The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers
by John A. Keel


 "In 1947, the editor of Amazing Stories watched in astonishment
as the things he had been fabricating for years in his magazine
suddenly came true! ...Once the belief system had been set up it
became self-perpetuating. The people beleaguered by mysterious
rays were joined by the wishful thinkers who hoped that living,
compassionate beings existed out there beyond the stars. They
didn't need any real evidence. The belief itself was enough to
sustain them."


 North America's "Bigfoot" was nothing more than an Indian legend
until a zoologist named Ivan T. Sanderson began collecteing
contemporary sightings of the creature in the early 1950s,
publishing the reports in a series of popular magazine articles.
He turned the tall, hairy biped into a household word, just as
British author Rupert T. Gould rediscovered sea serpents in the
1930s and, through his radio broadcasts, articles, and books,
brought Loch Ness to the attention of the world. Another writer
named Vincent Gaddis originated the Bermuda Triangle in his 1965
book, _Invisible Horizons: Strange Mysteries of the Sea_.
Sanderson and Charles Berlitz later added to the Triangle lore,
and rewriting their books became a cottage industry among hack
writers in the United States.

 Charles Fort put bread on the table of generations of science
fiction writers when, in his 1931 book 'Lo!', he assembled the
many reports of objects and people strangely transposed in time
and place, and coined the term "teleportation." And it took a
politician named Ignatius Donnelly to revive lost Atlantis and
turn it into a popular subject (again and again and again). (1)

 But the man responsible for the most well-known of all such
modern myths -- flying saucers -- has somehow been forgotten.
Before the first flying saucer was sighted in 1947, he suggested
the idea to the American public. Then he converted UFO reports
from what might have been a Silly Season phenomenon into a
subject, and kept that subject alive during periods of total
public disinterest.

 His name was Raymond A. Palmer.

 Born in 1911, Ray Palmer suffered severe injuries that left him
dwarfed in stature and partially crippled. He had a difficult
childhood because of his infirmities and, like many isolated
young men in those pre-television days, he sought escape in
"dime novels," cheap magazines printed on coarse paper and filled
with lurid stories churned out by writers who were paid a penny
a word. He became an avid science fiction fan, and during the
Great Depression of the 1930s he was active in the world of
fandom -- a world of mimeographed fanzines and heavy
correspondence. (Science fiction fandom still exists and is
very well organized with well-attended annual conventions and
lavishly printed fanzines, some of which are even issued weekly.)
In 1930, he sold his first science fiction story, and in 1933
he created the Jules Verne Prize Club which gave out annual
awards for the best achievements in sci-fi. A facile writer
with a robust imagination, Palmer was able to earn many pennies
during the dark days of the Depression, undoubtedly buoyed by
his mischievous sense of humor, a fortunate development
motivated by his unfortunate physical problems. Pain was his
constant companion.

 In 1938, the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company in Chicago purchased
a dying magazine titled _Amazing Stories_. It had been created
in 1929 by the inestimable Hugo Gernsback, who is generally
acknowledged as the father of modern science fiction. Gernsback,
an electrical engineer, ran a small publishing empire of magazines
dealing with radio and technical subjects. (he also founded
_Sexology_, a magazine of soft-core pornography disguised as
science, which enjoyed great success in a somewhat conservative
era.) It was his practice to sell -- or even give away -- a
magazine when its circulation began to slip.

 Although _Amazing Stories_ was one of the first of its kind, its
readership was down to a mere 25,000 when Gernsback unloaded it
on Ziff-Davis. William B. Ziff decided to hand the editorial
reins to the young science fiction buff from Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. At the age of 28, Palmer found his life's work.

