by Charles Cooke
The Unbelievers implacably don't believe--and the Believers implacably do believe--in the existence, or "reality," of certain famous movable bodies-namely the alluringly mysterious Unidentified Flying Objects, or Flying Saucers. These things (if you are a believer) or non-things (if you are an Unbeliever) have in recent years been reported in such waves, indeed blizzards, world-wide, that the Air Force's Project Blue Book, charged with the responsibility of recording, evaluating, and reporting on them to the public, has, to date, studied and explained (or left unexplained) over 10,000 reported sightings.
That statistic alone would indicate that something is going on up there, would it not? (I'm going to do my best to be objective in this article, and
Charles Cooke, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, was the founder and first editor of the Air Force's official intelligence publication, the "Air Intelligence Digest," published at the Pentagon, and later editor of the Far East Air Force's "FEAF Intelligence Roundup," published in Tokyo.
not fall into what lawyers call special pleading, despite my own orientation in the controversy.)
I'm a Believer.
I was not persuaded, or shoved into this position by any of the books listed in this article, convincing though they (with the exception of the last one in the list) are. My belief began in 1948 and has grown steadily, until today it is, as befits the faith of a True Believer, implacable.
In this article I am merely going to state my qualifications for writing it; review the listed books briefly from a certain special angle; then bring in some background material which has not , to my knowledge, been discussed very often in print before.
This background material was dug up by me as a labor of insatiable curiosity rather than of love, most of it during treasure hunts in the enormous archives of old magazine and newspaper issues at the Library of
Congress. The ever-obliging Library photostated the nuggets I found, and they are in my files.
In World War II, I was an intelligence officer serving first in England and then on the Continent with a bombardment group of the old B-26s, or "Martin Marauders". Discharged in 1946, I returned in 1948 to active duty at the Pentagon as the founder and first editor of the "Air Intelligence Digest," the official intelligence publication of the world-wide Air Force. Later in Tokyo, I became editor of the Far East Air Force's parallel publication, the "FEAF Intelligence Roundup."
The contents of these publications were classified, but their names were not. Not immodestly, but as part of my statement of qualifications, I mention that I received an official commendation for my work as editor of the Pentagon "Digest" from Gen. Charles P. Cabell, Director of Intelligence, U.S. Air Force, and later, for years, Vice Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency; and a Bronze Star citation for my work as editor of the Tokyo "Roundup" from Gen. Don Z. Zimmerman, Deputy for Intelligence, Far East Air Force.
From 1948 to 1952 at the Pentagon, and from 1952 to 1955 in Tokyo, my desk was one of several across which flowed "information copies" of the steady increasing stream of UFO sightings then being reported to the Air Force.
The responsibility for evaluating these reports, then and now, has belonged to a USAF unit located at the Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, whither Air Force business often took me. The unit was first called Project Sign, then Project Grudge, finally (and to this day) Project Blue Book.
Project Blue Book is mentioned everywhere you look nowadays, and I have found myself telling people; "I named it Project Blue Book." People, raising their eyebrows to varying levels of incredulity, reply: "Did you?" I reply: "I did." Sometimes I explain, some times I don't. The explanation is that the Pentagon, becoming understandably disenchanted with Project Grudge as a code name, asked in 1952 for suggestions for a new name, one without overtones."
I, as editor of the "Air Force Intelligence Digest," suggested Project Book, on the grounds--fuzzy thinking, perhaps--that "book" has so many overtones that it has, in effect, none. "Book" was well received, but got expanded "Upstairs" --at Joint Chief of Staff level-- to "blue book."
The code name Project Blue Book was thus born--and you have just read the whole truth about my modest participation. I was only its half-father.
Despite the fact that I had no UFO responsibilities, no one, in the USAF assembly line down which the reports passed, read and pondered them more absorbedly, more dedicated, than I.
I was especially interested in three aspects...
One: I duly noted the myriad "Explanations" given out by the Blue Book Staff--widely referred to as "The Little Boy Blues" or "The Little Blue
Boys" --of sightings which they evaluated as mistakenly identified stars, planets, comets, meteors, ionized clouds, airplanes, helicopters, balloons, auroral streamers, birds, reflected lights, mirages, marsh gas--or as illusions, delusions, hallucinations, psychic aberrations, hoaxes, publicity stunts, gags, pranks, etc.
