Friday, March 15, 2019

Early UFO Radio Host: Hugh McPherson

Saucers yes, but what about: The Ufologists That Time Forgot? 
Many researchers, investigators, authors, broadcasters and even witnesses made a significant impact in their day, but were overshadowed by newer, more popular personalities. We've spotlighted some of these pioneers in the past, and will continue to remember them and their work.

The Feb. 17, 1991 showbiz magazine Variety carried an obituary:
Hugh McPherson, 77, bandleader, jazz enthusiast and veteran broadcaster, died Feb. 3 in Charleston, W. Va., after a short illness. In his early years, McPherson toured the U.S. with his band in New York, New Jersey and on the west coast. In the 1940s, he turned to broadcasting, joining radio station WOAY Oak Hill, W. Va., and later to WGKV, WCAW, WCHS and WTIP, all AM stations in Charleston.
His show “Rehearsin’ With McPherson” featured interviews with leading band and jazz musicians in the country. Later, he left commercial radio and joined West Virginia Public Radio with a jazz program that aired from 1980 to 1987. When the station decided to drop his program, there was an outcry from fans who regarded McPherson as a music historian and as a jazz institution. Survived by his wife, Myrtle, who used to sing with his band.
What Variety failed to disclose: Hugh McPherson was interested in the UFO mystery, and hosted a radio program exploring the topic. Bob Jones added a comment to the story on Oct. 25, 2017:
When I worked in Charleston, WV, radio in the late 50s to late 60s, Hugh McPherson ruled late night jazz/talk radio on WCHS. His voice was unmistakable and his easy-going manner drew thousands of listeners..(friends, really) I, along with other jocks in the area, would stop his show after our shifts. One of the primary topics was the existence of flying saucers and other space talk. His phone guests included top experts in the field. I was about 16 when I first met Hugh and he became my hero. I so fondly remember him.
In this special STTF installment, we reprint the article on Hugh McPherson's UFO show by W. E. 'Ned' Chilton from the August 4, 1957 Sunday Magazine Section of the Charleston Gazette from Charleston, West Virginia. It featured one spectacular illustration, but we’ve included a few additional photos of the individuals it discussed.

Hugh McPhersonSpinning Platters and Flying Saucers 

by W. E. Chilton III 
of The Gazette Staff

Whether you believe or disbelieve, the reports of flying saucers, there is a growing legion of persons ready to testify they’re real. Although some are crackpots, some are experts who have nothing to gain by misleading the public, And a popular Charleston disc jockey is giving them air time.

Harry Belafonte (L) with Hugh McPherson
SEEN A FLYING saucer lately?
If you have, a disc jockey and his program technician would like to interview you on their regular Saturday night show which has been turned over to discussions about UFO's - the abbreviation for "unidentified flying objects."

Hugh McPherson, the personable and knowledgeable jazzophile, whose musical accomplishments include directing a semi-big-name band, having a popular song (“Rehearsin’ with McPherson”) named for him and recorded by the old Chick Webb orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald on vocal and being currently in point of service Charleston's most venerable platter spinner, is following a national trend with his once-a-week switch to weird tales of flying phenomena.

HUGH and his assistant, Johnny Barker, a fellow employee end TV engineer at WCHS, inaugurated their show on a regular basis June 8 this year, although six months earlier Hugh experimented with two lengthy conferences on similar material during his usual record program.

At that time Ivan Sanderson re-created for the airway audience the famous Braxton County Monster sighting which Sanderson- a scientist, author, zoologist and TV personality- has parlayed into a profitable venture with a published article for 'True" and a sequel far a newspaper syndicate. Response was terrific, causing the re-creation to be repeated about a month ago, and it was this response that helped convince Hugh and Johnny a growing nation-wide curiosity in such happenings might prove popular in West Virginia's Capital City.

The subject of UFO's is more than national in scope. It is -wide. England's premier too, the BBC in London with sonorous Big Ben time announcements, has presented a number of similar programs as have stations in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the Belgium Congo- many of which Barker has monitored during idle hours. Even Russian stations are devoting time to speculative accounts of UFO viewings.

ACCORDING to Hugh a Los Angeles record entertainer back in 1950 or '51 was the first to realize possibilities in the "I've seen a flying saucer" type show. Several years later John Otto and the (celebrated singer - Johnny Desmond - began early identical nightly broadcasts in Chicago. Since then they've spread across the length and breadth of America, and now nearly every state has one or more radio personalities devoting time to UFO discourses.

Long John Nebel
A relative late-comer to the field is undoubtedly the best known UFO commentator "Long-John" Nebel of WOR in Newark, New Jersey. He commenced his nightly 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. interviews in 1956 and still is going strong. Entitled "Off-Beat Discussions”, Nebel goes far afield of UFO's. He has interviewed literally hundreds of scholars, scientists, crack-pots, fakirs, authors and publicity-seekers on as many assorted esoteric subjects as the average human mind can fathom.

HERE is a sampling: parapsychology. hypnotism, mediums, witch-craft, voodooism, teleportation (involving the transfer of the astral body from here to there - i.e. Dunbar to Morgantown - while the physical body remains here), telepathy, extra-sensory perception and telekinesis. The latter we finally placed in an unabridged dictionary means the "production of motion in objects by a spiritualistic medium without contact or other physical means” - whatever ever that signifies.

Nebel's wandering from the UFO fold came about naturally enough. Four hours a night - even to such highly notional and sensational matter as UFO's - is bound to become tiresome. Furthermore, many of the the subjects listed previously - teleportation to cite an example - often arise in talks with UFO addicts.
Dr. Adolph G. Dittmar
UNLIKE NEBEL who conducts his interviews person to person in the WOR studio, Charleston's only entrant to UFO as a rule specializes in taped telephone recordings. Hugh also receives some of his programs from Dr. A. G. Dittmar, a general coordinator of UFO information. This service is free, a labor of love, to quicken public knowledge and interest in the subject.