 Expanding the pulp magazine to 200 pages (and as many as 250
pages in some issues), Palmer deliberately tailored it to the
tastes of teenage boys. He filled it with nonfiction features
and filler items on science and pseudo-science in addition to
the usual formula short stories of BEMs (Bug-Eyed Monsters) and
beauteous maidens in distress. Many of the stories were written
by Palmer himself under a variety of pseudonyms such as Festus
Pragnell and Thorton Ayre, enabling him to supplement his meager
salary by paying himself the usual penny-a-word. His old
cronies from fandom also contributed stories to the magazine
with a zeal that far surpassed their talents.

 In fact, of the dozen or so science magazines then being sold on
the newsstands, _Amazing Stories_ easily ranks as the very worst
of the lot. Its competitors, such as _Startling Stories_,
_Thrilling Wonder Stories_, _Planet Stories_ and the venerable
_Astounding_ (now renamed _Analog_) employed skilled,
experienced professional writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov,
and L. Ron Hubbard (who later created Dianetics and founded
Scientology). _Amazing Stories_ was garbage in comparison and
hardcore sci-fi fans tended to sneer at it. (2)

The magazine might have limped through the 1940s, largely
ignored by everyone, if not for a single incident. Howard
Browne, a television writer who served as Palmer's associate
editor in those days, recalls: "early in the 1940s, a letter
came to us from Dick Shaver purporting to reveal the "truth"
about a race of freaks, called "Deros," living under the surface
of the earth. Ray Palmer read it, handed it to me for comment.
I read a third of it, tossed it in the waste basket. Ray, who
loved to show his editors a trick or two about the business,
fished it out of the basket, ran it in _Amazing_, and a flood of
mail poured in from readers who insisted every word of it was
true because they'd been plagued by Deros for years. (3)

Actually, Palmer had accidentally tapped a huge, previously
unrecognized audience. Nearly every community has at least one
person who complains constantly to the local police that someone
- usually a neighbor -- is aiming a terrible ray gun at their
house or apartment. This ray, they claim, is ruining their
health, causing their plants to die, turning their bread moldy,
making their hair and teeth fall out, and broadcasting voices
into their heads. [To the Reichian concept of DOR (Dead Orgone),
stir in the bizarre sci-fi tales of "Alex Constantine," and
Kathy Kasten, et al, for a latter-day equivalent of the Shaverian
Dero Ray-Gun Attack mythos -B:.B:.) Psychiatrists are very
familiar with these "ray" victims and relate the problem with
paranoid-schizophrenia. For the most part, these paranoiacs are
harmless and usually elderly. Occasionally, however, the voices
they hear urge them to perform destructive acts, particularly
arson. They are a distrustful lot, loners by nature, and very
suspicious of everyone, including the government and all figures
of authority. In earlier times, they thought they were hearing
the voice of God and/or the Devil. Today they often blame the
CIA or space beings for their woes. They naturally gravitate to
eccentric causes and organizations which reflect their own fears
and insecurities, advocating bizarre political philosophies and
reinforcing their peculiar belief systems. Ray Palmer
unintentionally gave thousands of these people focus to their

Shaver's long, rambling letter claimed that while he was welding
(4) he heard voices which explained to him how the underground
Deros were controlling life on the surface of the earth through
the use of fiendish rays. Palmer rewrote the letter, making a
novelette out of it, and it was published in the March 1945
issue under the title: "I Remember Lemuria -- by Richard

The Shaver Mystery was born.


Somehow the news of Shaver's discovery quickly spread beyond
science fiction circles and people who had never before bought
a pulp magazine were rushing to their local newsstands. The
demand for _Amazing Stories_ far exceeded the supply and Ziff-
Davis had to divert paper supplies (remember there were still
wartime shortages) from other magazines so they could increase
the press run of AS.

