Friday, October 6, 2017

The Ufologists That Time Forgot: Wade Wellman

Manly Wade Wellman, Jr. was born November 13, 1939, the son of a giant, the noted fantasy and science fiction author Manly Wade Wellman. His father's work included contributing to magazines such as the legendary Weird Tales alongside H.P. Lovecraft,  C.L. Moore and Robert E. Howard. The son, instead of using his full name,  he went by Wade Wellman, perhaps to try to create his own identity and step out of his father's shadow.

Weird Tales, Nov. 1943

A Rising Star

1958, from his senior year at Chapel Hill High School
In the early 1960s as a college student, Wade Wellman had a serious interest in UFOs, and was an active member of the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena, (NICAP). He was passionate about the topic and corresponded as an advocate to promote Congressional hearings into the study of UFOs, writing to people and institutions such as US Congressmen and Time magazine.

NICAP's UFO Investigator, Oct. 1961
The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper for the University of North Carolina carried Wellman's series of articles on UFOs which included key case information and a discussion of the credible- and incredible literature on the topic- which he was very critical of. 

The Daily Tar Heel, Sept. 21, 1960
A Cyclopean amount has been written on flying saucers since the first modern reports in 1947. The balance of this is crackpot writing which gets most of the attention and deserves none of it. There is, for instance, George Adamski, who claims to have flown with people from Saturn. Or Frank Scully, who says the saucers are ships from Venus. Or Gerald Heard, who, in an undeservedly famous book entitled Is Another World Watching, credits the saucers to super bees from Mars. And, of course, there are always the perennial claims of personal contact with people or semihuman monsters from other worlds — and, perhaps worst of all, the ridiculous term "flying saucers," a hindrance to any real study. 
Yet, despite the flood of nonsense which seems deliberately calculated to rob the subject of thoughtful attention, there are innumerable people who have seen real UFO's (Unidentified Flying Objects) and who won't be duped by the crackpot writers, or by the hollow USAF denials, or by the sneer: "He says he saw a flying saucer." 
Archive of The Daily Tar Heel, with Wade Wellman's UFO columns.

Wellman took the topic seriously, and also wrote about the effort by NICAP and others to petition the US government to investigate the UFO matter more thoroughly. In a postscript to the series,  he wrote an article about his first visit to NICAP's office and his meeting with the director, Donald Keyhoe and assistant, Richard Hall.

NICAP was the conservative end of the saucer spectrum, but Wellman also wrote for the UK's Flying Saucer Review, which was far more tolerant of the kind of Contactee "crackpots" that he and NICAP thought were keeping the UFO topic on the marginal fringes. Wellman's articles were much more grounded, and despite his youth, his work was appearing alongside writers like John Keel and Jacques Vallée. His FSR articles included:

Extra-Solar UFOs, March-April 1962

The UFO Sledgehammer, Jan-Feb, 1963
Phobos and Deimos, May-June 1963
The Psychology of Scepticism, Sept-Oct. 1963
Two Types of Scepticism, May-June 1965 
Sense and Speculation, Sept-Oct. 1965

Another thing that shows Wellman's earnestness about to the UFO topic was his contentious correspondence with the notorious UFO skeptic and debunker, Harvard Astronomer, Dr. Donald Menzel. Among the UFO correspondence in Menzel's files, Wellman's letters are there alongside names like Hynek, Sagan and Keyhoe.
American Philosophical Society, Menzel's UFO papers
According to Michael Swords, the exchange was a running debate by mail, one of "barely controlled civility." Swords says, "Wade Wellman and Donald Menzel resorted to introducing their letters to one another with 'Dear Duck' and 'Dear Weedy, referencing Wellman smoking pot, after a few exchanges---Menzel started this 'upmanship' by the way." Wellman thought Menzel was in denial of the extraterrestrial reality. In his article, on Menzel, "The UFO Sledgehammer" in the Jan-Feb, 1963, Flying Saucer Review, Wellman wrote, 
"It seems regrettable that so great an astronomer cannot leave the door open wide enough to back out gracefully when the full truth emerges. If our first landings on the moon run up against alien bases, Dr. Menzel may find his position slightly embarrassing."
Menzel and Wellman shared another interest besides UFOs; their love of fantastic fiction. Menzel contributed the cover for the issue of Galaxy magazine that also featured Wellman's poem, "The Martian Surface." It was a collaboration of sorts. When Menzel introduced it elsewhere, he wrote, "The following sonnet, written at my suggestion by Wade Wellman, interprets Martian life as we may expect to find it."

Galaxy, Sept. 1969

Graduating college seems to have cut into Wellman's UFO research time, but also he had other interests including, literature, writing poetry, space exploration, vampires, fantasy and science fiction. His 1963 thesis for the University of North Carolina, was titled '"Literary Treatments of the Vampire." Wellman graduated from UNC in 1964 with a Master of Arts degree, and in 1965 he was an instructor in English at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. In 1967, he was an English instructor at Boise College in Idaho, and he published a 131-page collection of his poetry, November Wind, from Golden Quill Press.