As would be expected a few of Hugh's interviews have been beyond fantasy, while others are well-documented, calmly presented and if not credible, ingeniously disturbing. Unfortunately, a marked characteristic of the saucer buff is the tendency to exaggerate on detailed personal exploits to the point of absurdity.

Thus, a reasonably mild recounting of sighting something unique in the heavens (“was big, round, oval-shaped, I guess you'd call it. It stayed stationary for maybe a couple of seconds, then just flew out of sight.”) becomes a tale celebre as the raconteur warms to His topic. What had been believable is destroyed by an overworked, too - free imagination - like the proud father recalling to his son the snows of yesteryear.

IT MUST BE recognized most people never have seen a flying saucer and flatly reject their existence. However, as we will point out later many reliable, responsible persons claim to have seen them, and an in justice to them accounts follow an unembellished pattern of simplicity and directness difficult to refute. Occasionally, these stories are heard on the airways, but more often than not it is the unbelievable that is aired.

Saucer fans - those listening and those contributing can be classified in these categories:

1. Psychic individuals who believe fervently in a "though disc." They are able to enter a trance-like state and in this state contact the living, unknown being from outer space. They visit the ship, talk to the leader and keep in constant touch.

2. The interested who discredit all psychic occurrences and who are anxious to learn the truth. There is a National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) dedicated to the search.

3. The skeptics who flatly disavow visits from the world beyond but who appreciate a rousing controversy.

4. A growing legion, such as a military man we, know who rejects the outer space theory but who credits our air force with development of a super space ship.

5. The naturally curious who have yet to be persuaded on their existence but who hold open minds.

HUGH, HIMSELF, falls into category five. "I don't say I believe or disbelieve." he states, "but I am interested."
Gray Barker
“Take Gray Barker; a Clarksburg author,” he says, wrote “They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers”. Scary stuff, and It's hard to read that book and listen to him on the subject without wondering.”

Barker, no relation to Hugh's assistant, has appeared twice on their program and is also editor of "Saucerian Bulletin" and "Saucerian Review” - two among many publications devoted to UFO information and enjoying a substantial readership. Hugh admits he has never seen a UFO, but a July 20 incident, reported the next day in this newspaper incidentally, has received attention on his program.

An Alderson funeral director along with an undisclosed number of witnesses reported spotting an object they described as a "comet with a tail." Five minutes later, George Mendenhall, a WCHS engineer at his transmitter location, saw what he believes to be the same object, and it has since been established the object was not a comet.

OF COURSE, one danger inherent to the claims of those sighting flying discs is the power of suggestion. Subsequent to Hugh's June 8 program he has had 12 phone calls from different personally attesting to have seen UFO’s.

The question immediately springing to mind is whether these sightings would have happened had there been no such program la this area. Hugh answers this objection by asking: “How many people go around peering up into the sky? It was only after the first sightings,” he adds, “newspaper articles, magazine stories that conscious such strange things do exist. Now, the curious and the interested actually are looking for them."

Right or wrong Hugh can point to countless sighting claims by witnesses who have nothing to gain from spreading irresponsible and distorted stories calculated to hoodwink the general public.

William P. Lear
WILLIAM LEAR, winner of the Collier Aviation Trophy and president of Lear, Inc., aircraft and electronics equipment testifies to having seen a UFO in bright daylight: "I believe,” he has said, “that the flying saucers come from outer space and are piloted by beings of superior intelligence."

A TWA pilot, doubtful about saucer reports, and seven passengers swear a glowing UFO paced their airliner near South Bend. Above Indianapolis American Airlines Captain Richard Case in his Convair noticed a large UFO speeding across the city, “It was a controlled craft of some going three times faster than we were.” Hundreds on the ground supported the captain's words.

THE LIST of those claiming to have seen the elusive saucers grows almost daily. Frank Edwards, noted AFL news analyst, Claire Boothe Luce, former American ambassadoress to Italy, Dr. Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer, of the planet Pluto and former chief of the Armed Forces search for unknown natural satellites, and Col. Frank Milani, Baltimore Civil Defense Director, all personally assert they have seen space ships or what they felt to be space ships in our heavens.

Johnny Barker, Hugh's friend and program counselor, is more positive about the existence of flying saucers than his boss, though like Hugh he never has seen one. Being an amateur astronomer," he says, "I believe many planets in our galaxy are inhabited. I see no reason why our planet among the billions of planets in all galaxies is unto itself in being populated by intelligent beings.”

Dr. Harlow Shapley and Dr. Harold C. Urey
HE SUPPORTS his thesis by referring to the fact that in our Milky Way alone there are between 500 billion suns or stars, and to each sun can be attributed a possible two or three planets. "There is much unknown about the unknown,” he says. “To date, we have been able to identify but nine planets including ours which belong to our sun."

Johnny’s argument is validated by Dr. Shapley, former director of the Harvard Observatory: “We must now accept it as inevitable that there are other worlds with some kind of thinking beings.”

A member of the International Mars Committee, former commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and head of Institute for Nuclear Studies, Harold C. Urey, is not so emphatic: "It is exceedingly probable that there is other life in the universe more intelligent than ours,”is his statement.

Regardless of who is right, who is wrong, Hugh intends to continue his program.

"It's proving popular" he says, "and as long as we can keep our audience interested and entertained we'll stick to it.”
. . .