"Palmer traveled to Pennsylvania to talk to Shaver," Howard
Brown later recalled, "found him sitting on reams of stuff he'd
written about the Deros, bought every bit of it and contracted
for more. I thought it was the sickest crap I'd run into.
Palmer ran it and doubled the circulation of Amazing within four

By the end of 1945, _Amazing Stories_ was selling 250,000 copies
per month, an amazing circulation for a science fiction pulp
magazine. Palmer sat up late at night, rewriting Shaver's
material and writing other short stories about the Deros under
pseudonyms. Thousands of letters poured into the office. Many
of them offered supporting "evidence" for the Shaver stories,
describing strange objects they had seen in the sky and strange
encounters they had had with alien beings. It seemed that many
thousands of people were aware of the existence of some distinctly
non-terrestrial group in our midst. Paranoid fantasies were mixed
with tales that had the uncomfortable ring of truth. The "Letters
-to-the-Editor" section was the most interesting part of the
publication. Here is a typical contribution from the issue for
June 1946:



I flew my last combat mission on May 26 [1945] when I was shot
up over Bassein and ditched my ship in Ramaree roads off Chedubs
Island. I was missing five days. I requested leave at Kashmere
(sic). I and Capt. (deleted by request) left Srinagar and went
to Rudok then through the Khese pass to the northern foothills
of the Karakoram. We found what we were looking for. We knew
what we were searching for.

For heaven's sake, drop the whole thing! You are playing with
dynamite. My companion and I fought our way out of a cave with
submachine guns. I have two 9" scars on my left arm that came
from wounds given me in the cave when I was 50 feet from a
moving object of any kind and in perfect silence. The muscles
were nearly ripped out. How? I don't know. My friend has a
hole the size of a dime in his right bicep. It was seared
inside. How we don't know. But we both believe we know more
about the Shaver Mystery than any other pair. You can imagine
my fright when I picked up my first copy of _Amazing Stories_
and see you splashing words about the subject.


The identity of the author of this letter was withheld by request.
Later Palmer revealed his name: Fred Lee Crisman. He had
inadvertently described the effects of a laser beam -- even
though the laser wasn't invented until years later. Apparently
Crisman was obsessed with Deros and death rays long before Kenneth
Arnold sighted the "first" UFO in June 1947.

In September 1946, _Amazing Stories_ published a short article
by W.C. Hefferlin, "Circle-Winged Plane," describing experiments
with a circular craft in 1927 in San Francisco. Shaver's
(Palmer's) contribution to that issue was a 30,000 word novelette,
"Earth Slaves to Space," dealing with spaceships that regularly
visited the Earth to kidnap humans and haul them away to some
other planet. Other stories described amnesia, an important
element in the UFO reports that still lay far in the future, and
mysterious men who supposedly served as agents for those
unfriendly Deros.

A letter from army lieutenant Ellis L. Lyon in the September 1946
issue expressed concern over the psychological impact of the
Shaver Mystery.

What I am worried about is that there are a few, and perhaps
quite large number of readers who may accept this Shaver
Mystery as being founded on fact, even as Orson Welles put
across his invasion from Mars, via radio some years ago. It
is of course, impossible for the reader to sift out in your
"Discussions" and "Reader Comment" features, which are actually
letters from readers and which are credited to an _Amazing
Stories_ staff writer, whipped up to keep alive interest in
your fictional theories. However, if the letters are generally
the work of readers, it is distressing to see the reaction you
have caused in their muddled brains. I refer to the letters
from people who have "seen" the exhaust trails of rocket ships
or "felt" the influence of radiations from underground sources.

Palmer assigned artists to make sketches of objects described by
readers and disc-shaped flying machines appeared on the covers
of his magazine long before June 1947. So we can note that a
considerable number of people -- millions -- were exposed to the
flying saucer concept before the national news media was even
aware of it. Anyone who glanced at the magazines on a newsstand
and caught a glimpse of the saucers-adorned _Amazing Stories_
cover had the image implanted in his subconscious. In the
course of the two years between march 1945 and June 1947,
millions of Americans had seen at least one issue of _Amazing
Stories_ and were aware of the Shaver Mystery with all of its
bewildering implications. Many of these people were out
studying the empty skies in the hopes that they, like other
_Amazing Stories_ readers, might glimpse something wondrous.
World War II was over and some new excitement was needed.
Raymond Palmer was supplying it -- much to the alarm of Lt.
Lyon and Fred Crisman.


