Thursday, January 9, 2020

The First UFO Documentary: The Flying Saucer Mystery

The Flying Saucer Mystery, 1950

Telenews Theater and advertisement 
Telenews Theater opened Sept. 1, 1939, in San Francisco, but instead of feature films, it was exclusively devoted to screening non-stop newsreel footage. With its success, they opened a chain of 13 theaters in major cities across the USA, and as Telenews Productions, Inc., began making their own newsreels. In late 1950, Telenews released a 9½ minute film made with Hoffberg Productions, Inc., The Flying Saucer Mystery.

Motion Picture Daily, Jan. 8, 1951

Oakland Tribune, Nov. 17, 1950, Detroit Free Press, Feb. 22, 1951

At the time it was made, the Air Force said it had disbanded “Project Saucer,” the government’s study of the UFO problem, but the problem hadn’t gone away. The short film did not try to cover the history of UFOs up to that point, just discussed the controversy that was underway. It does not mention Kenneth Arnold, but he can be seen among the pilots pictured in the July 1950 issue of Flying magazine, in the article "Flying Saucers — Fact or Fiction?" Another magazine article discussed was U.S. News & World Report, April 7, 1950, “Flying Saucers: The Real Story," an article that stated the UFOs were real aircraft, most likely, experimental craft developed by the U.S. Navy. In response to such claims, Navy admiral Calvin Bolster appears, making a statement denying the allegations.

See the sources section for links to these articles.

The film's main focus was on the best new evidence of 1950, the alleged first authentic photographs and motion picture film of flying saucers, the two snapshots by farmer Paul Trent, and the film shot by television cameraman Al Hixenbaugh. It also featured UFO witness, Arthur Weisberger of Tucson, Arizona, describing his sighting, apparently the only record of the event.

Trent, photos, Al Hixenbaugh film, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY June, 29, 1950
The credits for the production are apparently lost, but the film featured the following people discussing UFOs: 
  • Admiral Calvin Bolster, USN
  • Commander Robert McLaughlin, USN (quoted, but not shown)
  • Arthur Weisberger, witness
  • Sid Mautner, executive editor of International News Photos
  • Donald E. Keyhoe, author, “The Flying Saucers are Real”
The film was apparently only shown for a few months, and rotated among the Telenews Theaters across the nation. While many thousands of people must have seen it, it didn’t reach to millions at their homes like radio broadcasts and daily newspapers. Still, it was important.

The documentary was very much prompted by Donald Keyhoe’s work, and it’s fitting that they saved him as the final speaker. Admiral Bolster was an Annapolis classmate and friend of Keyhoe’s, and one of his military sources on flying saucers as well.

The Flying Saucer Mystery owes much to the controversy stirred up by Donald Keyhoe’s article in the Jan. 1950 issue of True magazine, and serves as a valuable document to the public’s evolving beliefs about UFOs. It addressed the popular notion promoted at the time that saucers were a secret weapon by the US military, and the statement by Navy Admiral Bolster can be taken as a gentle acknowledgment that flying saucers are real. The public’s attitude at the time seemed to be, that some of the saucer reports were true - and just maybe, the things came from outer space.

Some Notes on the Saucer Simulation

The flying saucer simulation that opens and closes the film was taken from the March 3, 1950 episode of the television show, “We the People,” where Commander Robert McLaughlin was a guest. McLaughlin was the author of an article in True magazine, titled “How Scientists Tracked a Flying Saucer.” In the story, he described the April 24, 1949 sighting by Professor Charles B. Moore, and theorized about the design and performance of the kind of  spaceship he thought it might be. It was an flattened oval shape, with a grid-like rear that housed it’s interplanetary propulsion system. The TV show made a faithful model, but then botched the job by having it spin through space like a lopsided pancake. Nevertheless, McLaughlin’s design became one of the most famous UFOs in history when it was used as the basis for Donald Keyhoe’s famous paperback cover.  

Thanks to Luis Taylor the UFO researcher behind Information Dispersal, who sent of scans of the flyer advertising the movie for exhibitors in the UK.

Below is the transcript for the 1950 documentary. 

Transcript: The Flying Saucer Mystery, 1950 

The Flying Saucer Mystery, 1950 on YouTube


The Flying Saucer: a twentieth-century mystery that cannot be ignored. The strange disks have been reported by hundreds of sober Americans since 1947. Just what did these see? Man has dreamt a flight of, conquering gravity from ancient times to the present. In imagination, he has travelled the skies in fantastic machines. Fifty years ago, this flying saucer was an illustration for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Are the flying saucers things of fantasy? 

Some say they're natural objects, meteors or bright stars transformed by imagination into discs of mystery. Others say the saucers are weather balloons, common enough in the sky and easily mistaken for a disk. These theories were checked when the Armed Forces investigated the flying saucers. Admiral Calvin Bolster of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics gives his conclusions. 