Hugh McPherson's show continued to discuss UFOs into the early 1960s. The site My West Virginia Home In Photos has a collection of articles on Hugh's career, with a few mentions of his flying saucer shows. McPherson was friends with fellow West Virginian, Gray Barker and both were interested in the Flatwoods Monster. Due to that interest, one of the few recordings of Hugh survives, hosted at the My West Virginia Home site, on the page The Braxton County Monster & Hugh McPherson.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Charles Fort, Ken Arnold & Space Animal UFOs

Kenneth Arnold’s June 24, 1947 sightings of a flock of nine UFOs prompted John Philip Bessor to write the Air Force detailing his conclusion that the earth was being visited by poltergeist-like living space creatures. See our previous article, The 1947 ET Hypothesis of John P. Bessor, for the full story.

This entry focuses on two things, Bessor’s predecessors in the concept of unknown flying animals, and Bessor’s influence on his most famous convert to the concept, Kenneth Arnold, the man whose sighting had inspire it all.

There are also two appendices, a Bessor bibliography of his paranormal magazine articles, and a sampling of Bessor’s prodigious letters of comment published in newspapers. The topics range from ghosts and flying saucers, to nuclear war and the legislation of human sexuality.

Space Animals: Fiction and Fort Got there First

John P. Bessor was the originator of the ETAH or Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis in relation to flying saucers, but it seems that any time we examine a UFO concept, we'll find that legend, fantasy or science fiction introduced it first. Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional story "The Horror Of The Heights" was serialized in the popular weekly magazine The Strand, beginning in its November 1913 issue. The story is about the disappearance of a pilot who flew high in the atmosphere where he discovered weird ghostly sky animals.

Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell-shaped and of enormous size—far larger, I should judge, than the dome of St. Paul's... I had half-turned my monoplane, that I might look after this beautiful creature, when, in a moment, I found myself amidst a perfect fleet of them, of all sizes, but none so large as the first... a wonderful fairy squadron of strange unknown argosies of the sky— creatures whose forms and substance were so attuned to these pure heights... But soon my attention was drawn to a new phenomenon—the serpents of the outer air... Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty or thirty feet long...
Charles Fort speculated about all sorts of phenomenon, including mysterious lights and sights in the skies. In The Book of the Damned, 1919, he discussed the possibility that the strange things in the sky might be our extraterrestrial masters: “I think we’re property.” In New Lands, 1923, he speculated that our upper atmosphere was full of undiscovered creatures:

“It seems no more incredible that up in the seemingly unoccupied sky there should be hosts of living things than that the seeming blank of the ocean should swarm with life.”

“Unknown, luminous things, or beings, have often been seen, sometimes close to this earth, and sometimes high in the sky. It may be that some of them were living things that occasionally come from somewhere else in our existence...” (Lo! 1931)

The 1939 science fiction novel Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell was inspired by Charles Fort’s notions about strange living things in the sky, and that we might be farmed like cattle. Russell's story was first serialized in Unknown magazine, illustrated by Edd Cartier. In Sinister Barrier, a scientific development allows people to see the sentient blue spherical parasitic life forms, Vitons, floating among us and feeding off the energy discharged by our emotions.
Bessor corresponded with Russell in 1948 - 49, after he’d already suggested the space animals concept to the Air Force. There’s nothing to suggest that Bessor was a reader of science fiction, his interest was narrowly focused on the the paranormal and Fortean phenomenon.

Space Animal Convert: Kenneth Arnold

Premier UFO witness Kenneth Arnold was interviewed by Inez Robb for the International News Service, and the story published in many papers nationwide on Aug. 7 and 8, 1952.

In the INS interview, Arnold disclosed how his thoughts on flying saucers had evolved since his first 1947 encounter:
Kenneth Arnold... is convinced that they are "a living, thinking creature" that inhabits the stratosphere but they are no "menace"...Arnold's first impression of the flying saucer was that it was a mechanical whatzitt. But after sighting this mysterious phenomenon of the skies, he is convinced that the so-called saucer is a thinking creature of superior intelligence from the outer atmosphere. “They are some kind of living force.” said this matter-of-fact looking young man with dark hair and eyes. “They can more or less change their density at will. “I’ve seen six different groups of them. I’ve seen them singly and in groups of 24. “I’ve had them circle my plane and look me over. It gives you a funny feeling, but not a feeling of fear. They are definitely not a menace. If you light out after them in your plane or try to get too close, they will take evasive action, like a big fish in the ocean if you try to get too close to it. “Certainly, I am convinced that they have a ’sense of awareness.’ The elephant or the rhinoceros, if left alone, isn’t a menacing force. I think it’s the same with the flying saucer."
In part two of the interview, Arnold described the ability of the saucers to change their form - and to vanish:
The Boise man believes the saucers are large, gelatinous masses that vaporize when they hit the ground. This, too, might explain why the phenomenon seems able to change its density in flight, a peculiarity noted by a number of observers.
Arnold’s words are almost identical to the language John Bessor used to describe his space animals in his version of the 1950 Philadelphia saucer that “dematerialized.” Kenneth Arnold held on to the belief that he’d seen unidentified flying animals for the rest of his life, as seen in one of his final interviews from the Spokane Chronicle June 25, 1982, “Flying saucer spotter has theories.”
 Spokane Chronicle June 25, 1982
No documentation has been found to prove whether Kenneth Arnold was influenced by reading Charles Fort or anyone else in reaching the conclusion that flying saucers were living creatures, but his thoughts and words closely match the Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis proposed by John P. Bessor.
For further information on the ETAH and its influence, a good source of historical documentation can be found in “Kenneth Arnold and the Cryptozoological Theory of UFO” by Tony Breeden.

. . .