Aside from Palmer's readers, two other groups were ready to
serve as cadre for the believers. About 1,500 members of
Tiffany Thayer's Fortean Society knew that weird aerial objects
had been sighted throughout history and some of them were
convinced that this planet was under surveillance by beings from
another world. Tiffany Thayer was rigidly opposed to Franklin
Roosevelt and loudly proclaimed that almost everything was a
government conspiracy, so his Forteans were fully prepared to
find new conspiracies hidden in the forthcoming UFO mystery.
They would become instant experts, willing to educate the press
and public when the time came. The second group were spiritual-
ists and students of the occult, headed by Dr. Meade Layne, who
had been chatting with the space people at seances through trance
mediums and Ouija boards. They knew the space ships were coming
and hardly surprised when "ghost rockets" were reported over
Europe in 1946. (5) Combined, these three groups represented a
formidable segment of the population.

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold made his famous sighting of a
group of "flying saucers" over Mt. Rainier, and in Chicago Ray
Palmer watched in astonishment as the newspaper clippings poured
in from every state. The things that he had been fabricating
for his magazine were suddenly coming true!

For two weeks, the newspapers were filled with UFO reports.
Then they tapered off and the Forteans howled "Censorship!" and
"Conspiracy!" But dozens of magazine writers were busy compiling
articles on this new subject and their pieces would appear
steadily during the next year. One man, who had earned his
living writing stories for the pulp magazines in the 1930s, saw
the situation as a chance to break into the "slicks" (better
quality magazines printed on glossy or "slick" paper). Although
he was 44 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, he served as a
Captain in the marines until he was in a plane accident.
Discharged as a Major (it was the practice to promote officers
one grade when they retired), he was trying to resume his
writing career when Ralph Daigh, an editor at _True_ magazine,
assigned him to investigate the flying saucer enigma. Thus, at
the age of 50, Donald E. Keyhhoe entered Never-Never-Land. His
article, "Flying Saucers Are Real," would cause a sensation, and
Keyhoe would become an instant UFO personality.

That same year, Palmer decided to put out an all-flying saucer
issue of _Amazing Stories_. Instead, the publisher demanded
that he drop the whole subject after, according to Palmer, two
men in Air Force uniforms visited him. Palmer decided to
publish a magazine of his own. Enlisting the aid of Curtis
Fuller, editor of a flying magazine, and a few other friends, he
put out the first issue of _Fate_ in the spring of 1948. A
digest-sized magazine printed on the cheapest paper, _Fate_ was
as poorly edited as _Amazing Stories_ and had no impact on the
reading public. But it was the only newsstand periodical that
carried UFO reports in every issue. The _Amazing Stories_
readership supported the early issues wholeheartedly.

In the fall of 1948, the first flying saucer convention was held
at the Labor Temple on 14th Street in New York City. Attended
by about thirty people, most of whom were clutching the latest
issue of _Fate_, the meeting quickly dissolved into a shouting
match. (6) Although the flying saucer mystery was only a year
old, the side issues of government conspiracy and censorship
already dominated the situation because of their strong emotional
appeal. The U.S. Air Force had been sullenly silent throughout
1948 while, unbeknownst to the UFO advocates, the boys at Wright-
Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio were making a sincere effort to
untangle the mystery.

   When the Air Force investigation failed to turn up any tangible
evidence (even though the investigators accepted the
extraterrestrial theory) General Hoyt Vandenburg, Chief of the
Air Force and former head of the CIA, ordered a negative report
to release to the public. The result was Project Grudge,
hundreds of pages of irrelevant nonsense that was unveiled
around the time _True_ magazine printed Keyhoe's pro-UFO article.
   Keyhoe took this personally, even though his article was
largely a rehash of Fort's book, and Ralph Daigh had decided to
go with the extraterrestrial hypothesis because it seemed to be
the most commercially acceptable theory (that is, it would sell


   Palmer's relationship with Ziff-Davis was strained now that he
was publishing his own magazine. "When I took over from Palmer,
in 1949," Howard Browne said, "I put an abrupt end to the Shaver
Mystery -- writing off over 7,000 dollars worth of scripts."

