Friday, May 10, 2019

The 1950 UFO Landing at Amarillo, Texas



A nationally syndicated news story by United Press reported on May 13, 1950 that a flying saucer had landed at a Texas airport, The witness was B. G. Hunter (probably Bobby Gene Hunter), age 21, the night service man for Tradewind Airport, which at the time was about a 640-acre airfield. While it was a single-witness case, there was trace evidence from the landing.

The story appeared in papers under various titles:

The Baytown Sun, May 13, 1950
“‘Saucer’ Lands at Airport”

The Shreveport Times, May 13, 1950
“Amarillo Worker Claims Saucer Landed at Field”

The Victoria Advocate, May 14, 1950
"Saucer Lands at Airport, Burns Grass"


The Shreveport Times, May 13, 1950
The Associated Press also ran a version of the story with several additional details including a direct quote from the witness describing the shape of the UFO.

In Loren Gross’ UFOs: A History, Volume 6: April- July 1950, he introduces the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations report collected from the witness:

The District Commander of the 11th OSI unit stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, immediately ordered agents to Amarillo, Texas to question the night serviceman at the Tradewinds Airport. It took something special to lure OSI investigators all the way to Amarillo but in this case the trip seemed worth the trouble.

Gross quotes the OSI report, which redacts the name of B. G. Hunter and the sleeping pilots:

I glanced aloft, and saw what appeared to be an exhaust flame approaching from the West-Southwest. I watched the approach of the flame until it passed overhead, and judged it's altitude to have been approximately 500 to 700 feet . I was mainly interested in it because it did not have any navigation lights and until then supposed it to be a plane.

After the object passed overhead, immediately returned to the main hangar, went inside and tried to awaken--- (deleted), a pilot employed by Tradewinds Airport, who was sleeping in the hangar. Being unable to awaken --- (deleted), I then returned to the front of the hangar, and saw the object approaching 200 to 300 miles per hour. I again went inside to try and awaken--- (deleted), and being unable to do so, returned to the front of the hangar. By that time the object had swerved to the right and was headed in the direction of English Field, North-East. Approximately five minutes later, I was going from the office, in the front of the hangar into the main hangar itself, and saw this brilliant light approaching from the West-North-West. I switched on the flood lights in the front of the hangar, and saw the object come to rest approximately three hundred feet in front of the hangar, on a grassy area . The approach of the object was accompanied by a slight swishing sound. By the time the object had landed, I had the flood lights on, and stepped outside the hangar to get a better view of the object.

It appeared to be flat on the bottom, but otherwise elliptical in shape, with a sharp cut off section toward the rear. The rear of the object was sharply cut away. It had a bubble setting forward on the top of the object, which appeared to be about the size of a football helmet. Toward the rear of the object was what appeared to be a pipe or tube protruding from the body of the craft, approximately one foot high. The object seemed to be sitting on the ground, and small exhaust flames were coming from the rear of the craft. While it sat on the ground, it seemed to be idling.

I again went inside the hangar to try and awaken --- (deleted), but being unable to do so, returned to the front of the hangar. The object remained on the ground for a period of three to five minutes, and after returning to the front of the hangar, I noticed the grass beneath the object beginning to smolder and burn. While watching the object, it suddenly raised, a whining sound was heard, accompanied by white flames, approximately three feet in length, shooting from the rear. After reaching a level of four feet, it then took off in a Southeasterly direction, with a terrific roar. The take-off was gradual, and it started off in a shallow climb until reaching the far side of the field, when it started a steep climb. It then leveled off, and seemed to turn, but without the bank of a conventional aircraft. It appeared to remain on an even keel while making the turn, and then proceeded to gain speed and momentum; headed in a Westerly direction, and with a sudden burst of speed was soon lost to sight.

I would estimate the size of the object to be approximately six to eight feet in length; from one and one-half to three feet tall at the highest point.

After taking off I noticed the grass where the object had been sitting was still burning. I took a fire extinguisher from the hangar, and used almost all of the contents in putting out the fire.

(Gross cites the source as: "Special Inquiry," by S/A Dale W. Dawson. DO #11 Tinker AFB, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 18 May 50. Blue Book Files, OSI records.)

Tradewind Airport, circa 1955
What the OSI document fails to disclose is the extent of the examination, if the burned grass from the landing spot was tested, there’s no record of it. All we have is the testimony of Hunter, the lone witness.

A few years later, the excitement of the Levelland, Texas, sightings prompted a review of earlier cases in the Amarillo News-Globe, Nov. 10, 1957. B. G. Hunter told his story once again with a few additional details.