The Controversial Correspondence of John Philip Bessor

In addition to his other interests and talents, John Bessor was also an artist and sculptor. He apparently was a fan of Gloria Jean, the famous child movie star, and in in 1941, Bessor sent her a statuette as a gift. Bessor made the figure just from seeing her on screen. Gloria Jean was fifteen years old at the time, he was thirty-six.
Gloria Jean as seen in the 1941, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break,
Statesville Daily Record, April 23, 1941, and
New Castle News, New Castle, Pennsylvania, March 17, 1943.
The standards of propriety were much stricter in at the time, and for some reason John P. Bessor was indicted by the federal grand jury in 1943 for “mailing obscene literature.” We don’t have further details, but based on his comments on various topics later in life, Bessor became contemptuous of the moral judgment of the public and the law.

Throughout the 1940s to the 1960s, Bessor wrote letters about his interest in the paranormal and UFOs, as well as other topics he was passionate about:

Outrage at the use of the terms pedophile, pervert and sex offender, and the unnaturally high age of consent for sex and marriage in the USA, the dangers of nuclear testing, and the moral decay and materialism of the USA.
1950s: The Pittsburgh Press Jan. 8, 1956, The Morning News July 15, 1954
A 1962 letter protested agains space exploration: "...a small band of nihilists who not only have poisoned the Earth for the own profit ... but diligently seek to violate that Heaven (now dubbed outer-space") our founding fathers held real and inviolate"

1960s: Detroit Free Press July 27, 1962, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sept. 3, 1969

In his later years, the paranormal writing trailed off, but the other correspondence flourished, mostly cranky letters on mundane issues. Bessor wrote dozens of letters to newspapers during the seventies and eighties, mainly to the Pittsburg Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Summarily, in these letters he denounced:

(Note: “x” signifies more than one letter on the topic.)

- Eyesores and light pollution: defacement of the countryside by junk and yard-lights blocking the night sky.

- Inheritance tax. (x)

- Proposed tax on gasoline or large autos.

- The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ("unconscionable inforgivable outrage") (x)

- Mistreatment of animals; hunting

- Noise and air pollution from Saxonburg’s U.S. Steel plant, he also wrote “several times and the EPA as well."

- Obscenity: "the hypocritical and nasty inquisition" of it, and the arbitrariness and overreach of judicial rulings.

- the U.N.

- Weak car windshields.

- US sanctions against South Africa  (x)

- The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and FDA for "heel-dragging and ineptness."

- Unnecessary autopsies:  "It has all the earmarks of a sordid, morbid racket."

- Irresponsible advertising practices

- Abortion

- Homosexuality (x)

- Bernard Goetz and his acquittal

- The IRS

- The Vietnam war: "we lost when we could have won."

- Excessive use of X-rays: "doctors and dentists persist in dosing the unsuspecting with this radiation."

- President Reagan's deregulations of the oil industries

- US nuclear tests

- Profanity: "the veritable epidemic of open and flippant show-off swearing, now heard every day and night on our radio, television and our press." (x)

John Bessor also wrote the papers in support of a few issues:

- The adoption of a right-to-die law.

- The ACLU

- The Salvation Army

- Churches ordaining women

- PA governor Thornburgh's veto of the marital rape bill

On most issues, his views remained consistent over the years:
The Los Angeles Times Jan. 17, 1950, Pittsburgh Post Gazette July 25, 1983
Bessor was a man of many opinions, and it’s interesting to think how he might have taken advantage of the opportunities of communication in the digital age. Bessor died in 1989, before internet communication had come of age.
. . .

John P. Bessor Bibliography (of Known Works)


“Brown Mountain Tales” Round Robin Dec. 1948
“Current Mysteries and Phenomena” Round Robin June & July 1949
“Ghost Army of the Civil War” Fate July 1949
“Current Mysteries and Phenomena - Discs Again” Round Robin August 1949
“Current Mysteries and Phenomena” Round Robin Sept. 1949


“Current Mysteries and Phenomena” Round Robin Jan. 1950
"The Ghosts of Borley Rectory" Fate Jan. 1950
“Mystery of Brown Mountain” Fate March 1951
“Saucer Animals?” Letter: his 1947 AF letter about the ETAH, Fate May-June 1951
“Dairy Farm Poltergeist” Fate Nov. 1952
“The Battle of the Clouds” and “Restless Spirits” Fate March 1953
“The Possession of Magdalene Grombach" Fate April 1953
“Mysterious Lights of Australia” Fate Aug. 1953
“Humanoids and Saucers” (letter doubting occupant sightings) Fate Aug. 1953
“The Return of Nelly Butler” Fate Dec. 1953
“Some Strange Meteors" and “The Haunted Tree” Fate July 1954
“The Phantom Caravan” Psychic News no date, probably mid-1954.
“Flying Saucers in Fact and Fiction” (First draft for “Are the Saucers Space Animals?” published in Fate Dec. 1955.) Nexus (Saucer News) # 5, Nov. 1954
“The Phantom Caravan” Nexus (Saucer News) # 6, Dec. 1954
“A Dead Man Returned to Life” Fate July 1955
“Are the Saucers Space Animals?” (6 page cover story) Fate Dec. 1955
“Those Non-existent Saucers” (letter on the Air Force’s UFO policy) Fate March 1956
UFOs and levitation article by Bessor, Saucer News # 13, April - May 1956

“A Threat to Heaven” (letter about rockets destroying heavenly souls) Fate July 1962
“UFOs, Animal or Mineral?” Fate Nov. 1967
“Factual and Fair” Letter on Otto Binder, claim JPB was first with ETAH, Fate July 1968
“The Sinister MIB’s” Letter rebuking John Keel’s MIB article, Fate Sept. 1968
“The Great Circle Route” - not by Bessor, but based on his work and map that had appeared in the Feb. 27, 1955 Harrisburg, PA Sun Telegraph. Flying Saucer Review Special Issue #2, June 1969

