Tuesday, May 22, 2018

PSI ‘74: Psychics and the UFO Witness from Pascagoula

In our last installment, UFO Promoter, Lawrence Brill: From Crime to Conferences, we saw how a convicted real estate swindler found a new calling as the promoter of a paranormal and UFO conferences.

The PSI in PSI Conferences was for Psychic, Spiritual and Intuition. Brill, with the help of rising psychic star, Bernadene Villanueva, they were able to gather an impressive roster for their first program, top talent ranging from psychic celebrities to scientists and best-selling authors. The conference was named PSI ’74 and events were held at the Hilton Hotel and the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Aug. 2, 3 and 4, 1974. The conference was heavily promoted through advertising and Villanueva’s media interviews.

Uni-Com Guide: Here and Now Aug. 1974 featured a cover and interview with Bernadene Villanueva, and a full-page ad for PSI ‘74

The two-day conference included psychic rap sessions, Mrs. Dixon’s speech “A Gift Of Prophecy” and psychic healings.

PSI ‘74 featured:

Jeane Dixon was the keynote speaker, “A Gift Of Prophecy”
Joseph DeLouise known for his predictions (Chicago)
Bernadene Villanueva (gave a demonstration of psychic healing)
Rev. Jean Page Bryant Tampa psychic, radio talk show host

Dr. J. Wilfred Hahn of the Mind Science Foundation (Laredo, TX)
Dr. Stanton Maxey (Stuart, FL) Acupuncture Expert, speaking “on the elimination of fatigue factor in pilots as a means of preventing airplane crashes.”

Jess Stearn, author of “Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Prophet”
Robert Prete, Astrologer and publisher of Rising Sign magazine (Los Angeles)
Tom Valentine, editor of The National Tattler
Robert Parker, New Awareness magazine founder

Perhaps to pad the show, Brill added some UFO content,

Charles Hickson (UFO witness)
“I was on a UFO”

The Pascagoula Abduction story of Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker is so famous, we won’t repeat it here, but for anyone needing a recap, here’s their own story from their hometown paper, Pascagoula’s The Mississippi Press, Oct. 13, 1973:
See larger version in the PSI '74 photo collection.

Most of the other guests did not have a strong UFO connection, but Page Bryant believed that UFOs had a connection to the Bermuda Triangle, and Jeane Dixon had made a high-profile prediction on the future of UFOs.

The Press Coverage
Jeane Dixon’s appearance grabbed most of the press attention, recounting several of her predictions, from the topic of UFOs to the fate of the U.S. President.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, Aug 5 1974
See larger version in the PSI '74 photo collection.
The Clearwater Sun August 5, 1974
"Dixon Fails To Spellbound" by Michael Bane
Ms. Dixon came to St. Petersburg at the behest of the promoters of PSI ‘74, an omnibus convention of almost anyone interested in the psychic world and psychic phenomena. Their playbill ran the gamut from authors and lecturers to UFOlogists to Ms. Dixon, the Saturday night headliner. The crowd was primed for revelations. Ms. Dixon had none to offer.
Questions from the audience gave “her a chance to run down her most recent predictions – UFOs would soon be in contact with the Earth, the President (Nixon) would remain in office and weather the impeachment storm, former vice-President Agnew is slated for a comeback in the United States is slated for a civil war before the end of the century, backed by “our country’s enemies.”

A Disclosure of Pascagoula Contact - of the Psychic Kind

In August, Reporter John Keasler wrote a multi-part article series on the PSI ’74 conference for the Thomasville Times. In addition to the lectures, there was a thriving section for merchants offering products and services:
Today I'll describe a psychic convention. You go with an open mind no pun meant, and your first impression could be oh - oh: Look out for the pitchmen, keep one hand on your wallet and don't play cards with strangers. The impression doesn't last very long, although there is an "ESP - testing machine" for sale at a booth in the corridor. It's simply a calculator in which you push buttons and try to match numbered lights you can't see, on the operators side. I don't think many were sold at $179.50. For 50 cents you can test your own psychic ability.
Charles Hickson of Pascagoula, Mississippi.
During the show, Keasler met UFO witness Charles Hickson, and found him to be the most credible person there. He interviewed Hickson about his Pascagoula abduction experiences, and Hickson told him that for months afterward he was terrified, but something had eased that.
“Yeah the fear’s gone now. It was bad for a while. I can’t tell you how bad.”
Keasler asked if it was because of the monstrous appearance of his abductors.
“That was bad enough, but something more than that. I couldn’t explain it to myself, at first. But it was that they were machines.”