   Moving to Amherst, Wisconsin, Palmer set up his own printing
plant and eventually he printed many of those Shaver stories in
his _Hidden Worlds_ series. As it turned out, postwar inflation
and the advent of television was killing the pulp magazine
market anyway. In the fall of 1949, hundreds of pulps suddenly
ceased publication, putting thousands of writers and editors out
of work. _Amazing Stories_ has often changed hands since but is
still being published, and is still paying its writers a penny a
word. (7)

   For some reason known only to himself, Palmer chose not to use
his name in _Fate_. Instead, a fictitious "Robert N. Webster"
was listed as editor for many years. Palmer established another
magazine, _Search_, to compete with _Fate_. _Search_ became a
catch-all for inane letters and occult articles that failed to
meet _Fate's_ low standards.

   Although there was a brief revival of public and press interest
in flying saucers following the great wave of the summer of 1952,
the subject largely remained in the hands of cultists, cranks,
teenagers, and housewives who reproduced newspaper clippings in
little mimeographed journals and looked up to Palmer as their
fearless leader.

   In June, 1956, a major four-day symposium on UFOs was held in
Washington, D.C. It was unquestionably the most important UFO
affair of the 1950s and was attended by leading military men,
government officials and industrialists. Men like William Lear,
inventor of the Lear Jet [Yup, John "The Horrible Truth" Lear's
dad -B:.B:.], and assorted generals, admirals and former CIA
heads freely discussed the UFO "problem" with the press. Notably
absent were Ray Palmer and Donal Keyhoe. One of the results of
the meetings was the founding of the National Investigation
Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) by a physicist named
Townsend Brown. Although the symposium received extensive press
coverage at the time, it was subsequently censored out of UFO
history by the UFO cultists themselves -- primarily because they
had not participated in it. (8)

   The American public was aware of only two flying saucer
personalities, contactee George Adamski, a lovable rogue with a
talent for obtaining publicity, and Donald Keyhoe, a zealot who
howled "Coverup!" and was locked in mortal combat with Adamski
for newspaper coverage. Since Adamski was the more colorful (he
had ridden a saucer to the moon), he was usually awarded more
attention. The press gave him the title of "astronomer" (he
lived in a house on Mount Palomar where a great telescope was in
operation), while Keyhoe attacked him as "the operator of a
hamburger stand." Ray Palmer tried to remain aloof of the
warring factions, so naturally, some of them turned against him.

   The year 1957 was marked by several significant developments.
There was another major flying saucer wave. Townsend Brown's
NICAP floundered and Keyhoe took it over. And Ray Palmer
launched a new newsstand publication called _Flying Saucers From
Other Worlds_. In the early issues he hinted that he knew some
important "secret." After tantalizing his readers for months,
he finally revealed that UFOs came from the center of the earth
and the phrase _From Other Worlds_ was dropped from the title.
His readers were variously enthralled, appalled, and galled by
the revelation.

   For seven years, from 1957 to 1964, ufology in the United States
was in total limbo. This was the Dark Age. Keyhoe and NICAP
were buried in Washington, vainly tilting at windmills and
trying to initiate a congressional investigation into the UFO
situation. [It is therefore with Great Thanksgiving in Our Hearts
that we applaud the Fine Efforts of CSETI's Steve Greer to carry
on this proud -- albeit amusingly Quixotic -- tradition, some
four decades later. -B:.B:.]

