The Kenneth Arnold Saga
by Curt Sutherly
Sixty years ago an aviator from Idaho was thrust into the national spotlight and ultimately into the global aviation record. The pilot was Kenneth Arnold, and he is listed in Air Facts and Feats: A Record of International Aerospace Achievement.
Unlike most history-making aviators, Arnold was not a stunt flyer or a test pilot, nor even an aviator out to establish a new long-distance record. A 28-year-old private pilot and owner of a fire-control equipment company in Boise, Idaho, Arnold unintentionally established his record while aloft in a single-engine CallAir A-2 on a business trip. The date was June 24, 1947—a beautiful day, sunny and clear with tremendous visibility, he would later recall.
The veteran pilot had departed Chehalis (Washington) Airport about 2:00 p.m., en route to Yakima, Washington, a distance of about 100 miles. Arnold was in the vicinity of Mt. Rainier when he elected to deviate from his eastward path to see if he could locate the wreckage of a C-46 Curtiss Commando that had reportedly crashed in the area the previous December. The transport had been part of a flight of six C-46 aircraft carrying more than 200 U.S. Marines when it vanished during heavy weather over southwest Washington. A search for the lost aircraft was suspended after two weeks, but a $5,000 reward for information concerning the whereabouts of the wreckage was still posted the following June by survivors of the missing Marines.
Reward, however, had little to do with Arnold’s decision to search for the missing C-46. A part-time search and rescue pilot, his action was prompted more by an inherent desire to help than anything else. He was, in fact, a man of staunch moral fiber—prototypically American in the best sense of the word. He was patriotic, fun-loving, and action-oriented, and this clearly came across in his love of aviation and in the many facets of his personality.
In addition to being a pilot and a self-made businessman, Arnold was a field representative for the American Red Cross, a relief (part-time) federal marshal, and an athlete whose talent as a swimmer and board diver was world class (nearly Olympic level at a younger age). He was also a dedicated husband and father.
Arnold’s knowledge of the Cascade Mountain chain and the surrounding region was intimate, and he employed this knowledge on that fateful day in June 1947. However, instead of finding any trace of the C-46 he found something else—something he would later have reason to regret ever seeing.
At an altitude of about 9,200 feet, in the vicinity of Mineral, Washington (about 15 miles southwest of Mt. Rainier National Park), Arnold gave up the search as he still had a business appointment to keep. He banked his A-2 east toward Yakima, 75 miles away. A flash of light—akin to reflected sunlight—abruptly caught his attention. When subsequent flashes occurred, Arnold located the source: nine objects, gleaming in the sun as they flew south from the direction of Mt. Baker, flying in echelon formation, sometimes tipping on end while sweeping back and forth among the peaks.
Although amazed at the sight, Arnold had enough presence of mind to scan his surroundings, noting the only other aircraft in the vicinity—a DC-4 trailing his port (left) wing at a distance of about 15 miles. Meanwhile, up ahead and also to his port, at an estimated distance of 23 miles, the nine puzzling objects sailed effortlessly through the mountain peaks. At one point they passed behind a sub-peak of Mt. Rainier before entering the span separating Rainier from Mt. Adams, 45 miles to the south. The presence of the sub-peak, combined with Arnold’s knowledge of the distance between the major peaks, helped him estimate the speed of the objects, which he later revised downward to allow for any miscalculation. He estimated their speed at between 1,200 and 1,600 miles per hour, far faster than any known aircraft—much faster than even the secret Bell X-1 rocket plane being tested by the Air Force, which that October would exceed the speed of sound for the first time by going 700 miles per hour. (The speed of sound is 660 miles per hour at 40,000 feet.)
Arnold described the motion of the objects as unusual, like “speedboats on rough water,” or “like a saucer…if you skipped it across water.” The sighting pushed him into the media spotlight. Unwillingly, he became a celebrity—the first pilot to officially report and document the sighting of UFOs.
