Thursday, June 18, 2020

Project Blue Book Investigation: 1948 Crashed Unidentified Aerial Object Photo

70 years ago, a letter launched the Air Force investigation of an “Unidentified Aerial Object.”

Martin W. Peterson lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, but held a seasonal job as a summer school metal shop teacher in Warren, Minnesota. While there in 1948, his friend Walter Sirek found a strange object embedded in the ground behind Nish’s Tavern. It was a metal disc-like object with fins like a rocket. When they examined it, they found it to be about two feet in diameter, and the fins on either side of the jet or rocket exhaust port had scorch marks. Peterson photographed Sirek holding the object but did not report the discovery to the authorities. 

After the 1950 publication of Donald Keyhoe’s book, The Flying Saucer Saucers Are Real, the resulting publicity caused a friend to suggest to Peterson that he should submit his evidence to the US government. In his letter dated June 19, 1950, Peterson sent in a short letter reporting the saucer discovery:

Dear Sir:
I am anxious to know what this contraption is. It was found with its point buried in the hard ground in my home town some time ago.

I have enclosed my return addressed envelope for an answer and the snap shots.

Yours most sincerely,
Martin W. Peterson

Enclosed were four snapshots, which were subsequently labeled exhibits A - D.

Only three of the four photos were collected in Air Force files, each with Sirek's face obscured.

The two versions found in published versions of Project Blue Book Records.
On the lower set we've superimposed Sirek's photo from Cosmopolitan.
The Air Force launched an extensive inquiry that involved an analysis of the photographs object which included dispatching agents from the Chicago Office of Special Investigations to check on the credibility of Peterson and to interview him and any other witnesses.

National Press

The newspapers first got word of the story when Air Force files were opened to columnist Bob Considine. As a result, Considine wrote a four-part series on flying saucers, and in the final installment prominently discussed the Minnesota saucer, exposing it as a fake, apparently an unintentional hoax. The story as printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) Nov. 19, 1950:

Hoax Aspect of Flying Saucer Story
Practical Jokers Keep Air Force Busy Solving Their Fakes

Link to complete article.

Drew Pearson also mentioned the episode in his nationally syndicated “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column on Nov. 25, 1950.

For Cosmopolitan magazine, January, 1951, Bob Considine repackaged his saucer series into a long article, The disgraceful flying Saucer hoax.” The excerpt on the saucer rocket:

On June 19, 1950, the Air Materiel Command received a letter from one Martin W. Peterson.  Enclosed were four snapshots of a friend holding an odd object with a saucerlike body. From its thin sides, there protruded what appeared to be the tip of a spear and the fins and exhaust-pipe assembly of a miniature V-2.
Peterson was located in Warren, Minnesota.  So was his friend, the saucer man — Walter Sirek, a gas-station attendant.  Sirek told the investigators that he had found the strange device two years before, imbedded in the earth behind Nish’s Tavern, in Warren.  He had figured, he said, that it was the work of a local tinsmith named Art Jensen.  Jensen, when questioned, remembered putting something of the sort together at the request of a Warren hardware man named Ted Heyen and a radio repairman named Robert Schaeffer — as a gag entry in a local newspaper “saucer contest.”  An acetylene torch had been played over the tail surfaces to give them the appearance of having been scorched by gases escaping from the hauntingly familiar “engine” encased in the saucer.
Heyen and Schaeffer tired of their gadget after a time and threw it away.  Sirek found it.  Peterson, visiting Sirek shortly thereafter, took snapshots of Sirek holding the contraption — and two years later sent them to the Air Materiel Command.
It took this particular investigative chain reaction from June nineteenth to September twenty-seventh to run its course.  Agents had to be transported from Wright Field, Washington, and elsewhere to the points of inquiry, fed, housed, and paid.  The fruits of their labors were a few apologies and the saucer — which had been made of the lid of an automatic washing machine, a sawed-off curtain-rod spear, tin tail assembly, and an “engine” composed of a disemboweled midget radio and an old insecticide bomb.
More malicious gagsters have taken the trouble to buy and crudely assemble mounds of scrap steel and iron, burn the junk into an unrecognizable tangle, and report to the Air Force that a saucer had crashed and burned on their property. However plain the hoax, the Air Force often feels that it must take samples of the "wreckage" for study in its Wright Field laboratories or in other metallurgical centers.

And nothing can be done about such frauds. A man who pilfers a three-cent stamp from the Post Office Department can be fined and sent to a Federal prison. One who turns in a false alarm that routs out the local fire department on a Halloween night can also be jailed, as can a man who writes a check for a dollar when he has no bank funds to cover it. Yet the most callous and cynical saucer-hoaxers will continue to go scot free, with a cackle of delight, until a penal act is created to check such offenses.

Considine got one fact wrong. The Air Force’s analysis of the object was based only on the photos, the object itself was never recovered. The file notes than in light of the confession, “no attempt was made to locate the ‘aerial object.’ …the large amount of junk at the city dump… is periodically covered over by earth by a bulldozer.”

Walter Sirek and the “Unidentified Aerial Object.”
While this man-made saucer was not created for a hoax, it ended up sending the Air Force on a wild goose chase. Nevertheless, it provides a good example as to the kind of work put into saucer investigations, and reveals how much was often spent chasing so little.

For more details on the Air Force’s investigation, see the file in Project Blue Book.

 . . .

Trivia Across Time

Two familiar names coincidentally pop up in the story. Coast to Coast hardware employed Ted Heyen, and his saucer building partner was a radio repairman named Robert Schaeffer. In more recent years, Coast to Coast A.M. is a radio show is broadcasting wild UFO stories, the sort which are often debunked by skeptic Robert Sheaffer.

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