When asked, Hickson said, “What made the fear go away? I can’t really tell you … just yet.”
Keasler backed off, but later returned to the topic. Hickson refused, so the reporter took a stab, guessing, “ Do you mean that you are being somehow contacted by space people?  Telepathically?”
Hickson, replied, “Yep.” But he wouldn’t say more about it. Discussing his abductors, Hickson said, “…what picked me and Calvin up was machines… operated by a mind somewhere else.”
Later, Kessler returned to the telepathic contact, asking, “When did your messages start?”
“About three months after they got us, or to put it this way, just about the same time my nightmares stopped.”
Keasler asked him if he was worried they would come back, but Hickson said, “I wouldn’t be afraid next time.”
“Because of the messages you’ve gotten?”
“I can’t say yet."
From UFO Contact at Pascagoula, 1983 book by Charles Hickson and William Mendez.
Two years later, Hickson recalled his close encounter with a famous psychic from the conference.
Valley News (Van Nuys, CA) June 27, 1976
"Man still marvels at ‘space things’" by Douglas R. Sease (UPI)
“I'm convinced to my satisfaction that they were robots controlled by a mother ship somewhere... I spoke with Jeane Dixon (a reputed Washington, D.C. psychic) about this and she fully believed me,” Hickson said. “She said they came from a planet that's just beyond Jupiter, one our astronomers think is there but they haven’t seen it since Jupiter is always between it and the earth."

When Prophecy Fails

Jeane Dixon and the psychics at PSI ‘74 failed to foresee the resignation of President Richard Nixon on August 8, 1974, just days after the conference. If the prediction of UFO disclosure and contact were to be fulfilled, it would be under the leadership of the newly inaugurated Gerald Ford as President of the United States.

PSI Expansion

In the weeks that followed, PSI Conferences produced some smaller events, a one-day event:

Saturday Aug 24
PSI Conferences 1 day only lecture at Tampa’s Admiral Benbow Inn.
(Day-long conference)
Fee $25 All Lectures & Banquet

and later, a 6-week class on

PSI Conferences Study Center Classes
Aug 27 - Oct 16 Weeks $25 10 - 12 AM
Psychic Development 
Introduction to Metaphysics Psychic Development
Instructor Page Bryant

These classes were partly to produce some income until the next PSI Conferences production...

Lawrence Brill and his PSI Conferences partners were taken by surprise that one of their minor acts at PSI ‘74 received a disproportionate amount of interest. Charles Hickson of the Pascagoula abduction had been a big hit, and it inspired them to put UFOs front and center for their second major event, the Flying Saucer Symposium in November of 1974.

Next up, the story of the epic

1974 Tampa Flying Saucer Symposium

For the STTF collection of more news articles on PSI ‘74, see this link.

Friday, May 18, 2018

UFO Promoter, Lawrence Brill: From Crime to Conferences

In our introduction, After the UFO Crash of 1969, we looked at how the closing of Project Blue Book seemed to cause a decrease in the public's interest in UFOs for several years, but in 1973 the topic made a big comeback and by the next year, UFOs were big business again.

In 1974, Lawrence Brill presented two UFO and paranormal conferences in Florida's Tampa Bay area featuring superstar guests; top talent, from experts and best-selling authors, to scientists and alien abductees. The events received major news coverage, but one lecturer made a stunning disclosure that overshadowed all the rest. A professor revealed that the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency directed the cover-up of UFOs, and that they possessed physical evidence of flying saucers and their occupants. It would change ufology forever. But, before we examine the story of conferences and the UFO evidence...