Two: I noted that the hard core of "unexplained" sightings fluctuated from as high as 7 percent to as low as 2 percent -- but, significantly, never lower.
Three: I noted that the date of "the first reported UFO sighting" was given--and still is--seemingly thousands of times--in the press and even some official reports--as June 24, 1947, the date of the famous "Arnold sighting".
On that date Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot flying from Chehalis to Yakima in the state of Washington, reported seeing "nine saucer-like
things ...flying like geese in a diagonal, chain-like line and approaching Mt. Rainier." They "swerved in and out of the high peaks," according to Arnold, at a speed he estimated to be 1,200 miles an hour.
It is amazing how June 24, 1947, has remained stuck like a burr in the public mind as the hallowed UFO Natal Day.
Time magazine, in its March 3, 1952 issue, wrote: "The first ones reported [were] sighted near Mt. Rainier in 1947."
Life magazine, in its April 7, 1952, issue, wrote: "The shapes and the inscrutable portents of the flying disk first broke upon the skies of the world in 1947."
Although what is now the United States military establishment dates back to several years before there was a United States, Our military recordkeepers did not start keeping tabs on the UFO reports until, precisely, the year 1947. (See the statistical table on page 82 of "Flying Saucers and the U.S. Air Force: The Official Air Force Story." published in 1960, and note also the following flat statement on page 12 of the same book: "For all practical purposes, and for the purpose of this book, Air Force History relating to unidentified flying objects or flying saucers on Tuesday, June 24, 1947.")
In his startling new book, "Incident At Exeter," John G. Fuller, staff writer of the column, "Trade Winds," in the Saturday Review of Literature, refers to "the twenty-year history of the phenomenon's most yeasty occurrences."
And so it has gone and still goes... 1947 ... 1947 ... 1947...
Believers an Unbelievers alike, I think, should read Fuller's book, which reports, with depth of detail equal to that in Capote's "In Cold Blood," the September 3, 1965 sighting at Exeter, N. H., reported by a young man, Norman Muscarello, and two officers, Eugene Bertrand and David Hunt, of the Exeter police force, Mr. Fuller, microscopically studying this and other recent reported sightings in the area, interviewed some 60 down-to-earth, plainspoken New Englanders, recording their every word on 20 hours of tape.
Having been in beautiful Exeter many times when my son was in school there, I felt a special immediacy about the whole book.
I am unable to judge the validity of Fuller's strongly held and elaborately developed thesis that UFOs, attracted to, and given to following power lines, caused the Great Northeast Blackout a few months ago. How about judging that aspect of the book for yourselves?
I said I wouldn't try to proselytize, but--here I address the Unbelievers-would you read Fuller's book? Well, would you start it? (If you do, I think you will finish it)
While at it, would you consider reading Frank Edwards' equally new, equally detailed "Flying Saucers--Serious Business"?
And the why not get hold of "The UFO Evidence," a massive 200,000-word document published in 1964 by NICAP (The National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena) whose headquarters are in Washington, D.C.?
I'm only suggesting!
You won't find any of this reading dull. Take for one thing, the grimness of the war being waged between these passionate authors and the hard-pressed United States Air Force. A few blistering quotes will indicate how, in this controversy, each side regards the other as the Devil's Advocate:
"The Air Force has, in a very subtle manner, gone out its way to insult hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of respectable citizen's . . . pooh-poohing the serious reports of dozens of qualified pilots... playing dirty pool in relation to the citizenry. The UFO's greatest enemy is the U.S. Air Force... We are back again to NICAP's contention that the Air Force is, in the most simple and direct terms, lying. By the same token, of course, the Air Force is calling NICAP a liar."
"In August of 1965, when thousands of persons from the Dakotas to Mexico watched peculiar lighted formations hovering and maneuvering in the skies, the Air Force blandly informed the news services that all these witnesses, on the ground and in the air, had been watching nothing more unusual than four stars in the constellation Orion!"
"The U.S. Air Force is charged with the official investigation of UFOs, but has practiced an intolerable degree of secrecy, keeping the public in the dark about the amount and possible significance of UFO evidence."
"I [Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Tacker] state emphatically that the United State Air Force is not withholding information on this subject from the public."
Far from having begun in 1947, reported UFO sightings go way, way back.
They go back well over a century, as can be proven by the record. And they go back even to Biblical times, in some examples where the connection, although titillating when you get to pondering it, can only be speculative.
