The first reported sighting of a flying saucer was in the state of Washington in late June 1947. In less than two weeks reports were pouring in, including from our area. I looked at a sampling of local newspapers on microfilm and at newspapers.com, both accessible at the York County History Center Library/Archives. By the 1970s flying saucers, now called UFOs, were part of the popular culture, appearing in motion pictures and being used to sell things from sandwiches to automobiles.
You don’t see much press coverage of sightings these days, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t reported. Just a few weeks ago, while I was researching this column, Fox News cited a report on the 25 top United States cities for sightings from 2001-2015. Philadelphia was 17th on the list with 338. It makes you wonder that, if there are so many urban sightings with their light pollution, how many unexplained flying objects might be visible in more rural areas.
A surprising number of the few people I have discussed this with so far have related their own experience, or that of a friend or relative, with seeing something unexplainable in the sky. Do you have a story? If so, please share by emailing me at email@example.com. No names will be used. I’ll share my own (second-hand) story too. Here is the column:
Flying saucers, anyone?
Seventy years ago, on June 24, 1947, Idaho pilot Kenneth Arnold, flying near Mount Rainier, Washington, reportedly saw a formation of nine “circular-type” objects, each about 50 feet wide, flying at what he estimated was 1,700 miles per hour. The Air Force scorned Arnold’s story in several reports. Up until his death in 1984 Arnold never wavered in what he saw.
News of the sighting quickly spread; in less than two weeks sightings were reported in 41 states. One of the first locally was described in the July 8 Hanover Sun. G. W. Nicholson told the paper that about 7:30 two evenings before, he was seated on his porch at Irishtown, near Hanover. He saw “a luminous object speeding across the sky.” He called his wife, three sons and aunt to witness the phenomena. He stood by his story, even though he was already being kidded.
Divergent opinions were coming in as fast as sightings. An Army public relations officer explained at length that an object found at Roswell, New Mexico was an Air Force weather balloon. At the same time other Army weather experts did not think that the “scores of reports of flying discs” could all be attributed to balloons.
Later that week a couple reported seeing a group of “enormous” saucers flying about 18 feet above the ground near Day’s Mill. They quickly left when “three dropped nearby.” Two Stewartstown men saw eight objects flying in formation near Conowingo dam, standing still or disappearing high into the clouds. One summer night two York men saw two objects 15 feet in diameter. Many described spinning oblong or round objects with lights switching on and off.
Accounts continued strongly, along with mixed messages from officials. An aide to President Truman ridiculed flying saucers as secret U.S. weapons. He said if they were secret weapons, the president would know, and he didn’t. This was probably prompted by a U.S. News and World Report article saying evidence showed flying saucers might stem from experimental U.S. aircraft developed a decade before, with a photo showing a 1/3 model in a wind tunnel at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley, Virginia.
Even My Weekly Reader, read by elementary children in every state, took a stand with an article saying the government had proved some flying saucers were imaginary, but now admitted some are real, belonging to the Air Force. Eleanor Johnson, founder and former Yorker, said the story was included to reassure children that flying saucers were not from other planets or enemy weapons.
Air Force denials continued. The Evening Sun carried an AP wire photo of Major General John A. Samford, director of Air Force intelligence, pointing his finger for emphasis as he declared that a six-year study showed no pattern that the sightings meant “anything remotely consistent with any menace to the United States.” The story, however, mentions just that past weekend unidentified objects were spotted on radar screens at Washington National airport.
By the mid-fifties, flying saucers were part of everyday life. York auto dealer Ammon R. Smith’s ad included several men looking at a spacecraft, declaring that another dealer offered $400 trade-in for a flying saucer, but Smith gave better service. Civic clubs heard talks by a local banker and a college swimming coach on flying saucers. Clearview Pizza Villa in Hanover included a “Flying Saucer” on their menu, with Italian ham, Italian cheese, onions and sauce roasted on a [presumably round] roll. The Gazette and Daily printed a cutout flying saucer on the Junior Editor page, with instructions on how to make it fly by tossing it in the air. Movies, such as Earth vs. Flying Saucers, were popular.
Reports continued in the 1960s and 1970s. Now they were called UFOs. As in the past, most of the witnesses were so sure they had seen something so extraordinary that they readily allowed publication of their names.
An elongated dark red object, described as three times the size of a full moon at the horizon was seen near Muddy Creek Forks. A Mt. Wolf woman watched a UFO for over an hour out her kitchen window. In October 1973 a Locust Grove (Windsor Township) woman became “a true believer” after she and a score of neighbors watched a hovering object flash alternating red and green lights for over three hours. Local police checked out this and another sighting, but declined to comment. A boy from Delroy, a few miles down the East Prospect road from Locust Grove, had called the York Daily Record earlier to report that he and his friends saw five UFOs in the area.
Programs continued to be offered. Bob Barry, Director of the 20th Century UFO Bureau of Collingswood, New Jersey, founded by conservative preacher Carl McIntire, showed his films and slides at York County venues, such as Calvary Bible Church at East Prospect and a Windsor Manor PTA meeting.
In April 1974, the York Daily Record carried controversial prize-winning journalist Jack Anderson’s column claiming he had obtained a CIA report that came out of “secret high-level meetings on potential dangers from flying saucers as far back as 1953.” It said that many thought the earth might be visited by extra-terrestrials, but there was “no evidence of a direct threat of national security from flying saucers.” Anderson related that the CIA discussed using radio and television star Arthur Godfrey, as well as Walt Disney’s cartoons, to calm the public’s UFO fears.
In July 1977, Ammon R. Smith’s automobile ads once again featured a flying saucer. This time it invited the public to stop by for a free mini Frisbee and take a look at larger vehicles while they were there.
I only researched UFOs in local papers until 1977, but internet searches show reports from Pennsylvania are still coming in strong today. What is your UFO story?