Sunday, January 15, 2023

UFO Exploitation: The 1956 Texas Photo Fumble

Dateline: August 2, 1956, Location: near Amarillo, Texas

J. G. Kirby was in his mid-thirties, he'd started a family after his stint as a bomber pilot with the Eight Air Force during World War II. Kirby was considered an expert in rare gems and minerals, writing about one of his rock-hunting discoveries in the article "90 lb. Texas Plume Agate Found,” for The Lapidary Journal. 

Unconfirmed, but likely photo of our J. G. Kirby

Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and two their two children had been on a rock-hunting expedition in Colorado. During the long overnight drive home, they saw and photographed a UFO in the pre-dawn hours of August 2, 1956. Once home, he developed the film and reported the sighting to the authorities. Excerpts from the Air Force report dated Aug. 23, 1956, Unidentified Flying Object (UFOB):

“Kirby advised that on 1 August 1956 as he was returning to Dallas, Texas from Colorado Springs, Colorado, via Amarillo …he noted a bright green trajectory in the sky… from an object… 

The phenomenon appeared to be the [angular] size of a grapefruit and appeared in brilliance equal to the ignition of phosphorus, giving a brilliant beam of light both above and below the phenomenon itself, but never both beams simultaneously. … The object was observed intermittently by Kirby and his wife between Amarillo and Memphis, Texas. Kirby related that they departed Amarillo at 0400 hours and arrived at Memphis at 0615 hours.”

“The object appeared to be extremely navigable, inasmuch as it appeared in various places in the cloud formation… upon his arrival at Memphis, Texas, the formation had begun to disintegrate. As daylight approached, the phenomenon appeared to be ascending into the heavens, where it was the approximate size of a star and no longer visible through the clouds… in his [wartime] experience with aircraft, weather conditions, etc., he had never observed anything comparable with this phenomenon.”

Kirby photographed the object with a Kodak 620 camera, according to the later Associated Press story, "shot a whole roll of film." He turned over two photos for analysis, but retained the negatives, so they were not examined.

For some reason this the report was “pigeonholed” in Fort Worth, Texas at the Office of Special Investigations at Carswell Air Force Base until the end of the year. It was the newest of six “OSI UFOB Reports” ranging from Feb. 1954 to Aug. 1956, finally forwarded to Project Blue Book on Dec. 26, 1956. Capt. George T Gregory noted in a memorandum, “the very late date of receipt makes investigations or conclusive analysis difficult, if not impossible.” Still, they gave it a shot, and their analysis determined: 

“A microscopic examination discloses that the photo is not ‘doctored’ and apparently not an emulsion flaw. The absence of any horizon, objects or perspective for contrast or comparison purposes makes analysis somewhat difficult. In the opinion of this office… the trail shown here appeared to be similar to those left and the wake of missiles.” However, the analysis noted, “the closest missile launching site to the observer’s location is white sands, New Mexico, a distance of approximately 300 miles from Amarillo."

No conclusion was reached beyond the suggestion the photo was either of a missile trail or a hoax. Independently, Joseph J. Keeley, Security Officer for the University of Michigan Engineering Research Institute, volunteered analysis from a faculty member, who noted that Kirby was a lapidarist, and he was, “of the opinion that it is a trick photograph made with stones.” 

The Disclosure to the Public

Once the Project Blue Book investigation was done, Kirby released the photo to the press, who reported, “he said authorities told him only recently he no longer had to keep the photo and story quiet.”

The Eagle, Nov. 11, 1957

The Texas Bank and Trust in Dallas seized on the opportunity to exploit the publicity. They created an exhibit in their drive-in lobby and advertised in the Dallas Morning News, Nov. 4, 1957. Air Force files mentioned only 2 photos, but the bank claimed to have 6:

See First Actual Pictures of Unidentified Flying Object

Sighted near Amarillo August 2, 1956, and held secret until now. Actual photographs by a Dallas resident as seen in yesterday's front page. Described by the U.S. Air Force as a “navigable object,” these 6 pictures which have been closely guarded for the last year will be on display beginning this morning in Texas Bank’s Drive-Through Auto-ramic lobby.

NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, Jan. 1958, got overexcited about the secrecy aspect of the photo in their article, “Air Force Denies UFO Witnesses Muzzled Despite Order in Dallas.” Wanting to expose the cover-up, they said, “NICAP requests that anyone who has been silenced in regard to UFO information who is not in the armed forces send the details to this Committee.”

The inaccurate accusations of secrecy were repeated by George D. Fawcett a few years later in “The Flying Saucers are Hostile,” in Ray Palmer’s, Flying Saucers magazine, Feb. 1961.

In response to a 1960 inquiry about the case, Maj. Lawrence J. Tacker replied: 

“The Air Force file carries no conclusion on the photograph taken by Mr. J.G. Kirby near Amarillo, Texas on 2 August 1956. Not knowing what radiation vapor is, it is the Air Force opinion that some spokesman at the time speculated that the object was an irradiated vapor trail and was probably miss-quoted.

The Air Force is not aware of any release date for the photograph taken by Mr. Kirby. The original was in the hands of the owner and he was free to do with it as he pleased.”

There was a white lie in there. At the time, Air Force policy prohibited them from labeling witnesses as hoaxers. The case card for the Project Blue Book 26-page file summarized the case:

“Extenuating circumstances. No reference point in photo. Suspected hoax.”