Who was Lawrence Brill, and how did he come to put on the show that made it all possible?

The Brill Family Business

The Morris J. Brill Agency ad from 1945.
Ready with financing help and sincere salesmen. 
1947 is known for the start of the flying saucer fever, but at that time, Lawrence Brill was a 23-year-old real estate salesman from Racine, Wisconsin. The Racine Journal Times from December 3, 1967, featured a retrospective that sets the stage:

20 Years Ago. December 3, 1947: A public hearing to determine whether Lawrence Brill should be granted a real estate brokers license was scheduled to be held in Racine by the Wisconsin Real Estate Brokers License Board. Brill formerly held a salesman‘s license and was employed by his father, Morris J. Brill. Licenses to the elder Brill and two of his salesman, George Brill and Herman Kaplan, were revoked Nov. 4 when the board found them guilty of “misrepresentation, untrustworthiness and improper dealing in real estate transactions.” The hearing was scheduled to determine Lawrence Brill’s trustworthiness to operate as a broker.

Brill's brokerage license was granted later that month, but with a stern warning:

“The board had a duty to treat Lawrence Brill as an individual and not penalize him for any misdeeds of his father, brother or brother-in-law. If the board was unable to connect Lawrence with any of the questionable cases investigated, then it had no alternative but to grant the license. But in granting the license the board warned that Lawrence must not be associated with any of the other three members of the former agency and any real estate transactions. This imposes a responsibility on Lawrence to make sure that he lives to up to the letter of the board regulations. The board and the people of Racine have a right to demand this, and doubtless will maintain a keen interest in seeing that it’s done.

- The Racine Journal Times, Dec. 22, 1947

Link to larger images of this and other Lawrence Brill articles.
In 1948, Lawrence took over the family business, renaming the real estate enterprise the “Lawrence Brill Agency.” What did not change was the family method of operation, and eventually the “misdeeds” came to a head. In 1954 Lawrence and his brother George Brill were among those arrested for a real estate scheme. The storm passed and they got back to business as usual, but it was a strong clue of what lay ahead. Lawrence managed to avoid getting his photo in the paper, and this picture of George is the closest we found to a picture of him anywhere.

Racine Sunday Bulletin, Oct. 24, 1954
The cards came tumbling down in 1967, with the legal proceedings following for several years. The two clippings that follow show how fraud and financial irregularities brought the Brill Agency down.

One of the biggest upheavals on Racine's commercial scene in many a year came with the collapse of the Lawrence Brill Agency's rental housing empire. Once the largest manager of rental housing in the city, controlling as many as 2,000 units, the Brill Agency folded in 1967 and went into bankruptcy, listed about $1 million in unsecured debts, $9 million in contingent debts and assets of $344,000. The bankruptcy proceedings are still in progress. In a related action, the state this year brought a variety of charges against brothers George and Lawrence Brill, who operated the agency as a partnership. The charges allege violations of Wisconsin securities law, theft and theft by fraud.
- The Racine Journal-Times, January 11, 1970:
"'60s Racine's Eating, Buying Habits"

Betty Flannery, former bookkeeper for the Lawrence Brill Real Estate agency testified in 1969 that, “by and far most of the properties lost money” in the year leading up to the bankruptcy, with losses running about $30,000 to $40,000 per month. “I told him five or six times that he was losing money but it was difficult for him to believe it because he planned things so carefully."

- The Racine Journal-Times, Feb. 17, 1969

Jumping ahead in the story, ultimately the Brill brothers were found guilty, but served no time or paid no penalty, only given five years probation. In 1974, they were ordered to repay 11 cents on the dollar for their bankruptcy debts.

Flight to Florida

In 1967, while the legal proceedings were just beginning, George and Lawrence Brill left Rancine and moved to Florida for a fresh start in Tampa. There, Lawrence Brill became a member in local social clubs and civic organizations, and his wife Nora (nicknamed Noni), took an active role in the Tampa arts community. The connections they made in these social circles would prove to be important later, when they were introduced to psychics.

