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UFOs in the daily Press:

This article was published in the daily newspaper The Hawk Eye, of Burlington, Iowa, USA, on July 28, 2002.

"It wasn't anything from Earth"

By James Quirk Jr.
The Hawk Eye

The Burlington area was not immune from purported sightings of flying craft from other worlds during the great UFO flap of 1947.

"Flying saucer" sightings climaxed during the summer of 1947, as hundreds of people from across the country reported they witnessed strange, unidentifiable craft in the sky.

It started when 32-year-old Kenneth Arnold, a Boise, Idaho, businessman, pilot, federal marshal and member of the Idaho Search and Rescue Flyers, reported seeing nine objects in the sky that "flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water" the afternoon of June 24, 1947.

Arnold was flying over Washington's Mount Rainier searching for a private plane believed to have crashed somewhere in the Cascade Mountains.

Arnold said the objects "emitted very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces" as they flew almost directly across his flight path and "didn't fly like any aircraft I had seen before."

Arnold calculated the objects to be flying almost 1,700 mph, a speed no known aircraft at the time had yet achieved.

The Associated Press wired Arnold's story about "saucer-like objects" to newspapers across the country, an action that coined the term "flying saucer."

Arnold's sighting set off a glut of flying saucer reports.

The Hawk-Eye Gazette on July 7, 1947, included this front-page headline: "Reports Disk North of City."

According to the article, Mrs. W. R. Eads, formerly of 512 S. 10th St., reported that she had seen a flying saucer a couple weeks before, on June 25, 10 miles north of Burlington on Route 99.

Eads was visiting family and, while seated on the front porch of her daughter's farm home, "said she saw the brilliantly shining object skimming through the sky and headed southwest."

"It sparkled like a sundial," said Eads, who has since died. "It glided along smoothly but I don't know how fast it was going."

Another report in the newspaper the same day indicated many Burlington residents were seen watching the sky.

"All along the streets of Burlington today people were craning their necks skyward in the hope of seeing a flying saucer, because folks down in Keokuk think they saw some one day last week," the newspaper reported.

"However, since Keokuk is a town where they frequently see things, Burlington generally was taking its eerie sky visitors with a grain of salt. But doubt didn't keep people from looking - and they were not disappointed. They actually saw something. It was an airplane engaged in sky-writing. The pilot, with a stream of smoke, was spelling out the name of a well-known beverage. Meanwhile, tonsils were getting sun-burned by the onlookers."

The newspaper's July 9, 1947, edition included two more local reports and an AP dispatch that debunked a July 8 report that the U.S. Army Air Forces had retrieved remnants of a crashed flying saucer in the desert outside Roswell, N.M.

Mrs. Clayton Carper, who lived at 2115 Des Moines Ave., reported seeing a flying saucer while picking beans in her garden late in the afternoon of July 7, 1947. Resident Archie Smith said he saw two of the objects sailing through the sky at 5:30 p.m. the same day.

"It was awfully high and it looked just like someone had thrown a silver dollar into the air," Carper said. "It was going fast and disappeared almost immediately."

"I was just talking with my uncle about the disks and we saw a bird flying overhead," Smith said. "I laughingly told him it was one of the disks and seconds later we saw the two shining objects flying high and fast toward the southwest."

The military insisted that Roswell incident was not a space ship with alien but wreckage from a high-altitude weather balloon with an attached radar reflector.

Meanwhile, in southeast Iowa, The Hawk-Eye Gazette reported July 9, 1947, "there'll be no disk jitters in the Burlington area over weather balloon equipment such as was found in (New Mexico)."

C. O. Tucker, who was in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Burlington at the time, said his station did not use the type of balloon found in Roswell for making observations.

Tucker said he learned the fragment found in Roswell was a "piece of metal attached to the balloon to enable observers to make contact with it by radar while it was in free flight."

Resident Paul Bacher, 92, a retired science teacher, was teaching chemistry at the former Burlington Junior College (now Southeastern Community College) during the 1947 flap.