The Project Blue Book 26-page file

By the time the Air Force received the Kirby photos and the other cases in that delayed package from OSI in Fort Worth, Texas, they had newer active investigations that demanded their time. They were busy with 1957 cases that had had exploded in the media, like the Levelland, Texas UFO, and the close encounter in Kearny Nebraska, reported by Reinhold O. Schmidt. The Kirby case and the others got shortchanged due to “Extenuating circumstances."

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

UFOs, Factoids, and True Confessions?

Legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh had some involvement with the UFO topic, and once discussed it with a famous buff, Dr. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. "Lucky Lindy" felt the information published on flying saucers was often distorted or untrue. Before we look at Lindbergh and UFOs, let's examine relating to his life of how facts can be replaced by fiction.

Witness statements and verbal testimony in UFO cases can be a problem. Even if truthful and accurate, their words can become twisted by reporters or investigators repeating the story. And of course, there’s the other problem. Sometimes, people lie. 

The question often comes up in relation to UFO reports: Why would someone make up a story? People do lie, and not just about UFOs. There may be lot of motives such as a desire for recognition, or fame and fortune. Sometimes they’ll do it as a bad joke. These falsehoods complicate the search for the truth and pollute the record when repeated by the media and those who record history. Sometimes without ill motive, the truth gets bent or broken, but once printed, endlessly cited as fact. Here’s two relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster: 

Fact: “a piece of information presented as having objective reality”

Factoid: “an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.”

Factoid was a term coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer to describe pseudo-facts, “which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion.” There’s a non-UFO example worth examination, an extraordinary claim that’s frequently repeated about one of the world’s most famous murder cases.

Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974), was the U.S. aviator who became internationally famous for making the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1927. Our focus relates to the tragedy five years later, the abduction and death of his 20-month-old son.

The 2010 book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott Lilienfeld et al, had as Myth #46 “Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It,” stating, “false confessions aren’t uncommon in high-profile criminal cases. After world-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped in 1932, more than 200 people confessed to the crime.”

The 1987 book Lilienfeld cited as a source was a dead end, as it did not provide its source. A search on Google on terms like “Lindbergh kidnapping 200 confessions” produces thousands of hits. What’s the basis for the claim? Many books, scholarly papers, and articles cite the following as a source. 

Confessions in the Courtroom by Lawrence S. Wrightsman and Saul Kassin, 1993. It stated:

Voluntary false confessions, those purposefully offered in the absence of elicitation, are on the face of it the most enigmatic… Why, for example, did more than 200 people confess to the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Apparently, a ‘morbid desire for notoriety’ could account for many of these as well as other examples in which numbers of false confessions are received for widely publicized crimes.” 

Their source was the 1959 book by O. John Rogge, Why Men Confess, which stated:

“More than 200 innocent people confessed to the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. At least 17 innocent persons confessed to the highly publicized sex murder of Elizabeth Short, who was known as ‘the Black Dahlia’…”

Rogge listed his source as an article by Martin Abramson, “Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes,” from Why: The Magazine of Popular Psychology, Jan. 6, 1952. Why was a digest-sized magazine with a slightly sensational and gossipy tabloid flavor. 

I was unable to locate that issue, but Abramson recycled the material five years later in a popular general interest digest magazine, Coronet September 1957. Martin Abramson opened “Make-Believe Murderers” by discussing false confessions in the "Black Dahlia” murder, then he turned to other crimes:

“The Lindbergh kidnap-murder of 25 years ago attracted an all-time record high of 205 false confessions. And while innocents were pouring out their pleas of guilty, the man really guilty—Bruno Hauptmann— went to the electric chair insisting on his innocence. This rash of confessions helped create much of the confusion that marked the police investigation of the case, delayed justice for an appreciable period and triggered a widespread belief that others [were] equally guilty…”

Mark W. Falzini was the archivist at the New Jersey State Police Museum and is one of the foremost experts on the Lindbergh case. In his 2012 book, New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial, he wrote:

“The Lindberghs immediately began to receive thousands of letters from the public—40,000 in the first month alone! One quarter were sympathy letters, one quarter came from psychics or people who had dreams about the baby, one quarter offered suggestions for the investigation, and the rest were crank letters.”

In the Lindbergh case, there were a few actual false confessions, but the majority of “confessions” were in the form of letters from malicious jokers. The FBI case file on the kidnapping states:

“One of the by-products of the Lindbergh case was a mass of misinformation received from the well-meaning but uninformed, and a deluge of crank letters written by insane persons, nitwits, persons with a degraded sense of humor, and others with fraudulent intent.” The report also listed five individuals and associates under the section “Frauds, Hoaxes and Unfounded Information.”

In Donald Anderson Laird’s 1935 book, More Zest for Life, he referred to instance of “the large number of false confessions that misdirect detectives and prosecutors. Take the flood of misleading and false confessions from all points of the civilized world from persons who ‘confessed’ being the kidnapers of the Lindbergh baby.” The 1943 memoirs of a newsman, Where's Sammy? By Sammy Schulman and ‎Bob Considine, described some of those crank letters:

 “The very next afternoon after the kidnapping, the local RFD man had three sacks of mail to deliver to the Lindberghs, and among the letters were dozens of ‘confessions’ by the mentally unbalanced. Many claimed to have the baby. The case was seriously affecting every addled brain in the country.”

The term confession is frequently used in a casual sense in conversations, like “I confess I cheated on my diet today.” Confession in the Catholic Church is a disclosure of one's sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. Legally, to confess generally means a criminal making a voluntary admission to authorities, either orally or in writing. Mailing an anonymous letter with an outrageous claim is quite a different matter than making the statement in public - or face to face with the police.

