Thursday, June 22, 2023

The UFO Crash-Retrieval Story Returns

(Avrocar standing in for a captured spaceship.)

Flying Saucer crashes started making the news in the summer of 1947. Most were small discs thrown by pranksters or pieces of equipment launched by the military. Later, stories of the U.S. military recovering alien bodies from flying saucers surfaced, and they refuse to go away. Here’s a look at the top examples and how history was made.

Roswell, New Mexico, 1947

The headline on the Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1497, stated: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.” The terminology “Unidentified Flying Object” had yet to be established, so flying disc or saucer was commonly used, no matter the shape involved. The article contained no description of the object, as “no details of the saucer's construction or its appearance had been revealed.” Later accounts described the recovered object to be “remnants of a tinfoil covered box kite and a rubber balloon.” At the time, there was no discussion of alien bodies recovered in connection to Roswell. That changed with the involvement of imaginative ufologists in 1978.

1949: The Story of a Saucer Crash in Aztec, New Mexico, 1948

Frank Scully was a Hollywood gossip columnist, with "Scully's Scrapbook" dishing up Tinseltown gab for Variety magazine. Scully was also a reviewer of literature and wrote a few books of his own. His October 8, 1949, column, and a follow-up on November 23, 1949, described on the discovery of flying saucers and the bodies of the sixteen little men inside, “these Saucerians are from three to three and a half feet tall,” charred black due to a fatal atmosphere leak. The presumed Venusians were identical to humans except in stature.

Silas Newton, Frank Scully, and the book they made.

In Scully’s subsequent bestselling 1950 book, Behind the Flying Saucers, he revealed his primary source to be Silas M. Newton and quoted “the scientist I have called Dr. Gee,” who told him, “We took the little bodies out, and laid them on the ground… examined them and their clothing… They were normal from every standpoint… [not] ‘midgets’…’perfectly normal in their development.” Silas Newton’s story spread by word of mouth, and by early 1950 there were several versions of the story circulating, as seen in this Associated Press story from March 10, 1950. Ray Dimmick said the saucer pilot’s tiny body was “embalmed for scientific study.”

Associated Press story from March 10, 1950

This was the original crash-retrieval story, establishing all the classic elements: a saucer with small alien bodies captured by the US military, the scientific examination of the spaceship's exotic light metal, advanced technology, and the deceased crew it contained. Just as importantly, it introduced the US government as the villain in the story, with their policy of denial and cover-ups of UFO evidence.

 From EC Comics' Weird Science-Fantasy #25, "Flying Saucer Report"

The Silas Newton flying saucer story has been continually retold since its inception, with some details added or subtracted and names and locations altered to fit the storyteller's purpose. Concerned citizens who heard the tales contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who had agents collect information on Silas Newton the stories he originated. Skipping ahead a few decades, the resulting FBI files were later mistakenly or falsely presented as substantiation of the crash stories. A sensational FBI memo from 1950 was discovered by ufologists in 1977. It stated:

“An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico.”

The fuss was over nothing. The Guy Hottel memo was an FBI agent’s report on a rumor repeated by an informant. The material itself was just a variation of Silas Newton’s hoaxed flying saucer crash story. But getting back to the 1950s…

Flying Saucer Hardware

Around 1952, “The Wright Field story” was a tale circulating among UFO researchers that a captured flying was held in secret in Dayton, Ohio, at what is known today as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The story turned out to be another imitation of the Aztec yarn, but along the way it was taken seriously by Bill Nash, a commercial pilot who became a prominent UFO activist. Based on the rumors, during a lecture, Nash told the audience, "the Air Force has collected hardware from outer space." When a reporter in the audience published Nash’s speculative remarks, it became headline news.

The Pentagon denied having any such thing. Confronted with demands to substantiate his claim, Nash admitted he had no tangible evidence, saying that it was only “my opinion… there must be some vestige of truth in the oft repeated rumor that the Air Force has a saucer or parts thereof in their possession.” 

In Search of… Pickled Aliens

The frequent repetition of the Aztec story and variant rumors prompted Ed Sullivan to write the article, “To the Man with the Pickle Jar” in the Civilian Saucer Investigation Quarterly Review, Sept. 1952.

“CSI has received hundreds of letters from people seeking the facts behind reports of crashed flying saucers, unknown metals… and the little man from outer space preserved in a pickle jar. … We ask you to beware of the man who tells you that his friend knows the man with the pickle jar. There is good reason why he effects an air of mystery, why he ‘has been sworn to secrecy’ – because he can't produce the friend – or the pickle jar.”