Hunter's sighting remains just as mysterious today. While the UFO doesn't sound particularly unearthly, the object described would have been too small to hold a human pilot. At the time, unmanned aircraft development was in its infancy; a remotely controlled jet landing and take off at night as described, is to say the least, improbable. The landing spot of the UFO may offer a clue, though. It was close to the airport offices where it could be seen. That would seem to indicate that the intelligence behind it was attempting to put on a show.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Captured Flying Saucers: Saybrook, IL, July 26, 1947



In Captured Flying Saucers: July 7, 1947, The Disk that Slipped by the FBI, we looked at how J. Edgar Hoover was upset that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was cut out of a UFO investigation. Along with previous disappointments dealing with the military, that caused the FBI to want nothing to do with flying saucers. Later the same month, the policy, if not the attitude, changed.

(Document on the FBI site: BUREAU BULLETIN No. 42)
The Bureau, at the request of the Army Air Forces Intelligence, has agreed to cooperate in the investigation of flying discs...
7-30-47
BUREAU BULLETIN No. 42
Series 1947
You should investigate each instance which is brought to your attention of a sighting of a flying disc in order to ascertain whether or not it is a bona fide sighting, an imaginary one or a prank. You should also bear in mind that individuals might report seeing flying discs for various reasons. It is conceivable that an individual might be desirous of seeking personal publicity, causing hysteria, or playing a prank.
The Bureau should be notified immediately by teletype of all reported sightings and the results of your inquiries. In instances where the report appears to have merit, the teletype should be followed by a letter to the Bureau containing in detail the results of your inquiries. The Army Air Forces have assured the Bureau complete cooperating in these matters and in any instances where they fail to make information available to you or make the recovered discs available for your examination, it should promptly be brought to the attention of the Bureau.
Any information you develop in connection with these discs should be promptly brought to the attention of the Army through your usual liaison channels.
They also noted that there was the potential for UFO hoaxes to be used to breed fear:
"The Army Air Forces Intelligence has also indicated some concern that the reported sightings might have been made by subversive individuals for the purpose of creating a mass hysteria."

The Springfield FBI Memo

One of the USA's greatest concerns about flying saucers were that they were a new weapon of some sort by the Soviet Union, therefore, investigating UFOs was a matter of national security. As a result, saucer sightings were taken seriously, and many FBI agents' reports were written in grave tones, though few cases were of genuine importance.

Shortly after the FBI saucer directive, a report came in from Illinois. Someone had recovered a small disc. The memorandum to headquarters for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover:

TO: Director, FBI DATE: August 20, 1947

FROM: SAC, Springfield

SUBJECT: FLYING DISC 

Reference is made to Bureau Bulletin No. 42, Series 1947, dated 
July 30, 1947 re the above. 

For the Bureau's information a Mrs. xxxxxxxxxxxxx of Saybrook,  
Illinois reported to this office the finding of a flying disc 
in her front yard at 6:00 A.M. on July 26, 1947. 

It appears from investigation conducted by an Agent of this 
office that the stability of xxxxxxxxxxxxx is questionable. How- 
ever the alleged flying disc was obtained and it is apparently 
the concoction of some of the juveniles in the area. It is an
old wooden platter, which has assembled on it a silver plate, a 
spark plug, a timer, and some old brass tubing. Photographs 
were taken of the same and there are six views enclosed herewith. 

No doubt this was someone's idea of a prank. 

The disc is presently being retained by the Springfield Office and 
will be retained pending receipt of Bureau advice relative to its
destruction. The thought in retaining it was that perhaps the 
Bureau might desire to have it transmitted to Washington for any 
novel value it might have. 

JBP:hg 
62-0-1445 
Enc. (6) 
To view the FBI file on this case: 62-0-1445: Saybrook, Illinois, July 26, 1947


On Sept. 5, 1947, FBI headquarters replied: Nah, if the military doesn't want it, get rid of it.


The FBI site has a page on their site about the “Unusual Phenomena” files collection, “The FBI and UFOs: Flying Flapjacks, Saucers, and Saw Blades.” It featured a brief recap of the Saybrook saucer case and displayed two clear pictures of it:

The FBI and UFOs: Flying Flapjacks, Saucers, and Saw Blades
The FBI report failed to mention that the flying disc carried the brand of its purported country of origin: Russia. With the "timer, and some old brass tubing," it looked a bit like a bomb. Had the "Russia" label been published in the media, it might have led to just the kind of mass hysteria the authorities feared, hoax or not.


The Saybrook citizen's report seems to have gone directly to the local FBI, and was not covered by the newspapers like so many other flying saucers stories around the same time. Since the FBI's investigation was conclusive, nothing was passed on to the Air Force, therefore this incident is not found in the files of Project Blue Book. In a sense, the case is unsolved. Once the FBI decided it was just a prank by some kids, they were done with it. We'll never know who made the phony soviet saucer or just why.

