Back in the summer of 1947 – 64 years ago this week – Seattle had flying disc fever. It was sparked that June 26 when the P-I ran an Associated Press story from Pendleton, Ore., telling the story of pilot Kenneth Arnold seeing “nine bright, saucer-like objects flying at ‘incredible’ speed at 10,000 feet altitude.”
Arnold, a U.S. Forest Service employee, reported seeing the discs weaving in and out of formation between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. If one dipped, Arnold said, the others did, too.
“It seems impossible,” he told a reporter, “but there it is.”
His account generated worldwide publicity and launched the flying-saucer frenzy. Rewards were offered for evidence. A pastor said “flying saucers” signaled the end of the world. A man found bleeding from the head claimed he was hit by a flying disk.
That summer, a group of “witnesses” in Seattle met with P-I editors to argue that they could not all be crazy. The paper’s files filled with the names of hundreds of citizens reporting saucer incidents. Within two months, the P-I ran at least 50 separate stories on flying disks.
On July 4, 1947, a Lake City man claimed to have caught a photo of one.
Yeoman Frank Ryman, off duty from his job with Coast Guard public relations, said he saw a shiny disc flying across the Seattle skies. Ryman rushed into his home in Lake City, then outside the Seattle city limits in King County.
“I grabbed my Speed Graphic (press camera) and field glasses and ran back outside,” the 26-year-old told the P-I. “The disc came over about 9,000 or 10,000 feet. It was flashing brilliant silver in the sun.
The picture, he said, was taken while the disc was directly overhead. He used Super-XX film, a 1/50 shutter speed with a f 22 lens opening.
“There was no noise,” he said, adding he watched it with binoculars. “No sound of engines. And I am positive there were no wings or fins in sight. It definitely was not a plane.”
After spotting the object and talking with neighbors, Ryman called the Post-Intelligencer and rushed to the newspaper’s darkroom.
“Enlarged many times the disc showed up clearly as a slightly blurred whitish object,” the newspaper’s account read.
That day, the P-I ran several reports of flying objects. In Twin Falls, Idaho, 35 flying discs were reported in a 20-minute period. A United Airlines pilot, Capt. E. Smith, also reported seeing three to five discs at 7,500 feet over Ontario, Ore., the night of July 4. A deputy sheriff also told the P-I he saw a flying disc that day on his trip north from the Clark County Courthouse.
“Yesterday alone, hundreds of people between San Diego and Seattle reported seeing the plate-like gleaming objects winging northward high in the sky at near supersonic speeds,” the P-I’s front page story read.
On June 21, 1947 – about two weeks before the Lake City incident – Harold Dahl was salvaging logs near the shore of Maury Island. Dahl said that at 2 p.m. he saw six doughnut-shaped aircraft, about 100 feet in diameter.
He said five of the metallic aircraft, which didn’t appear to have signs of propulsion, circled above one, which dropped to about 500 feet and spewed what he thought was 20 tons of metal and molten rock. Dahl reported to co-worker Fred Crisman that the falling debris injured his 15-year-old son, killed their dog and damaged the boat’s wheelhouse.
It was three days later that Arnold reported seeing the flying saucers.
The day after Dahl’s sighting, a man in a black suit arrived at his Tacoma home in a black 1947 Buick, Dahl said later. Books by UFO historians say the man in black threatened Dahl, saying that if he cared about his family, he’d never speak of the incident again.