Some of the letters in the Lindbergh case were by pranksters, others were frauds claiming to be the kidnappers asking for the ransom money. Martin Abramson referred to these crank letters hyperbolically as “confessions” back in 1952, and other writers just repeated the anecdote. Since then, the factoid has been cited as fact, even in legal and scholarly discussions about aspects and ethics of criminal confessions.

UFO researcher on 75th anniversary of Roswell incident.

UFO cases are generally less well-documented and far more confusing than the Lindbergh kidnapping story. If the basic facts in such a famous criminal case can get distorted in print, it serves as a warning that what we’ve been told is UFO history could be just as flawed. 

Charles Lindbergh on Saucers and Space Exploration

Now for something that’s actually about flying saucers, including a meeting between two historic figures to discuss the reality of UFOs.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made his history-making solo trans-Atlantic flight in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Afterwards, he flew across the US in a 3-month publicity tour, managed by retired Marine pilot Donald E. Keyhoe. The experience was later documented by Keyhoe in the 1928 book, Flying with Lindbergh. That was the start of Keyhoe’s new career as an author of adventure stories and non-fiction, but his biggest fame came from the 1950 book, The Flying Saucers are Real.

After World War II, Lindbergh served as a consultant to the US Air Force and to Pan American World Airways. He also was interested in rocketry and was influential in obtaining financing for its research and development. Below is a photo of him during a visit to check on the progress at Roswell, New Mexico. 

 Life July 4, 1969: “In 1935 Lindbergh and space pioneer Robert Goddard stood together in the center of a group at Goddard's experimental rocket testing facility in Roswell, N. Mex.”

In 1942, Charles H. Zimmerman built a single-wing circular airfoil, the Chance Vought V-173, nicknamed the Flying Pancake. This propeller driven disk-shaped plane was tested in 190 flights up until March 1947. One of the pilots to fly the saucer-like plane was Charles Lindbergh, who thought it handled well.

UP photo, July 3, 1947

The Flying Pancake in Flying magazine, July 1950

The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung wrote the 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. In 1959 Jung requested a meeting with Charles Lindbergh in to discuss flying saucers and the works of Donald E. Keyhoe. Ten years later, he wrote a letter recalling their meeting and it was later published  as “A Visit from Lindbergh,” in the 1978 book, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters.  It revealed Lindbergh's interest and involvement with the UFO topic.

 Lindbergh felt 
Jung had been persuaded by both facts and factoids in UFO literature.

“I had expected a fascinating discussion about psychological aspects of the numerous and recurring flying saucer reports. To my astonishment, I found that Jung accepted flying saucers as factual. When I told Jung that the U.S. Air Force had investigated hundreds of reported flying-saucer sightings without finding the slightest evidence of supernatural phenomena, it was obvious that he did not wish to pursue the subject farther.”

Instead, Jung wanted to talk about saucer stories he’d heard and “referred to Donald Keyhoe’s recent book about flying saucers.”

Lindbergh had also read Keyhoe’s books and was able to provide Jung with examples of how the author exaggerated things, “to substantiate his claims about the reality of flying saucers.” He cited Keyhoe’s description of a secret high-level Pentagon meeting on the UFO topic as an example:

“... the officials attending the conference felt the situation was so alarming and serious that the information discussed should be withheld from public knowledge. I told Jung I had been working closely with the Air Force, as a consultant, at the time, and that Pentagon officials were not alarmed by reports on flying saucers, but astonished at the stories they read about flying saucers in the newspapers. The conference was called as a result of the plea, ‘For God's sake, somebody tell us what it's all about.’ It was not a secret conference. So far as I could judge, Jung showed not the slightest interest in these facts.”

Lindbergh portrayed Jung as being a bit cranky:

"I then described a discussion on flying-saucer reports I had carried on with General Spaatz (an old friend and Chief of the United States Air Force). ... Spaatz, in his dryly humorous way, had replied: 'Slim, don't you suppose that if there was anything true about this flying-saucer business, you and I would have heard about it by this time?' To this, Jung replied: 'There are a great many things going on around this earth that you and General Spaatz don't know about.' Thereafter, I departed from the subject of flying saucers."

Lindbergh was perplexed that Jung was uninterested in discussing "either psychological aspects or facts relating to flying saucers.” He concluded, 
I was fascinated by Jung. One intuitively feels the elements of mysticism and greatness about him—even though they may have been mixed, at times, with elements of charlatanism. I liked Anne's not unadmiring description of Jung as 'an old wizard.' ...the 'Old Wizard' just didn't open his mind to me on the subject of flying saucers. ... Jung was such an extraordinary man, surely one of our time's great geniuses. My admiration and respect for him remain, and I continue to find tremendous stimulation in his writings; but I approach his statements and conclusions with even greater caution than in the past." 

Lindbergh on Life, the Universe and Everything

A decade later, Life magazine asked Lindbergh to write an article about his views on the exploration of space. In a remarkable and lengthy reply, he refused. It was published in Life July 4, 1969, as “A Letter from Lindbergh.”

He explained how his priorities had evolved over his life and career. He had lost his interest in technology and more interested in nature, philosophy, and other big questions, such as: “What would be the result of artificially perfusing a head severed from its body? This question, especially, intrigued me…”

Lindbergh thought the limitations of technology (and our own bodies) might keep us from achieving interstellar travel. Instead, he wondered about a far-out spiritual journey.

