Myths and Mysteries of Washingtonby Lynn Bragg, L. E. Bragg
Tales of intrigue in this book include unusual unsolved crimes, legends of lost treasure, spine-tingling ghost stories, well-documented sea creature sightings, and more. Based on historic accounts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, author Lynn Bragg recounts fifteen myths and mysteries from Washington's past, verifying some tales from multiple accounts… See more details below
Tales of intrigue in this book include unusual unsolved crimes, legends of lost treasure, spine-tingling ghost stories, well-documented sea creature sightings, and more. Based on historic accounts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, author Lynn Bragg recounts fifteen myths and mysteries from Washington's past, verifying some tales from multiple accounts and exposing some stories for what may have really occurred. Readers will be riveted by the detailed descriptions of Puget Sound's demon of the deep, Northwest gold fever may strike again after readers learn the details of Captain Ingalls's lost treasure, and believers will be surprised to learn that strange sightings over Mount Rainier predate the famous Roswell event. Enjoy these tales and more from Washington's suspicious past.
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Flying Saucers over Mount Rainier
Before the famous "Roswell Incident," there was the Mount Rainier incident. The term "flying saucer," the mysterious "men in black," and conspiracy theories involving the Air Force all originated in the State of Washington.
Around 2:15 p.m. in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 24, 1947, Boise businessman Kenneth Arnold, was flying his private plane to Yakima from a business appointment in Chehalis. He owned Great Western Fire Control Supply, a company that sold fire fighting equipment, and Arnold often flew around the Northwest selling and installing his products. Arnold, also a Deputy Ada County Sheriff and licensed air rescue pilot, decided to fly around Mount Rainier to see if he could spot a missing Marine transport plane. A $5,000 reward was being offered to anyone who found the wreck, so it was not unusual for private pilots to circle Mount Rainier in an effort to spot the plane and recover the reward. He searched west-southwest of Rainier for about an hour, and not finding the downed plane, he changed course for Yakima. The town of Yakima was approximately eighty miles to the east, and Arnold's plane was twenty-two miles southwest of Mount Rainier when he switched direction. It was a beautiful summer day, with smooth air and crystal clear skies.
He was at an altitude of 9,200 feet when a blinding flash caught his eye. The startled pilot immediately assumed that he was too close to another airplane. In an urgent attempt to locate the other plane, Arnold desperately searched the skies around him. He saw a commercial DC-4 on its San Francisco to Seattle route way off in the distance. Arnold believed a military plane had buzzed him, and he continued to look for it. Then, the blinding flash happened again, but this time he saw the direction it came from--north toward Mount Baker. Looking to the northwest of Mount Rainier, Arnold saw "a chain of nine peculiar looking aircraft flying from north to south at approximately 9,500 feet elevation and going, seemingly, in a definite direction of about 170 degrees." He described their movement as being "like the tail of a Chinese kite, kind of weaving and going at a terrific speed across the face of Mount Rainier." The crafts continued flying at a high rate of speed, with two to three of them dropping and f0changing direction every few seconds. Each time that happened there was a flash of light reflecting off the object. Arnold watched as they "flipped and flashed" against the snow in the sunlight, "just like a mirror." As he described in his book, "Another characteristic of these aircraft that made a tremendous impression on me was how they fluttered and sailed, tipping their wings alternately and emitting those very bright blue-white flashes from their surfaces. At the time I did not get the impression that the flashes were emitted by them, but rather that it was the sun's reflection from the extremely highly polished surface of their wings."
Still believing that he was witnessing a formation of military aircraft, Arnold was amazed to note that none of the craft had tails. The explanation for that he thought must be some new form of military camouflage. As the group approached Mount Rainier they were flying diagonally in echelon formation. The formation reminded Arnold of a flock of Canada Geese, flying in a chain-like line.
Arnold noted that he "had never before observed airplanes flying so close to the mountain tops. . .I was fascinated by this formation of aircraft. They didn't fly like any aircraft I had ever seen before." He turned his plane sideways and opened his window to get a better view.
When he could make out the shapes against the snow-covered slopes of the 14,411 foot mountain, Arnold was able to judge them as being about fifty feet in length and three feet thick with a bright metallic finish and no tail. "When the objects were flying approximately straight and level, they were just a black thin line and when they flipped was the only time I could get a judgment as to their size."
By locating landmarks, he estimated the breadth of the formation to be five miles across. Judging his distance from the aircraft as twenty-three miles, the pilot timed the ships as they dipped in and about the craggy, Cascade peaks. He noted one-hundred-two seconds had passed from the time the objects passed over Mount Rainier to the time they crested Mount Adams to the south. "Even at the time this timing did not upset me as I felt confident after I would land there would be some explanation of what I saw," Arnold recalled.
