastic. Such boorish displays of attention-seeking didn't pop up until the 1960s.

So, in the 1947 to 1957 time-frame, UFO reports, aside from those by contactees, remain grist for investigation.

Within them lie clues to the nature -- the core nature -- of the UFO phenomenon.

While Roswell clutters the purity of those early UFO reports, Roswell, itself, is a fount of interesting information -- something did indeed happen near there in July 1947 -- but the incidents inside the Roswell story have been compromised by UFO researchers who've larded the tale with their biases and inept investigations, mostly or all) after 1978.

While Roswell is a source for some insight to the UFO phenomenon, it's those other 1947 reports and sightings, because they haven't been besmirched by ufologists, which contain information that's ripe for investigation, even now.

A forensic look at the 1947 wave (of UFO sightings), apart from Roswell or Arnold's sighting can be useful for those who want to clarify the historicity of UFOs or want to determine what UFOs are or were.

It's UFO archaeology and/or paleontology; ufology should be abandoned as the rubric under which new UFO aficionados operate.

And Roswell should be left to those who think they can unravel the event(s) from the mythology and detritus that has accumulated over the years and continues to pile up in 2013.



  • The discernment between the information ( if any) gleaned from the observers and how the forensic process ( if any) was followed is always an interesting process depending on the time frame and the influence of non professional channels and \ or how many channels of mass media were present at the time. Sort of reminds me of a sifting process as far as the amount and quality of the forensic participants. Take out the entertainment value and the mesh through which these events are disseminated seems "finer." Example in point, that not only strange things continue in the atmosphere but that the dissemination process has remarkably changed from the 1940's in terms of "contamination" hoaxing and Photoshop.
    Strange things and oddities yet to be explained fully still come and go as in terms of The International Space station...

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • It's the input, Bruce, that intrigues me, not the output or evaluation(s) by media and "experts."

    The "wonder" and naivite of the observers back in those early days is my interest.

    We've become so sophisticated and desirous of attention nowadays that we, inadvertently, contaminate our observations and subsequent discussions of them.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • It's difficult to separate the two these days which was the gist of my comment inasmuch as the more channels of communication are open the noise has become a feedback loop of distortions, less agnostic, less balanced, hence the reporting of a sighting is perhaps even more prone to reluctance in the recognition of just being another attention seeking malcontent, rather the fear of being
    labelled a nutcase.
    The fact that ultra conservative officialdom stays away from being drawn into categorization of being nutty when recognizing an anomaly matters not. It's sort of a lose-lose coin toss in sociological terms which then falls into back channels. Official or otherwise. I don't think there has ever been a moment of purity in any of this unless you confuse purity with simplicity. Then we are back into the spaceman theory, IE strictly material evidence based theories that are not testable. Its no wonder Jose thinks there is intent of deception in order to misdirect and dilute attention into a lunatic whirlpool. It's always easy to blame a absent external agent yet to be named, however we need no assistance or guidance to fall off the edge of the earth in search of purity.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • I like to think of it as a "purity" of sorts -- observations without any corollaries -- such as fame, fortune, or even notoriety.

    It also simplicity -- we were a dumber lot back in the 40s and 50s, but detailing something strange didn't require, then, a patina of expertise or knowledge.

    One just told what they saw.

    Even the photos, hoaxed and/or real, were simplistic or "pure."

    It was a time when the psychology of the masses was analytically ripe for Freud, whereas today, the psychopathology, while often sexual at its core, is more deranged.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • There are two factors influencing the reporting of events today:

    1. A conspiracy-driven world view (one that has been endorsed and encouraged for the past 20+ years by the far right wing in this country) which has deeply taken hold in the paranormal/anomaly community. Everything mysterious and not readily explainable (or that has an explanation, which is unacceptable in a conspiracy context) is seen as part of some nefarious scheme by the federal government to lie to and screw over American citizens.

    2. The overwhelming need for attention and celebrity. We've so poorly parented a couple of generations they actually believe they are each the center of the universe with a right to demand our attention 24/7 (why else would Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, and a host of other apps be so popular?). Hence, the Web (now THE place for UFO reportage) is over-loaded with UFO-related garbage whose sole intent is just to shout "look at me".

    These factors are blissfully absent from the UFO reports of yesteryear, which is why them seem so pure and straightforward. They don't come front loaded with today's psychological baggage.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • You refer briefly to the 'ghost rockets' over Sweden in 1946.