“Will we find [physical] life to be only a stage... discover that only without spaceships can we reach the galaxies; that only without cyclotrons can we know the interior of atoms? … I believe it is through sensing and thinking about such concepts that great adventures of the future will be found.”

Charles Lindbergh died five years later at the age of 72, on August 27, 1974.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Two Arizona UFOs and Lester Bannick

Lester J. Bannick is best remembered for his one-man autogyro, the “Model T of the Air,” but he also experimented with other forms of aircraft. Two models had circular aerodynamic shapes. In other words, he built flying saucers.

Herald and Review (Decatur, IL) Oct. 10, 2007

He built a 17-foot diameter flying saucer, then a much larger hot air balloon in the same shape. At least two UFO sightings were reported due to his inventions.

Arizona Republic Dec. 8, 1969

Great suffering saucers! (Republic Photos by Nvle Leaflham)

Seen against the background of the Superstition Mountains, the silver object at left bears enough resemblance to the classic flying saucer to start a brand new outer-space invasion scare.  

That was exactly the shape Lester Bannick, center, had in mind when he designed his 66-foot-diameter balloon of mylar, silver foil-covered and lifted by hot air generated by a butane torch. Bannick was a Phoenix resident, known for his "flying lawnchair" gyrocopter, but now lives in California.

He built the balloon at Newport Beach but returned here for test flights at an abandoned airfield 10 miles east of Mesa. Even in the desert, the sight attracted a small crowd, including the Republic photographer.

The Engine-Powered Flying Saucer

 Lester Bannick’s first saucer was powered by a "souped-up auto engine. It had flown imperfectly about 17 times up until 1972 when he retired it. 

New Times Weekly (Phoenix, AZ) circa 1980.

The story from the  Yuma Sun June 13, 1982:

The Arizona Republic, July 14, 1982, reported that Bannick’s low-flying saucer had ended up as part of a nightclub sign, but it was removed due to code violations. After that, Bannick gave it to David Farrington, president of the Scottsdale, Arizona chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Farrington kept the grounded saucer alongside his airplanes in his hangar at Falcon Field.


The Mesa UFO Sighting of 1972

Lee Bannick's silver hot air balloon seems to have caused some excitement in the early 1970s. The APRO Bulletin, July 1977 featured a picture of a UFO on its cover, a classic flying saucer. Ufologist Wendelle C. Stevens (promoter of the Billy Meier hoax, and later sentenced for child molestation) wrote a story about the UFO sighting of Lee Elders. “Four color photographs were taken of [a domed cone-shaped object] in the skies over Mesa, Arizona, …on 11 November 1972.”

"The object was originally noticed by two kids who alerted Elders, “He thought that the object was immobile, or at best moving very slowly. …The children continued watching it for another 30 to 40 minutes until it went out of sight. …Mr. Skip Bryant, Ms. Harriet Hineman and 3 other friends… at the Arizona State – Oklahoma State football game, watched a strange pear-shaped bright silver object in the sky to the southeast with binoculars. It appeared to be more of a flat finish… shaped like a fat ice-cream-cone with the large end up… moved very steadily, with no bobble or wobble, and they didn't notice any rotation."

APRO Bulletin & Elders’ color photo from Open Minds: 1972 Mesa UFO Sighting

Stevens wrote there had been “a hot air balloon contest held at Mesa on the two weekends preceding the date…but all of the balloons were gone a week before the day of the sighting and photographs.” One had been flown by a Mr. Marvin Cooley, a silver balloon built by Lester Bannick. Stevens insisted the object photographed could not possibly have been one made by Bannick. “Whether we have a case of UFO mimicry here is difficult to say…. The mystery remains unsolved.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A UFO (Book) Report

Flying Saucers Over America by Gordon Arnold, (2022)

McFarland, $29.95 softcover, $17.99 ebook. 

227 pages and 17 photos, including chapter notes, a bibliography, and index. 


When a scholar or journalist takes a serious look at UFO history, it’s always interesting to see how they approach the topic and present their views and conclusions. Before discussing this book, it’s important to know something about the author, his background, and perhaps his purpose for writing it. From the Montserrat College of Art site, “Gordon Arnold is Professor of liberal arts… He teaches courses in film history, animation history, and the social sciences. Arnold’s research has resulted in a series of books that explore the history and social contexts of U.S. film and culture.”

Professor Gordon Arnold

Subtitled, The UFO Craze of 1947, Flying Saucers Over America, contains a preface where Arnold tells the reader that the book takes no position or promotes any particular UFO belief or agenda. Instead, he states, “…something unusual happened in the [1947] skies… but the jury is still out on what it was. …perhaps it is time to revisit what we do and do not know about these initial events and rethink whatever conclusions we may have drawn.” The author respectfully sets out to do just that, focusing on the foundational events of 1947 and the subsequent UFO investigations and events of the early 1950s, and the evolution of beliefs that sprung up about them. 


Chapter one opens with a quote from Carl Jung’s 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. My hunch is that Arnold’s book began as a college course and that Jung’s book was required reading for it. Luckily, for those who haven’t read it, Jung’s classic is freely available at the Internet Archive. Arnold follows Jung’s lead that while UFO sightings are not purely psychological, our attempts to understand them often are. “In very short order, then, the public interpreted UFO sightings in light of what people already knew, or thought they knew, based on previous reports.”


