On an October evening in 1947, I saw a flying saucer.
Well, at least I think I saw a flying saucer. What I recall is some sort of roundish object moving very slowly across the sky as I looked southward in front of our home in Wilkes-Barre.
I wasn’t alone. Nearly all of our neighbors were out in the street in the fading light of day, gazing heavenward and pointing. One of them was saying he’d heard a couple of those new jet fighters the U.S. had were being called to pursue it.
We folks in Wyoming Valley weren’t alone in seeing strange things in the sky back then. It was 70 years ago this month that America’s fascination with UFOs began, and for more than a decade afterward, the nation had a virtual love affair with the mysterious things.
The term “flying saucer” grew out of news reports about a fellow named Kenneth Arnold, who was flying his plane near Mt. Rainier in Washington on June 24, 1947, when he spotted, he said, several odd-looking craft traveling through the sky in formation. He told reporters that the things moved like saucers skipping across a pond, and so a handy name was born.
The mania was under way. Suddenly people were seeing flying saucers everywhere, including Roswell, N.M., where on July 7, one supposedly crashed, only to be hushed up by military authorities — a conspiracy claim that would be repeated in many another UFO incident.
The publishing and entertainment industries didn’t hesitate to climb aboard. By the end of 1949, retired aviator and freelance journalist Donald Keyhoe had written an article for True magazine arguing that the military knew more about UFOs than it was letting on. Keyhoe then expanded his article into the book “The Flying Saucers are Real,” which quickly found its way onto paperback racks all across America.
Hollywood wasted no time. The 1951 movie “The Thing” featured James Arness playing a horrible creature from a crashed saucer terrorizing an American military crew at an Arctic base. In the final scene, a former skeptic called on people to “watch the skies,” hinting that — yes indeed — something not from a soundstage just might be out there.
Meanwhile, thousands of people were deluging their local newspapers and radio stations with accounts of saucer sightings, some with bright lights or mysterious sounds. The Wilkes-Barre Record and Times Leader ran lots of briefs about incidents all over Luzerne County.
Perhaps inevitably, there were soon claims (often turned into books) that not only were saucers real but they were landing, and their crew members were interacting with us.
One contactee was George Adamski, who, in 1953, published “Flying Saucers Have Landed,” a slim volume describing his meeting in the desert with the friendly Venusian pilot Orthon, who’d brought mankind a message of peace.
Occasionally, there appeared a more threatening story, such as that told by Betty and Barney Hill who said in a 1966 book that they’d been abducted and experimented upon by alien beings, recalling the experience only years later as buried memory.
Even the best panic finally runs its course, though. You don’t hear much about flying saucers these days. Possibly we have enough problems on Earth. Or maybe the spacemen have concluded we’re hopeless.
But I still think we ought to look up now and then. Suppose that faraway speck’s not a drone or a satellite?
Hey, can’t hurt to “watch the skies.”