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

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