1970s and Beyond

“Ghosts Laid to Rest” Letter: Two haunted houses that are not, Fate Jan. 1970
(referred to himself as “a haunted house researcher and enthusiast”)
“Up to Date on UFOs” News fragment from JPB’s Gulfport UFO, Fate Dec. 1970
“Are the UFOs Living Beings? (comic book story based on Bessor’s ETAH) UFO Flying Saucers #3, Gold Key, 1972
“Messengers of Death” Spaceview July-August 1972
“The Haunted Sky” (Fortean) Fate Sept. 1973
“Many Questions” Letter: Seeking info on NDE and related matters, Fate April 1977
“Mysterious Sounds in the Sky” Fate Sept. 1978 (Ghost story, 1/2 page filler.)
"Phantom Guerrillas Invaded Cape Ann" (Ghosts) Fate June 1979
“Chaplain Officiates at Phantom Funeral” Fate Jan. 1980

“Have You Crossed Over? Letter from Audrey M. Wagner, claiming to have been contacted by Bessor from beyond the grave with automatic writing, Fate Aug. 1994:


The World's Strangest True Stories, Fate magazine, 1983, collecting Bessor’s 1979 article, “Phantom Guerrillas Invaded Cape Ann"

Visions of Ghost Armies: Real-Life Encounters with War-Torn Spirits (From the Files of Fate Magazine), 2003, collecting “Ghost Army of the Civil War”
. . .

Friday, February 15, 2019

The 1947 ET Hypothesis of John P. Bessor

The saucer project attracted screwballs in droves... there were letters.  They went into a special file with the cryptic notation "C.P." – for crackpot.  We got them by the hundreds.
- Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, in True magazine, May 1954,
“What Our Air Force Found Out About Flying Saucers"

A search for the identity of the author of a particularly interesting letter to Project Blue Book led to the article by Joshua B Buhs at From an Oblique Angle, “John Philip Bessor as a Fortean.

It’s an excellent biographical piece with insight into Bessor, but there’s even more to his contribution to UFO history that’s worth further exploration. Bessor described himself as “a psychical researcher and student of the mysterious,” but he was also an outspoken prodigious writer, chiefly of letters to newspapers, magazines, Forteans, UFO researchers, and the US Air Force.

John Philip Bessor (1914 - 1989)

Today, Bessor is little more than a footnote in UFO history, and few people realize that he presented the first extraterrestrial hypothesis to Air Force UFO investigators back in July 1947. Richard Toronto interviewed Trevor James Constable in in July 1978, the author of They Live in the Sky, the best-known proponent of the notion that at least some UFOs are biological in nature, "space animals" or "critters." However, Constable was careful to point out he was not the first to do so, and said that honor went to John Philip Bessor, whom Constable described as the "grand daddy of the critter theory." Toronto noted that Bessor emphatically insisted, "I am not the grand daddy of the idea, simply the originator!"

Bessor’s concept could be called the ETAH, for the Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis. Further research found revealed that Bessor had written to the Air Force several times, the first to Project Sign in 1947, a letter that became famous. In it, Bessor debuted his controversial hypothesis as to the nature and origin of UFOs, but it was later used by a debunking article in a national magazine to ridicule the public’s interest in flying saucers.

1947: Bessor’s Letter to the Air Force

John Bessor was interested in paranormal matters at least as early as 1945, as shown by his correspondence with famous UK ghost hunter and psychic researcher Harry Price. He was also a reader of Charles Fort’s books and Round Robin magazine published published by Meade Layne’s mystic Borderland Science Research Associates, both of which discussed concepts of unidentified flying objects and the possibility of life beyond the earth.

When Bessor heard about Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of nine flying saucers, it caught his interest. Studying it along with the other earliest UFO reports, combined with what he’d learned reading Fort, led him to conclude that what people were reporting was unearthly - and alive. He shared his conclusions with the Air Force in a letter in early July of 1947. No copy of the original has been located, but portions of the letter were quoted in the magazine, Saturday Evening Post May 7, 1949, “What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers” (Conclusion) by Sidney Shalett.

Another wide area through which Project Saucer investigators have had to plow is the rich, intangible field of hallucinations, hoaxes and mass hysteria. For example, a man from Zelienople, Pennsylvania — who said he was “strictly scientific” in his thinking — wrote to the Air Force: “I am prepared to state that careful study and research has absolutely CONVINCED me that these 'Objects X' are creations of realms above or beyond our sphere; are, if you please, GHOST objects or craft, propelled by paranormal tele-portion (the telekinesis of the poltergeist manifestation). . . . They are controlled by intelligent, ghostlike, invisible beings or animals bearing, I believe, very little likeness to human beings.”
John P. Bessor was not named, but he proudly took credit for it in a letter printed in the Post’s July 2, 1949 issue.
He Believes in Saucers
I appreciate Sidney Shalett quoting my "disc" theory in What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers, May 7. . . . (Article quote deleted)
The Command has recently assured me that Mr. Shalett's appraisal of it was his own. . . . The only mass hysteria in evidence was manifested by those (since proven in error) who insisted that the "saucers" had no basis in fact. I found, to my satisfaction, by the process of correlation and elimination, that the "discs" are, apparently, extra-terrestrial objects, intelligently controlled by entities more like octopuses, in mentality, than humans. . . .[They] materialize into view more profusely during (cyclic?) recurrences of periods of climatic disturbances, and dovetailing with the meteorological. . . . The 1870s, ‘80s and '90's saw a rash of aerial phenomena. They portend no calamity, and the chatter of the cultists who talk of "masters" and "elder races" can be reasonably dismissed as abstract conjecture. . . . John P. Bessor, Zelienople, Pa.
The magazine replied,
We are glad to give Mr. Bessor his day in court, and we are even able to agree with him on one point: the flying saucers “portend no calamity.” —ED
Bessor then sent a letter to the Air Force’s “Project Saucer” dated July 13, 1949, to tell them about his disappointment and to reiterate his point of view. Interestingly, it contains the only instance of the word “paranormal” we could locate in PBB files.

