July 14, 1947
Something rushed up into the sky and out of the grayness, rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly and vanished again into the gray mystery of the night.
— H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds
The first man to report seeing them was Kenneth Arnold, of Boise, Idaho. Arnold, a businessman, was flying near Washington's Mt. Rainier when nine saucerlike objects, noiseless and sunbright, came streaking over the Cascades at "1,200 miles an hour in formation, like the tail of a kite." Arnold said later: "I don't believe it, but I saw it."
Newspapers spread the story. Scientists put it down to spots before the eyes. Then other reports began to come in.
Stovepipes; Washtubs. In Seattle, 15 persons in one day called the papers to report having seen "flying saucers." Two Portland deputy sheriffs spotted "20 in a line going like hell to the west." A Spokane woman saw five fluttering "washtubs," each "about the size of a five-room house." A Seattle coast guardsman took a picture of a "saucer" at dusk. The picture showed a pinpoint of light. A policeman saw a lone saucer skimming high over San Francisco Bay. From people in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and 29 other states and Canada, reports came in.
Near Ottawa, something that looked like a white-hot stovepipe flashed wickedly over the heads of three men in a boat, they said. Other Canadians saw flying teacups. J. William Sheets of Seattle announced quietly: "They come through our yard all the time." E. E. Unger, meteorologist in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau at Louisville, Ky., reported a strange orange light rolling across the southern night. Idaho's Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Whitehead saw a whole flock of broody bright objects sitting motionless in the midday sky. A woman in Texas saw a disk "as big as a washtub" dive, then shoot violently upward. In New Mexico, a man chased a falling disk up a canyon, found it was a five-by-eight-foot piece of tinfoil.
V.F.W. National Commander in Chief Louis E. Starr wired Washington and demanded a full and immediate explanation. When he got no answer, he announced: "Too little is being told to the people of this country."
But most sensible people were inclined to laugh it all off. Scientists and aviation officials, to whom the mystified U.S. turned for an explanation, were sure that the whole thing was nothing more than "mass hysteria." Englishmen began to compare the "flying saucers" to Scotland's Loch Ness monster.
Then, one day last week, veteran Pilot E. J. Smith took United Air Lines flight No. 105 from Boise to Portland. His report:
"My copilot, Ralph Stevens, also of Seattle, was in control shortly after we got into the air. Suddenly he switched on the landing lights. He said he thought he saw an aircraft approaching us headon. I noticed the objects then for the first time. We saw four or five 'somethings.' One was larger than the rest and, for the most part, kept off the right of the other three or four Similar, but smaller, objects.
"Since we were flying northwest—roughly into the sunset—we saw whatever they were in at least partial light. We saw them clearly. We followed them in a northwesterly direction for about 45 miles. Finally the objects disappeared in a burst of speed. We were unable to tell whether they outsped us or disintegrated. We never were able to catch them in our DC-3. Our air speed at the time was 185 miles per hour.
"Because we were following the objects at roughly the same altitude, we can't say anything about their shape except that they were thin and were smooth on the bottom and rough-appearing on the top."
The scientists, for the most part, kept mum. Some fumbled around with the idea of solar reflections, meteor crystals, ice crystals, hailstones. No astronomer had seen anything unusual. No weather plane or radar screen had picked up any astral bodies. Air Forces spokesmen denied that they had experimental planes resembling the saucers seen in the Northwest or anywhere else.
At week's end, the Denver Post telephoned David Lilienthal, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and explained that someone had suggested that the phenomenon might be related to "transmutation of atomic energy." Lilienthal snapped: "I can't prevent anyone from saying foolish things."
All over the U.S. last week, people turned curious or uneasy eyes towards the skies.