Merriam-Webster defines an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) as “a mysterious flying object in the sky that is sometimes assumed to be a spaceship from another planet.” Although unidentified phenomena in the skies had been reported for much of human history, it was the Cold War era beginning in the late 1940s when mysterious lights and flying objects generated an intense scientific and amateur quest to understand the frontier beyond the earth’s orbit.
Tensions after World War II between the United States and the Soviet Union fueled the space race as well as fears of a nuclear apocalypse, turning American eyes – and fears – to the skies. The much-publicized sighting of UFOs in 1947 by pilot Kenneth Arnold, who described what he saw as saucer-shaped, prompted clever journalists to come up with the term “flying saucer.”
Unidentified flying objects in the heavens became a worldwide sensation within months. Reports of sightings proliferated, and UFO organizations were even formed by a fascinated public. The newly established U.S. Air Force was even tasked with investigating whether the phenomena were a national security threat.
Into this exciting new sphere of inquiry came journalist and author Frank Scully who wrote a regular column for the entertainment trade magazine Variety. From his friend Silas Newton, whom Scully knew as a wealthy Denver oilman, he learned that in 1948 at least three saucers carrying crews of tiny humanoids had landed in Aztec, New Mexico, and that the Air Force had captured the crews but was hushing up the big story. Newton supported his tale by citing “evidence” given by a mysterious scientist whom he called “Dr. Gee.”
Scully immediately assigned himself the task of publicizing the story through his Variety column and his 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers. Unfortunately for Scully, before long Newton and “Dr Gee” (identified as Leo A. GeBauer) were exposed by San Francisco Chronicle reporter John Philip Cahn as con artists who had hoaxed the author. But not before sixty thousand copies of the book were sold.
Scully’s account refuses to die. In 2011 UFO enthusiasts claimed proof of the 1948 UFO crash when the FBI added a mysterious memo to their online repository of public records termed the “FBI Vault.” The 1950 memo written to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover by agency official Guy Hottel states that an FBI agent heard through an informant that three flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. According to the FBI, the second- and third-hand claims were never worthy of investigation.
As for Frank Scully, a look at his papers at the American Heritage Center reveals that he never lost his belief in extraterrestrials. In 1963 he wrote an autobiographical book In Armour Bright which included a reiteration of his belief in the 1948 saucer crash. For him and many others, UFOs represent fascinating possibilities of life outside the Earth’s boundaries and into the frontiers of the imagination.
Post submitted by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener.
 History.com Editors. “Kenneth Arnold,” History, originally published 22 February 2010, updated 25 December 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/paranormal/kenneth-arnold. Accessed 12 October 2021.
 “The Press: Flying Saucer Men,” Time, October 27, 1952, http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,890410,00.html. Accessed 12 October 2021.
 FBI. “UFOs and the Guy Hottel Memo,” FBI News, published 25 March 2013, https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/ufos-and-the-guy-hottel-memo.