Thursday, August 12, 2021

The UFO Evidence of Robert C. Gardner

Robert Coe Gardner (Feb. 3, 1914 – Nov. 13, 1990) is one of the many Ufologists that Time Forgot, one of the few that advertised himself as “Formerly of the U.S. Air Force.”

Gardner’s profile appeared with his article, “Flying Saucers: The World's Greatest Wonder” in DePauw Alumnus Nov 1, 1953, where he also wrote:

“During the last war I was in the Air Force, trained in aircraft identification and construction, and I was raised in Dayton, Ohio, called the home of aviation. Consequently, when trained experts began to report these unconventional round aircraft, I began to take notice and do a little research on the subject. Then in August of 1952, my wife and I saw two of these craft at rather close range in the daytime, and I determined then to devote my full time to research on the subject. My science lectures gave way to ‘saucer’ lectures and to a six-month research and lecture tour, including many points in Europe, from which I have just returned.”

In 1955 respected researcher Leonard Stringfield endorsed Gardner saying, “… he is available for lecturing. Gardner, world-traveled and well informed on the UFO, has lectured to Air Force groups, universities. and clubs. He features with his talk, motion pictures showing UFO's which he upholds are real.” Decades later, historian Jerome Clark described Gardner in Fortean Times, Aug. 2017 as "an obscure yarn-spinner... who occasionally surfaced on the fringes of the early UFO scene, always with a whopper at the ready."  So, was Gardner sincere - or a sensationalist? Let’s look at the evidence.


A Phenomenal Lecturer

 Robert Gardner said his UFO interest began in 1949 after reading Donald Keyhoe’s article and subsequent book, The Flying Saucers Are Real. Prior to that he was a science lecturer, but period media accounts reflect things differently, more in a metaphysical vein. The Virginia Beach News of June 1, 1951, described Gardner as being “director of the Universal Studies Forum of San Francisco,” in town to deliver the lecture, “Your Place in the World of Tomorrow" for the psychic group, Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment at their twentieth annual Congress. The next month he was back home in San Francisco, lecturing at the Christian Spiritualist Church on “Frequency and Vibrations in Relation to Spiritism.” 

The San Francisco Examiner, May 17, 1952, reported that Gardner had taken a new job with Dr. George Carter, a practitioner of magnetic healing, saying, “this week (Carter) announced the addition to his staff of Robert Coe Gardner… a metaphysical lecturer and teacher, is popular with audiences throughout the Bay area.” During this time, Gardner supposedly conducted a “world-wide research trip on flying saucers.” Redlands Daily Facts, Aug. 25, 1952, carried the report of Gardner’s own saucer sighting while on a picnic with his wife.

UP's more detailed version from an unidentified paper.

Around the time of his sighting, Gardner dropped the metaphysics business and put together some stage props for a new career. The first documentation we could find of Gardner’s UFO lecturing was from Ohio in the Dayton Daily News, November 2, 1952, a television show notice:

“Bob Gardner formerly of Dayton and now of San Francisco will appear on two WLW-D shows Tuesday as an amateur flying saucer expert. He will guest on ‘Dayton and the Nation’ at 11:45 a.m. and the ‘Coffee Club’ at 1:30 p.m.”

The Chico Enterprise-Record, Aug. 4, 1953, reported on the upcoming lecture by Gardner at the Chico Art Club, “Flying Saucers: What They Are and Where They Come From.” By late 1953 Gardner had established a reputation as a professional UFO lecturer, touring across the United States and abroad. 

On November 10, 1953, Gardner spoke at the Lansing (Michigan) Econ Club on "What Will Science Do in the Next 25 Years?" His lecture covered: “cinerama, flying saucers, phenomena, latest uses (of) atomic power, submarine and air craft, the new astronomy, new discoveries in the realm of the human mind and the future of radio and television.”

In Los Angeles, The Daily News, Nov. 26, 1953, carried a notice:

“Lecturer Robert Coe Gardner will consider that ever intriguing subject, matter, “Are Flying Saucers From Outer Space?” in three lectures, 8 p.m. Dec: 3 and 4, and 2 p.m. Dec. 6 at 1629 N. La Brea Ave. The lectures, sponsored by Flying Saucers International, headed by Max B. Miller, 19, student of the saucer problem, will be illustrated with what Gardner says are actual motion pictures of flying saucers in flight.” 
The Daily News, Dec. 7, 1953

The Daily News, Dec. 7, 1953, featured an article, “Flying saucer fever mounting,” discussed Garner and his lectures saying, he “identifies himself as ‘formerly of the Air Force,’ but becomes rather vague when it comes to his job and rank in that noteworthy organization.” As for the evidence he shared:

“Gardner produced a magazine photograph, purportedly snapped in Germany, showing one of the ‘little men’ in company with an admirably casual group of earthlings. ‘I believe this photograph to be genuine,’ stated the lecturer, unimpressed by the little fellow’s startling resemblance to a skinned gibbon. In addition to wooden models and artists' conceptions of saucers… Gardner’s lecture was advertised as being illustrated by a ‘documented’ film. This turned out to be largely movies of witnesses describing what. they had sighted, ‘authorities’ telling what they think and film clips of still photographs of blobs in the sky.”