Lawrence Brill reinvented himself as the president of Pandora Enterprises Inc., a company based in Tampa, both retailing and wholesaling hair pieces, wigs and fashion accessories. The company also operated under the names, Hair Goods, Inc., Wig Factory Inc. and reportedly, Palucha Enterprises. In a 1970 interview with The Tampa Tribune, Brill was asked about the rising popularity of synthetic wigs. Fake hair had caused his sales of human hair wigs to drop by 90 percent. Brill was no seer, but, “He predicts that within a year the demand for human hair will return if New York designers create styles that demand genuine hair for their execution.”

By 1974, Brill’s company had three retail stores under the name of Wig Wardrobe. In the registration, Brill’s wife Nora was named as vice president, and Cynthia B. Stanley was listed as the director. It was through friend and business partner, Cynthia Stanley, that the initial connection was made that would lead to the UFO and paranormal conferences. The story “Saucer Symposium Held” in Willoughby, Ohio’s The News-Herald, Nov 3 1974 by Joel Greenberg told how it all began:

The seed for this unlikely gathering was planted nine months ago in the mind of Cynthia Stanley, who works for Palucha’s three Wig Wardrobe Stores in Tampa. While driving around town last February, Ms. Stanley suddenly decided to stop at Halarion House a now-defunct spiritual church. There, psychics Ernest and Bernadine Villanueva “read my aura,” the electrical field that surrounds the head, she recalls. Ms. Stanley says she has now become an adequate “table-tapper” — she can induce spirits of dead persons to tap answers on a table (one tap for yes, two for no). At Palucha director Lawrence Brill’s home, where the Villanuevas psychically swung a 150-pound chandelier, got PSI (Psychic, Spiritual, Intuition) Conferences off the ground.

High Society

Lawrence Brill took on the role as director of PSI Conferences, and with the help of rising psychic star, Bernadene Villanueva, they were able to gather an impressive roster of celebrities for their first conference, PSI ’74. The Tampa Tribune, Aug 1, 1974, describes a social event held in honor of two of the starring psychics.
Tampa Tribune, Aug 1, 1974
The article also names one of Brill’s other PSI directors, Dr. Edwin L. Stover, the chairman of
the Humanities Department, St. Petersburg Junior College (who also played with the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony). A later article lists Bob Mims, as a PSI Conferences director, another contact that Brill seems to have made through the high society clubs he and his wife belonged to. Lawrence Brill was the voice of the organization, however, and it was run through the company he owned.

With the support of advertising and media coverage, Brill's PSI ’74 was ready to launch. It was held on Aug. 2, 3 and 4, 1974 in St. Petersburg, Florida, with events at the Hilton Inn and the Bayfront Center arena. Lawrence Brill's story continues in our coverage of PSI '74 and the epic UFO conference that followed it.

In our next chapter: The first PSI conference, and the unpredicted response to the UFO witness.

After the UFO Crash of 1969

The Dark Days after 1969

The flying saucer fever of 1947 created a big problem for the Government, and the United States Air Force was stuck with the job of handling it. The fact that there was an official investigation was exploited by believers (and opportunists) who insisted that if the USAF was spending time and money investigating UFOs, that must prove that flying saucers are real - and that they were hiding the evidence. Two decades later, the Air Force finally got out of the saucer business, as briefly stated in their UFO Fact Sheet:
From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated Unidentified Flying Objects under Project Blue Book. The project, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was terminated Dec. 17, 1969... The decision to discontinue UFO investigations was based on an evaluation of a report prepared by the University of Colorado entitled, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects;" a review of the University of Colorado's report by the National Academy of Sciences; previous UFO studies and Air Force experience investigating UFO reports... 
Following the closure of Project Blue Book, public interest in the UFO subject took a nosedive. 

Empty Space

UFOs and outer space were out of fashion in the entertainment industry as well. Paranormal, ESP and psychic topics were what the public was buying. Shows like Night Gallery and The Sixth Sense had memorable runs on television and in 1973, The Exorcist was the top grossing film of the year. Entertainment was coming out of period barren not of just UFOs, but of science fiction, at least of the outer space variety. In the movies, about the closest thing to space aliens was The Planet of the Apes movie series. On television, NBC’s Star Trek series had been cancelled back in 1969, but was popular in syndication and alive as a Saturday morning cartoon. On prime time, The Six Million Dollar Man was about as "far out" as TV got.

"Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man."

The Literary Front

There were a few important UFO books published in those days, some in response to the Condon Report that enabled the Air Force to shut down Blue Book. Dr. J. Allen Hynek and his 1972 book were profiled by Ian Ridpath in New Scientist,  May 17, 1973, “The man who spoke out on UFOs”:
He is highly critical of the report called The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, produced in 1969 by a University of Colorado team led by Dr Edward U. Condon and based on US Air Force Project Blue Book files. He has since written his own book, called The UFO Experience, which has been called "Hynek's version of what the Condon report should have been." The book is now in its fourth printing in the United States. 
In 1973, Major Donald E. Keyhoe, the man who had written the first non-fiction book on flying saucers, wrote his last, Aliens from Space. He also blasted the Condon Report, depicting it as part of the Government’s UFO cover-up policy. Keyhoe closed the book with a more optimistic note, proposing an ambitious plan to build a facility at a remote location that would attract extraterrestrial visitors, lure them into a landing where a peaceful close encounter would establish formal contact.

Flying saucers were out of fashion, though. About the closest related matter to the UFO topic that the public really cared about was the ancient astronauts theory as popularized in the Chariots of the Gods? book and its sequels. In 1974, Chariots was in it’s 27th printing and still on the bestseller lists. Publishers Weekly, describing the paperback of its second sequel.
“The Gold of the Gods" ($1.75, Putnam), the latest best seller by Erich von Daniken, is getting a cover stamped with gold metallic letters for its paperback edition — the first time that Bantam has used that process, usually reserved for deluxe editions of hardcover books... will have a first printing of 800,000 copies...

Putting UFOs Back in Business

In late 1973, UFOs made a big comeback in the press, jump-started by the media frenzy surrounding the alien abduction case on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, making 1974 a very good year for the UFO business. In Michael Rasmussen’s 1985 book, The UFO Literature: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, he describes the resurgence:
By 1973, a major new wave of sightings was developing in the U.S. and around the world, and public interest in UFOs again began to swell... By 1974, UFO-mania was again in full swing. Ralph and Judy Blum's Beyond Earth — Man's Contact with UFOs was a national bestseller, signaling the dawn of a new boom in commercial UFO literature. The Blums surveyed the recent history of UFOs, and summarized the sensational sightings of the year before, including the Pascagoula abduction claim of Calvin Parker and Charles Hickson.

At the end of 1974, NBC broadcast “UFOs: Do You Believe?” It was a one-hour special that featured UFO witnesses such as Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, experts such as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Jim & Coral Lorenzen of APRO, Stanton Friedman, and Walt Andrus of MUFON. The ratings broke records. UFOs were a viable commercial property once again, and there was an explosion in sightings, hoaxes, news coverage, and also an uptick in UFO lectures and conferences. It was a UFO Revival of sorts. 

In the special STTF series that follows, we’ll examine how a particular chain of events in 1974 changed UFO history. Chapter one begins with a paranormal conference in the Tampa Bay area by promoter Lawrence Brill.

UFO Promoter, Lawrence Brill: From Crime to Conferences

 . . .


Thanks and acknowledgements to those who provided support, materials, and background detail for this project.

Claude Falkstrom, my co-author, for his work in digging deeper and finding the stories behind the stories, particularly in the case of Lawrence Brill.

Martin Kottmeyer for reference materials from his own Hangar Minus One.

Isaac Koi, for his dedication to the preservation of UFO literature, which helped greatly in the research of this project.

Also, thanks to those who provided other details, materials and verification:
Lance Moody, Brad Sparks, Roger Glassel, Robert Sheaffer, and Rich Hoffman.

