were, "He's given the subject some thought but his explanations are not the panacea."
And there were other widely publicized theories. One man said that they were all skyhook balloons, but we knew the flight path of every skyhook balloon and they were seldom reported as UFO's. Their little brothers, the weather balloons, caused us a great deal more trouble.
The Army Engineers took a crack at solving the UFO problem by making an announcement that a scientist in one of their laboratories had duplicated a flying saucer in his laboratory. Major Dewey Fournet checked into this one. It had all started out as a joke, but it was picked up as fact and the scientist was stuck with it. He gained some publicity but lost prestige because other scientists wondered just how competent the man really was to try to pass off such an answer.
All in all, the unsolicited assistance of theorists didn't help us a bit, I told the panel members. Some of them were evidently familiar with the theories because they nodded their heads in agreement.
The next topic I covered in my briefing was a question that came up quite frequently in discussions of the UFO: Did UFO reports actually start in 1947? We had spent a great deal of time trying to resolve this question. Old newspaper files, journals, and books that we found in the Library of Congress contained many reports of odd things being seen in the sky as far back as the Biblical times. The old Negro spiritual says, "Ezekiel saw a wheel 'way up in the middle of the air." We couldn't substantiate Ezekiel's sighting because many of the very old reports of odd things observed in the sky could be explained as natural phenomena that weren't fully understood in those days.
The first documented reports of sightings similar to the UFO sightings as we know them today appeared in the newspapers of 1896. In fact, the series of sightings that occurred in that year and the next had many points of similarity with the reports of today.
The sightings started in the San Francisco Bay area on the evening of November 22, 1896, when hundreds of people going home from work saw a large, dark, "cigar- shaped object with stubby wings" traveling northwest across Oakland.
Within hours after the mystery craft had disappeared over what is now the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the stories of people in other northern California towns began to come in on the telegraph wires. The citizens of Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Chico, and Red Bluff -- several thousand of them -- saw it.
I tried to find out if the people in these outlying communities saw the UFO before they heard the news from the San Francisco area or afterward, but trying
to run down the details of a fifty-six-year-old UFO report is almost hopeless. Once while I was on a trip to Hamilton AFB I called the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle and they put me in touch with a retired employee who had worked on a San Francisco paper in 1896. I called the old gentleman on the phone and talked to him for a long time. He had been a copy boy at the time and remembered the incident, but time had canceled out the details. He did tell me that he, the editor of the paper, and the news staff had seen "the ship," as he referred to the UFO. His story, even though it was fifty-six years old, smacked of others I'd heard when he said that no one at the newspaper ever told anyone what they had seen; they didn't want people to think that they were "crazy."
On November 30 the mystery ship was back over the San Francisco area and those people who had maintained that people were being fooled by a wag in a balloon became believers when the object was seen moving into the wind.
For four months reports came in from villages, cities, and farms in the West; then the Midwest, as the airship "moved eastward." In early April of 1897 people in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois reported seeing it. On April 10 it was reported to be over Chicago. Reports continued to come in to the newspapers until about April 20; then it, or stories about it, were gone. Literally thousands of people had seen it before the last report clicked in over the telegraph wires.
A study of the hundreds of newspaper accounts of this sighting that rocked the world in the late 1890's was interesting because the same controversies that arose then exist now. Those who hadn't seen the stubby-winged, cigar-shaped "craft" said, "Phooey," or the nineteenth- century version thereof. Those who had seen it were almost ready to do battle to uphold their integrity. Some astronomers loudly yelled, "Venus," "Jupiter," and "Alpha Orionis" while others said, "We saw it." Thomas Edison, the man of science of the day, disclaimed any knowledge of the mystery craft. "I prefer to devote my time to objects of commercial value," he told a New York Herald reporter. "At best airships would only be toys."
Thomas -- you goofed on that prediction.
I had one more important point to cover before I finished my briefing and opened the meeting to a general question-and-answer session.
During the past year and a half we had had several astronomers visit Project Blue Book, and they were not at all hesitant to give us their opinions but they didn't care to say much about what their colleagues were thinking, although they did indicate that they were thinking. We decided that the opinions and comments of astronomers would be of value, so late in 1952 we took a poll. We asked an