Gardner’s “little men” photo was originally published in the 1950 April Fool’s Day edition of  the German magazine, Neue Illustrierte, with the title “Der Mars-Mensch” (The Mars Man). 

Neue Illustrierte,“Der Mars-Mensch”

It was a crude photomontage: a man in a skater’s costume portraying the Martian, composited into shot of two men and women. Due to the support of Gardner and other credulous or opportunistic ufologists, the Martian photo fake has been circulated as genuine alien photo for decades. See Kentaro Mori’s site for an excellent article on the “Silverman” hoax, The FBI/KGB/SS Alien Photo: Found.

Robert Gardner personally investigated at least one UFO case in California, the Brush Creek Saucer series of close encounters. From “Saucer Fails to Land At Brush Creek,” in the Chico Enterprise-Record, July 23, 1953:

“John Van Allen and John Q. Black (told) Robert C. Gardner of San Francisco the tale of the flying saucer that landed seven times on a sandbar at the junction of Marble and Jordan Creeks. The last time it landed, a four-foot man dressed up in ‘the snuggest outfit you ever saw’ emerged and scooped up a pail of water from the Marble Creek, Black said. Gardner, who claims that saucers are occupied by ‘beings of a sort,’ said he visited the miners ‘to find out what this is all about, as nearly as I can.’”

Uncharacteristically, Gardner had a skeptical outlook on the encounter. Gray Barker in his 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, “as far as the Brush Creek episode was concerned, he believed Black and Van Allen had experienced a ‘psychic aberration’ which ‘resembled a mirage'.”

In his column for Aug. 5, 1954, "Criswell Predicts," the psychic said, "Flying Saucers Fans: Robert Coe Gardner of San Francisco will soon make a most important announcement!" There’s no record of that happening, but M.K. Jessup’s 1956 book, The UFO Annual reported that after a June 1955 lecture at the auditorium in San Jose, California, saucer buff Bill Raub questioned Gardner, who under pressure, claimed to have “talked to several men, including doctors, who actually examined ‘little men from cracked up saucers in Mexico'."

An Alleged Disclosure Delayed from 1953

One of Gardner’s enduring contributions to UFO lore is the quote he allegedly obtained from General Benjamin Chidlaw during a March 1953 meeting. 

It was first disclosed in C.R.I.F.O. ORBIT by Leonard Stringfield, November 4, 1955. The statement described how he met General  Chidlaw, then in charge of US continental air defenses at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado:

"Out of courtesy to General Chidlaw, who has since retired, I have withheld until now the vitally important information herewith revealed. In the course of the half hour private interview the General mentioned, among many other interesting items, the following, “we have stacks of reports about flying saucers. We take them seriously when you consider we have lost many men and planes trying to intercept them’.”

That issue of ORBIT also contained “Violence in Retrospect,” a tale from Gardner about a possible 1939 UFO incident, a military transport plane with thirteen men that came back from a seemingly unearthly battle will all aboard dead or dying. The story has gone on to become cited as evidence of both human mutilations and gremlins, and he was quoted in Charles Berlitz's World Of Strange Phenomena, 1988. In his 2003 book, Strange Skies: Pilot Encounters with UFOs, historian Jerome Clark had this to say about Gardner and his story: "There is no evidence that anything like this ever happened in real life... Gardner, a minor figure on the early UFO scene, had a reputation as a spinner of yarns and a shader - at best - of truth.”

A contemporary discussion of Gardner’s credibility can be found in Jim Moseley's book, page 82. On Dec.16, 1953, Mosely met with Al Chop, the former public information officer for the UFO topic at the Pentagon, and Ed Ruppelt, former head of Project Blue Book, having retired from the Air Force, just a few months previously. Moseley asked them their opinion of UFO authors Frank Scully and George Adamski, but the men laughed and described them as having a “questionable reputation.” 

Moseley wrote:
“This prompted Ruppelt to bring up a Robert Coe Gardner, who was lecturing in California and wowing his audiences with claims he had received secret information and previously unreleased photos of saucers from high-level government contacts, proving UFOs were from outer space. If possible, Ruppelt and Chop considered Gardner to be even lower than Scully and Adamski. Chop said he'd known Gardner for years, as they'd both grown up in Dayton, Ohio. It turns out that when confronted by the air force, Gardner admitted he'd clipped his ‘unreleased photos’ from newspapers! The man had also once told Chop that Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, former chief of staff of the air force, had told reporters off the record that the saucers were from space. Both Chop and Ruppelt dismissed this claim as nonsense…”

The Robstown Record, April 1, 1954, published a front page of three winged flying saucers over their main street.