Admiral Calvin Bolster:
“These balloons might explain isolated cases of circular-shaped unidentified objects flying at altitudes, extreme altitudes that have been reported. However, I do not feel that these balloons explain the majority of the so-called flying saucer sightings that have appeared in the press.”

People saw something, something not a balloon, not a meteor, not a hallucination. Reliable witnesses have sighted them over nearly every major city, along our airlines over secret research areas. In True magazine, Commander Robert McLaughlin a Navy guided missiles expert told the flying saucers detected by radar over White Sands, New Mexico. Scientists were try rocket suddenly detected a saucer at 56 miles altitude over 100 feet in diameter. The disc was traveling at 1,800 miles per hour, rapidly out-ranged their instruments. But there had been time for precise accurate measurements, says McLaughlin, That saucer could not have been made on earth.”

Airline pilots with thousands of hours experience have reported saucers coming within a few hundred feet of their planes matching speed briefly and then darting off at supersonic speed leaving a glowing exhaust trail. Student pilot Arthur Weisberger reports on his experience. 

Arthur Weisberger:
“My name is Arthur Weisberger. On July 21st Tucson, Arizona, while out on my backyard, three shiny objects in the sky attracted my attention. I glanced up and there were three flying saucers in a V, approximately a half a mile away from me at an altitude of 350 feet. They appeared to be hovering in midair with that I believe to be a spinning action. The saucers stayed still for approximately 40 seconds, and then took off due north horizontally. From a dead stop, these saucers exceeded a rate of 500 miles an hour for approximately five seconds, still going horizontally due north towards the Santa Catalina Mountains. At the end of five seconds, they went at approximately 45 degrees straight, well, up. They exceeded a thousand miles an hour until they vanished from sight. They appeared to be 50 feet in diameter, with what appeared to be a dome on the top with, I can't be sure but, I believe I saw the sun glinting off of, well, windows or observation portholes of a sort.”

(3:50 Trent photos)
What people saw is reveal clearly by this remarkable International News photo, the first ever taken of a flying saucer. It's one of two pictures made early this year by farmer Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon. Enlarged, the photo reveals clearly the familiar disc shape. Trent was able to snap only two photos of the saucer. He estimates the size at about 20 or 30 feet, says that from a near hovering position when first seen, it accelerated rapidly and vanished from sight in no time at all. Note the control tower in the center referred to by Weisberger. This enlargement shows it to be vertical compared with the saucer’s angle of flight. Sid Mautner, executive editor of International News Photos comments on these unusual pictures. 

Sid Mautner:
“Our agency refused to release photographs of the purported flying saucer to the newspapers of the country until we could inspect the original negatives. We now have the the negatives in hand, and I can vouch for the fact that they have not been retouched or faked in any way, and that they are indeed actual photographs of a so-called flying saucer.”

(5:24 Al Hixenbaugh film)
Latest evidence in the saucer mystery are these exclusive motion picture films from Louisville, Kentucky, the first scenes ever made of a flying saucer. Note the white halo around the saucer, an effect reported by some observers. Slightly irregular in shape, the disk appears to be rotating and to possess a dancing motion against the background. A staff cameraman of TV station WHAS was on routine assignment when he heard a loud whooshing sound overhead. Looking up, he saw the saucer hovering in the sky. After two minutes the disc accelerated and vanished directly upwards. An investigation revealed no weather balloons aloft at the time.

Are the saucers a U.S. secret weapon? This is officially denied. Here, Admiral Bolster speaks for the Navy.

Admiral Calvin Bolster:
“In my position in the research and development organization of the Bureau of Aeronautics and of the Navy Department, I am thoroughly familiar with both our aircraft and our guided missiles programs, and can state without reservation that the Navy has no saucer-shaped aircraft or missile in any of these programs.”

(6:59 U.S. News & World Report cover: “Flying Saucers: The Real Story.”)
Many authoritative sources, including U.S. News & World Report, have declared otherwise. 
(7:11 Photo: Vought XF5U-1, the "Flying Flapjack)
These sources say the discs are jet craft developed from an experimental Navy fighter of 1945, but only one model of this plane ever flew, says the Navy. Some experts point out that only thirty years ago, rocket development was in this crude stage. (Clip of pocket sled crashing going off the rails and crashing.) In two decades, German scientists developed these primitive rockets into the fearsome V-2. No major improvement on the V-2 has been made public since the war, despite intensive research by U.S. engineers in cooperation with German rocket specialists. Are the saucers the secret descendants of the V-2?

(8:00 paperback, The Flying Saucers Are Real.)
The author of this book, Annapolis-trained ex-Marine, major Donald Keyhoe, says, the saucers are not from this earth, that they far off perform any craft that man can build today. 