The FBI was only in the UFO business for a short while. According to their site, a July 1950 FBI statement said that “the jurisdiction and responsibility for investigating flying saucers have been assumed by the United States Air Force... the FBI does not attempt to investigate these reports..."
There were a few exceptions though, but those generally were focused on saucer swindlers, not actual reported UFO sightings.

There were many other early cases of hoaxed captured flying saucers, and the FBI was involved in several of them. See our previous STTF articles, including: Captured Flying Saucers: The North Hollywood Disc, July 10, 1947

Friday, April 12, 2019

FBI UFO Files, 1947: The Harbinger Letter


The FBI got into the UFO business in 1947, but they wanted nothing to do with it. In many cases, the FBI was stuck doing the legwork for low-level cases, chasing down rumors and hoaxes for the Air Force. They continued to do so up until 1950, but after that they were still occasionally involved mostly in investigating the people involved in UFO cases, most often Contactees or frauds - or both.

FBI files contain many documents on UFO- related cases, often without any context. We’ve written about two such cases before. The most famous FBI document is the Hottel Memo:
Scientist Predicts ET Contact / FBI Crashed UFO DocumentAnother stir was caused by "A Memorandum of Importance" dated July 8, 1947 which seemed to show the FBI knew quite a bit about the nature of the saucers and the aliens who flew them:

The problem comes from the FBI material not clearly identifying the source, and worse, by failing to note the solution. We recently discovered another case that follows this pattern, but with a bit of research have matched it to newspaper reports to resolve the mystery.


A Strange Flying Saucer Letter


July 11, 1947, less than a month after Kenneth Arnold’s newsmaking saucer sighting, people across the USA were receiving strange letters suggesting that the UFOs could be “harbingers of a better day,” and that “one of these startling discs is on its way to you.”

Many of the people who received the letter wrote to their local newspaper, and at least one citizen forwarded a copy to the FBI to see what they could make of it.


The mysterious letter itself, postmarked New York City:
Have you seen one of the mysterious "Saucers?" 
What did it look like? 
Do you think these strange celestial manifestations are harbingers of a better day? 
Do you believe it means a new and revolutionary advance is coming? 
Will it make your life brighter, happier, more useful? 
We believe one of these startling discs is on its way to you. Then the secret will be out. 
(Signed) The Combined and Amalgamated Committee of Sky-scanners, Disc Decipherers and New-Product Introducers. 


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover replied to the informant, but merely offered thanks, not an explanation, and no clarification is contained in the files.  

The original FBI files

The Silver Disc Appears


Below is a simulation of the follow-up to the mysterious letter, and the newspaper clippings that clarify the mystery.

The Decatur Herald, (Decatur, IL) July 18, 1947, The Call Leader, (Elwood, IN) July 16, 1947
It was an advertising stunt for Eversharp CA, perhaps the first major company to exploit the flying saucer craze. They were the biggest, but not the first. Many smaller local businesses had beat them to it by commercializing saucers to promote anything from radio stations to hamburger stands.


Here’s a look at the Eversharp CA, a pioneer in the ball point pen business. More on the company can be found in the article at Eversharp CA Ballpoint 1945-1947 at PenHero.com.


There are more FBI flying saucer cases, from the serious to the silly and we’ll continue to look at them here at STTF. We’ll also keep looking at other examples in the never-ending saga of saucer exploitation

Friday, March 29, 2019

The UFO Flap of April 1948



Flap entered the UFO lexicon due to Captain Ed Ruppelt’s use of the term in The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects: “In Air Force terminology a ‘flap’ is a condition, or situation, or state of being of a group of people characterized by an advanced degree of confusion that has not quite yet reached panic proportions.” The term got repeated by UFO buffs, and flap took on a different meaning, more about a heightened period of UFO activity, not the commotion it caused.

In late 1947 and early 1948, things were so slow that there was no flap of any kind. James Thrasher’s Feb. 11, 1948, syndicated editorial column noted “a slump in the grain market,” but also in the UFO business: “...like the New York Stock Exchange, we've been a little nervous lately. And all we can say is we hope those flying saucers don't put in another appearance — at least till we're feeling better.”

As we know, the saucer business was far from finished, but the next UFO event to make national news was something else. A series of 1948 UFO incidents in Illinois received national news coverage and can be considered the second flap of the flying saucer era. It caught the attention of the Air Force’s UFO investigation, chiefly due to one of the key witnesses being a high-ranking experienced trained observer. Colonel Walter F. Siegmund (1887 - 1964) was 61 years old at time of the sighting, the retired commandant of "Camp Kearns," Army Air Forces Base, Kearns, Utah.