Friday, May 4, 2018

1954: If you haven't read it, it's still Saucer News

The Pittsburgh Press Dec 29, 1954 featured a story on President Eisenhower's position on flying saucers and included comments from several prominent ufologists of the day. Leonard Stringfield, James W. Moseley, Max Miller and Meade Layne gave their views on the saucer status quo.
Leonard Stringfield and James W. Moseley

Max Miller and Meade Layne

· Wed, Dec 29, 1954 – Page 17 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

For Further Reading

Although these pioneering ufologists are gone, much of their work has been archived by UFO historians

Leonard Stringfield’s CRIFO (Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects) published the newsletter Orbit, and several issues are hosted at CUFOS.

Meade Layne’s group BSRA (Borderlands Science Research Associates) published Round Robin, which can be found at the organizations site.

Max Miller’s FSI (Flying Saucers International) published Saucers, and issues are archived at AFU, the Archives for the Unexplained.

James W. Moseley published Nexus later renamed Saucer News, and the first 10 issues, 1954 - 1955 are hosted at CUFOS.

STTF salutes the above organizations for preserving and sharing this and other historic UFO literature. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Engineer Who Saw a Flying Saucer... Lecture

Today, it's hard to find a good UFO story in the news, but in the 1950s, almost any flying saucer tale was worth printing, even if it was only second-hand. The Syracuse Herald-Journal from Syracuse, New York, in their June 15, 1954 issue reported that one of their ex-citizens, Thomas Mercurio saw a flying saucer lecture. The speaker was a "mechanic, whose name he did not recall." Mercurio heard the incredible tale of the man's ride in a flying saucer, his meeting the occupants, and the first close encounter with a female spaceship captain. But the man's name? That, he forgot.

A bit short on the journalistic basics of "Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How," but a fascinating report:

Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 15, 1954

The investigative team here at The Saucers That Time Forgot has been able to identify Mr. Mercurio's mystery mechanic as experiencer Truman Bethurum, the author of Aboard A Flying Saucer, and the female spaceship commander as the lovely Aura Rhanes.

From "Saucer story flew for a time," by Josh Grossberg from the Daily Breeze:

Truman Bethurum from Redondo Beach captivated crowds in the 1950s with his tales of riding in a spaceship and its exotic occupants... And its captain, Aura Rhanes, promised to take Bethurum to visit Clarion in the near future...
Capt. Rhanes was a beautiful woman who had a "slender Latin-type face" and wore a radiant red skirt, black velvet short sleeve blouse and a black beret with red trim...
Coming at a time when flying saucer mania was riding high, Bethurum's tale of olive-skinned, black-haired aliens, quickly captured the nation's attention. He enthralled a capacity (and paying) audience at the aptly named Neptunian Club in Manhattan Beach and, within a few years, was on the lecture circuit, entertaining enthusiasts with tales of intergalactic visitors. He spoke to Lions Clubs, and appeared on radio and television programs. He was especially popular with the Unidentified Flying Object Club of Sacramento and visited them several times. And in 1954, he wrote a book, Aboard a Flying Saucer. Even today, his allure continues to resonate...
Captain Aura Rhanes

A 1954 newspaper advertising one of Bethurum's many lectures promoting his saucer story:

San Mateo Times July 17, 1954

Truman Bethurum died in 1969, but fortunately, fragments of his lectures has been preserved for the ages. He, Like George Adamski told of how the aliens wanted to bring peace to our planet. From the Long Beach Independent, September 28, 1954:
Scientists the United States are now prying into the secret of flying saucer power – “some kind of anti-magnetic or antigravity force “– but will not be able to gain this knowledge "until we all lose our desire to fight with each other," “Bethurum said. 
"As soon as the fighting is over between us and the Rooshians and the Arabs and the Egyptians and everybody else we will have the secrets." 
Thomas Mercurio may not have remembered Truman Bethurum's name, but the sensational saucer story he heard from him was unforgettable.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Saucer Scares, 1954: Real Things Seen in the Skies

There is no doubt that many balloons of all sorts contributed to reports of flying saucers. General Mills was launching scientific experiments since 1947, but weather balloons had been aloft in the skies since the 1890s. There were also balloons being flown by the US government of of a more secret sort. Before spy planes and satellites took over the job, balloons were used by military intelligence to collect data on our enemies, and even as a means to distribute propaganda leaflets.
Some of these balloon flights, covert or otherwise were reported by witnesses as unidentified flying objects.