Although not one to seek publicity, Arnold felt he needed to report his sighting. Because the flying objects were unlike any aircraft he had ever seen or heard about, he began to suspect that they might be experimental foreign aircraft, perhaps operated by the Soviet Union. Landing at the Yakima airport, he told his story to several curious listeners, some of whom thought the objects might be a new kind of missile being tested by the military. The following morning he flew to Pendleton, Oregon, where he was met by skeptical reporters (his story had already begun to spread). He subsequently spoke with Bill Bequette, a reporter for the Pendleton East Oregonian.
After hearing Arnold’s account, Bequette wrote a four-paragraph story in which he incorrectly reported that Arnold was a member of the Boise “fire control.” This subsequently resulted in Arnold being mistakenly identified as a U.S. Forest Service employee. Bequette dispatched his story to the Associated Press and went to lunch. When he returned, he learned that reporters from all over the country had been telephoning for more information. He dispatched a longer story that afternoon and the craziness grew worse, causing other individuals—including other reputable pilots—to come forward with their own wide-ranging stories of strange flying objects.
One of those pilots was Captain Emil (E. J.) Smith. On July 4, 1947, Smith and his co-pilot Ralph E. Stevens spotted two formations of nine objects total—one of five and one of four—shortly after departing the Boise, Idaho, airport en route to Seattle in their United Air DC-3. The first cluster of five objects approached the DC-3 head-on, then abruptly reversed course and flew parallel to the airliner. Stevens, thinking the objects were some new form of aircraft, flashed the airliner’s landing lights. The objects responded by changing formation repeatedly, almost playfully. Soon, however, they departed, only to be replaced by a second group of four objects that eventually vanished to the northwest. The objects were also observed by a stewardess aboard the DC-3.
The following day, July 5, Arnold was introduced to Smith and Stevens while the three men were visiting a newspaper office in Seattle. The aviators were all there to have a look at an original flying disc photo taken by a U.S. Coast Guardsman. An immediate friendship formed between Arnold and the affable airline captain, though in retrospect it’s conceivable that their meeting was more than mere happenstance.
Three days later, on July 8, 1947, the Army Air Force announced that a crashed flying disc had been retrieved in the vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico. The story was immediately recanted by Army higher headquarters, but sightings and rumors of sightings persisted. Government and public officials regarded the rash of “flying saucer” reports as a form of postwar hysteria and believed it would fade. But the sightings continued, and continue yet today, with many reports made by sane, sober people whose testimony would be acceptable in a court of law but who nonetheless remain open to public harassment and media ridicule.
It was no different for Ken Arnold. He was plagued by individuals who hounded him for details, and by news reporters who were all too anxious to put their particular spin to his story.
As a journalist, I had the distinction of being one of the last persons to ever interview Arnold. As such it was hardly an ideal interview—not a relaxed, face-to-face conversation, which is something I regret to this day. Instead, it was conducted via long distance telephone, and as I discovered I was extremely lucky to get even that much.
The interview with Arnold was conducted on June 24, 1976, the 30th anniversary of his sighting. At the time, I was in touch with UFO investigators throughout the country while earning a paltry living as a writer of poorly crafted magazine articles and occasional newspaper copy.
It was during this period that I obtained a copy of a book titled The Coming of the Saucers, co-written by Kenneth Arnold and publisher Ray Palmer. The story, a straightforward narrative, recounted Arnold’s experiences in the weeks after his Mt. Rainier sighting. It was a hair-raising account—filled with as much mystery and intrigue, and as many shadowy characters, as any episode of The X-Files.
Reading the book, I was fascinated but also suspicious: Ray Palmer was at the time the publisher of Amazing Stories—a science fiction pulp—so how much of the book was fact and how much was fiction? Wanting answers, I began to inquire around, trying to determine the whereabouts of Arnold. But my various contacts were unable to help—suggesting only that Arnold was either dead or out of the country. The truth, as I discovered, was far simpler: the man was still living in Idaho. I located him by phoning long-distance and asking for directory assistance.