Crashed Saucers Fly Again

The 1960s were a particularly active time for UFO stories but during the lulls, ufologists found something exciting by digging into the past.

Aurora, Texas 1897

In the mid-1960s, ufologists latched onto one of the forgotten newspaper tales of airships during the 1890s. The Dallas Morning News, April 19, 1897, p. 5, featured “A Windmill Demolishes It" written by S. E. Haydon, a sketchy account of how a metallic “airship” crashed into a windmill and exploded. The pilot’s disfigured remains were recovered, thought to be "a native of the planet Mars.” The story was journalistic fiction, common in those days. Jerome Clark wrote the UFO section in Encyclopedia of Hoaxes (Gordon Stein, 1993), summarizing the Aurora tale among the other “hoaxes and jokes about extraterrestrial aeronauts [that] continued into the 1897 phase of the airship saga.”

MUFON’s Newspaper clippings on the 1970s Aurora investigation

The Martian crash story received widespread publicity again in 1973 when ufologists wanted to exhume the non-existent alien body for examination. The hype over Aurora tale rehabilitated the topic of crashed UFOs and set the stage for a revival.

The Saucers in Hangar 18

Ex-science fiction writer Robert Spencer Carr lived in Clearwater, Florida, taught a university writing class, and had been a member of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) since the 1950s. He became more active in ufology in the 1960s, and in the 1970s he began reviving the Aztec tale of captured saucers and alien bodies.

The Tampa Tribune, Oct. 16, 1974

When the press finally noticed, newspapers mistakenly thought these were new claims. The Tampa Tribune, Jan. 16, 1974, reported:

“One of the best-kept secrets of the United States Government is that in Hangar 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, there are two flying saucers of unknown origin, a University of South Florida instructor said yesterday.” 

Carr’s revival of Aztec inspired Leonard Stringfield to become a specialist in pursuing UFO crash-retrieval stories. An article on Stringfield‘s public library lecture promoting his 1977 book, Situation Red.

“…Stringfield, a thin, goateed man with glasses… used to debunk reports of encounters with "humanoids," but no longer. About 1600 reports, some from ‘top military people in high positions,’ made him think otherwise. There is strength in numbers. ‘I now believe that they have had humanoids, little creatures three to four feet tall, in an underground research facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I have seen the autopsy reports.’"

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 20, 1977

Stringfield published UFO crash stories by the dozen, but none of them caught until…


Roswell Reborn

Thanks to the influence of Carr and Stringfield, Stanton T. Friedman was drawn into the UFO crash business. On Feb. 20, 1978, Friedman was on his UFO lecture tour in Louisiana, when he was told about a man in the area who said he’d once found pieces of a flying saucer. Friedman called Jesse Marcel the next day, to hear the Roswell story most of us have come to know. Unfortunately, Marcel couldn’t remember the date or some of the people’s names, and he provided no documentation. Friedman listened with interest, but in his line of work, you hear a lot of stories, so it went nowhere.

Things got interesting on Oct. 24, 1978, in Bemidji, Minnesota, when Friedman heard a second-hand story that provided the dead aliens for the Roswell story. From Dava Sobel, 'The Truth About Roswell', Omni, Fall 1995:

“The crashed saucer and its alien crew were the gifts of Vern and Jean Maltais, who attended a Friedman lecture, and stayed late to tell him a flying saucer story related by their late friend, Grady ("Barney") Barnett. …The Maltais couple couldn't remember what year the crash might have taken place, and Barney was long dead [1969], so there was no way to find out. …That was enough for Friedman to go on...”

The problem was that there was no documentation, just what the couple thought they remembered Barnett saying. Secondly, the Barnett story hadn’t surfaced until after Silas Newton’s Aztec saucer hoax had been widely publicized. Nevertheless, Friedman passed it to Charles Berlitz and William Moore for their 1980 book, The Roswell Incident:

“In February 1950… Barnett told his friends an extraordinary story. …Barnett claimed to have personally witnessed a flying-saucer crash in the Socorro area — that he had seen it and seen dead bodies that were not human beings. Then the area was quickly sealed off and the bodies and wreckage removed by the military.”

Finally, some documentation emerged. The opposite really. Barney Barnett's wife Ruth kept a detailed diary of the couple's doings in 1947.

The Plains of San Agustin Controversy, July 1947: Gerald Anderson, Barney Barnett, and the Archaeologists (June 1992).
There was nothing whatsoever about the crash of a flying saucer, or of him sharing such a story with friends or family. With the Barney Barnett story discredited, it was eliminated from the Roswell lore. Without alien bodies, there would have been no book to ignite the Roswell legend. Rather than scrap the aliens from the story, ufologists replaced it with other anecdotes that surfaced after the publication and promotion of the Roswell book.