Time and Readers Digest have printed articles purportedly covering Pre1947, but Time mentioned only the celebrated "airship" reportedly seen by thousands of Americans from Oakland, Cal., to Chicago, in 1896-97 -- and Readers Digest reported only on sightings in 1913, 1904, 1897 (the same one mentioned by Time), 1882, and 1870. These references barely scratched the surface.
In the books under discussion in this article, the one by the Air Force disposes of Pre-1947 in 22 lines at the beginning of Chapter 2. "The History of the 'Saucers'."
Even the NICAP book, magnificently detailed in the Post-1947 reports listed in its Section XI, "The UFO Chronology," gives only a column and a half to Pre-1947, under the heading of "19th Century," "Early 20th Century," and "World War II 'Foo Fighter' Era."
Fuller's book doesn't touch on Pre-1947. I think he was well advised to omit this complex quadrant entirely. His hands and his mind and his tape recorder were busy enough with the investigations in depth of New England 1965 and 1966 reports which he resourcefully initiated, doggedly carried out, and brilliantly chronicled.
Edwards' book, however, gave me great joy in its attention to Pre-1947.
Following a forthright statement that "As a professional reporter, I am well aware of the importance of including... the very beginning of the story," he touches on, among other things, the rather well-known Biblical "references" and also brings in an extraordinary extract from the archaic "Book of Dzyan--A Chronicle of Ancient India" which, for all my spading in the field of Pre-1947, I had never heard of.
The Biblical "references" are, of course, to a "wheel in the middle of a wheel" in the "whirlwind [that] came out of the north" (Ezekiel)--taken by some students to mean a flying disk--and, in Zechariah, "Then I lifted up mine eyes and looked and beheld a flying roll... the length there of twenty cubits and the breadth ten cubits" --30 by 15 feet in our terminology--and equated by some to the familiar cigar-shaped objects described in thousands of modern reports.
If you have read thus far, please don't stop because of these references to "references" which, although unquestionably interesting, are dubious at best.
What follows is not legendary.
The earliest apparently firm Pre-1947 report turned up by my researchers was made on January 12, 1838, and was referred to briefly in the 1877 "Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science": "... a report that at Cherbourg, France, on 12 January 1838, was seen a luminous body, seemingly two-thirds the size of the moon. It seemed to rotate on an axis. Central to it there seemed to be a dark cavity."
The similarity of this earliest dated UFO report to many modern reported sightings is apparent.
The British magazine Nature, highly respected by the international scientific community, reported an unusually interesting sighting in its May 20, 1880, issue. The item on " a remarkable phenomenon observed at Kattenau, near Trakehnen (Germany)" described "an enormous number of luminous bodies" which rose from the horizon and passed in a horizontal direction east to west. They moved through space like a string of beads, and shone with a remarkably brilliant light.
In the May 25, 1893, issue of Nature appeared the tantalizing report on what students of UFO history call "The unknown lights of Japan." The article stated that "these globes altered in their formation... and ...took the form of a crescent or diamond, or hung, festoon-like, in a curved line."
M. Lincoln Schuster, of the publishing firm of Simon & Schuster, wrote, in his introduction to a book entitled "A Treasury of the World's Great Letters": "When any person has a soul-shaking experience, he usually can--and frequently does--write a letter about it."
A large percentage of the most amazing of the early reports were contained in startled and reputable journals as the London Times; Scientific American; Nature; American Meteorological Journal; U.S. and Canada Monthly Weather review; I'Astronomie; Astronimische Nachrichten; London Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science; The Observatory-Monthly Review of Astronomy, etc.
These letters prove, if they prove nothing else, that the witnesses were deeply moved and excited by what they saw--or thought they saw (There was no Project Blue Book in those days to patiently explain to them that '(1) they probably saw nothing and should stop being hysterical or (2) it was a weather balloon, a mirage, or marsh gas)
Why 19th Century UFO reports, in all their varied, strange, and sometimes wildly extravagant forms, should have poured in on the ultra-conservative Times of London ("The Thunderer") is a mystery as challenging as that of UFOs themselves.
The serious treatment accorded to these reports by the great Times is, however, gratifying to look back on, since, in the 1800s, these sightings must have seemed far more incredible than they do in today's age of supersonic flight, atomic fission and fusion, close-up photography of Mars, Venus fly-bys, and instrument landings on the Moon.