Donald E. Keyhoe:
“After a one year’s investigation, I believe that the flying saucers seen by veteran airline and Air Force pilots are objects from another planet. The Air Force itself has officially admitted that flying saucers exist. This statement appears in Project Saucer case number 75. Not only that, the Air Force has officially analyzed the motives of possible visitors from space. Here is a direct quotation from the official report: 
‘Such a civilization might observe that on earth we now have atomic bombs and are fast developing rockets. In the past history of mankind, they should be alarmed. We should therefore expect at this time, above all, to behold such visitations.’”

(8:57 Saucer simulation clip)
Agreeing with Keyhoe is Commander McLaughlin. From his observations, “We the People” constructed this model of a flying saucer as it might appear in interplanetary space. 

(Clip of earth from high altitude.)
Are eyes from another world looking at this scene? A saucer’s eye view of our planet, filmed at a height of 57 miles. These scenes were made from a remote-controlled Army rocket, but today, visitors from space may be studying us from similar heights.
. . .

In the next STTF article, the story continues and we look how a new version of the film was created in response to the big UFO news of 1952.

For Further Information on the UFO Cases Featured

Commander Robert McLaughlin, USN and the White Sands, NM, sightings of 1949
"How Scientists Tracked A Flying Saucer," True magazine, 1950

U.S. News & World Report, April 7, 1950, “Flying Saucers: The Real Story"

Flying magazine, July 1950, "Flying Saucers — Fact or Fiction?" by Curtis Fuller

Arthur Weisberger, sighting, Tucson, Arizona,  July 21, 1950
Nothing Found

Paul Trent’s UFO photos:

Al Hixenbaugh’s UFO film from WHAS (Red flag: He was also a stage magician.)

A special thanks to Isaac Koi for his help in obtaining the transcripts of the two versions of this documentary. Isaac has been working to preserve and share UFO literature and history for many years, and has several projects underway with the AFU in Sweden. Check the AFU site for a wealth of rare UFO documents and literature.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The 1958 Biggleswade UFO: A Contribution to Science

Frank Arthur Russell worked in manufacturing for an engineering firm at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England. However, his fame came from the craft built in his back yard as a hobby. In the 1930s he made news was for making various things, from a model glider, a canoe to a houseboat. In the 1940s he built a one-man submarine to search for Atlantis.

The Bigglesworth Chronicle, May 5, 1939, 1949 submarine photo and caption.
In 1958 Frank Russell was in the news for having built a flying saucer. Russell began flying the saucer around the end of 1957. The flying saucer itself was small, made of aluminum foil stretched across a 4-foot wire frame. The otherworldly performance of the UFO was due to an elaborate series of illusions produced by stage magic techniques. The “rotation” of the craft was produced by lights on the end of a rod circling from a small battery-powered motor. Russell flew the saucer only on dark nights, in order to conceal the nylon line and surplus meteorological balloon from which it was suspended.

The saucer's performance was driven by a timer, which after four and a half minutes of spectacle would kill the lights, then launch a fireworks rocket. That produced the illusion that the saucer had shot off into space at great speed. Under cover of darkness, he’d reel the contraption in and hide it until the next flight. As Russell himself said, “it really looked very effective.” For six months the saucer flew and the town and investigators were persuaded that they were seeing something extraordinary - perhaps from another world.

The People, May 4, 1958
 Amateur UFO investigator John Whitworth had been tracking the saucer for months, but hearing that Russell made high-flying kites, he became suspicious. When accused, Russell confessed and grounded the saucer. The Daily Mail quoted Russell as saying, “I did this partly as a joke and partly as a contribution to science, to show how easily people could be hoaxed.”

The Daily Mail, May 27, 1958

The Daily Mail, May 28, 1958
Russell’s confession originally only named himself as the hoaxer, but he later admitted he had two accomplices, Jim Bates, and “Peter.” According to the story in The Daily News, January 4, 1959, “It’s Still a Gullible World” by Tom Allen, “Biggleswade officials were looking around for ideas to attract tourists. Russell put his idea to two friends, Jim Bates, 40, a member of the town council, and another man who still insists upon anonymity.” Allen wrote the town’s reaction to the faux spaceship, saying, “Scores of eyewitnesses saw the saucer. Space-age home guard patrols were established to be ready in case the Martians dropped in to visit.”

The Daily News, January 4, 1959
The Daily News story revealed that another hoax was in the works, “Russell himself is unrepentant. Winking roguishly, he recently confided, “I have something else up my sleeve. But I’m not telling what it is.”
Project F.A.R. team and the monument
Frank Russell passed away in 1991, but Bedfordshire rediscovered his exploits in 2018 and placed a monument there to remember him. The Project F.A.R. aerial balloon was also launched in his honor.

. . .