Col. Walter F. Siegmund. Biography at:
The History of the Base Commanders at Kearns.

Col. Siegmund's retirement notice from
The Alton Evening Telegraph, Alton, Illinois, July  2, 1952

The First Reported Sighting

On Tuesday April 6, 1948, Robert Price of Caledonia, Illinois, reported seeing “a bird as big as an airplane.”

Freeport Journal-Standard, Freeport, IL, April 7, 1948
“Boone County Farmer Reports Seeing Bird As Big As Airplane”



Seeing the story prompted another witness to come forward, Veryl Babb, a truck driver, who thought it looked like a pterodactyl. More incredibly, the witnesses “believed it might be a visitor from another planet.”

The Evening News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 9, 1948
"Monster Bird" Reported In Flying Saucer Area  by United Press 


Once the report was out, others came forward saying they had seen the same thing even earlier before, but hadn’t spoken about it at the time. There was James Trares, a 12-year-old boy, who said he’d seen a plane-sized bird about three months before. The other witness, Col. Walter F. Siegmund, said he had seen it on Sunday, the 4th, several days before the other witnesses, but at the opposite end of the state.

The story by Paul Dix of United Press was carried widely across the USA:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, April 10, 1948
“Mysterious Huge Bird Reported Seen Over Glendale and Alton'” 

Col. Siegmund said he didn't see any flapping of wings but he was sure it was a huge fowl and not a type of aircraft. "At first I thought there was something wrong with my eyesight," Siegmund said. "But it was definitely a bird, and not a glider or jet plane...But from movements of the object and its size, I figured it could only be a bird of tremendous size."



Belvidere Daily Republican, Belvidere, Illinois, April 15, 1948
“Gesell Solves Bird Mystery -- Or Does He?”
"It was an airplane towing a glider," Gesell said. "I saw it myself.”


1948 04 16 The Freeport Journal-Standard, April 16, 1948
“'Monster Bird' Comes To Rest; Farmer Sees Giant Heron In Field”


A United Press story published April 18, 1948, seemed to put the mater to rest, when another of the witnesses retracted the bird evaluation: “Saturday, Bill Gesell of Belvidere, another of those who saw it, put his foot down on the tale and said it definitely was an airplane-towed glider. Veryl Babb of Freeport, the truck driver, said he had to agree.”

The sightings didn’t end, nor did many of the witnesses impressions that they were seeing a big bird. Col. Siegmund, on the other hand, had studied up and concluded it was not a paranormal anomaly:

The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, April 25, 1948, reported:
“‘Enormous’ Bird Is Sighted again, flapping Over City” (UP)
“Siegmund said he had been doing considerable research on birds since sighting the fowl and had concluded it was an albatross or condor that had wandered far from home. S. B. Heckler of the St. Louis Audubon society said it was probably a huge pelican.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, April 26, 1948
“Flying What-Is-It Is Seen Chasing Plane Over City” 
One witness account would seem (in part) to support the towed glider explanation:
Mrs. Kristine Dolezal, 2055 Russell boulevard, heard an airplane flying low over her home today. "When I looked up," she said, "I was amazed to see this big dark thing apparently chasing the plane. It was clumsy, and flapping its wings sort of lazily. The plane and the bird finally flew off in different directions." 

Two St. Louis policemen had witnessed it together the previous Saturday night, and even they gave conflicting descriptions. Patrolman Francis Hennelly said:

"The thing was as big as a small airplane. Its wings were flapping, and it was headed southwest, flying at an altitude of several hundred feet. I thought it was a large eagle, but I've never seen one that big before." 
Cpl. Clarence Johnson had a different description: "It looked like a witch flying across the sky," he asserted. "It wasn't Halloween, either."


The Altoona Mirror, Altoona, Pennsylvania, April 29, 1948
“Flying Monster in Missouri May Be Bird, Plane or Witch” (UP)
“Charles Hertenstein, ace trouble shooter for Mayor Aloys P. Kaufmann, planned his strategy today for capturing the night-flying “what’s-it” that has terrified residents recently. Kaufmann assigned Hertenstein the task of catching the giant bird —if it is a bird—yesterday. That was after he received letters from indignant taxpayers, denouncing the city for its lack of action.”