Here are some selected quotations from Pre-1947 UFO reports published in the Times of London:
1848. "There they shone with a bright flickering light until about 10 o'clock when they moved, making a slight curve westward. The speed with which they migrated was prodigious."
1859. "... a most extraordinary appearance in the sky this evening ...
has quite frightened the superstitious here. At 7:20, a brilliant
red light appeared to the south by east, about half-way between
the zenith and horizon ... its shape was oblong... in about 15
minutes it rose to the zenith."
1867. "This (to me) extraordinary object... floated steadily away,
northwest by north... threw no rays in any direction... and was in
my sight, from first to last, about three minutes."
1869. "A brilliant luminous body sailing slowly across the lake..."
1870. "A falling star would never have remained so long visible in the
The so-called "Auroral Beams of November 17, 1882," was the subject of a 20 page article in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. One the 26 observers of this amazing phenomenon was the Astronomer Royal.
It was described by various observers as "spindle-shaped," "a cigarship," "torpedo-like," "a weaver's shuttle," and "a ball of yellowish light, with a 'dark something' before the bar and a dark streak where it passed."
The compiler of the observations, Mr. J. Rand Capron, wrote: "A primary question is whether the 'beam' was really and truly part of an auroral display, or a 'meteor,' "meteoroid,' 'cometary body,' or something allied to any of these, in contra-distinction to an 'auroral beam'"
Commenting on the extraordinary article, The Observatory -- Monthly Review of Astronomy, spoke of the sighting as unusual and striking, not to say awe-inspiring,"
Unquestionably, the most famous and most baffling American Pre-1947 UFO report was of the "airship" which, first reported over Oakland, Cal., in November of 1896, finally appeared, according to thousands of observers, including many scientist, over Chicago.
The Oakland Tribune of November 23, 1896 led off its goggle-eyed story as follows:
"That a huge airship has been hovering over Oakland for the last few nights has, in the minds of many, been conclusively proven," The dispatch stated further: "The ship resembled a huge bird in its outline and seemed to rise and fall in its course."
The New York Herald printer a dispatch in its April 11, 1897, issue which, headlined "THAT AIRSHIP NOW AT CHICAGO," stated: "For weeks, reports have been coming in from various points between here and California regarding an airship... men of unquestioned veracity declare the moving object was an airship... some declare they saw two cigar-shaped objects and great wings. Chicago and her suburbs are intensely interested, and the subject is almost the sole topic of conversation."
The Oakland to Chicago odyssey of "that airship," or whatever it was is well-known to UFO researchers, but I pause here to call your attention to the remarkable statement sworn to by a Kansas farmer named Hamilton--Alexander Hamilton!-- of Leroy, Kan., on April 21, 1897, and attested to ("for truth and veracity we have never heard his word questioned"") by neighbors of his including the justice of the peace, the sheriff, the deputy sheriff, the deputy sheriff, the registrar of deeds, and other substantial citizens. Farmer Hamilton's sworn statement appears on pages 20, 21, and 22 of Mr. Edwards' book, "Flying Saucers--Serious Business." He states that he saw ("to my utter astonishment") that "an airship was slowly descending upon my cow lot.. until it was not more than 30 feet above the ground, and we came to within 50 yards of it... it consisted of a great cigar-shaped portion, possibly 300 feet long, with a carriage underneath..." Hamilton reported that the airship "turned a light directly upon us," then "turned on some unknown power" and rose, "slowly disappearing in the northwest."
Hamilton also reported that there were "hideous people" aboard the airship and that when it departed it took with it one of his heifers, which had been bound with "a cable... made of some red material fastened in a slipknot around her neck." I won't attempt to evaluate that part of the statement-- it is possible that under the stimulus of the sight of a literally unearthly marvel, both truth and hysteria-induced fiction might have been reported.
But I take full note-- and I call to my readers' attention--the facts that the Oakland Tribune article was dated November 23, 1896; the New York Herald article April 11, 1897; and Farmer Hamilton's statement April 21, 1997.
If these sightings were real, if in truth a "huge airship" of unknown origin and reported high mobility was in our skies, these sequential dates seem to me conclusive proof that Farmer Hamilton, of Leroy, Kan., saw the same unidentified flying object that had been reported over Oakland, Omaha and Chicago.