The strength of Flying Saucers Over America is that it provides excellent historical perspective on the early flying saucer events and documents how the media and public reacted as these series of events unfolded. Typically, UFO books neglect to present anything but the sensational highlights like Kenneth Arnold’s historic sighting and the Roswell incident. Arnold covers those but examines the events in between, the reaction of the public and press, as well as the incidents that followed. He also touches on an important issue that’s often overlooked, how UFO activity and public interest seems to come and go, pointing out that after a few weeks in the headlines, flying saucers faded “into the background for a time” but would be rekindled by further events or newspaper stories.


Most of the book’s chapters focus on a single case or topic, so it reads like a collection of short essays or classroom lectures that, while thematically connected, can stand alone. The essays are not always presented in chronological sequence; Chapter 20, “Life on Mars” seems far out of place, as it describes 19th century beliefs that paved the way for notions of little men in flying saucers. Arnold returns to the role of imagination in the UFO topic in the chapter “Going Hollywood,”  discussing how motion pictures featured tales of alien invaders in spaceships before 1947, but by 1950 Hollywood science fiction was rebranded as flying saucer thrillers. He says, “As time passed, it would sometimes be difficult to sort out which ideas about unidentified aerial phenomena referred to actual events versus those originating in fiction.”


In chapter 28, “The UFO Myth” Arnold discusses how decades after 1947, the narrative of the Roswell incident came to encapsulate flying saucer beliefs into a single package. Arnold again seems to turn to Jung for perspective, saying, “In their compelling stories, myths reveal much about the society in which they thrive. Thinking of things as right or wrong in absolute terms may be a mistake.” 


Several chapters focus on the US government’s attempts to wrestle with the UFO problem and examines several aspects of the approach such as in “National Security and the Culture of Secrecy,” “Unknown Knowns,” and “The Bureaucratic ­Merry-Go-Round.” In “Visitors from Mars,” Arnold reminds us that the Cold War with the Soviets had the US in a state of agitation and paranoia, fearful of aerial invasions and of security leaks about their own military aviation weapon developments. This real policy of secrecy fueled the belief in a government UFO cover-up.


The focus of chapter 14, “A Laughing Matter,” is on the toll of ridicule and “jeer pressure” from the press and public towards witnesses. Arnold states, “It surely seems likely that some unknown number of sightings was never reported officially to anyone. Whether any of those would significantly alter our understanding of the phenomenon remains unknown.” 

Readers may be disappointed in the lack of examination of the flying saucer photographs of 1947. The 17 photos and illustrations in the book provide a bit of historical flavor, but they are more decorative than evidentiary, mostly stock photos of locations, aircraft, sample documents, etc. In that sense, it was a poor choice for the publisher to use a UFO photo for the book’s cover rather than a more atmospheric illustration of the author’s exploration of the cultural aspect of the UFO enigma.


Is Flying Saucers Over America a good book? Yes, but not a perfect one. It would be a good choice to read and then share with friends and family who are unfamiliar but curious about the UFO topic and its history. You might bookmark it for them and suggest your own chapter order for optimal enjoyment. For example, if you know they’d be more interested in the US government’s involvement, have them read the chapters on Project Sign, Grudge, Blue Book before some of the other "lectures."


Even a UFO scholar is likely to benefit from Arnold’s perspective as he presents a mosaic of the flying saucer age, the big picture of how UFOs affected our culture, prompted governments to react, and stirred belief in many people.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Dr. Drake and the Visitors

Eugene Harry Drake was a pioneer, publisher of some of the first literature on UFOs, leader of an early organization, discussed alien abductions, and was possibly the first person claiming to have met extraterrestrials and taken a ride in one of their spaceships.

In 1986, Loren Gross’ UFOs: A History, 1952: November–December discussed “George Adamski and the ‘Contactee’ Phenomenon.” Page 40 discussed Adamski’s various influences:

“Certainly a much lesser known source of inspiration but still a valid one, was the writings of Eugene H. Drake, Director of the "Fellowship of Golden Illumination" headquartered on Lake Street in Los Angeles, who penned, in 1950, the booklet: Life on the Planets - A Visit to Venus. Drake claimed a visitation from two Venusian-saucer pilots named ‘[Aramia] and Estralon’ who: ‘... impressed me to go to a certain desert location to be picked up.’"

Drake has been the subject of two previous articles by ufologists, and we are indebted to both of these authors for their work to prevent Drake from being another one of the Ufologists That Time Forgot. 

by Luis Ruiz Noguez, 2016

by Håkan Blomqvist, with biographical data from Joshua Blu Buhs, 2017

Eugene Harry Drake, Sept. 22, 1889 - Feb. 21, 1973

It Began in California 

Drake was born on Sept. 22, 1889, in his early 30s in 1920s, employed as a cashier for the New England Life Insurance company in Los Angeles, California. He had big dreams and started a motion picture company, Eugene H. Drake Productions, incorporated in June 1921. Grace and Carl Moon were authors and illustrators of children's books about Native Americans. Their Lost Indian Magic was being adapted by Drake into a movie, but the project ran into financial problems. Drake’s film business was struggling for cash, and as a result of his short-term solution, he was arrested for a forgery charge of embezzling $6500 from the insurance company. There’s no indication how the case was resolved, but apparently the experience led Drake to pursue other employment.

Stockton Independent, April 21, 1922, Picture circa 1924

Drake’s occupation as shown in the US Census by decade: 1920 - Film exchange manager, 1930 - Building materials salesman, 1940 - Restaurant cook. Drake was not drafted for service In World War II, but his 1942 draft registration card seems to indicate that whatever his profession, he was self-employed. Jumping ahead to 1952, Drake wrote a letter of praise to a spiritualist magazine, The Open Way, giving his occupation as, “Writer, Teacher, Spiritual healer.”  