John Philip Bessor
Zelienople Pa.
13 July 1949
Project Saucer Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio

Gentlemen: – I hope sincerely, you do not think I am boring you with my occasional and small contributions.

I felt very badly about Shallet’s mentioning my little theory regarding the “saucers”. He certainly had not asked my permission, and I really believe it gave the reader the impression that one takes his life and reputation in his hands to dare write you in confidence, lest he be held up in absolute public ridicule. My “reply“ to Shallet in the Saturday Evening Post’s “Letter” section was, due to deletion and butchering, made quite impotent, -- perhaps in keeping with the joking attitude that the Post writer Shallet inaugurated in his fiasco in titled “What You Can Believe About the Flying Saucers”. Paxton made my “dovetail” into “dovetailing” and made it appear that I had forgotten to begin one sentence with “Then--”. Actually, a sticker for accuracy, I had checked and rechecked my letter before I submitted it to the Post.
As things now stand, I am a martyr to my convictions, and only time may vindicate me. Believe you me, I as firmly hold today as I did when I first wrote you in July 11, 1947, that the “saucers” are extra-terrestrial “ghost-objects” propelled by telekinetic energy and caused to remain stationary in mid-air by levitation. Excuse the title of the magazine (I hate the esoteric) but FATE, 139 N, Clark Street, Chicago 2, Illinois, will print my article “The Mystery of Borley Rectory” tentatively scheduled to appear in the November 1949 issue. I have, in that article, summarized Harry Price’s findings to the paranormal influence manifested in the Borley Rectory’s hauntings, and you will see why I believe absolutely in the etheric.

You may keep the enclosed material.
John Philip Bessor

(Note: The letter was filed in the case, “Des Moines, Iowa (#317) 7 April 1949,” but no connection is apparent, and the enclosure is separated or missing. The article Bessor mentioned was published in the Jan. 1950 Fate as "The Ghosts of Borley Rectory.")

Bessor’s letter original letter had been used by Shallet in the Saturday Evening Post to provide an example of crackpot saucer theories, but maybe someone in the Air Force was taking Bessor seriously, though. In Project Sign's report from April 27, 1949, it examined various ideas for the origin of the saucers:

"the possible existence of some sort of strange extraterrestrial animals has been remotely considered, as many of the objects described acted more like animals than anything else."

The Project Sign report,
Medicine Hat News (Alberta, Canada) May 2, 1949
When Bessor saw an article discuss saucers as living things, it prompted him to write a letter published in Fate May-June 1951, where he staked his claim as originator of the concept:
Saucer Animals?
Your Flying Saucer theory was interesting but not new. I evolved it in 1946, after studying Fort's books. Presented it to the USAF July 7, 1947. Haberer of their press and radio section wrote me that it was "one of the most intelligent theories we have received." Briefly, the saucers represent a form of supernormal phenomena - are a sort of "poltergeist-animal'' capable of materialization. Possible propellant: teleportation. I believe they normally inhabit the stratosphere and are forced to fly lower due, possibly, to some cosmic disturbance in space. Not human-form; not people. The official release of April, 1949 quoted part of my theory.
J. P. Bessor St. Thomas, Pa.
(Harry Haberer, was civilian head press information for the Air Force at Dayton, Ohio, and responsible for providing Sidney Shallet with information for his 1949 Saturday Evening Post article.)

LIFE April 28, 1952 contained Bessor’s letter responding to their famous UFO article, “Have We Visitors from Space?”
Sirs...For five years I have held the theory that these aerial objects represent a highly attenuated form of intelligent “animal” life of extra-terrestrial origin—possibly stratospheric or ionospheric; propulsion apparently akin to teleportation, possibly flight by sheer will or thought. The frequent undulating motion in flight is analogous to the weaving trajectory of observed poltergeist-projected objects. Strange, luminous creatures inhabit the depths of our seas, why not similar creatures of highly rarefied matter in the heights of our heavens, and as diverse in size and shape as living things on earth?
John Philip Bessor
Fort London, Pa.
Kenneth Arnold, the original flying saucer witness, came to believe saucers were alive about this same time, and we have to wonder if Bessor’s letter in Life played a role in that. In an Aug. 1952, newspaper article, it quoted Arnold as saying he was convinced that they UFOs are a type of "living, thinking creature" that inhabits the stratosphere but they are no "menace." (Further details follow in our companion article, Kenneth Arnold and the ETAH.)

Civilian names are typically redacted in PBB, files, but they missed one reference to Bessor, a listing of the 1950 Philadelphia UFO mentioned in his letter. There’s no case file on the incident, however, just his letter, found in file, “Sandia Base, NM. 29 Sept 50.” True magazine, May 1954 featured, “What Our Air Force Found Out About Flying Saucers,” by Project Blue Book’s former head, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt. It prompted Bessor to write the Air Force with comments, criticism, and a case tip.
According to that excellent commentator, Frank Edwards, you have been withholding some “saucer” facts from the public. I plead with you to withhold nothing. You must admit that the Air Force’s contradictions in the past, it’s acknowledgments and it denials, have done it no credit, and have made the thinking public completely suspicious of it.
John Philip Bessor 
May 2nd, 1954

I have just finished reading Ruppelt‘s excellent summation in TRUE magazine. I completely agree with all his statements except that the Air Force has no knowledge of the “landing” of a U.F.O..

I think it most odd that the Air Force spent thousands on tracking down patently fictitious accounts of “little men”, and sublimely ignored the factual accounts of landings of U.F.Os. such as the six foot, purple-glowing sphere which gently alighted onto a Philadelphia field, September 30, 1950 (which, when touched by one of the policemen who saw it fall, dematerialized into a sticky film). It appears to me that such accounts smack too much of a supernormal (preternatural) and are hence conveniently excluded from A.T.I.C. files.