In, respectively, the March 1904 and July 1907 issues, the U.S. Weather Bureau's Monthly Weather Review printer two of the most mystifying and beguiling UFO reports on record.
The author of the 1904 reported ("Remarkable Meteors") was Lt. Frank H. Schofield of the U.S. Navy. He stated that he saw "three somewhat remarkable meteors" at 35 degrees 58 feet North--128 degrees 36 feet West, which "appeared near the Horizon and below the clouds, traveling in a group from northwest by north (true) directly toward the ship. ...As they approached the ship, they appeared to soar..."
(Author's note: To call meteors which travel in a group and soar "somewhat remarkable" was the understatement of the century
The 1907 report ("A Possible Case of Ball Lightning") was by William H. Alexander, the official weather forecaster of Burlington, Vt. He wrote about an "explosion so sudden, so unexpected, and so terrific that it startled practically the entire city of Burlington." He quoted Bishop John S. Michaud, who, at the same time of the incident, was standing in conversation with exGov. Woodbury if Vermont, at the corner of Church and College Streets. Readers who may already have concluded that the explosions was indeed either just a 'possible case of ball lightning," or a bolide (exploding meteor), should note what the weather expert quoted the Bishop as saying. After a reference to the "most unusual and terrific explosion," Bishop Michaud said:
"I observed a torpedo-shaped body some 300 feet away, stationary in appearance and suspended in the air about 50 feet above the tops of the buildings. Although stationary when first seen, this object soon began to move, rather slowly..."
I can't help wondering out loud what Project Blue Book's "explanation" of this report would have been. Marsh gas?
In his book, "Altai Himalaya," Nicholas Roerich-- painter, traveler, and mystic-- wrote that in Mongolia in 1927 he and his party saw something big and shiny reflecting the sun. like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp, it changed its direction from south to southwest. We even had time to take out field glasses and saw quite distinctly an oval form."
To Unbelievers who might ask, with a gentle smile, whether Roerich's oval object, sighted in the High Himalayas, was piloted by an Abominable Snowman, this Believer would reply, with a gentle smile: "I wonder, I wonder about the whole thing. And so, I think, do you."
The first basic question is: Has anybody really see anything? (I believe that many eyes have seen many marvels -- and that great marvels are still to be revealed.)
The next questions are: Are UFOs of terrestrial origin, and , if they are, who are what is putting them up there-- and for what purpose? Or are they of celestial origin, and, if so, are they interplanetary, even possibly interstellar-- and with what purpose?
My lifelong hobby of astronomy, together with what I consider to be overwhelming affirmative evidence, incline me toward the belief that UFOs are "real" and of celestial origin--interplanetary or interstellar.
In "The UFO Evidence," NICAP states in judicious, conservative language, its "support of the hypothesis that UFOs are under intelligent control, making plausible the notion that some of them might be of extraterrestrial origin."
NICAP also quotes, in the May-June 1966 issue of its publication, "The UFO Investigator." the stated position of one of the most highly qualified members of its board of Governors. Joseph Bryan III (Colonel, USAF, Retires), former Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force (1952-53) and former member of the staff of Gen. Lauris Norstad, then Supreme Allied Commander at NATO: "It is my opinion that the UFOs reported by competent observers are devices under intelligent control; that their speeds, maneuvers, and other technical evidence prove them superior to any aircraft or space devices now produced on earth; and that these UFOs are interplanetary devices systematically observing the earth, either manned or under remote control, or both."
Frank Edwards, an implacable believer, quotes, in his Flying Saucers-Serious Business," Dr. Walter Reidel, The German rocket expert ("I am convinced, that saucers have an out-of-world basis") and Dr. Herman Oberth ("Flying saucers come from distant worlds")
But the battle lines remain drawn in the war of the Unbelievers and the Believers. It is still a Donnybrook, with Armageddon not in sigh.
Are flying saucers real or unreal, fact or fantasy?
As of now, I don't know.
But one day we'll know.
The Story of Unidentified Flying Objects Over America Today. By John G. Fuller, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 251 pages. $5.95
By Frank Edwards. Lyle Stuart, Inc. 30 Illustrations. 319 pages. $5.95
Unidentified Flying Objects. Richard H. Hall, Editor. Published by The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) Washington, D.C. Drawings and charts. 184 pages. $5.
By Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Taker, U.S. Air Force. D. Van Nostrand Co. 10 illustrations. 164 pages $3.50