By 1948, Drake had founded the religious organization, “The Fellowship of Golden Illumination,” based in Los Angeles. He was lecturing in churches about “The Impending Golden Age,” listing himself as a reverend, “Dr. Eugene H. Drake.”


Drake and the Visitors from Space

Drake published the 38-page UFO booklet, Visitors From Spacein 1950. He seems to have “Dr.” seems to have been dropped, and he referred to himself as “Eugene H. Drake, Director.” In the introduction, Drake drew from Theosophical lore, saying: “The Elder Brothers from space, the forces of the White Brotherhood are here in greater array than any time since man walked the earth. They have the answers.” The title page illustration was of several spacecraft of different shapes, one of them, a bell-shaped flying saucer with three balls on the bottom, very much like the one George Adamski would later claim to see and photograph. 

Drake’s booklet is remarkable on several fronts. While lacking the exposure of the others, his publication appeared as early as the first UFO books, Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real and Frank Scully’s Behind the Flying Saucers. Drake was first into print with a Contactee story; he presented the fully-formed lore of alien contact that served as a foundation for beliefs still held today.

Drake said the earth has long been under observation by spacecraft, and that he personally had “been in contact with them since 1930,” first in a field in Santa Monica.  Drake said the ships  “are powered by a form of magnetic force… heavily armed with powerful ray weapons.” Their technology allows them to fly in any direction, suddenly reverse, hover, become invisible, change to a fluid state, and beam it to “wherever they want.” 

Drake didn’t use the term “downloads,” but stated that the Elder Brothers were behind all our best ideas:

“Many of our scientists, musicians, poets, etc., have received much of their understanding from higher minds both carnate and discarnate who have been drawn close and impressed upon their consciousness ideas which they claim as their own. This intelligence originated in the higher spheres of consciousness and was given to them that humanity be benefited and civilizations lifted to more wonderful expression.”

Describing the various sizes and shapes of spaceships, Drake said they range from giant cigars down to unmanned surveillance discs to 2-feet across, which had been mistaken for “fire-balls or foo-balls.” He said,” The mission of these craft is a helpful and peaceful one... the unfolding of the New Age Plan... the building of a better civilization.” 

Ancient Aliens – Drake said they’ve always been here: “Many visitations... since (earth’s) formation and cooling by these Elder Brothers of Space, and during periods of wars and great tribulations.” He didn’t reference Charles Fort by name but seemed to acknowledge his work by referencing spaceship sightings seen in the past, including “mysterious cigar-shaped airships” in the 1800s. 

The visitors were building broadcasting stations which would send out beams of thought waves of “peace, love, joy, harmony and justice” to break up our native destructive thought patterns. Drake described the commander and crew of one of the ships: 

“...Aramia, is 5 feet 10 inches tall. Very dignified. Solidly built, fairly broad through the shoulders. His hair is long and golden. The cheeks are pink, eyes large and blue, his chin strong. He has a very pleasing expression. He wears a tight fitting tunic of pearl shade pink, with gold and blue trim... His command ship is from the planet Venus... The crew is composed of the Venusians from 36 to 42 inches tall. They are well proportioned. Their skin is a light cream color, covered with fuzz like hair, like the down of a peach. Their eyes are large and blue, with hair blonde to golden, brows fairly heavy, arched but little. …Venusians appear to be highly advanced spiritually, mentally and physically. Being so pure in their thought they seem almost angelic.” 

That’s what we call a “Nordic” today. Other alien races vary, Drake explained, from the little men of Venus to the giants of Uranus and Neptune. Life was plentiful on other planets, and some of the beings resemble earth people closely, but... “Some beings are part human and part animal... in the lower phases of evolvement. They too fell from grace or a higher status by mating with lower animalistic forms, even as some of the first beings on earth, called the sons of Light, who married or mated with sub-human people.” 

Venus: Pretty men and prettier women. Aramia and Estralon

Women were part of the crew, and he was introduced to the second in command:

“This is Estralon, our second flight Commander. She has a ship of her own.” Drake described her as being very beautiful and trim, standing 5 ft. 4 inches tall. Unlike Aramia, she did not speak English, and communicated with Drake by telepathy to give him a tour of the ship. Estralon said they had a device that “demagnetizes whatever the beam is directed on,” which allowed it to be used “to disintegrate any foreign objects that might interfere with our flight,” but it could also be used as a weapon against a hostile force. Another machine harnessed energy for propulsion and navigation, which Drake said picks up “the white substance, vryil, which they claim is more explosive than uranium... concentrated to some odd shaped highly polished crystals.”

Estralon told him the secret of their spaceships’ construction could not be shared with earth while we were so “destructively minded.” She said, “Space craft have been making landings on the earth for many hundreds of years. There are many references to them in your ancient writings.” She cited the lost cities of Mu and Atlantis as places they were used. She told him there were secret civilizations, survivors of Mu living under the south pole, “the Rainbow People,” another colony living on the dark side of the moon, and yet another living underground not far from Mexico City. 

The saucers had appeared due to our atomic explosions which, “disturbed the etheric atmosphere... penetrated lines of magnetic force and spiraled up to the other planets in our solar system.” The Etherians (Elder Brothers) would not allow “civilization to be destroyed as it almost was during the struggle between the Titans and the Atlans, LaMurians prior to the sinking of Lemuria and Atlantis.” The booklet concluded with Estralon and Aramia telling Drake:

“We Space Beings, your elder Brothers, shall if necessary, use powers beyond your knowledge to preserve the earth... Mark it well, you leaders of destruction... we shall move swiftly to purify the earth of your kind when the Supreme Commander gives us the command.”