Sources and Further Reading

Central Bedfordshire Council Libraries posted several newspaper article clippings on Twitter about Frank Russell and his creations:

“Destination Atlantis” on Russell's submarine:

Russell’s story was the subject of a nationally syndicated 1958 editorial article, published in some papers as, “And a Woman Spoiled His Fun”:,665309&hl=en

The Daily News, January 4, 1959, “It’s Still a Gullible World” by Tom Allen:

The U.S. Air Force took notice of the Frank Russell case. While Project Blue Book did not have a proper file on the events, there is one document relating to the news coverage of it. The handwritten comment at the bottom of the document says,  “Very, very funny!” and is followed by remarks indicating the hoax had been responsible for 10 UFO sighting reports.

“New monument pays tribute to little known Biggleswade UFO hoax” by Dan Mountney:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tracing the UFO Mothership Connection

The term “mother ship” dates back to at least the 19th century to describe the home sailing ship from which the smaller boats were launched. The military adopted the concept and terminology, as  in a 1922 issue of Aviation magazine that quoted an officer describing plans to use an airship as a flying aircraft carrier: “Just as the aircraft of the Navy are cared for by a mother ship or airplane carrier, so must the Army craft be supplied from an aerial mother ship.”

Legendary science fiction author E. E. "Doc" Smith adopted the mother ship concept for interplanetary space ships in the pages of Amazing Stories around 1930.

Illustrations from E. E. Smith's Triplanetary, 1934

Where science fiction goes, flying saucers are sure to follow. Early July 1947 saw several “sightings of ‘companion ships’ associated with larger ‘mother discs,’ according to news stories cited in Alfred Loedding and The Great Flying Saucer Wave of 1947 by Michael D. Hall and Wendy A. Connors.

Project Blue Book files contain a report, “Appendix D,” from J. E. Lipp of RAND Corporation Missiles Division to Brigadier General Putt of the Air Force, dated December 13, 1948
“This present letter gives, in very general terms a description of the likelihood of a visit from other worlds as an engineering problem...” In discussing the propulsion of space ships, Lipp wrote:

“Two possibilities thus are presented. First, a number of space ships could have come as a group. This would only be done if full-dress contact were to be established. Second, numerous small craft might descend from a mother ship which coasts around the Earth in a satellite orbit. But this could mean that the smaller craft would have to be rockets of satellite performance, and to contain them the mother ship would have to be truly enormous.” See the file at  

Donald Keyhoe’s 1950 article in True magazine, Jan.1950 didn’t mention the term mother ship, but touched on the concept: “The sudden spurt of sightings in 1947 might indicate that we have attracted attention.... and that an orbiting satellite base has been established, or re-established after an absence.”

In“Hawthorne People All Saw Something; and Say It Must Have Been Flying Saucers!” from Nevada State Journal April 7, 1950,the story reported that “two of the strange aircraft made their appearance and performed for almost ten minutes high above the town.
“... Most observers expressed the belief that the ‘disc’ planes are radio-controlled because of the tremendous speed and maneuverability would make it almost impossible to have the operation directed by a human pilot. Carrying this theory farther, these observers expressed the belief that the conventional plane which appeared at the same time as the two unidentified objects could be a ‘mother’ ship for the smaller units or at least was associated in the radio control of the flight and maneuvers.”

Harmon W. Nichols, a staff correspondent for United Press, wrote a story about John Matthews, a sales manager for the A. O. Smith company and his thoughts on flying saucers. Matthews had built a few flying saucer models, and Nichols described him as a scientist. From the La Grande Observer June 28, 1950. Mathews thought the objects were vehicles under intelligent control, possibly from Mars from a larger space vehicle:

“People have seen what they thought were flying saucers in the sky, but none has ever landed. My theory is that they are brought down from one of the planets and dropped from a ‘mother’ plane. The up-pressure is so great that instead of falling where we can look at them they go back to the mother ship. Sounds silly, but that is what I think.”

United Press ran a news story carried in many papers on July 6, 1950 about John Keller of Dowagiac, Michigan, reporting that “he saw a low-flying air force C-54 launch a flying saucer.” Most versions ended with a mention that his two young sons also witnessed the event, but the Statesville Daily Record, carried two extra paragraphs with some speculation:

“This report would seem to bear out recently reported theory that the saucers were being launched from a mother ship. The observer expressed the opinion that the saucers never came to land because, in some way, they nullify gravity and thus can allow return to ship which they were launched. 

Keller’s report would appear to be the first of an eye-witness of such a launching. It would also appear to cast doubt on the theory the saucers are interplanetary vehicles.”

