Friday, October 20, 2017

The 1st UFO book? Forgotten Mysteries by R. DeWitt Miller

Forgotten Mysteries, promoted by Walter Winchell as the UFO solution

Today, we forget the incredible influence radio once had. Radio commentators such as Walter Winchell (and Frank Edwards) had their finger on America’s pulse, sometimes reporting the news, other times making it. They also did a lot to introduce and propel the UFO story. Winchell’s sensational show was printed as a newspaper column, and in this story from the July 7, 1947 San Jose News, he said, “The mystery of the ‘Flying Saucers’ is not new.” He went on to cite a recent book by R. DeWitt Miller, Forgotten Mysteries.

San Jose News July 7, 1947

Some important people noticed, including the legendary Kenneth Arnold, who mentioned Miller's book in one of his early lectures in mid-July, 1947.

East Oregonian, July 17, 1947

In his 1955 book, You Do Take It with You: An Adventure into the Vaster Reality, Miller discussed his entry into the saucer scene.

Forgotten Mysteries was chiefly a collection of articles on phenomenon from Coronet magazine. From a 1947 book review by Geoffrey Giles in Fantasy Review,
"fantastic facts... presenting them in mystifying array, much as Mr. Fort used to do. He is, in fact, a Fortean, and has been dogging the Great Doubter's footsteps for 15 years or more, accumulating a mass of pallid data on such things as the Devil's Footprints, death fogs, sea serpents and missing ships"
The chapter, "Enigmas Out of Space," focused on strange aerial objects. Miller noted that there had been speculation strange sights in the sky might be the vehicles of interplanetary visitors: 
"That conscious beings from other worlds have actually reached this earth and navigated our skies in space ships." 
The publicity gave R. Dewitt Miller's career a boost, and he enjoyed a brief moment in the sun as the world's only flying saucer expert. Here are two versions of the same story by Miller:

The Oregonian, July 8, 1947

The Coos Bay Times, July 7, 1947 

The Founding Father

Miller's book enjoyed the flying saucer spotlight, but only for a short while. Someone finally noticed that he cited Charles Fort as his inspiration. Loren Gross described the rediscovery of Fort:
It wasn't long before Walter Winchell was quoting R. DeWitt Miller but we know he could have done better than that. As it turned out an Associated Press reporter made the discovery in Chicago's Newberry Library. There the reporter claimed to have discovered a "rare unknown” book, the scarlet colored volume titled The Book of the Damned.
 Thayer howled with laughter when he read about the “great discovery.” Awhile after this "discovery” the news agencies tracked Thayer and the Forteans to their lair to ask: "Who was this guy Fort?" And: "Can we quote such and such?" This was the high- point of the whole history of the Fortean Society and it was sad Fort himself was not alive to take a well-earned bow.  (From UFOs: A History Vol. 1: 1947 by Loren Gross)
Snazzy modern edition
Fort had collected accounts of strange flying things and speculated that they were interplanetary, leading the way for Miller, Vincent Gaddis, Ray Palmer, Meade Layne and others. Fort died in 1932, and had little to do with the Fortean Society, which Tiffany Thayer created in his honor. Thayer kept the torch burning by publishing the Fortean Society’s Doubt magazine.

The Chiles-Whitted encounter on July 24, 1948 had many speculating the pilots had seen a rocket or space ship, and once again, R. DeWitt Miller was questioned about flying saucers.

United Press, July 27, 1948

A more detailed article by R. Dewitt Miller himself, Knoxville Journal, July 26, 1948, where he was billed as an authority on psychic phenomena and mysterious occurrences." Miller gave his top four choices to explain UFOs.

The First UFO Book - Sorta

Fort provided the backstory!

Major Donald Keyhoe built upon the Fort foundation for his article and 1950 book, The Flying Saucers are Real. However, in 1947, when saucer fever broke out, Miller's book was already in print.  After Walter Winchell connected it to the flying saucers, the publisher and author capitalized on the publicity.  This in effect makes Forgotten Mysteries the first UFO book, at least from a marketing standpoint.
WALTER WINCHELL says: "The mystery of the flying saucers is not new, In Forgotten Mysteries R. Dewitt Miller offers two cases which perhaps will clear up the mystery."
Weird Tales, May, 1950.

But without Fort, there would have been no Forgotten Mysteries to promote. The press has a short memory, always fixated on the new, so forgot about Miller. But every so often, a reporter “discovers” Charles Fort's extraterrestrial speculation, and reports that, “The flying saucer story, you know, is by no means a new one.”

Miller Radio Recording from July 1947

The ABC radio special broadcast on July 10, 1947, "The Search for the Flying Saucers" was hosted by Walter Kiernon, and was perhaps the first program exclusively devoted to the topic. It ran in a 15-minute time slot and interviewed various witnesses and figures commenting on the saucer phenomenon, among them, Dewitt Miller.

Miller thought that the earliest flying saucer sightings by Kenneth Arnold and other pilots were genuine, but that many of the stories that followed were hoaxes. The leading candidates to explain saucers were new military aviation projects, Miller said. But he had another idea, that saucers might be related to things seen in the sky for hundreds of years, and that "the discs may actually be from Mars or somewhere else in outer space.

R. Dewitt Miller appears 5 minutes and 17 seconds into the recording of the radio program linked below:

Epilogue: Project Blue Book

The Air Force's Project Blue Book files have nothing of substance on R. Dewitt Miller's book, but it turns out that Miller had a UFO experience of his own, 1 Feb 1954, Puente California, an "Angel Hair-type case, and it includes a photo of the physical evidence. The file does mention Miller's book in passing.

The PBB files have more of substance on Charles Fort, indicating his books "were examined."

R. DeWitt Miller’s Forgotten Mysteries was also published under the title, Impossible Yet it Happened!


  1. Curt, I heard about this space from a Paracast episode you were on recently and I'm glad I stumbled into it by accident just now. There is a kind of Jerome Clark ethic here in this site but with a sense of humour. Really excellent work! I thoroughly enjoy the histories you unfold.

    Robert Brandstetter

    1. Thanks, Robert- not only for the kind words, but for also understanding what we are trying to do here.


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