Saturday, December 17, 2011

UFOs: Amazing Connections...

Who is Raymond A. Palmer, and what's he got to do with Kenneth Arnold, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The X-Files

Well, Curtis Peebles, in Watch the Skies!, and Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World, seem to want to make Palmer the "First Cause" of the so-called "Flying Saucer Myth" because he printed the stories of Richard S. Shaver in the 1940's.

The gist of their argument is this:

Ray Palmer was born in 1910, and was crippled in a street accident that left him "a hunchbacked dwarf only four feet tall." To escape his painful childhood, he escaped into the world of pulp magazines, and by the time he was in his twenties, he was selling stories to these magazines. He became a skilled writer for these magazines, and made his living this way during the depression.

In 1938, Palmer was selected as the new editor of Amazing Stories, and he showed a knack for increasing the magazine's circulation by gearing it to teen-age boys and choosing stories that exploited their fascination with such things as Atlantis and Lemuria. So, when he received a letter from a fellow named Richard S. Shaver claiming that he had discovered the secret language of Atlantis, he published it at once.

According to Peebles, and rightly so, Shaver's writings have the earmarks of paranoid schizophrenia. In fact, Shaver had spent several years in a mental hospital. Shaver claimed to be able to read messages inside rocks that he cut open, and later claimed that his welding machine talked to him. Shaver claimed that Atlantis and "Lemuria" had originally been settled by aliens who later built vast underground cities to escape poisonous radiation from the sun, then fled the planet when even this failed to save them. Then, (after the sun had righted itself, we assume) a group of "inferior people" descended into the underground cities and began to use the machines the Atlanteans and Lemurians had left behind. This cost them, though, for the machines gave off radiation that turned them into demonic midgets known as "Deros". They began to use the machines to control events on the earth's surface and even to control people's minds from their subterranean dens.

Palmer rewrote Shaver's rambling letters and published them in Amazing Stories as true, and they became very popular. The circulation of Amazing Stories shot up, and the magazine began to receive huge amounts of mail. Some of the mail spoke of sightings of strange objects in the sky.

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In 1948, Palmer began publishing Fate magazine, which was filled with a mishmash of "true" stories about UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, the abominable snowman of the Himalayas, ghosts, psychic phenomena, and the like. He later published Flying Saucers magazine, which was perhaps his most successful venture. Palmer died in 1977.

But is the UFO phenomenon merely the invention of Raymond Palmer? It's quite a stretch from depraved underground midgets to UFOs. The Shaver stories vaguely mentioned round aerial craft, but Palmer never dropped the idea that UFOs came from within a "hollow earth". Besides, UFOs were around before Palmer got into the act.

UFOs and aliens had been on the scene since the turn of the century, in the form of the writings of Charles Fort (1875-1932). Fort was obsessed with collecting unusual stories and data, and he spent most of his life in the main libraries of New York and London collecting such data, living on a small inheritance. Fort was incensed at the attitude of scientists who tended to ignore or dismiss any fact or datum that did not fit into their preconceptions, and this was the type of data he collected and from which he attempted to draw conclusions. Fort collected his data from old books and newspapers, and the biggest fault with his books, such as Lo!, and The Book of the Damned is that he accepted all of this "data" at face value. He didn't check the reliability of the stories. Fort is remembered by most for his collections of items about odd things falling from the sky, but he also collected sightings of mysterious objects in the sky. In fact, he had a theory that we... people, that is... are property, that we are owned by some superior race of extraterrestrials.

Here is a link to The Book of the Damned

Raymond Palmer was a reader of Fort's books, and he soon began to incorporate some of Fort's ideas into his work of increasing the circulation of Amazing Stories. He encouraged the idea that aerial craft were observing Earth, and that the government knew it. This was his way of building interest in his magazine, of "hooking" the reader. That is, by planting the thought that there might be a grain of truth in the stories he published, even when they were called "fiction".

So, when Kenneth Arnold made his famous sighting of "flying saucers" in June, 1947, Palmer was quick to seize the opportunity. He published articles about Arnold's sighting in Fate, and he co-wrote Arnold's limited edition book, The Coming of the Saucers. But Palmer's stories can't be credited with "causing" Arnold's sighting. Arnold didn't even read Amazing Stories. Neither can Palmer be credited with the extra-terrestrial hypothesis for the origin of UFOs, since he borrowed the idea from Fort. Palmer would be the second major player in the Maury Island hoax...

Samet Bilir writes about technology trends, gardening, cooking and a lot of other things, such as Christmas tree tips. To read more articles from him visit this website.

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