The Times News (Idaho) ran a story on April 20, 1950:
Wyoming Ranch Hand Discovers- "Saucer" Unreal
Other papers used headlines for the same story such as: "Western Flying Disc Turns Out To Be A Balloon" and "Cowpuncher Finds 'Flying Saucer' Just Navy Balloon"
DOUGLAS. Wyo.. April 30 (UP)— A Wyoming cowpuncher thought he had latched onto a real flying saucer but learned the object was merely a balloon for measuring cosmic rays. Ranch Hand Everett Fletcher sighted the object In the sky 32 miles north of here and followed it to the ground. "It scared me," he said. "I thought it was an honest-Injun saucer.” Stamped on a nameplate was 'This scientific apparatus is the joint property of the US. Navy and the University of Minnesota.” A telephone call to Minneapolis  identified the ball as a  navy instrument apparently used for measuring cosmic rays."Don't open it," a navy officer warned. "Don't fool with the thing. Ship it here Immediately." The air force and other defense agencies have said repeatedly their investigations have found no evidence on the existence of so-called “flying saucers.” 

Saucer Scares: 1954

Holland Evening Sentinel, May 26, 1954 

Jefferson City, MO Daily Capital News June 2, 1954

 Mckinney Daily Courier Gazette June 3, 1954

The Army's Flying Saucers

The Yuma Sun July 3, 1954 carried a feature, "Test Weather Station Bureau Operates Around the Clock." As an aside, it mentioned that the Army  balloon launches were sometimes mistaken for flying saucers.

BALLOON OR FLYING SAUCER? — Many re­ports of flying saucers across the country have actually been these Army weather balloons, shown in closeup here with Pvt. Robert F. Kennedy (left) and Lt. John Schwartz. The two weathermen are inflating; the white six-foot rub­ber balloon which may go as high as 20 miles above the earth.  

READY TO FLY — All the  recording data goes up into the stratosphere in the little radio boxheld here by Pvt. John Schwartz (right). Pvt. Robert F. Kennedy and Sgt. Gerald Levy pre­pare to launch the balloon. (Meteorology photos: all U.S. Army photos by Pfc. Paul Caponigro).
Note: No, this was a different Robert F. Kennedy, not the politician, but the Army photographer Paul Caponigro became famous, when he turned to other subjects after leaving the service, and has made a success of it. https://pointlight.com.au/artists/paul-caponigro

THAR SHE BLOWS — Taking off on its 20-mile-high flight, the rubber weather balloon, filled with hydrogen, is released in the Research and Development area at Yuma Test Station. A radio transmitter hanging from the balloon keeps the ground crew informed of its where­abouts at all times.

Reports of Strange Craft from Outer Space 

Lowell Massachusetts had a population of 95,000 in 1954, and about 275 of their citizens made phone calls to the newspaper one August night to report an unidentified flying object.
Lowell, MA Lowell Sun, Aug 19, 1954
A voice of authority always helps to calm things down. Harry A. Bullis, General Mills' chairman of the board, was quoted to explain the strange things seen in the skies.

Bakersfield Californian Oct. 5, 1954

Cedar Rapids Gazette Oct. 17, 1954

As aerospace technology advanced,  the dependence on balloons for scientific experiments  diminished. Likewise, satellites and planes eventually eliminated the need for so many spy balloons. 
What happened to those who had so dutifully worked to construct these magnificent balloons? Some must have been assigned to other duties, but undoubtedly some were out of a job.
. . .

For further reading on balloons as UFOs, and the associated controversy, see: 
Exotic Balloons and the UFO Phenomenon – An Intertwined Puzzle by Joel Carpenter.

Forgotten Ufologist: Journalist James Phelan

  In the series, The Ufologists That Time Forgot , we focus on obscure figures in flying saucer history. The subject of this article is famo...