I note with some interest that you maintain a file initialed “C.P.” into which you dump any and all letters written by those interested in the “flying saucers”. I have received some very “odd “letters in reply to my “saucer” pieces in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazines, and I can well sympathize with you on this point, but I certainly trust you the good sense to discriminate, and not throw out the weed with the chaff, simply because it is in letter form.

Relative to the West Palm Beach fiasco and the Adamski bid for publicity, you should read a 1953 copy (of excuse the stupid title) FATE magazine, you will see where I strongly question the authenticity of both the scoutmaster’s and “Professor” Adamski’s encounters. I can smell a fraud ten miles off. To think that the Air Force spent a fair sum to investigate the West Palm Beach tale. Seems incredible. The West Virginia “monster” appeared to be well worth looking into, but appears to have been shrugged off by Intelligence with a cute remark.

Incidentally, Adamski is booked in London halls for his lecture tour this summer. I understand that a fellow SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN -- is touring the United States describing his trip in a “saucer”. His name: Orefeo Angelucci, -- a little fellow I’ll swear is trying to compensate for a feeling of gloomy inadequacy and boredom in the plastics division of Lockheed Aircraft.

Sincerely, J. P. Bessor
It’s easy to see why Bessor took an interest in the Philadelphia UFO, since the peculiar nature of the object fit well with his notions of organic and ethereal flying saucers. However, in repeating the story, Bessor bestowed even more unearthly qualities to the object than found in the witness’ report. The news was carried on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer as  "Flying 'Saucer' Just Dissolves,” on Sept. 27, 1950, then picked up and syndicated nationally by the Associated Press.

Bessor wrote about the dissolving saucer part of his article, “Some Strange Meteors" in Fate magazine July 1954. Bessor somehow got the date wrong and exaggerated the details, changing the object from parachute-like into a globe, and changing “dissolved” into “dematerialize.” As “a sticker for accuracy,” Bessor should have checked and rechecked his article before he submitted it to Fate. He mentioned the story several other times with the correct date given, but kept the globe shape.

John Bessor, the Author

Bessor was a prolific letter writer and corresponded with many Forteans, UFO researchers including: Eric Frank Russell, Vincent H. Gaddis, Harold T. Wilkins, Frank Scully, Leonard Stringfield. It was Bessor who put two of famous friends in touch with one another; Gray Barker wrote to Morris K Jessup in November 1954, “I heard about you from John P. Bessor of Pittsburgh, who said you are writing a book about saucers.” Bessor was also very active in letters of comment to saucer and paranormal publications such as Saucer News, The Saucerian, Flying Saucer Review and Fate magazine.

Harold T. Wilkins, Flying Saucer Uncensored, 1955:
Mr. John (P.) Bessor, of Pittsburgh, has asked me to note that he is the originator of the term aeroform. I have pleasure in doing so, since Mr. Bessor is a pioneer worker who originated the materialization and de-materialization theory in connection with certain types of saucers. Of course, as this book has stated, there are other types of saucers of matter akin to our own.
Bessor briefly had a column in BSRA’s Round Robin, and corresponded with Leonard Stringfield, contributing this cartoon to the Sept. 3, 1954 issue of CRIFO Newsletter (Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects).

Bessor also sent the cartoon to Project Blue Book, and their version includes one of his ghostly UFOs passing overhead. PBB added the notation: 
"Comment: When was the Air Force ever able to muzzle the Press?"
Bessor’s letter to Len Stringfield’s CRIFO Orbit, Aug. 5, 1955, gives us some of the best insight into his views on how the fringe claims of saucer extremists were damaging the credibility of the UFO topic:
I have long been under the impression that the vocal group of the Air Force is perfectly satisfied to see the subject of flying saucers hang itself with the rope of prophesy, carelessly edited periodicals, and science-fiction yarns of "meetings" with etheric guardians, mystical masters, and sultry maids from exotic. planets! This hanging would make it unnecessary for the Air Force to (1) painfully admit the reality of the flying saucers to the public, or to (2) again commit itself foolishly by denying their reality.
John Philip Bessor, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Bessor was a regular contributor to the early issues of Jim Moseley’s Saucer News (Nexus) and he was briefly listed as a contributing editor. "Flying Saucers Fact and Fiction" was published in Nexus #5, Nov. 1954.

The ETAH in Print

John P. Bessor is perhaps best remembered in ufology for his articles in Fate magazine on the Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis. The Dec. 1955 issue featured his “Are the Saucers Space Animals?” as the cover story. He wrote:

Whatever they are, I suspect they just come down to look us over. I believe they are harmless or we would have had trouble with them long ago... I contend that the 'flying discs' (as they were first called) are a form of space animal, or creature, of a highly attenuated substance, capable of materialization and dematerialization, whose whose propellant is a form of telekinetic energy...
There is a saying that Nature abhors a vacuum. If the seas of our earth are swarming with varieties of living things, both great and small, is it not logical to assume that the 'sea' of our sky abounds with sundry forms of living things, likewise both great and small, of varied shapes, but adaptable to their celestial environment? Some may be quite invisible, others translucent, others opaque, still others capable of changing, chameleon-like, from one color to another, from one form to another, from visibility to complete invisibility, all in a moment.
Before alien abductions became a popular topic, Bessor speculated that people vanishing could be connected to UFOs.
We read of the weird disappearance of the occupants of sailing ships, of the strange disappearance into thin air... we wonder if they were... abducted by carnivorous species of flying saucer...
Bessor’s most longest relationship was with the magazine whose name he disliked, Fate. There he wrote over eighteen articles and had about half as many letter published over the years, more often than not on ghostly, not UFO matters. Two of his articles appear in book collections of the best of Fate magazine. (See the Bibliography section.)