   A few hundred UFO believers clustered around Coral Lorenzen's
Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). And about 2,000
teenagers bought _Flying Saucers_ from newsstands each month.
Palmer devoted much space to UFO clubs, information exchanges,
and letters-to-the-editor. So it was Palmer, and Palmer alone,
who kept the subject alive during the Dark Age and lured new
youngsters into ufology. He published his strange books about
Deros, and ran a mail-order business selling the UFO books that
had been published after various waves of the 1950s. His
partners in the _Fate_ venture bought him out, so he was able
to devote his full time to his UFO enterprises.

   Palmer had set up a system similar to sci-fi fandom, but with
himself as the nucleus. He had come a long way since his early
days and the Jules Verne Prize Club. He had been instrumental
in inventing a whole system of belief, a frame of reference --
the magical world of Shaverism and flying saucers -- and he had
set himself up as the king of that world. Once the belief
system had been set up it became self-perpetuating. The people
beleaguered by mysterious rays were joined by the wishful
thinkers who hoped that living, compassionate beings existed out
there beyond the stars. They didn't need any real evidence.
The belief itself was enough to sustain them.

   When a massive new UFO wave -- the biggest one in U.S. history
-- struck in 1964 and continued unabated until 1968, APRO and
NICAP were caught unawares and unprepared to deal with renewed
public interest. Palmer increased the press run of _Flying
Saucers_ and reached out to a new audience. Then in the 1970s,
a new Dark Age began. October 1973 produced a flurry of well-
publicized reports and then the doldrums set in. NICAP
strangled in its own confusion and dissolved in a puddle of
apathy, along with scores of lesser UFO organizations. Donald
Keyhoe, a very elder statesman, lives in seclusion in Virginia.
Most of the hopeful contactees and UFO investigators of the 1940s
and 50s have passed away. Palmer's _Flying Saucers_ quietly
self-destructed in 1975, but he continued with _Search_ until
his death in 1977. Richard Shaver is gone but the Shaver
Mystery still has a few adherents. Yet the sad truth is that
none of this might have come about if Howard Browne hadn't
scoffed at that letter in that dingy editorial office in that
faraway city so long ago.



1) Donnelly's book, Atlantis, published in 1882, set off a 50-
year wave of Atlantean hysteria around the world. Even the
characters who materialized at seances during that period
claimed to be Atlanteans.

2) The author was an active sci-fi fan in the 1940s and published
a fanzine called 'Lunarite'. Here's a quote from _Lunarite_
dated October 26, 1946: "_Amazing Stories_ is still trying to
convince everyone that the BEMs in the caves run the world.
And I was blaming it on the Democrats. 'Great Gods and Little
Termites' was the best tale in this ish [issue]. But Shaver,
author of the 'Land of Kui,' ought to give up writing. He's
lousy. And the editors of AS ought to join Sgt. Saturn on the
wagon and quit drinking that Xeno or the BEMs in the caves will
get them."

I clearly remember the controversy created by the Shaver
Mystery and the great disdain with which the hardcore fans
viewed it.

3) From _Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of the Pulp Magazines_
by Ron Goulart (published by Arlington House, New York, 1972).

4) It is interesting that so many victims of this type of
phenomenon were welding or operating electrical equipment such
as radios, radar, etc. when they began to hear voices.

5) The widespread "ghost rockets" of 1946 received little notice
in the U.S. press. I remember carrying a tiny clipping around
in my wallet describing mysterious rockets weaving through the
mountains of Switzerland. But that was the only "ghost rocket"
report that reached me that year.

6) I attended this meeting but my memory of it is vague after so
many years. I cannot recall who sponsored it.

7) A few of the surviving science fiction magazines now pay (gasp!)
three cents a word. But writing sci-fi still remains a sure way
to starve to death.

8) When David Michael Jacobs wrote _The UFO Controversy in America_,
a book generally regarded as the most complete history of the
UFO maze, he chose to completely revise the history of the 1940s
and 50s, carefully excising any mention of Palmer, the 1956
symposium, and many of the other important developments during
that period.