The UFO Experts Speak

In Donald Keyhoe’s 1950 book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, he mentioned the concept of a mother-ship, but in the terrestrial military sense, while discussing the possibility that saucers were controlled by the British, based on  captured German technology at the end of World War II:
“Some of the disk missiles were supposed to have been launched from a British island in the South Pacific; others came all the way from Australia. Still others were believed to have been launched by a mother ship stationed between the Galapagos Islands and Pitcairn.”

In the months after the book was released, Canadian scientist Wilbert Smith met and corresponded with Donald Keyhoe, later described in Keyhoe’s 1953 book, Flying Saucers from Outer Space. Of Smith’s saucer notions, Keyhoe said:
“Though he admitted it was pure speculation, Smith also had sketched his ideas of how discs could be berthed on the larger craft. Each mother ship could have small cup-shaped niches in its sides, into which the disc turrets would fit, with the rest of the saucers lying flat against the parent ship's side.”

In the bestselling (but later discredited) 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers, Frank Scully discussed the information he’d derived from Meade Layne’s Borderland Sciences Research Associates (BSRA):

“A widely circulated story that these saucers originated from a mother ship at least ten miles long and more than five hundred miles above our earth, a giant airship thought to be revolving around the earth at enormous speed, but slowing down even so, seemed to derive from Oahspe, according to borderland scientists. This is a book which described Etherians as ancestors of both the Chinese and Aryan races-originators of the Sanskrit language, but long removed as taxpayers on this earth.”
Is Another World Watching? was the US title for Gerald Heard’s The Riddle of the Flying Saucers published in the UK in 1950. Heard thought that a mother ship might be responsible for the tragic death of captain Thomas Mantell in 1948:

“This was a very mother of disks, and perhaps that poetic phrase may be quite near being an exact description — perhaps it was the mother ship in which the smaller craft, like dinghies hauled on board a schooner, can take refuge after their exploratory flights, as Noah's dove came back to rest in the Ark. It may have been anything between seven hundred and perhaps a thousand feet across.” 

Speaking of arks, perhaps the first melding of the mothership concept with saucers was in the comic book, Airboy #88, June 1951, which features a little-known UFO story, "The Great Plane From Nowhere!" The 13-page story is about a plane-shaped interplanetary spaces ship that carries a fleet of smaller saucer-shaped scout ships.

“Cool Weather Chills Flying Saucer Reports” from Product Engineering magazine, 1952:
“Another expert figures that the saucers are from outer space, visitors from another planet. In his opinion, they are guided missiles controlled from a mother space ship that operates in outer space— much like our idea of a satellite vehicle.”
In the movies, there was a mothership of sorts in the 1953 film The War of the Worlds adapted from H. G. Wells' novel. A meteor turns out to be the interplanetary delivery device for invading Martian war machines. In the photo below, the invaders rise from the crash site.

The 1953 book, Flying Saucers Have Landed by Desmond Leslie and George Adamski firmly established the mothership connection with UFOs. Leslie talks about information received from BSRA:

“Lastly, Meade Layne’s group gives a brief account of an immense torpedo-shaped carrier- craft, or mother-ship, a kind of interplanetary aircraft carrier which brings the smaller saucers through space, releasing them when it has entered the atmosphere. Its length they give as about 7,000 feet, with a crew of 2.000; figures which sound quite fantastic.”

In Adamski’s account of his talk with the man from Venus, he states that:

“I laughed with him, and then asked if he had come directly from Venus to Earth in that? 
He shook his head in the negative and made me understand that this craft had been brought into Earth’s atmosphere in a larger ship... So I asked if the large craft might be called a ‘Mother‘ ship? 
He seemed to understand the word ‘mother ‘for now his nod of affirmation was accompanied by an understanding smile." 

Donald Keyhoe’s 1953 book, Flying Saucers from Outer Space contained several passages discussing mother ships seriously besides Wilbert Smith’s comments:
“Mother ships, large rocket or ‘cigar-shaped’ machines usually reported at very high altitudes. Sizes estimated by trained observers, from 600 feet to more than 1,000 feet in length; some indications they may be much larger. Color, silvery. Speed recorded by radar, over 9,000 m.p.h., with visual estimates of more than 20,000. No violent maneuvers reported.”

George Adamski claimed to have photographed a Venusian mothership releasing saucers on March 5, 1951, but waited until the release of his 1955 book, Inside the Space Ships to disclose the images to the public. He also revealed an alien told him how their scout ships operated:

“These smaller craft are incapable of generating their own power to any great extent and make only relatively short trips from their carriers before returning for recharge. They are used for a kind of shuttle service between the large ships and any point of contact or observation, and are always dependent on full recharging from the power plant of the Mothership.” 

With George Adamski and Donald Keyhoe both supporting the same flying saucer concepts, the interplanetary mothership took its place in UFO canon. Stephen Spielberg found the idea interesting enough that he used the appearance of massive mothership UFO as the climax of his 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From there, the UFO mothership has become a cultural mainstay.