A few months later, The Robstown Record (Texas), Jun 17, 1954, reported on a letter from Gardner asking to buy a copy of their saucer photograph, him falling for another April Fool’s Day hoax.

An Examination of Gardner’s Retail Ufology

At the time Gardner began lecturing there were only a handful of UFO books, and lectures were a popular way for the public to get some combination of entertainment and education. Gardner’s lectures were a curious mix of gullibility and skepticism. He presented himself with an air of authority, a science lecturer with a military aviation background. Like the Air Force, he insisted that the vast majority of saucer sightings were misidentified conventional objects, but he claimed remaining 10 to 20% included real flying saucers from the US, the UK and the USSR, who had all discovered antigravity and were flying saucers, he thought. These were not as advanced as the other kind, the ones flown by visitors from within our solar system, and most likely from beyond as well. The aliens were peaceful, he said, perhaps here to monitor our maturement as a civilization.

Gardner seemed to accept some element of truth to every saucer story he ever heard, and he was a supporter of Frank Scully’s tale of a captured disk and little men from space hidden by the US military. He said he believed there had been genuine saucer contact cases but thought people like Orfeo Angelucci and Truman Bethurum were sincere, but subjected to a "psychological expectation” that affected their recollection.” In other words, it was mostly in their head.

Chances are that anyone coming away from Gardner’s lectures agreed with some of what he said, but probably ignored the parts they didn’t want to hear, a bit like with a horoscope or a palm reading. After the show was over, there was the chance to buy UFO literature and photos. At his one of his lectures for the Redondo Beach Woman's Club, the local paper reported:

“During the talk Gardner (1) handed out cards announcing his next series in Hollywood, (2) plugged two books and a number of pictures he had for sale, (3) collected names and addresses from the audience so they could be notified of future available literature.”

One such saucer photo for sale was said to be taken by Joe Kerska Oct. 10, 1956, in San Francisco. Gardner sold copies of the picture by mail and probably at his lectures. It was featured on the cover a of a few saucer newsletters and Ray Palmer’s Flying Saucers from Other Worlds, August 1957, carried an article by Gardener, “The San Francisco Photo.”

The photo was featured on the covers of George Van Tassel's
Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom Feb/Mar 1957,
Max Miller's SAUCERS Spring 1957.

From the archives of Louis Taylor

NICAP’s 1964 book,
The UFO Evidence concluded: “The alleged UFO strongly resembles a small model at relatively close range, thrown into the air and photographed… the photograph is considered dubious.”

Another dodgy saucer photo sold by Gardner. From the archives of Louis Taylor.

A Model Ufologist

For his lectures, Gardner constructed small saucer models, and some saucer-shaped model planes that could actually fly. In addition, he claimed he his props demonstrated principles of antigravity propulsion.

The Statesman Journal, (Salem, Oregon), July 11, 1957

The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia, Canada), Aug. 1, 1957, “quoted Gardner as saying, “From what I’ve found, the spacemen who have landed here are small, smelly and greenish in color.” He went on to say, “We have evidence from people all over the United States who have seen little green men alight from space ships.” He also said a little green man, 27 inches high, was captured near Mexico City in 1950.

Max Miller of Flying Saucers International interviewed Gardner on September 14, 1957. This is rare 40-minute recording is the only known media surviving of Gardner, and he covers a lot of ground fielding Miller’s questions about his background, beliefs and thoughts on the UFO topic and his experiences lecturing on it. Gardner discusses his meeting with Donald Keyhoe and Arthur C. Clarke, also hints about having insider contacts at Wright Patterson Air Force base. He also discusses his own sighting and those of others and the topics range from contact to antigravity and dimensional energy. It’s a fascinating sampling of saucer thought circa 1957.

 Hear the recording hosted of interview hosted on YouTube: Max Miller interviews Robert Coe Gardner

Leaving UFO Show Business

By late 1957, Gardner was still at it, but playing small venues to and a diminishing audience.

The Hollywood, CA Citizen-News  Dec. 7, 1957

The Long Beach, CA, Press-Telegram, Dec. 15, 1957, was one of the few skeptical articles to challenge some of Robert C. Gardner’s claims. Asked about his Air Force experience, “Gardner said he was in service two years during World War II. What rank? Very confusing, he said. The Air Force had him pretend he was a civilian. But what was his rank? Major, he said finally.”