    I know that episode has been studied at length, but I still wonder: Were any of these objects assumed, or even thought, to be ET craft at the time, i.e. during that summer? I know they came eventually to fit into the general UFO pattern, albeit much later. But what was the general opinion of these sightings both in Europe and the USA at the time? Was ETH ever entertained as a solution?

    I don't believe any 'rocket' fragments were ever found.

    By Blogger cda, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • Actually Christopher, Ted Bloecher and NICAP mentioned the Ghost Rockets in the cited material.

    I thought Nick Redfern was going to do something on the 1946 wave in Sweden, or someone was, but I haven't heard anything more about it.

    The consensus, at the time, was that the rockets were coming from Russia, as you surely know.

    The mind-sets of governments and their military agencies were that Russia had advanced aircraft and military weapons -- they really didn't -- acquired from Nazi scientists whom they captured or who defected to Russia at the end of WWII.

    The U.S. (and Britain) came to think that flying saucers were Russian aircraft, and this was the underlying premise that got Roswell its brief attention until it was discovered that the downed flying disk there was from outer space, or so David Rudiak and a few others would have us believe.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, January 16, 2013  

  • The ghost rockets were included in the 1948-1949 "Analysis" by the AF and Navy, as well as pre-Arnold sightings.


    The reluctance to report a sighting
    is understandable if there is a culture of shunning as there was to be soon enough. During the war, and the cold war, reporting unidentified objects in the sky was a patriotic duty and organized, as well (Ground Observation Corps, Ground Observer Corps) by the authorities, especially on the coasts. Would the peer pressure of social conformity have that effect before the Wave?

    There were some things that could influence the interpretations of observers in 1947, for example the previous several years of AF pr about the hi-tech future might lead to interpreting a sighting as what I called in another discussion here, the AF Spec saucer, or to the opinion the saucers are secret military r&d.

    There were also people who were active in theosophical and fortean circles who found opportunities to express themselves about the saucers in the press. Other opportunists were the christian end-of-the-world types, and others with political agendas.

    Despite it, though, there were a lot fewer baked-in interpretations than there were after Keyhoe and Scully.

    Some commonly reported behaviors of the saucers (not just in 1947 but for decades) can be analogized to simple biological categories, such as 'flight or fight' and 'attraction/repulsion'. Otherwise, what they are up to, if anything, is obscure. There may be reports of saucers around military or atomic facilities, for example, and so one might think the saucers were observing those activities. We have a purpose and meaning. But it doesn't explain why they are doing the same over Sam's Hardware Store, or Madge's laundry line.



    By Blogger Don, at Thursday, January 17, 2013  

  • All very true, Don...

    But the pristine simplicity (Bruce's view) of the early sightings, 1947 particularly and 1946, are examples of observation that is unfussy and not contrived or warped, even by SciFi influence(s).

    Notes taken by media and police agencies, a few by the military are likewise uncorrupt, so the reports are pure gold.

    The outer space interpretation sneaked in later.

    The prototype thesis also.

    Those 1946/1947 sightings were reported as a strange thing, a weird occurrence and little or nothing more/

    In them lie a clue to the phenomenon, as it was, at least.

    Did it morph, along with the observational details, as the 50s came to an end, and after the influence of the contactees and SciFi movies.

    Yes, and such interpretations became part of the collective mind, the collective unconscious as it were.

    But before that, the purity of the sighting reports contain clues that eventually got lost in the clutter of the ufologists and the easily swayed interpretations of the masses.

    Roswell, as first, was a source of UFO truth, whether psychological or sociological or even ET.

    But once the UFO nuts got their hands on it, Roswell as a "crime scene" was compromised, and remains a mess today even if one applies cold case methodologies, as you fellows are attempting (again) at Kevin Randle's blog.

    (BTW, I just came across "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, and will provide a piece about cave art and the brain of early man upcoming.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, January 17, 2013  

  • Both ET and AF Spec interpretations assume a UFO is a container or vehicle for entities and after 1950 or thereabouts, it becomes baked-in that a UFO is such a thing. If the UFO displays what the AF called "tactics", the assumption is there is an entity inside the UFO adjusting controls or thinking thoughts that intelligently control the "tactics". But is that necessary? Maybe Occam's razor should be employed. Why should there be a 'little man' inside the UFO controlling it? Perhaps the UFO can engage in "tactics" on its own. The pre-1950 sighters are much less likely to presuppose UFOs are containers with crews.