Confounding Witness Testimony

St. Louis Star-Times, St. Louis, Missouri, May 1, 1948 had an editorial piece on the mystery, “Wonderful Nonsense,” noting the conflicting descriptions: 
“We have been through the flying saucer, submarines-off-the-coast and balls-of-fire stages recently, and right now St. Louis has a queer-bird mystery which it is enjoying immensely. This creature, which in many ways resembles the fabled filli-lulu bird (and may be one for all we know) has so far been positively identified as an enemy projectile, an eagle, a small plane, a condor, a magnetometer towed by aircraft, the last surviving member of the great auk family and a blue heron. Those who have seen it agree that it flaps its wings, doesn't flap it(s) wings, is very large, just a little bigger than a duck, flies quite high, stays near the earth, has feathers and is as naked as a billiard ball.” 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 2, 1948, carried the story, “The Gigantic Bird Mystery” by Dickson Terry (illustrated by Amadee), and it summarized the case and the theories that had been advanced. It also had a bit of news about how even such a witness as Col. Walter F. Siegmund could be the subject of ridicule.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 2, 1948
"Col. Siegmund is a well-known sportsman, in addition to being widely known in Army circles, and when a news service sent out a story about his having seen the thing, he began to get joking letters from friends all over the country, all asking the same question: What had he been drinking? Col. Siegmund has been looking up material on big birds and has come to the conclusion that what be saw was an albatross."


According to Loren Coleman in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (2002), there were another few incidents, the last on May 5, then, “the sightings came to an abrupt end.” Not quite the end. There was at least one other report, one from about 200 miles away in Carrollton, Missouri:
1948 06 05 Mexico Ledger, Mexico, Missouri, June 5, 1948
“Did Monster Fly Over this Way?”



The Air Force Takes Notice


A version of the story appeared in the April 11 Dayton Daily News, where the Project Sign folks at Wright Field couldn’t miss it, especially since the headline featured the words “Flying Saucer.”


Project Blue Book files contain a 6-page report on the bird story, and the fact that Col. Siegmund was involved seems to been their primary concern.

"11 April 1948, 4 miles north of Alton, Illinois" Part of the file discusses the credibility of the report:

“Reliability: Impossible to evaluate. 
Colonel [Siegmund] was never questioned but some sort of investigation obviously should be made in lieu of the fact that he was once commandant of Air Force Base [Kearns].”

Looking at the Air Force file, it’s interesting to see how incomplete the folder is. Many of the other cases feature large collections of newspaper articles, but this one does not, just a lone clipping, and there’s no indication that any investigation or interviews were conducted. During the Project Grudge days, a later review by Dr. J. Allen Hynek caused the sighting to be downgraded from "unidentified" to "bird."



This reflects unfavorably on the Air Force’s analysis of UFO cases. Apparently this evaluation was based on a single newspaper clipping, yet it became part of Blue Book’s statistics, carried as a “solved case,” without investigation. 


The Witnesses to the Flap 

The 1948 giant bird flap is better documented than most early UFO cases, but it’s largely been ignored, except by Forteans and cryptozoologists. What was left out of the Air Force file,  and from most accounts of the sightings as a “Thunderbird,” is that Col. Siegmund later changed his mind, downgrading his estimate of the object’s size, and that he concluded it was only an albatross or a condor. The cryptozoology coverage generally quotes only from the “monster bird” stories and ignores the testimony of those who reported seeing something mechanical, or ordinary large birds, or even a witch. 

There’s no doubt the many witnesses were seeing something, but there is reasonable doubt about whether all of them were seeing the same thing. The case was marked by conflicting witness testimony, and we have to wonder if some of the later reports were “copycats,” or were due to “priming.” Whenever people saw something flying, some may have exaggerated what they saw out of the excitement of seeing it too, and of being part of something special. It’s happened with other things, from the mundane to the paranormal; from escaped panthers to UFOs. Having heard  of the flying monster, some people wanted and expected to see a giant bird. 
. . .

Further Reading

Saturday Night Uforia ran a short piece on the story, “The Tale of the Belvidere Bird” https://www.saturdaynightuforia.com/html/articles/articlehtml/thebelviderebird.html

Saturday Night Uforia later covered more of the flap among the collection of articles, “In the News 1948.”

Luis Dominguez  illustrated the cover for UFO Flying Saucers #10
(Gold Key, 1976) depicting Kareeta, the 1946 UFO.

For the sake of history, it’s worth remembering that a year before Kenneth Arnold made flying saucers famous, there was a notable sighting in 1946, of a bird-like UFO, as reported in the Saucers that Time Forgot article:

The Giant Claw from 1957 was probably inspired more by Godzilla than the 1948 case, but the infamously bad film is noteworthy for at least one thing.; it’s technically a UFO movie. When the monster is initially sighted, it is investigated as a UFO, and it turns out to be extraterrestrial, but a giant bird!






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.


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