In his excitement over seeing this bizarre flying formation, Arnold had completely forgotten about the $5,000 reward. He thought only of arriving in Yakima so that he could share his experience with other pilots. At the Yakima airport he told a good friend and fellow pilot of the sighting, but the story was jokingly dismissed with his friend telling him he had better change his brand [of liquor]. He then flew to his next destination of Pendleton, Oregon where he felt he should report his sighting to federal authorities.
After landing in Pendleton, the pilot looked up the distance between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, found it to be forty-seven miles, and then calculated the ground speed of the flying disks at upwards of 1,200 miles-per-hour-- more than twice the speed of sound. Arnold discussed the matter with a number of pilots at the Pendleton airfield who did not discount his tale. Retired military pilots told Arnold that they had been briefed during World War II that they might see such "saucers" while flying over Europe. One pilot voiced the opinion that a rocket or jet-propelled ship was being tested by the United States or a foreign government.
The next day in town, Arnold first tried to report his findings to the local FBI Office because he thought that the flying objects might have been Russian. The FBI Office was closed, so he went to the East Oregonian newspaper office with his story. In describing the sight to newspaper column editor Nolan Skiff, and reporter Bill Bequette, he stated, "the objects flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." Bequette later said of the meeting, "Both Nolan Skiff and I were in the office, which was small, when Mr. Arnold came in. As I remember, we both talked with him, listened to his story, told him we didn't have a clue to what he had seen but would send the story to the Associated Press in hopes some editor or newspaper reader might be able to explain the strange objects." The interview only lasted about five minutes.
Skiff made some notes, then wrote a short article, which they squeezed into the bottom of the East Oregonian's front page. Bequette then punched in an abbreviated version into the A.P. wire. The wire was dispatched late on the morning of June 25, 1947. When he returned from lunch break after the wire had gone out, he was greeted by an astounded receptionist who told him that newspapers from all over the country had been calling for more information about the "flying saucers." Northwest newspapers printed the A.P. report the evening of June 25, and by June 26, the story had spread across the Continent.
Now the young reporter knew he had a story. He interviewed Ken Arnold at his hotel for two hours and then wrote a forty-column inch story for Portland's Associated Press Bureau. The article was published on page one of nearly every newspaper in the nation. Both Bequette and Skiff had been impressed by Arnold's sincere, honest demeanor. They did not think he was someone who "saw things," rather they believed Arnold seemed genuinely puzzled by what he had witnessed. Once the story was out many theories were presented. Were the aircraft U.S. or Soviet secret weapons? The Army Air Force immediately informed the press that they were not responsible for the flying saucers, nor were they developing any such secret weapon. Air Force Command suggested sun reflections off of clouds, meteors breaking up against the snowy peaks, or hail stones were the cause.
Within two days of Arnold's sighting, after the news story had been printed across the United States, other witnesses came forward with similar stories. Fred Johnson was prospecting in the Cascade Range near Mount Adams on June 24, 1947, the same day as Arnold's event, when his attention was drawn to the sky by a brilliant reflection. He saw a disk-shaped object flying in a southeastern direction. Through his telescope, Johnson watched five to six flying craft pass overhead. He concentrated on one disk for about forty-five to sixty seconds. Johnson watched as the craft banked in the sun. He estimated the formation was about 1,000 feet above his altitude of 5,000 feet. Each disk was judged to be thirty feet in diameter and made no sound as it flew. Immediately before the fleet flew over, the needle on Johnson's compass began to jerk about erratically. After they had passed by, the compass operated normally.
After his sighting Fred Johnson continued prospecting in the Cascade Range for several more days before he returned to his home in Portland where he read the article about Arnold's sighting of the same day. He also read that the military authorities had stated they had no knowledge of any such occurrence. Johnson contacted the Army with the intent of adding credibility to Kenneth Arnold's story. Fred Johnson's report to the military was listed in "Project Blue Book" as the first of seven-hundred unexplained sightings the report contained.
Project Blue Book was compiled by Air Force Investigators at the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In an attempt to give the public conventional explanations for the great number of sightings, Air Force Investigators compiled 13,000 reported sightings between 1947-1969, of that number seven-hundred were not explained because, "there was not enough information to allow a positive identification." The analysts mistakenly separated Arnold and Johnson's sightings and reported them as two different events. While Fred Johnson's account fell into the "unexplained" category, after being interviewed by military intelligence officers on three different occasions, Arnold's story was said to have inconsistencies and was deemed a "mirage."
ard Even if Kenneth Arnold's vision was dismissed in Project Blue Book as Washington State native and legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow reported after a 1950 interview with Arnold, "While Mr. Arnold's original explanation has been forgotten, the term 'flying saucer' has become a household word."
During July of 1947, witnesses also told of seeing flying objects over Bremerton, Bellingham, Spokane and Yakima. A Eugene, Oregon resident produced a photograph of saucers flying in formation. A laboratory analysis concluded the spots were dust on the negative. Another UFO photo was taken by Seattle resident Frank Ryman and published in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on July 5, 1947.