Regardless of the frequent rewriting of the Roswell story, it picked up steam and eventually became not only the most famous saucer crash story, but the legend that to dominate the entire UFO franchise.   

Crashed Saucers and Pickled Aliens

George Earley was an aircraft engineer, a writer, a lecturer, a Fortean, and a prominent member of NICAP. As a strong advocate for the scientific study of UFOs, Earley felt the resurgence of the crashed saucer tales was a distraction from genuine research of the subject.

(reprinted in Cambridge UFO Research Group, June 1981)

His two-part article, “Crashed Saucers and Pickled Aliens” in Fate magazine, March and April 1981, examined the accounts, where they fell short, and the physical impossibility of some of the claims. The reported saucers were too large to be carried by plane or train, secretly or otherwise. What about trucks?

“Such saucers, assuming they were truck-mounted, would have required the removal of every roadside tree and telephone pole, plus many houses, stores and other buildings. After all, it wasn't until we built the interstate highways that our major traffic arteries stopped going directly through the heart of every city, town and hamlet. And don't forget those many one-lane country bridges.”

Earley consulted a former Navy physician who had extensive contacts throughout the medical fraternity, both civilian and military. The doctor was “unaware of any alien autopsy activity. When we consider the number of persons who would be involved in such activity, it seems improbable that a secret of this magnitude could be kept for as long as 30 years.” Based on his analysis of the shortcomings of the evidence and the impractical elements involved, Earley concluded the UFO crash-retrieval stories were bunk:

“I hold this negative view despite my firm conviction that the interplanetary-origin theory of UFOs deserves a far better hearing than it has received to date. But we do that theory a disservice if we base it on flimsy evidence and credulous acceptance of every attractive tale that comes along. ... As an investigator you are called upon to collect verifiable evidence.”

Instead, we keep getting spins on the same old saucer story.

. . .


For a look at other historic captured UFO Crash-Retrieval tales, see:

Captured UFOs and Building Hangar 18: A Chronology

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The First Flying Saucer Invasion Movie

The public’s fascination with the flying saucer mystery began with the media coverage of Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of nine UFOs on June 24, 1947. At the time, the notion taken most seriously was that flying saucers were technologically advanced aircraft, either developed by the USA in secret or from an enemy nation. The super-aircraft idea was not so far-fetched, and it had already been done in the movies.

Three World War II movie serials from Republic Pictures paved the way for the saucer invasion movie. Spy Smasher was released in April 1942 and featured an exotic Nazi aircraft in chapter 4, “Stratosphere Invaders.” (Link to synopsis.)

The special effects for Republic were made by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, and they built a life-sized prop and miniature for the villain’s aircraft. The Bat Plane was a silver blunt manta-shaped flying wing capable of near vertical takeoff and landings, but it was strictly of terrestrial origin.

Spy Smasher lived up to his name and managed to destroy the weapon by the chapter’s end, and the story moved on to other fights.

But the Bat Plane would fly again.

According to Republic serial historians, the full-size prop was remodeled for another serial released later the same year, King of the Mounties. Chapter one was titled, “Phantom Invaders,” with Canada under siege from unexplained explosions, soon revealed to come from bombs dropped by a silent silvery unidentified aircraft.

King of the Mounties, “Phantom Invaders” on YouTube

We learned it was the “Falcon,” a technologically advanced boomerang-shaped plane from Japan. It took 12 chapters, but Sgt. Dave King defeated the enemy spies. The Bat Plane would be seen again, but before that, there was an alien invasion.

The Purple Monster Strikes was a 1945 Republic movie serial, and it started with a UFO crash. It happened near where a scientist was developing an interplanetary “jet plane.” He rushed to investigate the crash and found the pilot had survived. It was a man from Mars who revealed, “We've watched the progress of your work and I've come to you for help... I’m very anxious to see the plans for your jet plane.”

On YouTube: The Purple Monster Strikes

The friendly act was dropped and “The Purple Monster" soon revealed he came to conquer Earth: “The invasion is only being delayed because of our inability to build ships who could land safely and return to Mars. Your plans have supplied that mean.” The Martian had the alien ability to kill then inhabit a body, and he used the scientist’s corpse as disguise to complete the spaceship plans. However, he’s discovered along the way. When he launched the ship for Mars our hero managed to use Mars’ technology against him to shoot it down. (Link to synopsis.)