"People imagined a lot of things in those days," Bacher said in a recent interview. "The government probably did a few things on the secret, but everybody was alarmed about something that might have been imagination."

Bacher and his wife, Roma, don't believe in flying saucers.

"We never seen any," he said. "We always thought it was imagination. I don't doubt people saw something, but did they see what they thought they saw?"

Although the 1947 UFO flap would end by late July, reports continued to surface in subsequent years and interest in the subject grew.

In the mid-1950s, Lloyd Maffitt, who reported for The Hawk Eye from 1946 until 1996, said he and the newspaper's former city editor, the late Dan Bied, traveled to Macomb, Ill., to attend a UFO convention at Western Illinois University.

Maffitt said there were hundreds of UFO aficionados attended who talked about their individual experiences.

"They even had a film they showed," he said. "We got a full load of UFOs ... it was something."

Maffitt said he always considered the concept of UFOs "foolish."

In a 1950 article in The Hawk Eye, Bonnie Weaver, a professional golfer, reported seeing a strange object in the sky. He saw the object one morning while at the Burlington Golf Club.

Weaver said the object was thin "and on the order of a boomerang."

"The object was silver and traveling east, fast and high," he reported. According to the report, "he looked away for an instant and looked back to see a flash of white light and a trail of sparks and then the object was lost from view ... he heard no sound from the object."

Perhaps one of the strangest UFO stories that occurred in southeast Iowa is a purported incident that happened 27 years before the 1947 flap.

In 1973, The Hawk Eye ran a series of stories about three strange circles found near Mud Creek recreation area in Henry County that formed a triangular pattern.

Some people believed the pattern found in the area was evidence of an extraterrestrial spacecraft landing.

The story about the Mud Creek "rings" continued through 1973 and spurred other stories to emerge, including a man's fantastic, vivid account of a possible alien visitation 53 years earlier.

On Oct. 28, 1973, The Hawk Eye included a story from Mount Pleasant resident Clark Linch, 75 at the time but has since died, who related a story that took place in 1920.

Linch maintained that at about 10 a.m. on June 3, 1920, he saw what he later came to believe was an extraterrestrial spacecraft land while he was fishing.

Linch said he was working his father's farm 6 miles northeast of town when he took the forenoon off to go fishing.

"I remember the year because I'd gotten married in January of 1920," he said, adding he was able to remember the exact date because it was his birthday.

While fishing, Linch saw an egg-shaped object the size of a cream can land silently about 15-feet from his river bank perch. The object "sat there" for about 15 minutes, "not bothering him - nor he bothering it," according to the report.

"I wasn't in any hurry to jump up and run over to it, and I'm glad I didn't. It might have killed me. Just when I thought about going over to take a closer look at it, it took off without any sound and without turning around. The grass where it hit was pressed down."

Linch said the object left no damage or burn marks on the grass where it had landed. The blue and translucent object "would have been camouflaged in the sky ... I didn't know what to believe about it at the time, and I still don't. I've concluded that it wasn't anything from Earth."

Because of the object's small size, Linch had said, "it couldn't have been occupied by intelligent life as we know it."

Linch observed that his sighting differed from other UFO reports because the object he saw moved slowly, "probably about four or five miles per hour," and was small and "apparently lightweight."

It took 35 years, until 1955, for Linch to tell his story to anybody.

"You didn't talk about flying saucers in (1920)," he said.

In 1994, the government's General Accounting Office researched the Roswell incident and reached a slightly different conclusion than the weather-balloon tale.

"Aliens" observed in the New Mexico desert, the GAO concluded, actually were human-like test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high-altitude research balloons.

Reports of military units that always seemed to arrive shortly after the crash of a "flying saucer" to retrieve the saucer and its "crew," were accurate descriptions of Air Force personnel recovering the dummies, the GAO said. (*)

The tests were conducted to learn how to return pilots or astronauts to earth if they had to eject from high altitudes.

But the tests also startled - and amused - many 55 summers ago.

(*) Not the GAO, but USAF said that.

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This page was last updated on July 28, 2002.