If that seems familiar, in 1951, Klaatu said much the same thing in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

"(We) patrol the planets -- in space ships like this one -- and preserve the peace... if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder... live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”

The first booklet was vague about just how Drake met Aramia and boarded his ship, but the implication is that it a physical, not a psychic experience. Drake mentioned Aramia spoke verbally, but Estralon only spoke to him telepathically, and that would seem to indicate he was describing physical sensations and events.


Second Contact: Touring Another Planet

Drake’s story continued in the 34-page Life On the Planets - A Visit to Venus in 1950In the acknowledgments, Drake thanked his alien friends, including Sunat Kumara among them.

 Life On the Planets: A Visit to Venus in 1950. In the second booklet, Drake emphasized that experience related within was “a journey in the etheric body, not a physical, or a third dimensional trip.” (Apparently the trip was taken in an astral body, not his flesh.) He was reclining on his couch when Estralon entered and led him outside the huge spaceship she commanded. He told of his visit to the planet Venus and interactions with the people, all of whom are kind and beautiful. The cities and the homes contained furniture material made from a wood light as plastic, with knobs made out of gold. They drive aero-cars, and Drake visited their government, the Council of Elders. In the Temple of Music, he met the etheric forms of long-dead musicians such as Liszt, Bach and Beethoven, some of whom would return to earth to help the younger generation channel music. 

It was in their Temple of Wisdom where Drake came to understand his role. The Instructor told him about their mission to set earth people on the right path. “Being here on the planet you can be given information that will correct some of this misunderstanding... As John was selected for preparing the way for your Teacher Jesus…” Drake doesn’t explicitly state it, but by telling the story it shows he has taken on the job to prepare earth for the arrival of the Elder Brothers from space.


Of Alien Abductions and Atlantean Free Energy

Drake published a newsletter, Golden Light, for his Fellowship of Golden Illumination, and there he published a sequel of sorts to his booklets, a statement from Aramia himself that Venusians and their friends were not abducting earthlings. It was reprinted on page 21 of Interplanetary News Digest no. 2, 1954 as: 

Aramia, the Venusian Commander of a Space Fleet 

"Greetings, O people of earth from the Planet Venus. 

We of outer space wish to correct some of the statements being made by earth men. No earth people are being picked up by our craft in their physical bodies, nor using your terms 'being kidnaped.' We are only picking up our own people whom we have landed in certain areas. We operate from a higher dimension. In that density our bodies are more solid than yours, but they vibrate at a considerably higher frequency. 

“We have taken earth people in their more refined bodies, the etheric, that they might be acquainted with our mission, but none in their physical bodies. Such would have to be placed in a state of deep trance or suspended animation in order to withstand the terrific light and power which our craft generate. We are masters of the elements and use our minds and telepathic powers in a manner which earth people cannot comprehend. 

"During the coming months a great deal of mischievous activity shall effect the psyche of earth people, emanating from dark magicians, former Atlantians and Murians, who went underground during the struggle between those two races during the last atomic age. As stated before these are the ones who surround themselves with such noxious odors, who would confuse and deceive man into thinking they come from outer space. They are very cunning, they have considerable scientific knowledge, and are able to use free energy to construct ships of this substance. 

"We caution you to be on your guard. Protect yourself by thoroughly checking all statements, all disc activity, in the Light of your Creator. 

"Keep up your prayers for Peace and impress your leaders that only through peace can you survive." 

Here’s another taste of Golden Light from 1958 with an article on the underground UFO base in Antarctica.


Influence and Imitators

It’s hard to determine how much impact Drake had in 1950, but he was connected with the occult network of Southern California New Age cults and organizations, which had a heavy overlap with saucer circles. Drake lived in Los Angeles, and Dan Fry, founder of Understanding Inc., was based in El Monte.

Did the legendary George Adamski try to top Drake? The “Professor” created a bigger and better story of contact with a beautiful angelic Venusian, but his was supported by witnesses, physical evidence, and later, photographs. It was too good to be true. In the fall of 1953, Truman Bethurum entered the Contactee scene and developed a significant following within the saucer world, second only to George Adamski. Adamski’s Orthon was based on Aramia, and Bethurum stole his female counterpart, Estralon for the star of his story, rechristened as Aura Rhanes, the beautiful female saucer captain from planet Clarion. In 1954, Bethurum’s book, Aboard A Flying Saucer was released, and he sold it and other pamphlets at lectures and conventions. 

By the mid-50s Drake’s booklets were carried across the USA by many saucer clubs and magazines such as Gray Barker’s Saucerian Bulletin, the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, and Dan Fry’s Understanding, Inc. Drake’s Visitors From Space and A Visit to Venus were listed as the top two in the “Best Sellers in the New York Area” from the Sept. 1955 Flying Saucer News, which said, “Let me tell you that his two books sell GOOD... A few good distributors is all you need plus a good story and have a picture or two in the book.”


Further Illumination

Jan. 1956, as reported in Flying Saucer News“According to Eugene H. Drake [the Fellowship] took pictures on Mount Shasta and also the desert last month, which show several space craft.”

Believed to be one of Drake’s UFO-related photographs, date unknown.

Drake was mentioned in The Saturday Evening Post, March 10, 1956, article, “He Runs Flying-Saucer Headquarters” by John Kobler:

“In Los Angeles, Eugene H. Drake, director of the Fellowship of Golden Illumination, photographs space creatures by infrared light and tape-records their conversations. Drake claims to have toured Venus on a ‘gravitonic sled.’” 

