The following thoughts are prompted by the recent death of Walt Andrus, the founder of MUFON and advocate for half a century of the idea that Flying Saucers and UFOs represent alien beings visiting the Earth.
One day in August 1948, Walt Andrus stood on a street in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, and watched four flying saucers move across the sky. Or he said he did. My question is twofold: (1) Did that happen?, and (2) Why should we believe it?
I knew Walt Andrus when he and Coral Lorenzen were still on speaking terms. I met him in the summer of 1967 at WIL Radio studios in the Centennial Building in downtown St. Louis at a time when I had developed an interest in astronomy and the Flying Saucer controversy. From 1967-’70, he and I exchanged letters and cards. I have Christmas cards I received from Walt Andrus in 1968 and 1969.
In November 1967, Dr. J. Allen Hynek spoke on the UFO topic at Washington University in St. Louis. Walt Andrus was in the audience that night. So was I. I have a snapshot of Walt Andrus pointing to a diagram of the four flying saucers he claimed to have seen that day in Phoenix, as he spoke to a group of UFO enthusiasts at John Schuessler’s home one day in August 1968. I was one of them.
I heard Walt Andrus speak at the first two MUFON conferences in 1970-’71. On a Saturday morning in February 1973, I had breakfast with Walt Andrus, Ted Phillips, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and several other UFO researchers in the restaurant of the Marriott Hotel across from Lambert St. Louis Airport.
Because I was young and green in those years, I assumed that Walt Andrus knew what he was talking about. Years later, I learned better. With each passing year in the 1970s, what Walt Andrus was writing and saying seemed more and more hollow to me. Walt Andrus was well-educated, intelligent, articulate, and congenial. He also wrote and spoke absolute nonsense.
Looking back now over half a century, it seems to me that Walt Andrus was primarily a salesman. He sold stock in the church he created and called “MUFON” and adorned in the trappings and vocabulary of science.
In the 1830s-‘40s, Millerites in New England allowed themselves to believe that the end of the world was imminent and that signs in the heavens (principally meteors, a comet, and solar halos) supported that belief. Some of them put on white robes and climbed trees to await being lifted up to heaven. But they waited in vain. (See Clara Endicott Sears, Days of Delusions: A Strange Bit of His- tory, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924)
In the 1960s-‘90s, members of MUFON allowed themselves to believe that signs in the heavens (flying saucers and UFOs) indicated the presence of alien beings from other worlds cruising the skies at random, pausing now and then to kidnap some unsuspecting man or woman. For more than half a century, Saucer enthusiasts have said the Aliens are going to land and reveal themselves any day now, but they are still waiting in vain.
Although there is no more evidence to support the beliefs of MUFONites than there was to support the beliefs of Millerites, I imagine that Walt Andrus and his followers were probably just as sincere as William Miller and his followers. But sincerity is no guarantee that people can see straight and think straight.
I have been a UFO skeptic for more than 35 years and have not kept current with the UFO topic. I write these words in the hope that some UFO skeptic living in or near Phoenix might have the chance and the inclination to check the Phoenix newspaper archives to see what if anything can be learned about the incident that Walt Andrus said took place there on that day in 1948.
“Usually, it is not as important what you are told in a brief UFO account as what you aren’t told.” -- Allan Hendry, in a discussion of press coverage of UFO reports, in The UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979, p. 215
The most notable thing about the Phoenix Flying Saucer incident is not what Walt Andrus told us but what he didn’t tell us. His account appeared in the May 1, 1966, issue of the Motorola Company publication Voice of Motorola (“I Saw Four Flying Saucers: An- drus”, p. 2). It is also mentioned briefly in the June 1992 issue of Texas Monthly (online here: http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/ alien-contact/).
No mention of a flying saucer sighting in downtown Phoenix in August 1948 can be found in NICAP’s 1964 document The UFO Evidence. Nor, although it allegedly occurred not far from his home in Tucson, did Dr. James E. McDonald cite that alleged 1948 incident among the UFO sightings he said were especially impressive and that he detailed in a paper he presented to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects in July 1968.
NICAP’s 1948 UFO Chronology online has a brief listing for the incident described by Andrus. It cites one book by George Eberhart and another by Ronald Story. Neither is a primary source. Both merely repeat the story told by Andrus.
The question is: Did that incident happen? Did it happen the way Walt Andrus said it happened? Or did he omit or distort or mis- represent certain details that may have pointed toward an identification of those four objects in the sky as man-made objects or illusions?
Where are the newspaper stories from that day or the days after that would confirm the story told by Andrus? To which agency or department of government did he report that incident and what was their response and how did they investigate it and what did they determine? How did their evaluation compare with the story told by Andrus? Where can these things be found and read? Where are the archives for that incident? Where is the documentation? Where are the primary sources for that alleged incident?
No one is more dedicated to preserving newspaper clippings for posterity than Flying Saucer buffs and UFO believers. Yet in all the thousands of such newspaper stories published and republished over the past half century, why are there none that back up Walt Andrus’s colorful story about that incident in downtown Phoenix on that day in 1948?