When I identified myself, Arnold replied, “I’m pretty fed up with reporters.” He said that newsmen from his regional paper, the Idaho Daily Statesman, had been seeking an interview for years. In one instance when a reporter telephoned: “I listened to his reasons and then I quietly hung up.”
Afraid of exactly that response, I chose my words carefully, searching for common ground. I said that I was not only a writer but also an aviation enthusiast (which was true; I’d worked as an aircraft crew chief in the Air Force and had grown up a quarter-mile from a small airfield where I routinely begged rides from Cessna and Piper Cub pilots), so for a few minutes we talked aviation before drifting back to the original subject. In the process, I must have conveyed some knowledge of the UFO phenomenon, for Arnold said abruptly: “You seem to understand this [UFO] business pretty well; did you by chance read my book? Most reporters have never even looked at it, which is part of the reason I won’t talk to them. They don’t know a damn thing other than that I saw flying saucers.”
At this point I explained that I had in fact read his book, but would be only too happy to hear more.
“Well, if you’ve read the book, you have most of the details,” Arnold replied. “You know, the quotes in the book are not made up like a lot of people believe. At the time I owned one of the very early [tape] recorders, and I carried it with me to Tacoma.”
Arnold’s sighting near Mt. Rainier not only made him an inviting target for the press but also caused him to be inundated with mail. There were so many letters, he said, that “I just couldn’t answer them all.”
The experience, meanwhile, prompted him to file a sighting report with the commanding officer at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio (today Wright-Patterson AFB). Around the same time he was contacted by Ray Palmer, who asked Arnold to consider writing a magazine article about his sighting. Arnold declined to write the article, instead sending Palmer a copy of his report to the Air Force.
A few days later Palmer wrote back, telling Arnold about a letter he had received from a harbor patrol officer near Tacoma, Washington. According to Palmer, the writer of the letter claimed that he and another man had spotted flying discs over Maury Island, a small peninsula located about three miles north of Tacoma Harbor in Puget Sound. The writer further claimed that one of the discs had dropped metallic fragments onto the island. Palmer wanted Arnold to fly to Tacoma and investigate the story, all expenses paid.
Shortly thereafter, Arnold was visited by Lt. Frank Brown and Capt. William Davidson, representatives of A-2 Military Intelligence of the Fourth (Army) Air Force. They had been assigned the task of investigating the UFO phenomenon, which the Army was taking seriously as a possible national security threat. They questioned Arnold on all aspects of his sighting and then, with the pilot’s permission, examined his mail. At the end of their visit the two officers left a telephone number so Arnold could contact them if the need arose.
Over the years much has been made of the fact that among Arnold’s friends were individuals who were closely associated with the military or were themselves influential members of the armed forces—men such as Army Col. Paul Wieland, who was reported to have been a judge during the Nuremburg trials in Germany at the end of the Second World War. Arnold was in Seattle with Wieland on the day he was introduced to Capt. E. J. Smith. Also close to Arnold was David Johnson, aviation editor for the Idaho Statesman, who may have had ties to military intelligence. Johnson interviewed Arnold shortly after his sighting and some believe the interview became part of a larger dossier he compiled on Arnold for the Army Air Force.
In considering Arnold’s association with these individuals, one must remember that Arnold himself was a part-time federal marshal, which put him in a position where such people would conceivably surround him. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that Johnson, as an aviation writer (he was also a pilot), had a singular interest in the early UFO phenomenon. Indeed, Johnson had his own sighting of a flying disc, which he documented in a July 9, 1947, story that was picked up by the Associated Press.
The sighting occurred that same day while Johnson was flying at 14,000 feet west of Boise, Idaho. His radio log placed the time at 12:17 p.m. In the AP story, Johnson acknowledged that he was aloft actually hoping to see a flying disc and that he had searched on the two previous days as well. He described the object he observed as a black disc, and said it rose “sharply and jerkily to the top of a towering bank of cumulus and alto stratus clouds.” His sighting was later corroborated by three members of the Army National Guard and by a private citizen in an automobile, who all saw a similar object in the same general area.