The Fortean Society under Tiffany Thayer had a conspiratorial bent, distrusting authority, government, newspapers and the scientific establishment. some of that rubbed off on the UFO community, and a lot seems to have rubbed off on Bessor. In 1962, Bessor was concerned enough about an issue that he wrote to the Detroit Free Press and Fate magazine about how NASA’s space exploration could destroy souls in Heaven.

1967 was a very good year for Bessor, the 20th anniversary of flying saucers and of his Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis, which was being discussed in magazines, books and newspapers.

Mysterious Fires and Lights by Fortean author, Vincent H. Gaddis:
One of the advocates of our animal theory is John P. Bessor, of St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, with whom I once corresponded. He states that he evolved the theory in 1946 and presented it to the Air Force in July, 1947. An officer in the Press and Radio Section, in acknowledging the submission, said it was "one of the most intelligent theories we have received."
Gaddis’ section on Bessor was quoted the paperback book, What We Really Know About Flying Saucers by Otto Binder, 1967, and the ETAH was featured as a “new theory” in The Sydney Morning Herald July 23, 1967.

With the renewed attention Bessor wrote about the ETAH topic again for a feature article in Fate magazine Nov. 1967 “UFOs, Animal or Mineral?” He wrote:

... various species of extraterrestrial, highly attenuated life-forms or craft propelled by telekinetic energy or by sheer will or thought, Possibly originating in the ionosphere, they have been forced to ‘migrate’ to denser atmospheres periodically because of solar or cosmic disturbances. They are capable of changing shape in flight and possess the intelligence of the octopus, porpoise or chimpanzee.
In the foreword to his best-selling book, Flying Saucers, Here and Now, Frank Edwards gave special thanks to several individuals, including “John P. Bessor, of Pittsburgh.”

Bessor was primarily a psychic and ghost investigator, but in 1970, he had his own UFO sighting in Gulfport, Mississippi. He wrote to the police there to report what he’d seen, and to find if there had been other reports of it, or information related to it. Much like had happened in 1947, the authorities released his letter, to the press.

The ETAH was featured in the comic book, UFO Flying Saucers #3, Gold Key, 1972 as the cover story, “Are the UFOs Living Beings?”, but John Bessor was not cited as the originator of the concept.
Bessor's purple "dematerializing" UFO from Philadelphia, 
September 30, 1950 was also included.

Bessor's last known writing related on the UFO topic was a 1981 newspaper letter to the editor.
He didn't mention space animals, but was still fuming about a UFO cover-up by the US government.
The Pittsburgh Press Feb. 11, 1981

The Unique Bessor Point of View

What’s a bit odd with John Bessor’s outlook is that he embraced the idea of the supernatural, and wrote many articles on ghosts, yet he had a negative opinion of the “esoteric” and “of the cultists who talk of "masters... elder races." In later correspondence and articles he seems very skeptical and pragmatic, condemning the Contactees, and crashed saucer stories, but throughout his life held on to the conviction that UFOs were really ghostly space animals. Bessor subscribed to Psychic News, “the spiritual newspaper” from the UK, and contributed at least one article to them. He’d also written for Meade Layne’s Borderland Science Research Associates, but while Bessor embraced the paranormal, but rejected occult notions of Theosophy about extraterrestrials entrusting knowledge to a chosen few. Maybe he thought it smacked of clubhouse and fraternity ethos and elitism.

Bessor was more aligned with the brand of paranormal promoted by Frank Edwards and Harold T. Wilkins, who both wrote about general mysterious happenings and not just UFOs. Bessor was a fan of Frank Edwards’ syndicated radio show, “Stranger than Science, ” and of Edwards books that followed covering the same type of material, ghosts, phenomenon and UFOs. That was more Bessor’s style, that the world was full of strange and unknown things, but we were our own masters.

The ETAH or Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis never caught on the way the notions of interplanetary or interdimensional origin for UFOs did. It’s no more outlandish, but perhaps it was a bit too alien a concept, more disturbing than the notion we are being visited by humanoids who are much like us.

Fate Dec. 1955
John Keel in Operation Trojan Horse, 1996, wrote:
There are countless sightings of objects that changed size and shape... Over and over again, witnesses have told me in hushed tones, "You know, I don't think that thing I saw was mechanical at all. I got the distinct impression that it was alive."

Researchers such as John Bessor and Ivan T. Sanderson have openly discussed the possibility that some UFOs may, indeed, be living creatures. It's a mixed bag. You can take your choice. Every belief can supported to some degree, but in the final analysis, when you review all of the evidence, none of them can completely proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
John Bessor’s hypothesis may seem ridiculous to people today, but remember he grew up with a belief in the supernatural, just as many of us now have grown up believing in extraterrestrial spaceships. Bessor was also working with limitations of information and the reach of science at the time. We’re not much better off seventy years later, and there’s still far more that remains unknown than known. In time, our present-day notions of what is behind UFOs may turn out to be no more accurate than the 1947 Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis by John P. Bessor.
. . .

The John Bessor story concludes in the next STTF installment, 
Charles Fort, Kenneth Arnold and Space Animal UFOs
which features: 
ETAH: Fiction and Fort got there First
Kenneth Arnold, ETAH Proponent
The John P. Bessor Bibliography 
Bessor’s Controversial Correspondence
. . .

For Further Reading

“John Philip Bessor as a Fortean: by Joshua B. Buhs.

“Who ‘Discovered Space Animals’?” by Civilian Saucer Intelligence of New York
CSI News Letter December 15, 1957

“On the Track of the Gelatinous Meteor” by Richard Toronto, 2000

“1950, September 26: The Purple Mass” by Garth Haslam

Early UFO Radio Host: Hugh McPherson

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