A few motherships from the music business

Thursday, November 7, 2019

UFO Canards Denied Place in Dustbin of History

There are always new people being drawn into the UFO field with little familiarity in the work that has gone before. Time and again, old thoroughly debunked UFO tales gets rediscovered by a careless or clueless researcher, becoming "news" in a never-ending cycle. 

A short clip from the Warner Brothers library, edited as commentary by Claude Falkstrom, "On ufology and progress."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

James A. Lee of the Interplanetary Space Patrol

James A. Lee (1900 -1979) is one of the ufologists that time forgot. When Lee is mentioned in UFO literature, it’s generally for his role in investigating the famous UFO case in Levelland, Texas. Even then, it’s often only in passing, as in these two books from key authors on the saucer subject:

Flying Saucers: Top Secret by Donald Keyhoe, 1960, chapter, November Crisis:
“The great ‘flap’ of 1957 began on November 2... It began near Levelland, Texas, on Highway 116. The cases described were confirmed for NICAP by Sheriff Weir Clem and NICAP member James Lee, exactly as they were reported to the Air Force.”

J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience A Scientific Inquiry, 1972, Footnote #6 to chapter 10, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

There is much more to the story of James A. Lee and his research, but only a fraction of it was documented, mostly through newspaper stories. Thanks to the work of STTF’s Claude Falkstrom, we've pieced together a clearer picture of Lee and his UFO work.

A Student of the Universe

James A. Lee was born near Abilene, Texas, and had an interest in science and the mysteries of the universe. In 1929 he began selling healthcare accessories, and in 1941 opened the the Lee Medical Supply Company, which sold hearing aids, “rubber household gloves, walking canes and many other items, Lee was also a life-long amateur short-wave radio operator, from 1924 on his “ham” radio to communicate with others as far away as Hawaii. 

James A. Lee, 1965
Lee was a member of the the Ancient and Mystic Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC). On their behalf, in 1933 Lee presented a copy of Rosicrucian Principles for the Home and Business to the local library to help spread the word. Lee’s studies over three decades of exotic books helped him develop a hypothesis for the origin of tornadoes in 1954. He was convinced that scientists were wrong about space being a vacuum, and that it was filled by Ether, the solvent of all matter. Tornadoes were leftover energy from God’s creation of the world: “When the earth was created, space or the ethers began to spin... this whirling element measured millions and millions of miles across. He went on to say that, “There is no such force as gravity... All things are forced to the earth by the vortex of ethers...” Therefore, when conditions were right, it was these whirling ethers that sometimes formed tornadoes. 

Lee’s radio hobby developed into a network in the early 1950s “composed of hams (amateur radio operators) throughout the Southwest who are interested in technical and scientific data. Hams from at least 42 cities and towns take part in the information-swapping sessions which start a 9 p.m. Mondays. Lee was the informal leader of the group which “ delved into science, UFOs, astronomy and other related subjects.” They originally called themselves “The Screwball Net” for several years, but around 1955 adopted a new name, “The Interplanetary Space Patrol.” 

Space and Saucers

Lee was a member of the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), the relatively conservative UFO organization headed by retired Major Donald Keyhoe, the man who popularized the hypothesis that: flying saucers were real, they came for outer space, and that the US government covered it up. Lee followed Keyhoe’s lead, and he spoke about publicly about the UFO topic, including it in his lecture for the Hardin–Simmons University’s Science Club, “A Study of the Universe” on March 1, 1957.

Saucers were just part of Lee’s interest in space, though. In March 1957, he was seeing to gather thirty volunteers  and $1,500 to establish a “Moonwatch station” in Abilene to monitor the planned US launch of earth satellites which were to begin launching in January 1958. The chairman of the Smithsonian Institute’s technical steering committee met with Lee in Abilene and added his support. Selection of volunteers began in April.

May took Lee back to the UFO business, and he travelled to George Van Tassel’s Interplanetary Spacecraft convention at Giant Rock in California. Contactee Howard Menger was one of the feature speakers, but James Lee wasn’t listening. According to the International News Service story published in The Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 5, 1957:
“James A. Lee of Abilene, Texas was cruising the desert area in his special car rigged with an ‘infrared beam’ detector designed to track spacecraft that may have been spying on the flying saucer meeting.” (More later about Lee’s “Space Wagon.”)

A Message from Space

The Soviets beat the US into space, and in October 4, James Lee was one of the ham radio operators listening to the transmitted beeps of the satellite Sputnik 1 as it orbited the earth. James A. Lee had a lecture on UFOs scheduled for Sunday Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. at the Terry County Amateur Radio Club at Brownfield, Texas. The night before, two space-related things happened. Sputnik 2 launched from Russia on November 3, 1957, and at almost the same time, one of the most famous UFO sightings occurred in the United States, in the Levelland, Texas area, just 29 miles away from where  Lee was to lecture.

