Thursday, November 9, 2023

Gremlins in the Flying Saucer Era

(For Part I, see: Before UFOlogy: Gremlinology)

Gremlins and Gremlinology, Part II:

Into the Flying Saucer Era

Little Green Men from Invasion of the Saucer Men, 1957

Before flying saucers, Gremlins dominated the talk of aerial phenomena. After the end of World War II, Gremlins were less often discussed but not completely forgotten. Thereafter, the term was most often used to describe an unexplained or mysterious problem or annoyance. One of the last contemporary references to Gremlins proper was in All Hands, June, 1947, a cheeky piece about which apparently was intended to be illustrated. It claimed a new sub-species of Gremlin had been discovered, one targeting experimental high-speed aircraft:

“One school of thought has suggested that these gremlins are some who, dismayed by human activities during World War II, donned space suits and helmets, left their former homes, and settled in the transonic regions to avoid all humanity. If this hypothesis is true, it assures that their battle against human interference in the transonic speeds will be bitter in the extreme.”

The Shaver Mystery had been introduced in 1945 in the pages of the fantasy and science fiction magazine Amazing Stories edited by Ray Palmer. The series by Richard Shaver purported to be non-fiction, with the premise that the ancient spacefaring Titans and Atlans abandoned earth, leaving behind their underground cities and machinery, also their rejected citizens, the “dero,” who took pleasure in destruction. Weeks before the flying saucers debuted, in the issue of Amazing Stories dated June 1947, Palmer disclosed that Gremlins were real:

“With the aid of such machines as the telaug (telepathic augmentor) and disintegrating rays…these dero took to tormenting surface people and thereby being the basis for all of our legends of cavern wights, little people, demons, ghosts and — during the war — gremlins. They cause many unexplained accidents, such as those train wrecks, plane crashes, cerebral hemmorhages, etc. which are otherwise unexplainable.”

1947 A.A. (After Arnold). When flying saucer fever hit, some newspaper stories discussed earlier phenomena, Forteana, 1890s airships, foo fighters, and ghost rockets. Where were the Gremlins? They were seldom mentioned at all. 

The Press Democrat, July 9, 1947, Santa Rosa, California, featured a satirical piece on UFOs, an interview with Honest John, “the only man who hasn't seen a ‘flying disc.’" Asked about his technique he said, “Why, I opened my eyes and looked at the skies." "Old-fashioned," one of the reporters murmured to the gremlin sitting on his shoulder. "He should have kept them shut."

Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News (Pasadena, CA), July 9, 1947, noted, “Now they claim that Saucers have been flying for years. Older than Gremlins, eh?”

The Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1947, featured a verse:

Silly Season Sophistries
Twinkle, twinkle, little disk!
Merrily you skim and frisk.
Be watchful, Gremlin crew,
Or the movies will shoot you.

“Gremlins in July” in the Holyoke Mass. Transcript-Telegram, July 7, 1947, speculated that flying saucers and Gremlins might have something in common:

“Early in the war the pilots and crews of the high-flying bombers up where it was cold could have their nerves assaulted by all sorts of atmospheric pranks, such as miniature lightnings and thunders. They would hear them tapping at their windows, or flashing by. They called the spirits they had drawn from the upper air ‘gremlins.’ Perhaps these luminous discs [flying saucers] are freaks of the air where man has been bothering things a good while now.”

"Flying Saucers Join the Flying Dutchman in Lore” by Nick Carter in The Buffalo News, July 19, 1947, dismissed saucers as nonsense along the lines of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play. It closed by asking:

 “And did you hear a flying saucer manned by six gremlins was carrying the Loch Ness Monster to meet the Cardiff Giant and the Silver Lake Serpent so that they can wait together for the end of the world?”

The Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1950, editorial

“One Royal Air Force veteran has suggested that the explanation for flying saucers lies in the gremlins. These were little men who upset pilots and made things go wrong with aircraft during the war. Sometimes they sat on the plane’s wing, where they wrought havoc. The bolder snuggled in right beside the pilot to distract him from his work. It is suggested that these gremlins have now learned to fly themselves. Hence the flying saucers.”

Little Men in Flying Saucers

After flying saucers became a sensation in 1947 Gremlins were seldom connected, but when Aztec-related crash-retrieval stories started circulating in 1950, “the little men” in the saucers were described in some newspaper accounts as “a gremlin type gent only 23 inches tall.”
The St. Petersburg Times, April 2, 1950, men "three feet tall, beardless with perfect teeth.

Aug. 21, 1955: Space goblins come to Christian County, Kentucky?