An awkward visit to the UK

In late 1966, Wellman visited the UK, and part of his trip there was for the purpose of examining UFO files. At his site devoted to writer John Keel, Doug Skinner published some information on Wellman's visit to the UK home of Charles Bowen of the FSR:
Many readers of The Mothman Prophecies will remember a disturbing “Man In Black” named “Tiny,” who visited a family in New Jersey in 1967. (It’s in Chapter 8, if you want to look it up.) John sent a detailed report of this encounter to other researchers shortly after it happened... One of these researchers, Charles Bowen (the editor of Flying Saucer Review), wrote back to say that Tiny reminded him of an unpleasant UFO buff who had visited him the year before.
Bowen's letter to Keel about the visit states: "In November I received a letter from Wade Wellman who announced that he was flying over to England to do research in the British Museum (checking on a manuscript about vampires!)." Wellman arrived on Dec. 10, 1966, and Bowen found the large young man to be very strange, both in appearance and behavior. "He often broke into poetry... reciting it as though he had learnt it computer fashion. He drank the best part of a bottle of my Martini & got himself well sloshed — & ranted on about poor misunderstood Hitler etc. etc... I thought he was a schizo." The next day, when Wellman finally got around to asking to see FSR's UFO files, Bowmen lied, saying they were at his office in order to get rid of him.

Apparently Wellman had not been able to afford the trip himself and it was financed by his parents. Sadly, this episode seems to show that there were serious problems early in his adult life.

Flying Saucers Farewell

The end of the 1960s was a rough time for the UFO business. As Don Berliner explained, in 1967, NICAP had about 14,000 members, but trouble was coming. Assistant Director Richard Hall left NICAP, and the negative conclusions by Dr. Edward Condon's University of Colorado study on UFOs paved the way for the closure of Project Blue Book.

Regarding Wellman's warning about finding alien bases on the moon, we don't know how he reacted to this cartoon, but it appeared in the newspaper above an editorial that set him off.

Pat Oliphant cartoon as published in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Jan. 17, 1969

The Iowa newspaper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Jan. 17, 1969, carried an opinion piece by William Hines, "UFO Buffs Launch A Paperback Barb." Hines' key points:
  • If a person is absolutely certain that John F. Kennedy's assassination was the work of a conspiracy, or that the earth is flat, or that flying saucers come from outer space, no study however scientific and no report however official will ever persuade him to the contrary. 
  •  The other day (Donald) Keyhoe called a news conference at Washington's National Press Club to trumpet his objections to the Condon report and   ever so incidentally – to plug a paperback book just published by a colleague.
  •  Keyhoe's dissent to the Condon report was the usual farrago of insinuation allusions and almost -truths that reporters have grown accustomed to at NICAP press conferences.
  • Leave the Keyhoes to the boob tube, the paperback shelves and the barbershop reading racks, and keep them out of the science classroom. Then perhaps we will all muddle through somehow after all.
The article caught Wellman's eye. He saw it as a "furious attack on Donald Keyhoe," and his scathing reply was printed four days later.
Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Jan. 21, 1969
Things didn't go Wellman's way. Don Berliner on how the Condon report heralded the end of an era:
"...public interest dissolved. NICAP's membership rolls shrank, the bank balance dwindled and operations had to be cut back. In the summer of 1969, with the membership already down below 8,000, there was a 50 percent cut in staff... The closing of the Air Force investigation seemed to have killed public interest." 
Donald Keyhoe, under pressure from the board of directors, resigned from NICAP.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Wellman's UFO writing had trailed off in the 1960s, but into the 1970s, he wrote poetry, essays and stories for fantasy and science fiction magazines, much of it in the dark spirit of Weird Tales, while other poems looked to the wonders of outer space. His best-known work is the collaboration with his father on a series of Sherlock Holmes science fiction stories that pit the detective against H.G. Wells' Martian invaders from The War of the Worlds. In the resulting 1975 book, Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds, Wellman explained how the project came to be:
I suddenly began to ask myself—wondering, indeed, why I had never thought of it before—how Holmes might have reacted to H. G. Wells's Martian invasion. I determined to write a story on this subject and, since I am primarily a poet, felt obliged to ask for assistance. My father agreed to collaborate, suggesting that another Doyle character, Professor Challenger, be included. Our collaboration, "The Adventure of the Martian Client," was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for December, 1969.
The magazine introduced Wellman as "a published poet who is presently professor of English at Clarke College (Iowa)." The first story was followed in March 1972, by "Venus, Mars, and Baker Street," and a third in May 1975, "Sherlock Holmes Versus Mars." With those three stories and some additions and revisions, it was published in September of 1975 by Warner Books.

Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds had mixed reviews, and the Wilson Library Bulletin called it a "collision of Baker Street and outer space," but the premise alone captured the imagination of many readers around the world. The book was translated and published abroad,  and more recently, reprinted as The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: War of the Worlds in 2009. The book made a lasting impression. It can be said that The War of the Worlds was the first UFO story, so it's fitting that Wellman called in the ultimate detective to investigate on the case.