We know that 1948 was a banner year for “flying saucer” stories. The three “classic” saucer sightings involving Mantell, Chiles-Whit- ted, and Gorman took place that year. (See Edward Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Doubleday, 1956, Chapter 3, “The Classics”, and Curtis Peebles, Watch the Skies!, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994, Chapter 3, “The Classics”.)
So newspapers in 1948 were filled with stories about flying saucers. And yet no “UFO researcher” has ever produced a single news- paper story about the event that Walt Andrus claimed happened in downtown Phoenix one day that August and that he claimed was witnessed by “numerous other people” walking along the streets. And how come neither Andrus nor any of those numerous other people took any pictures of those four “flying saucers” while they remained in plain sight in broad daylight for 15-20 minutes?
“I assumed these were experimental crafts the Air Force was developing,” said Andrus. (Texas Monthly article)
But why assume? Why not contact the Air Force and ask them? Project Sign was in the news that summer because the Eastern Air Lines “cigar-shaped flying saucer” sighting over Alabama made headlines only three weeks earlier. Yet Andrus never gave the slight- est indication that he made any attempt to contact the Air Force or report his flying saucer sighting to any authority.
And if in 1948 he “assumed” those four objects were American aircraft but later began telling people he had seen flying saucers piloted by extraterrestrial aliens, then when did he change his mind and why?
From the absence of any reference to documentation, I venture the guess that Walt Andrus did not contact any agency of govern- ment or airport or military base after he claimed to have seen those four “flying saucers”; if he had done so, then surely he would have reported that fact in his recitation of that story in later years, because it would add substance to his story, especially if any of those people had told him that they had investigated that incident but were unable to identify those four objects.
In her book American Betrayal (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), Diana West argues that there is a “culture of omission, blanks and gaps” in the official history of World War II and the Cold War years afterward. By that, she means that certain information is routinely omitted, ignored, or buried in the official history of those years. I think she is right.
I contend also that a similar “culture of omission, blanks and gaps” exists in the corpus of anecdotes that is called the “Flying Saucer
Mystery” or the “UFO Mystery”. Knowing that that subculture exists within the larger culture of Saucer enthusiasts is a key to under- standing the truth about those alleged mysteries.
What commercial airline flights were in the vicinity of Phoenix at that time?
What private aircraft were in that vicinity at that time?
Were any civil defense exercises taking place in or around Phoenix that day?
Were any civic or promotional events taking place that involved balloons or advertising aircraft? Were any weather or meteorological research balloons in that vicinity that day?
Were any exercises taking place that day from nearby military bases?
Were any kite or balloon aficionados holding any events that day?
Were any groups of citizens holding festivals or picnics nearby?
Which airports or military bases in and around Phoenix tracked those four flying saucers on radar? As far as Walt Andrus was concerned, the answer to all those questions was: Blank out.
Evidently UFO researchers and “investigators” had the same lack of curiosity about that incident.
Andrus said that the four “flying saucers” he saw seemed to disappear for a few minutes and then came back into view. The possi- bility of common atmospheric-optical illusions that make ordinary objects like airplanes or balloons seem to “disappear” momen- tarily and then reappear apparently did not occur to Andrus. Instead of that common-sense consideration, he preferred fantastic speculation:
“Did those balloon-shaped objects ‘dematerialize’ or change into another dimension right before our eyes and then return a few minutes later into our three dimensional world?”, he asked in an essay he contributed to The Encyclopedia of UFOs (Ronald Story, ed., Dolphin Books, 1980, pp. 17-18).
In other words, Walt Andrus would have his readers believe that we are dealing not only with interplanetary spaceships but also with other dimensions. UFO “science” at its best: The mysteries multiply while Occam’s Razor gets thrown into the trash.
How did he know that what he had seen could not be accounted for by common illusions or changing angles of sight?
Did he investigate that possibility? No.
Did anyone else investigate that possibility? No.
From his failure to have contacted any official investigating agency or airport or military base, it is therefore reasonable to surmise that Andrus thought himself to be omniscient.
How did he know that he had seen four “flying saucers” piloted by Alien Beings if he never asked any official agency to investigate that incident? The answer: He “just knew”. There was no need for investigation because Andrus “just knew”.
That is how True Believers think. If they tell you they have seen extraordinary things in the sky and you ask them how they know those things are extraordinary, they will dance around your question or stand it on its head to evade the hard responsibility of an- swering it. Instead, they will assure you that they “just know”.
A few years ago I spoke with a man in St. Louis who said he saw a light or object in the sky that puzzled him late one night in the summer of 1960, when he was about 15-16 years old. To whom did he report that observation and what did they conclude?, I asked. No one. How did he know that what he saw was something truly mysterious or inexplicable?, I asked. His reply: “I know what I saw.”