    I make the analogy to organisms. I am not theorizing UFOs are biological, but that some categories of behaviors of organisms seem applicable to UFOs. Flight or fight, attraction/repulsion, chameleon-like camouflage and mimicry, and so on.

    ET or prototypes may be the origin of some UFOs but not hardly all. If ET is here, they may be here to see the UFOs and would be astonished to discover so many of us think they are the UFOs.

    I don't think of Roswell as a UFO case since there is no UFO sighting. Something happened and it was covered up. The AF -- and that must be the case; it was not a local decision by the RAAF -- chose to call the thing a "flying disc". What we can gather about the AF meaning of the phrase is they meant something with a crew and a power plant, but after labeling it as such, they denied the Roswell object had those features, and therefore was not a flying disc.

    I looked for my copy of "Right Side" but can't find it. I'm looking forward to your article.



    By Blogger Don, at Thursday, January 17, 2013  

  • My point, if I have one, Don is that Roswell, initially, and the 1947 reports were free of accretions that have doomed later sightings and reports.

    Once someone strips away the accumulated veneer(s), there are truths or clues to be found.

    The Roswell discussion(s) that Kevin allows merely exacerbates the mess that Roswell has become.

    You, CDA, JAF, and Rudiak especially are engaged in irrelevant puffery that makes Roswell the enmity that it has become for some of us.

    But that's, as Gilles Fernandez tells us, ufology.

    It's harmless back-and-forths but truly wasted time and effort, cleansing nothing, least of all the Roswell palate.

    If you fellows would stick to what the flying disk was or how the term came to be used for the debris allegedly found by Brazel, then we UFO buffs might have something to sink our teeth into.

    But the detritus that is being devotedly discussed merely confuses the issue and even beclouds the mythology.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, January 17, 2013  

  • Rich: "If you fellows would stick to what the flying disk was or how the term came to be used for the debris allegedly found by Brazel, then we UFO buffs might have something to sink our teeth into."

    The UFO descriptions in the Roswell case are AF Spec types, until Haut's egg shaped one. Since nobody claims to have seen it do anything except lie there broken, there's not much to say about it. "Flying Disc" came to be used because the AF used it. 'Flying disk' was preferred by the AF then, but locally, in Roswell and in Corona, it was 'flying saucer'.

    I don't think anything will be resolved through any effort to determine what the flying disk was or why the term was used. It is not like no one has tried the past 30 years. They occupy the center of the discussion, but I'm looking at the things on the margins. That something is central or marginal says nothing about its significance. Spaceships and dead aliens are marketable -- sexy -- is all. They may be real, as well, but for certain they are more marketable than a 'railway schedule'. Research makes a boring story unless you sex it up, I guess.



    By Blogger Don, at Friday, January 18, 2013  

  • About how the term came to be used. The AF used it because rumors about a flying saucer were circulating and the Roswell press was nosing about. Because there was something to the rumors, the AF had to acknowledge it, contain the story, and 'own' it. Thus, the flying disc press release which records the transfer of the story and the object to the AF, and then Ft Worth. Fade to black.

    The AF preferred 'disc' and eschewed 'saucer'.



    By Blogger Don, at Friday, January 18, 2013  

  • Don writes: "The pre-1950 sighters are much less likely to presuppose UFOs are containers with crews."

    Don, as amusing as your naive stream-of-consciousness, make-it-up, noodling sort of geriatric-hobbyist ufoolery is, would you please endeavor to at least defer to very well-known historical fact.

    In a Pendleton OR cafe, soon after Ken Arnold's purported "UFO" sighting in 1947, a woman, on seeing Arnold, exclaimed, "There's the man who saw the men from Mars!" So do really think that the general public perception was that "UFOs" were not "flying saucers," spacecraft from another world, that is, "containers with crews?"

    In fact, from 1896, "UFOs," phantom airships, had never been anything but various piloted aircraft, with inventor-wizards and naval crews being the primary occupants with a minority being interplanetary vistors. And up until 1950, the secret technology hypothesis was the public's favored, only then did the more exotic ETH surpass it.

    So exactly when were "UFOs" not "containers with crews?" Only in ufoolerological revisionism. In fact, the term "UFO" was coined in 1953 to mean unambiguous nuts-and-bolts aircraft, spyplanes, and specifically excluded reports of ambiguous lights.

    See Bartholomew's "UFO Contact Catalogue" documenting a century of purported contact between humans and aliens who emerged from airships or "flying saucers."

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Saturday, January 19, 2013  

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