Late in the evening of November 2, 1957, several independent reports of a giant lighted object were phoned into the office of Sheriff Weir Clem in Levelland, Texas. Some of the callers reported that their vehicle’s engines were stopped during the sighting, apparently electromagnetic interference. Here’s a link to summary of the Levelland case hosted at the NICAP site. It’s by J. Allen Hynek from his 1972 book, The UFO Experience, pages 123-128.

Levelland Video from WKY-TV:
Sheriff Weir Clem and witness Newell Wright interviewed

On hearing of the UFO sightings, Lee rushed to Levelland and shadowed Sheriff Clem as he questioned the witnesses. Lee was interviewed for the radio and newspapers, and stories appeared in nationally via news services. Lee made the bold assertion that the Levelland UFO “was a space craft from one of the neighboring planets.” Lee phoned in a report to NICAP, and the case was the lead story in their magazine, The UFO Investigator, Jan. 1958.

Loren Gross, in UFOs: A History: 1957: November 6th Supplemental Notes on Lee’s investigation:

“Unfortunately for Donald Keyhoe, the one NICAP investigator on the scene in Texas was a Mr. James Lee of Abilene. Lee was not the most objective UFO detective. Compounding the problem was the fact Lee headed his own UFO group, 'The Interplanetary Space Patrol,' a name which sounded like a TV show starring Captain Video. Lee was his own 'boss' thus hard to rein in. Statements on November 6th was more about "mass space ship" invasions then discussions of evidence, but while written documents by Lee may have to be treated with caution, it seems he and his fellow investigator Roger Bowen tape recorded interviews with Levelland witnesses, data of value if they are ever found in someone's attic today.”

The Ballinger UFO Investigation

Another UFO sighting in the area was discovered, one from Nov. 1, about 230 miles to the  southeast of Levelland. A big mysterious light had been seen over an oil rig in Ballinger, Texas, and once again, Lee traveled to investigate. Loren Gross' UFOs: A History: 1957: November 7th-12th  provides clippings and commentary on the Ballinger UFO investigation.

“NICAP's James Lee rolled into Ballinger, Texas, on the 8th of November to gather more data. It was hard to miss Lee when he came to town. He drove a 1949 Cadillac with special control panel just above the dashboard. The panel was filled with gadgets, dials, and all sorts of controls. Lee nicknamed the vehicle the "Space Wagon." The controls were for more than just show. Lee had a complex short-wave radio transmitter in his car so he could communicate with other ham operators.
Lee had plenty of opinions about UFOs but that didn’t mean he was speaking with Keyhoe's blessing.” 

A prime example of Lee speaking his opinions without NICAP's blessing from The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 9, 1957:

James A. Lee... whose hobby is the study of flying saucers makes these assertions he says are based on interviews with various witnesses of the saucer occurrences: 

1. That "there is a probability something big will happen this month," as "indicated" by messages received from the unidentified flying objects by certain U.S. residents. 

2. "Beings" in the saucers have learned English and their voices exist on recorded tapes in this country. 

3. Saucers must be from other planets, possibly Mars or Venus, and the smaller saucers ostensibly sighted on earth are remotely-controlled by mother ships. 

4. The Pentagon in Washington was deliberately “buzzed” by saucers several years ago.

The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 9, 1957

The Final Years

For some reason, by 1958 James Lee’s enthusiasm for the Moonwatch project died. He said, “I don’t think such a station is necessary now. You can see these satellites without using complicated equipment. Lee also had a negative opinion of rockets for space travel, saying, “They’re not practical for space travel.” He thought solar or magnetic powered flight was the way to go.

The Abilene Reporter-News, Feb. 2, 1958
Lee continued to lecture, speaking about astronomy, outer space, and sometimes, saucers. He continued to be a member of NICAP and responded to their 1961 request for ham radio operators to attempt the creation of a national “UFO Network,” similar to the one he ran in  Texas.

NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, July-Aug. 1961
The Abilene Reporter-News, Jan. 1, 1965

Lee continued to be a UFO proponent, but was less active publicly. Due to health problems, Lee retired from his medical supply business in 1969. He died ten years later on September 5, 1979.

The July 7, 1965, Abilene Reporter-News  contained a letter to the editor by Lee replying to a news story containing authorities' prosaic explanations for flying saucers. James A. Lee's last known comments on UFOs blasted the skeptics. “Weather balloons? How ridiculous can intelligent people be?

The Abilene Reporter-News, July 7, 1965

. . .

Sources, Clippings and Further Information

The most detailed news story on James A. Lee and his UFO work appeared in The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 6, 1957. The complete text follows.

Did Abilenian's Talk Bring Levelland ‘Saucer’? 

