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: “ 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”

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.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Charles Fort, Ken Arnold & Space Animal UFOs

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

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

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

Space Animals: Fiction and Fort Got there First

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

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

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

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

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

Space Animal Convert: Kenneth Arnold

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

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

. . .

The Controversial Correspondence of John Philip Bessor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Inheritance tax. (x)

- Proposed tax on gasoline or large autos.

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

- Mistreatment of animals; hunting

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

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

- the U.N.

- Weak car windshields.

- US sanctions against South Africa  (x)

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

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

- Irresponsible advertising practices

- Abortion

- Homosexuality (x)

- Bernard Goetz and his acquittal

- The IRS

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

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

- President Reagan's deregulations of the oil industries

- US nuclear tests

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

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

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

- The ACLU

- The Salvation Army

- Churches ordaining women

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

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

John P. Bessor Bibliography (of Known Works)


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


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

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

1970s and Beyond

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

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


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

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

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

Dr. J. Allen Hynek on UFO literature (in  The Edge of Reality , 1975): “If I were to recommend anything in the popular category, I would cho...