On July 4th, several hundred people claimed they saw shiny, flying saucers traveling at high rates of speed over Portland. That same evening, as United Flight 105 was in the sky over Idaho, Captain Smith witnessed a formation of five flying disks that were joined several minutes later by four more. Smith's co-pilot confirmed the sight; then, the two called the flight attendant into the cockpit. She exclaimed, "Why, there's a formation of those flying disks!" The trio watched the formation for about ten minutes before it sped out of sight. The following day, Captain Smith contacted Kenneth Arnold about his adventure. The two would combine forces and continue to investigate mysterious Northwest UFO sightings for many years.
Publication of the many witness accounts had been made from coast to coast when on July 8, 1947, the wreckage of an alleged flying saucer was reported in Roswell, New Mexico. The Roswell event was to overshadow the Rainier UFOs over time.
More than a month after his encounter, Kenneth Arnold and Captain Smith met with two Puget Sound marine salvage boat operators who claimed to have found the wreckage of a UFO on a Maury Island beach on June 21, 1947. Harold Dahl was boating off Maury Island between Seattle and Tacoma with his teenaged son and dog. He claimed to have seen six "doughnut-shaped" flying objects, one of which seemed to be in trouble. The troubled craft appeared to spew metallic material, and a loud thud was heard by the boaters. Dahl said he took photographs of the scene. He claimed that his boat was damaged, his son's arm injured and the dog killed by falling debris. The boat's radio was rendered useless during the event.
Upon returning to shore, Dahl told his boss, Fred Crisman, of the incident. Angry over the damage to his vessel, Crisman went to Maury Island to investigate. He discovered a large amount of metal and rock debris scattered across the beach. Pilots Arnold and Smith met with Dahl and Crisman in late July. They examined the beach debris, which appeared to them to be lava-like rock and aluminum aircraft scraps. The photos had already disappeared.
Dahl told the two that a mysterious stranger in a black suit had driven up to him in a 1947 Buick and had warned him not to relate his story to anyone if he cared for his family's welfare. Arnold and Smith called Lieutenant Brown and Captain Davidson of Air Force Intelligence to investigate. The two officers flew up from Hamilton Field in California. After interviewing Dahl and Crisman and seeing the UFO wreckage, the investigators determined that the event was an elaborate hoax. In an effort to preserve the dignity of Arnold and Smith, Brown and Davidson claimed that their plane was being called back to Hamilton Field. Before leaving McChord Air Force Base on August 1, 1947, they told the Base's Intelligence Officer of the hoax.
The plane never returned to California. It burst into flames and crashed near Kelso, killing Lieutenant Brown and Captain Davidson, but sparing two crewmen. The Tacoma Times reported the crash as suspicious and wrote that the plane was carrying "classified material," when it had been "shot down" to prevent further analysis of the UFO wreckage. Further investigation revealed Crisman and Dahl as frauds who had invented the UFO incident to profit from the sale of the story to a magazine. The Maury Island event, though exposed as a total hoax, gave birth to the myth of the mysterious black-clad government agents and military conspiracy theories.
The crash of another Air Force plane on April 1, 1959, added to the mystery. While flying east of the Pierce County town of Sumner, the pilot radioed that he had hit, or been hit, by something. Witnesses saw the plane as it passed overhead, its engines dead and glowing, round disks trailing in its wake. The entire crew of four was killed in the crash.
There were 850 sightings of UFOs reported during the year 1947. Throughout World War II, citizens were told to be vigilant in watching the skies and to report anything unusual to authorities. After World War II, the public experienced great anxiety over the advent of atomic weapons; then, an atmosphere of distrust of the Soviets prevailed during the Cold War Era. These historical realities may have increased the phenomena of UFO experiences.
Though "flying saucer" events were well publicized in 1947, there was also a wave of sightings from 1896 through 1897. The Tacoma Daily Ledger printed an article about a sighting by a Tacoma couple on November 27, 1896. When Mrs. St. John noticed an unusual light through her bedroom window, she pointed it out to her husband. The couple described seeing a brilliant light, traveling at a high rate of speed just to the east of Mount Tacoma (an Indian name for Mount Rainier). They watched as the object flew south, flashing colored rays of light in all directions as it moved. The light swayed back and forth "like a vessel at sea in a storm." Mr. St. John surmised that they had possibly witnessed an "airship," as he had recently read of one being developed in California.
Are UFOs drawn to the towering majesty of Mount Rainier? Local tribes were in awe of the mountain and its power. Yakama-Klickitat Indian, Sluiskin, who guided Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump, the first men to summit the mountain in 1870, refused to climb above the snow-line due to his awe and reverence of the mountain's spirit. Perhaps the danger, mystery and power of the ancient volcano is as much a draw to less worldly visitors, as it has always been to those who live in view of the majestic peak.
Meet the Author
Northwest native L. E. Bragg currently lives in Mercer Island, Washington. She is the author of several books for young readers, as well as More than Petticoats: Remarkable Washington Women and More than Petticoats: Remarkable Idaho Women.
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