By Warren Burkett, Reporter-News Staff Writer 

The "dateline" is Abilene, Texas, November 6, 1957. 
Here is the statement: 

"We are referring to the statement of Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard College Observatory. His remarks to the effect that the Texas 'Bright Lights' are nothing more than a mirage is, to say the least, ridiculous and not based on known facts. 
"The days of the skeptics are numbered and they had better find a good place to hide away, for even the entire population of our large cities will see these ships as they come in from outer space. They will soon come in large numbers for all to see, and the skeptics will not have a leg left to stand on.
"There is no need for alarm over the situation at this time." 

This statement, given Wednesday morning to one of the nation's news wire services, is signed: "Jim Lee, Director, Interplanetary Space Patrol."
Jim Lee, director, Interplanetary Space Patrol is James Lee of 1834 Bellinger St. in Abilene. He is a 57-year-old businessman, tall and grey-haired. He was born in the tiny community of Hodges about 15 miles north of Abilene. He is married and has two sons, went as far as the 10th grade in Hodges school, buys and reads every book published by Harvard University, talks about his family with loving pride, studies until midnight every night and sleeps beneath one of the largest headboard bookcases in existence reaching almost to the wall on either side of his bed. 

He builds amateur radio sets and helped a blind man build and operate his own radio set and provides him with recorded tapes from the books in Lee's library He speaks in a calm reasonable fashion things. about the doggondest things.

He's currently in the news from Boston. Mass, to California be cause of the mysterious lights which were seen Saturday night and Sunday morning near Levelland, Tex. By 5 p.m. Sunday,  Lee accompanied by blind Roger Bowen, 38, of Hodges, reached Levelland. There they interviewed all who had seen the lights, felt their effects and speculated on what they saw. 

Lee is convinced these Levelland lights are a space ship from another planet. He notes that the glowing object was seen on four roads around Levelland. And being seen was the purpose of the visit from these interplanetary visitors, says Lee. 
Lee says these aerial phenomena are often seen where Lee and others who believe like himself are scheduled to speak on 1. "unidentified flying objects," 2. visitors from outer space and 3. un known beings who direct the operation of the "lights in the sky" with a plan and a purpose. 

Why should these "beings" make the "lights" appear near where they are to be discussed? "It's a mailer of conditioning the minds of the people," Lee says. "Remember," he declared, "I don't buy all these stories. That's the problem, we get took in quite often." But, says Lee, where there are qualified observers such as newsmen, law enforcement officers or reports confirmed by ship or airplane radar, he believes. 

Why did the lights appear Saturday and Sunday? Lee was scheduled to deliver his illustrated lecture on "unidentified flying objects" to the Terry County Amateur Radio Club at Brownfield, 29 miles south of Levelland. Why did the "space ships" appear at Levelland instead of Brownfield? Lee says the roads are more traveled around Levelland, and the "lights" would be seen by more people. 
And Lee's free lecture in this tiny radio club shack at Brownfield was delivered at 2 p.m. that Sunday afternoon, complete with his forecast that more of the objects would be sighted. About 150 persons heard him, Lee says. 

Lee has been called by more than a dozen radio stations scattered all across the United States since he returned from Levelland, equipped with tape-recorded statements from the people who saw the lights. 
"I can tell you it takes guts to say these things," Lee declares, "I'm hubbing up against the big shots now." He's contradicted statements from engineers and scientists including Dr. Donald H. Menzel, director of the Harvard College Observatory, a man big in Lee's own field of self-study for 20 years, astronomy. And that's about the same length of time he's been fascinated by the thoughts of space travel.

If Lee's contention that the mysterious lights are being used to condition the people of the world to the appearance of things from outer space, Abilene may see the lights next Monday night. That's the next meeting date for the Interplanetary Space Patrol, a group of 100 amateur radio operators who tune together around the world each Monday night at 9 p.m. and talk about space visitors. This Monday is the night when Lee's special guest will be Ray Stanford of Corpus Christi, a 19-year-old man who spotted a "flying saucer" on Padre Island, off Texas' Gulf Coast, in 1954. 

. . .


Interplanetary Space Patrol newsletter from late 1957, thanks to the AFU.

The Project Blue Book file on the Levelland case makes no direct mention of James A. Lee, but it contains several news clippings featuring his investigation and opinions on the sighting.

Kook Science Research Hatch: James A. Lee (a short profile)

The Interplanetary Space Patrol (newspaper article)
The Brownfield News, Nov. 10, 1957:
“Interplanetary Space Patrol Holds a Unique Interest for Local ‘Hams’” by Charlie Maple

NICAP PDF collection of Levelland UFO clippings:

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

Dr. J. Allen Hynek on UFO literature (in  The Edge of Reality , 1975): “If I were to recommend anything in the popular category, I would cho...