Space Ship's Little Men” was an editorial in The Lexington Herald, Aug. 25, 1955, which discussed how the little Kelly-Hopkinsville invaders were thought not to be "gremlins from the Kremlin," but “critters’ from another world.”

Foo Fighter Foolishness

In his Feb 21, 1952, letter to Air Force Intelligence, Albert Rosenthal, former fighter controller (USAAF 64th Fighter Wing) said:

“During the winter of 1944-45 I was a fighter controller with the 64th Fighter Wing supporting the 7th Army in France and Germany.  …We repeatedly received reports from the Beaufighter crews of similar phenomena, which they named 'foo-fighters.'  …We never did solve the problem of what they were.  Theories propounded included 'St Elmo's Fire' (a form of static electricity); German barrage balloons; meteors; and gremlins from the Black Forest nearby.  And of course we suspected the possibility of some new secret weapon."

This letter may have resulted in boneheaded confusion by Project Blue Book that Gremlins were another name for foo-fighters. Flying Saucers and the U. S. Air Force by Lawrence J Tacker, USAF, 1960:

“World War II and the Korean War gave us a few sightings of strange phenomena or unidentified objects in the sky from pilots flying at higher altitudes and speeds than man had attained up to that time. Our flying personnel jokingly referred to these strange objects or sightings as “foo fighters” or “gremlins.” The St. Elmo’s fire phenomena, or static electricity, was blamed at the time for most of these sightings.”

Decades later, Col. Robert Friend, Project Blue Book head from 1958 to 1963, repeated this view on the 1988 TV special, UFO Cover Up? Live. Discussing historical sightings, Col. Friend said, “During World War II our pilots saw what were called gremlins and foo fighters. These were fireballs that appeared to fly along with our aircraft.”

Gremlins as a Border to Reason

Confused by the conflicting claims of the Contactees, John Lythee, had a letter in the Summer 1955 issue of the UK magazine, Flying Saucer News. “If one accepts the Adamski story, shouldn’t one accept every saucer landing story? Giant men... green men... Monsters, gremlins - and probably even a few leprechauns... These things seem to be becoming a matter of faith.”

Flying Saucer News – Summer – 1955

Dr. Thornton Page (the astronomer most famous for his participation in the CIA’s Robertson Panel) criticized a report about a 1958 flying saucer sighting. (Quoted in The World of Flying Saucers, by Donald H. Menzel and Lyle G. Boyd, 1963.)

“As a scientist I am interested in unexplained phenomena… your fundamental error is in oversimplifying your explanations of complex natural phenomena by assuming a common cause without justification. If you say that everything you cannot understand is caused by gremlins, then gremlins are everywhere!"

Retconning Gremlins into Little Green Men

Lionel Beer gave a lecture for BUFORA on Feb. 27, 1965, on the topic of the Little Green Men from flying saucer reports. Saucer Forum vol. 3 no. 2, 1965 reported he discussed:

“…how in the folklore of many countries there were accounts very similar to the modern day ‘little men’ stories... He mentioned that RAF pilots in World War II would say that ‘the gremlins’ had been at their aircraft if anything went wrong with them, and wondered how the expression had originated. …could ‘gremlin’ be a corruption of ‘green thing’?”

Flying Saucer Review, July-Aug. 1970, contained “A Weird Case from the Past,” by Gordon Creighton, who suggested that creatures like Gremlins were a clue to understanding the phenomena, “reports about them must be collected and studied.”

John Keel also attempted to recast Gremlins into saucer-type Little Green Men. In Our Haunted Planet (Fawcett, 1971, p. 208) he presented an imaginative reinterpretation of World War II encounters.

“The press labeled them gremlins and the popular conclusion was that the crews were merely hallucinating because of the high altitude and thin atmosphere. Since then there have been thousands of little green men reports from all over the world. They are now an integral part of flying saucer lore.”

Ufology’s Lessons from the Gremlins

Here at STTF, we’ve run numerous articles on how the news industry exploited the topic of flying saucers and playfully spread almost any rumor to capitalize on the public’s interest. Seeing the headlines, it was a matter of days before businesses began offering saucer-themed products to cash in. But by looking at the treatment of the Gremlin story just a few years earlier, we see it had played out before, and perhaps it explains the whimsical, cynical, or dismissive tone taken by some of the reporters covering the topic. Self-appointed experts popped up and were featured in the press, telling all they knew and more to an eager public. It resulted in a teasing believe-it-or-not presentation that they were real, leading to their status as quasi-mythology. Before ufology, Gremlinology.

. . .


Thanks to Martin Kottmyer, author of the article “ETs With Teeth: The Gremlin Theory of UFOs” from UFO’s Alien Encounters, 2, #1 1995, pp. 28-34.

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