Several days after being visited by the two men from Army A-2, and acting on a suggestion made by Johnson (who said only that it would be foolish not to take the money), Arnold decided to accept Palmer’s offer to investigate the Maury Island incident. He taxied his aircraft to the end of a pasture near his home and throttled forward into what he later described as “the doggonedest mystery a man could ever dream of.”
On the evening of July 29, 1947, Arnold landed at Berry Field, a small airstrip just outside Tacoma, where he felt sure no one would recognize him (his picture had been splashed all over the newspapers). When he tried to make hotel reservations via the airfield’s telephone, he discovered that every facility was booked a7nd the city was in the throes of a housing shortage.
In a last and seemingly futile attempt to find lodging he telephoned the Winthrop Hotel, the largest and most expensive in the city. He was shocked to learn that a room had been reserved in his name! Only two people knew for certain that Arnold was planning a trip to Tacoma: his wife, Doris, and Ray Palmer. Neither of them had reserved the room. He had not even told Dave Johnson of his intended departure, and nor had he bothered to file a flight plan (in those days a pilot could fly cross-country without filing an official plan). Arnold felt certain the hotel clerk was confusing him with someone else but he decided to accept the room, feeling equally certain he’d never find another anywhere in the city.
The following day, having settled into the hotel, Arnold checked the local telephone directory and found a listing for Harold Dahl, one of the two harbor patrolmen identified by Ray Palmer. On phoning Dahl, the pilot discovered that the man was reluctant to discuss his sighting. In fact, Dahl rather pointedly told Arnold to forget the matter and go home, but Arnold was persistent and finally convinced the man to come by the hotel for an interview. Dahl showed up that same evening, and after a bit of prodding, told his story.
On the afternoon of June 21, 1947, Dahl had been operating his boat off Maury Island. He was accompanied by his son, two crewmen, and the family dog. Suddenly he spotted six “doughnut-shaped” objects flying overhead at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. One of the objects appeared to be in trouble as it was gradually losing altitude. It began discharging lava-like material from its underside, with the material falling in large quantities on both the boat and the beach at Maury Island. A fragment, Dahl said, hit his son, causing injury to the boy’s arm. Another struck and killed his dog. The boat itself was substantially damaged. Following this, all six discs gained altitude and moved off toward the open sea.
According to Dahl, about 20 tons of hot, slag-like material had been dumped onto the beach. After the substance cooled somewhat, the men collected a large quantity of samples and returned to the mainland, where Dahl’s boy was hospitalized.
The incident was related to Dahl’s superior, Fred Lee Crisman, who at first
didn’t believe the story, Dahl said. It was Crisman, however, who had sent the letter to Ray Palmer.
The next morning, June 22, Dahl said he was visited by a stranger wearing a black suit and driving a 1947 Buick. The visitor invited Dahl to a downtown café for breakfast. Dahl accepted, thinking the man was a customer for his part-time salvage operation. Inside the cafe, Dahl said the stranger related the entire sequence of events occurring off Maury Island. He also said he was told by the stranger that it would not be wise to discuss the incident if he wished his family to remain healthy. Strangely, Dahl failed to heed the advice, claiming he immediately drove to the docks where he confided in his fellow workers.
On the morning after his interview with Dahl, July 31, Arnold was awakened by Dahl, accompanied by Fred Crisman, pounding on his hotel door. Crisman related what he knew of Dahl’s story, adding that when he first heard the tale he was convinced the man was lying to explain away the damage to the boat. However, he said he finally visited Maury Island where he not only found the slag-like material but also saw one of the doughnut discs cruising overhead.