That was the end of the Martian invasion – until…


The Coming of the Saucers

The notion that flying saucers were secret advanced aircraft was popular from the outset in 1947. As months and years went by without it being proven, the man-made idea began to lose some luster. Another early idea, primarily promoted by cranks, was that saucers were from Mars or another planet. In the meantime, the first few appearances of flying saucers in low budget movies depicted them as man-made secret weapons. Donald Keyhoe’s 1950 article and later book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, sold well enough to prove that the public would buy the idea of UFOs as spaceships from other planets.

Republic went to work, retooling some footage and gear from previous films. The Purple Monster’s costume was used for another Martian invader. An old prop was recycled for the first flying saucer from outer space in the motion pictures. It was a “semi-disc,” a bat-like wing like one Kenneth Arnold reported, or the one seen in the William Rhodes photos from 1947.

Menace from Mars

In Oct. 1950, Republic released Flying Disc Man from Mars, the first alien invasion "flying saucer" movie.

In chapter one, “Menace from Mars,” a UFO had been seen around the factory where scientist Dr. Bryant was working on an atomic-powered weapon, a “radar ray gun.” He told his security man, Kent Fowler, that someone was spying on the project.

“I know all this talk about flying saucers and discs sounds like hysterical illusions, yet every night I pick up that image at from 60 to 80,000 feet elevation then it descends vertically to 30,000 thousand feet and stays in the same place for an hour or more. Do you know of any plane that can do that?”

The heroic Kent Fowler took the gun on his plane and shot down the intruder. Dr. Bryant rushed to where the UFO crashed and he made contact with a survivor. Mota from Mars told him:

“Ever since you people started working with atomic power and explosives, we have been watching you closely. We keep large atomic-powered patrol ships permanently stationed just outside your field of gravity and we make our closer inspection in small flying discs such as the one I was flying when you had me shot down.”

The small saucer was a semi-disc, portrayed by the Bat Plane prop last seen in King of the Mounties.

Mars was worried by what we savages were doing. Mota said,

“With unlimited atomic weapons your people might easily end by destroying this world which would be fatal to the whole solar system including our own planet. So I am here to see that your world is put under the control of a supreme dictator of the universe.”

Dr. Bryant (who’d been a Nazi sympathizer) kept the secret and went along with the plan. He hired two henchmen and their little gang put things in motion for a management change for our planet. Mota built a replacement “semi-disc” craft and they relocated to an abandoned Martian base in a volcano.

Mota and the semi-disc

Chapter 3 ends with a scene reminiscent of the 1948 Thomas Mantell incident. Kent Fowler took his plane to chase Mota’s disc high into the air, but he lost consciousness from lack of oxygen. His engine failed and the plane crashed. This being a movie serial cliffhanger, he revived and bailed out just in time. Fowler went on to defeat the enemies in their volcanic lair, save the girl and even capture the Martian saucer. Unfortunately, it was damaged, but before it exploded, Kent and Helen bailed out just in time.

In the discussion afterwards, Kent mourned that all details on the Martian technology perished in the volcano. Helen said, “Well, it’s just as well. Those weapons were too dangerous anyway.” (Link to synopsis by Todd Gault)

There wasn’t much of an alien nature in the serial other than Mota’s Martian clothing and saucer. Mota never called for reinforcements from the large Martian “patrol ships permanently stationed” above the earth. We were never shown those, so maybe that was a bluff, not a plot hole. Story wise, things would have worked as well if Mota was a foreign conqueror with a super plane. Like a lot of movies, the most exciting part was the theatrical poster with its imaginative depiction of the Martian flying saucer invasion that never happened in the film.

Flying Disc Man from Mars on YouTube

The next year, feature-length motion pictures got into the UFO business, but Mota eventually flew again in a rerelease. In 1958, was edited down to a 75-minute movie, Missile Monsters to be a double-feature with Satan’s Satellites.

The trailer for
Missile Monsters advertised a UFO dogfight:

"For the first time on the screen, men battle a disc plane in the clouds. You'll be thrilled by this amazing, incredible prediction of things to come."

False advertising, by 1958 it was old hat. But in 1950, Flying Disc Man from Mars was ahead of all the rest in bringing aliens and UFOs together in the movies.

. . .

For a look at how the first popular depiction of aliens coming to prevent Earth’s atomic self-destruction, see our 5-part examination of the influential 1948 short story, “The Outer Limit” by Graham Doar:

Flying Saucers, the Atomic Bomb and Doomsday: The Outer Limit (Part 1 of 5)




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