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”
. . .


  1. In Chapter 6 of Sinister Barrier there is a discussion between the hero and a scientist about the nature of Vitons, that the creatures had been taking actions beyond psychic vampirism. The scientist mentions people suddenly disappearing, being abducted by the Vitons. The Vitons snatched people to do experiments on them, creating human-Viton hybrids. Some of these experiments are prenatal. Does any of this sound familiar?

  2. Outstanding, Ray! It took a while for ufology to catch up to Eric Frank Russell's alien abductions. It seems in every instance, science fiction got there first.


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