In the July 1956 Golden Light, Drake said that a building of worship “has already been erected on the Upper Joshua Desert.  ...We have had several contacts with beings from space here. …One room will be devoted to the healing arts... light, music, water therapies, rejuvenation methods such as used on the Planet Venus.” He called it the Star Temple of Healing.

Illustration from the May 1962 Golden Light

The Pomona Progress Bulletin, September 11, 1956, advertised his lecture, “The Great World Drama and Advent of Spacecraft” for the local chapter of Dan Fry’s Understanding Inc. group. Drake was a frequent speaker for them and a guest for at least one UFO convention.
“The first Spacecraft Picnic sponsored by Understanding in Alhambra on September 8th (1957) has been acclaimed a success... about 300 friends and members in attendance... Among the guests were Dana Howard, Calvin Girvin, Eugene Drake and Eloise Mellor and many other leaders in the New Age Movement.” (Understanding, Sept. 1957.)

Drake was quoted in Secret of the Andes by George Hunt Williamson (as Brother Philip), 1961:

“In March 1957 the Fellowship of Golden Illumination in Los Angeles, California, said: ‘The call is going out continually to all on the Path of Light to come out from them... the dark forces... and unite for the establishment of the Kingdom of Love and Peace.’”

In July 1959 Drake spoke at Gabriel Green’s the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America “First National Convention,” giving the lecture, "The Pending Golden Age." The 1960 book Faiths, Cults, and Sects of America, by Richard R. Mathison mentions Drake’s organization:

 “…some two thousand saucer fans gathered to hear the talks by ‘contactees.’ There were tape recordings of messages from outer space. The religious flavor of the clubs represented is obvious by their names — Celestial Vehicle Investigation Committee, Christ Brotherhood, Inc., Cosmic Circle of Friendship, First Christian Spiritualist Church, Fellowship of Golden Illumination…”

Drake was mentioned in the story co-written by Cleve Twitchell (Dan Fry’s Understanding Inc.), “Mt. Shasta’s Mystic Quality” from the March 3, 1963, Medford, Oregon, Mail Tribune:

“Still another Mt. Shasta legend concerns the ‘Little People.’ An article by Eugene H. Drake of Los Angeles, for instance, reports that the writer encountered during 1951 and 1952 large numbers of tiny beings who had the ability to appear and disappear at will.”

Like many occultists, Drake subscribed to the belief that the space people were made from ghostlike etheric matter but could become physical if they wished. Håkan Blomqvist published the translation of a portion of Drake’s Sept.19, 1961, letter to Karl and Amy Veit, published in Besucher aus dem Weltraum:  

"There are very few people who have had real physical contact with space ships or space people, like ourselves. I have on various occasions experienced how space people appear in condensed form and I could shake their hands. After the contact they disappeared into a higher frequency."

Golden Light May 1962

We were unable to find what became of the Fellowship of Golden Illumination. The last known issue of the Golden Light "was published in May 1962. Eugene Harry Drake died February 21, 1973, in Los Angeles at the age of 82. Few people remember his name, but almost everyone knows an imitation of his story. 

. . .



Some Notes on Drake’s Influences

Theosophy and the Vril

Drake said the Vensuians’ otherworldly technology was powered by “vryil.” Vril was the magical energy source from the 1871 novel, The Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a huge influence on science fiction and Theosophy. In 1947, Ole J. Sneide claimed contact with a celestial being who gave him information on flying saucers and their ancient and mystic extraterrestrial origins.

Drake cited the White Brotherhood and described the Venusians’ benevolence and guidance of earth, all concepts of Theosophy lore, not to mention Atlantis. While he didn’t use the term, “ascended,” the more highly evolved beings were of a higher spiritual nature. He describes the mating of Elders with creatures on earth in similar terms to that of William Pelley and his disciple, George Hunt Williamson. 

Frank Scully

Behind the Flying Saucers was published Sept. 1950. Drake was apparently familiar with Frank Scully’s book and imitated much from it. Drake’s saucers with magnetic propulsion from Venus and the exact measurements of the little men inside must have been derived from the Silas Newton hoax packaged by Scully. According to Scully, the government scientist Dr. Gee said, “we were able to count sixteen bodies, that ranged in height from about 36 to 42 inches.” Drake mimicked nothing about Scully’s notions of a cover-up or government suppression, he just harped on the need to avoid war and the A-bomb. Incidentally, Scully lived in California and was a Holly wood gossip columnist. He was interested in the wild side of flying saucers and read Meade Layne’s publications from the Borderland Sciences Research Associates Foundation. He also and rubbed shoulders with George Adamski.

Richard Shaver/Ray Palmer

Drake talked about core concepts of the Shaver Mystery, the underground beings and ancient Atlan and Mu. Aramia warned about “mischievous activity shall effect the psyche of earth people, emanating from dark magicians, former Atlantians and Murians, who went underground during the struggle between those two races during the last atomic age.” That sounds a lot like Shaver’s Deros. 


For Further Study

For more on the influence of Theosophy and the Occult on ufology, see these articles by Curt Collins: 

The UFO Prophecy of Frederick G. Hehr

Ole J. Sneide: A 1947 Pioneer of the UFO Extraterrestrial Hypothesis

UFO History: The Saucers from Atlantis

1946, Before Saucers, Kareeta: UFO Contact in California


UFO Exploitation: The 1956 Texas Photo Fumble

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