I gave up. From that and other examples like it, I concluded that it is no more possible to have a rational conversation with such people than it would have been to show Millerites that meteors and comets do not portend the end of the world.
And that is what gives the game away. It is what identifies belief in “Flying Saucers” or “UFOs’” as the ersatz religion that it is. The truth is that no one “just knows” anything.
People who say they “just know” are indulging in mysticism. “Mysticism” means anti-knowledge and anti-reason. And reason is man’s only means for acquiring knowledge, knowing anything, and understanding anything—not “mysticism”, not “faith”, not “re- vealed wisdom”, not magical thinking, not “meta-logic”, and not “just knowing”.
It is a measure of the credulity or the will-to-believe of modern Americans who study the UFO “mystery” that they are willing to adopt any or all of those forms of mysticism and throw reason out the window in what they claim is their desire to solve that mystery. I have known such people. Most were thoroughly decent and intelligent people. Walt Andrus was one of them.
I believe that Walt Andrus was probably sincere in claiming to believe the things he said and wrote. People like Walt Andrus or Wil- liam Miller can be found in any nation at any time in history, but they flourish among people who are especially credulous in one way or another. And no people in American history were ever more credulous than Americans proved themselves to be in the years after World War II when their apparent victory in that war enabled them to assume a kind of arrogance about themselves. Belief in
Flying Saucers was just one expression of their credulity, which today is orders of magnitude greater than it was in the 1950s-‘60s and extends to matters much more important.
“They are definitely not from our planet,” Walt Andrus said about “flying saucers” in a 1966 article in a midwestern college magazine. [ Culver-Stockton College Concept, Winter 1966-1967, p. 14 ] “But they are not dangerous. They are here for surveillance only. They’ve been here for thousands of years.....” [ Walt Andrus, quoted in Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, July 25, 1969 ]
He didn’t explain how he knew those things. Apparently he “just knew” them, perhaps the same way that William Miller knew the world would come to an end in October 1844.
And let’s don’t overlook the irony here:
Walt Andrus, a “UFO expert” and founder of a widely-respected group of UFO researchers, dispensed advice on how to investigate UFO stories in MUFON’s official “field investigator’s manual” but failed to investigate or report to any official agency the very flying saucer sighting that he claimed to have made in 1948. Is that rich or what?
By comparison with the incident that Andrus said took place that day in Phoenix in 1948, consider the three “classic” Saucer cases from 1948 discussed at length by Ruppelt and Peebles and known to all UFO researchers: What significance would they have if those incidents had not been reported and investigated immediately afterward by Project Sign personnel? What significance does the alleged incident in Phoenix have when neither Andrus nor anyone else ever reported it or investigated it? What significance does an unreported, undocumented, and uninvestigated “flying saucer” sighting have?
A measure of Walt Andrus’s determination to solve mysteries can be gleaned from his handling of the November 1966 Ozark Air Lines Nocturnal Light UFO case from Missouri. The pilot who saw the light and kept it in view for more than half an hour never claimed it was anything other than a light. Andrus learned of the incident when he was still working as a volunteer investigator for Jim and Coral Lorenzen’s APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization). When he spoke with the pilot, Andrus tried to make the light into a “craft” piloted by alien beings. The pilot never claimed or suggested any such thing. That was pure invention by Walt Andrus. Neither he nor any other UFO “investigator” investigated that incident or told the pilot what he had seen. There was no “craft” and there were no Aliens.
All that Andrus had to do was look at a star chart for the night of the incident and see that the bright star Vega occupied exactly the same place in the sky as the Nocturnal Light reported by the Ozark Air Lines pilot. But Andrus did not do that. Why? If he knew that such a solution was readily available and did not pursue it and report it, then he was disingenuous as a “UFO investigator”. If he didn’t know it or made no attempt to learn it, then he was inept as a “UFO investigator”. [ The Ozark Air Lines case was reported in the Nov.-Dec. 1966 issue of The A.P.R.O. Bulletin, p. 7. ]
“Ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it regards that which one can and ought to know...And ignorance of this kind happens, either when one does not actually consider what one can and ought to consider; this is called “ignorance of evil choice,” and arises from some passion or habit: or when one does not take the trouble to acquire the knowledge which one ought to have.”
– St. Thomas Aquinas [ Emphasis mine – DS ]
What shall we conclude about the anecdote told by Walt Andrus when it appears that he did not take the trouble to acquire the information that he ought to have acquired, or did not ask experienced investigators to develop the information that we must have in order to evaluate that anecdote?
I had no further contact with Walt Andrus after the mid-1970s. I became a UFO skeptic, while he continued selling Saucer stories to his receptive customers.
Walt Andrus and I shared an interest in the topic, but for very different reasons: For him, he said it was his desire to learn more about the alien beings whom he believed or said he believed operated the Flying Saucers; but for me, it was because I concluded that Saucer stories offer splendid examples of mythmaking, propaganda, fairy tales, logical fallacies, and men’s limitless capacity for error and self-deception.
Quelle: SUNlite 1/2016