Perhaps due to the glut of UFO authors and Contactees on the lecture circuit, Gardner’s audience seemed to be shrinking. At his mid-December 1957 lecture at the YWCA auditorium with a capacity of 200, only 32 people attended. When Gardner took the stage, he apologized for “this record small audience.”

In his press, Gardner claimed to have pioneered the concept of UFO clubs back in 1949.

 The San Mateo Times, June 23, 1958

On July 21, 1958, Gardner spoke for another small crowd at the UFO Study Group of Redwood City, CA, on “the spiritual aspects respecting the ability of UFOs to appear and disappear.” Up until the end, Gardner was still circulating the Silverman “Martian” photograph. Note the metallic flying saucer model he’s holding in the photo below. Also shown, a ticket to a Gardner 1960 UFO lecture at Carmel, CA.

Robert Coe Gardner photo via Joe Fex/APE-X Research, Ticket via UFOPOP 

One possible reason for Gardner's stepping back from the UFO business comes from the Utah Washington County News, Jan. 29, 1959. They reported that a group of California men had purchased the Virgin oil refinery, and “Robert Coe Gardner of San Francisco, president of the corporation plans to spend part of his time in the area.”

The last documentation we have of Gardner speaking on saucers comes from a tape and photos from his lecture in October 1964 at a high school auditorium in Walnut Creek, near Oakland, California. The photos below were taken by Paul Cerny, and are shared from the NICAP and CUFOS archives courtesy of curator David Marler

Gardner's lecture included several UFO models and paintings.

Model of an alleged man-made UFO.

Two metallic saucer models.

A fanciful rendering of Kenneth Arnold's sighting.

The Brush Creek Saucer.

Gardner seems to have been fading from the saucer scene, but there was an unfavorable mention of him in NICAP's Affiliate / Subcommittee Newsletter, May 28, 1965, which featured Richard Hall’s top “Five Most Wanted List” of crackpots harmful to the credibility of the UFO topic.

Robert Coe Gardner. Lecturer on UFOs using films of dubious origin, by personal admission “making a living” off the subject. Totally undiscriminating in choice of materials; likely to try link himself with NICAP for prestige purposes. No connection with NICAP, but makes use of ‘The UFO Evidence.’ Bears watching. Based in San Francisco.”

Apparently, Gardner had already begun focusing on other things. By 1965 he was regularly lecturing on nutrition, frequently on, “What Is Necessary for Complete Health.” 

Healdsburg Tribune, Aug. 12, 1965

There’s not much documented about Gardner’s Utah oil corporation, but it was not successful. The Vernal Express, Sept. 14, 1967, reported that the Uintah County Sheriff was conducting a sale of Gardner’s oil refinery equipment to pay off debts to creditors.

One peculiar semi-paranormal bit with Gardner seeming to return to roots, in a 1974 Edgar Cayce inspired book by Paul James, California Superquake, 1975-77?: Scientists, Cayce, Psychics Speak. “After fifteen years of seismological research, Robert Coe Gardner, M.A., of San Francisco has constructed a map - chronology which shows the following serial catastrophes as he foresees them… (stock market crash, apocalyptic earthquakes in San Francisco and Los Angeles). 

The catastrophes did not go as predicted, so in 1976 Gardner was advertising himself in the San Francisco Examiner, offering the following services: “Lecturer, Prayer Counseling.” 

The San Francisco Examiner, Aug. 28, 1976

Advertisements indicate Gardner mainly spoke on the topic of wellness and nutrition. The last ad found was from 1985 in Los Angeles, where was still lecturing on "Essentials for Complete Health." 

Robert Coe Gardner died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 76.

The Ukiah Daily Journal, Nov 15, 1990

Gardner has been largely forgotten by ufology, his name mainly a footnote in connection with the alleged quote from General Chidlaw and the legend of the 1939 mysterious aerial attack on the military transport plane. For better or worse, Gardner was an influential pioneering lecturer spreading both facts and folklore of flying saucers to the public at the grass roots level.

Over two decades after his death, a book connected with his name was published, Psychic Phenomena and the Ductless Glands. The 18-page booklet seems to have been a lecture by occultist by Manly Palmer Hall, published with an introduction by Robert Coe Gardner. It was probably a remnant from his metaphysical days at the beginning of the 1950s before he became a flying saucer expert.

1 comment:

  1. I find this entry, like all the others in the series covering forgotten UFO proponents well worth reading. It's always interesting to speculate just why a particular figure dropped out of site. It's also worth wondering just what of the ideas these figures promoted spread out into the wider 'UFO Narrative'.

    I will also add that the photograph of the two individuals behind the 'Brush Creek Case' always makes me think of the old Beverly Hillbillies TV series for some reason.


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