His Last Bow

Wade Wellman seems to have dropped out of Ufology about the time NICAP withered, but he was heard from again about twenty years later, in a call to CUFOS. Jerome Clark, UFO historian, wrote
"I spoke with him on the phone once, probably in the early 1990s, when I was at the Center for UFO Studies office in Chicago researching my UFO Encyclopedia. Wellman called... He told me he was living in Milwaukee and working... I knew who he was — he wrote some essays for FSR, and I was aware he was Manly Wade’s son — and I recalled Charles Bowen’s story, which he’d related to me not long after the notorious encounter. So I was on my guard. Wellman seemed normal enough, however. I don’t recall much of the substance of the conversation, except that one point he expressed admiration for Donald Keyhoe’s prose."
There's more than a hint that Wellman suffered from some mental health and chemical dependency problems, but it's not clear just when it all began. The 1960s were a tumultuous time that included a lot of young people radically experimenting with drugs and sex, and it's worth noting that few stories about dark poets have happy endings. Wade had a troubled relationship with his parents, and reportedly, treated them horribly. Apparently, the Wellmans loved Wade and continued to support him financially, but disapproved of his personal life. 

Wade's father died in 1986, and his mother Frances died in 2000. In a tribute to Manly Wade Wellman, fantasy fiction scholar Steven R. Trout wrote that, "Manly’s own son Wade seems likely to have been a disappointment to him, as David Drake reports he was living in a 'charity hostel' because of substance abuse issues at the time of his mother’s death." 

A Postscript

When the first Holmes vs the Martians story appeared in the Dec. 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, it included an epilogue by Wade Wellman, "A Postscript by the Junior Collaborator." He described how he concieved the idea for the story, but his final two paragraphs touched on the UFO topic.
The depth and magnitude of Wells's idea is increasingly relevant as the years go by. It seems to me that the UFO's may well represent a technology as far above human civilization as we are above the communities of jungle animals. Their observations of the earth might be likened to a zoological team observing zebras in the jungle. Again, a human being watching a UFO hover in the air may be in the position of a baboon watching a hovering helicopter. I strongly suspect that this is the case. But, whatever the reality behind the UFO's may be, I feel that our emergence into space must inevitably, at some time, bring us into contact with "minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish," to quote again from Wells's own text. We must not refuse this challenge, but even so I am disturbed by the efforts now being made to signal other worlds. Years ago an unnamed space scientist was quoted as saying that, to certain alien races, we might be "the finest beef animals." He knew his H. G. Wells, and that his warning was unheeded is a reproach to the poor alertness of his colleagues.
In any case, the conquest of space and the UFO surveillance are the beginning of events which will broaden our horizons tremendously, whatever their final outcome. It is for this reason that every thinking person should study Wells's original idea and apply its significance and implications to our own time.
The later version published introducing the Holmes book dropped all references to UFOs.

Wellman had recommended the writing of Otto O. Binder (science fiction, comic book and UFO author) in his angry 1969 reply to the 
Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and Binder dedicated his 1972 historical fiction novel, The Forgotten Colony, "To Wade Wellman for the new light he shone on Benedict Arnold and his military genius."  Binder remembered him again in another book. Mankind: Child of the Stars was a 1974 non-fiction book exploiting the "Ancient Astronauts" fad. It carried an introduction by Erich Von Daniken, with his name appearing on the cover above that of the authors, Max H. Flindt and Otto O. Binder. A poem by Wellman opens the book, possibly his last published words on the UFO subject.

To the Authors 
We search with humbled thoughts and reeling brains 
For stellar footprints, cosmic legacy, 
For signs of visitors from distant lanes 
Who bred this race in dim prehistory, 
And wonder if these watchers of the earth, 
These strange observers from a stranger port, 
Evolved us from the brutes to foster mirth, 
Created us in fancy and in sport. 
The mighty structures of a dateless age 
That hold their stories thoughtfully concealed 
May still become an open lamplit page 
In which these riddles show themselves revealed; 
And we, who strive to open and to rob 
The secrets, face the laughter of the mob. 
                                                      – WADE WELLMAN


  1. Great article. I had heard of Wade Sr. but wasn't aware of Wade Jr. I enjoy learning something new as opposed to reading the nth rehash of the Roswell Crash. Once again a connection between science fiction/fantasy and ufology.

  2. Thanks! I came across Wellman's name in a search of old newspapers and started digging to see where the story went. The unhappy ending came as a big surprise to me, but no doubt there's more to the story than the public will ever know. The private lives of ufologists are no less troubled than those of anyone else.

  3. Very insightful article. I've read a lot about the Wellman family, but not about his son. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Chris. I was hoping the story had a happier ending, but I felt his career (or the fraction of it we can trace) was interesting.

  4. I stumbled across this piece and was interested to learn something of Wade Wellman’s life after Chapel Hill. I knew him, probably better than most, and have wondered occasionally if he ever found any success in life. He was profoundly unhappy and conflicted about his radical politics. He hated living in his father’s shadow and despised his father’s dismissal of Wade’s own thoughts and abilities. Wade led a tortured life at the time, and I suspect he never overcame or resolved those conflicts of his early years.

  5. i know exactly what happened to Wade. he lived in my apartments for ten years in Milwaukee.


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