After Dahl and Crisman departed the hotel, Arnold telephoned E. J. Smith in Seattle. Arnold was beginning to suspect he was out of his depth with the investigation and he said as much to Smith. He asked for help. The airline pilot agreed, and Arnold subsequently flew to Seattle to rendezvous with his friend. From then on, events grew even stranger.
Every conversation in Arnold’s room was monitored by an unseen agency and telephoned verbatim to reporters in the city. The pilots learned of the leak from Ted Morillo, who identified himself as a United Press reporter. Oddly enough, Morillo’s office was located right across the street from the hotel. Morillo said a mystery informant had leaked the conversations supposedly shared in confidence by Arnold and company to newsmen all over the city. Smith and Arnold tore the hotel room apart looking for bugging devices, but found none. They considered changing rooms but there was no other to be had.
At first, Arnold responded to Morillo’s disclosure by denying the accuracy of the information. Later, however, he admitted that the details were on target. Along with Smith, he began to suspect that either Crisman or Dahl was the source of the leak. But the pilots soon discovered that the phone calls were being made even while the harbor patrolmen were with them in the room. At some point during all of this, Smith discovered that Arnold was packing a small caliber handgun—a gift from Arnold’s pal, Colonel Wieland.
The following morning, Augist 1, Crisman and Dahl returned—this time bearing samples of the material they said was from Maury Island. Arnold described the material as slag-like but said some pieces had unusual properties, such as being very dark and very heavy, as if the material was extremely dense.
By this time Arnold was beginning to feel uneasy and a little desperate, and he decided to telephone the two Army intelligence officers, Lieutenant Brown and Captain Davidson. However, once again something unusual happened.
Brown, who took the call in his office, refused to talk to Arnold until he could call back from a pay phone—acting very much as though his own telephone was bugged! When Brown did call back, he told Arnold that he and Davidson would fly to Tacoma that same day. According to Arnold, he, Smith and Crisman then settled in to wait, although at one point Crisman and Smith left for a brief “private” discussion. This was, in fact, the second time that Smith and Crisman had gone off together. On the previous afternoon Crisman had driven Smith back to Seattle ostensibly so the airline pilot could collect his car and some personal effects. Dahl, meanwhile, fled the room entirely when he realized that the A-2 investigators were en route.
When the two officers arrived, they listened to Crisman’s recollection of both his and Dahl’s alleged sightings, and then suddenly decided they had to leave. “We practically begged them [the Army officers] to stay,” Arnold observed during the interview. “But they claimed they had to get their plane to some air show the next day.”
The officers departed, carrying slag samples given to them by Crisman. That same night the military plane transporting Brown and Davidson crashed, killing both men. The flight chief and one other person aboard, an Army enlisted man, parachuted to safety. Why the two A-2 investigators never parachuted from the damaged aircraft remains unexplained.
On the morning of August 2, 1947, the story of the crashed transport appeared in banner headlines in the Tacoma Times. The story revealed the names of the two Army officers even before the military officially identified them! The story was by a Times staff writer, Paul Lance, who had tried to interview Arnold at the hotel and was rebuffed by Smith. His source of information, he later told Arnold and Smith, was an anonymous telephone caller.
Two days later Smith and Arnold were still in Tacoma. On August 4, Smith made a phone call from the hotel and left for about an hour, returning with a Major Sander, who identified himself as a member of A-2 Intelligence from McChord Field. Arnold briefed Sander on everything that had occurred. Sander then insisted on collecting all of the slag fragments that had been left behind in the room by Crisman and Dahl. Later he drove Arnold and Smith to a smelting company in a non-government car where he pointed to material that appeared similar to the fragments provided by Dahl and Crisman. However, the smelting material, Arnold believed, was only superficially akin to the fragments that Sander had confiscated in the hotel.
Two weeks after the story broke, Paul Lance died unexpectedly. “Maybe it was coincidence,” Arnold said. Lance, although in apparent good health, reportedly died of meningitis, though the diagnosis took quite some time.
Ted Morillo, the United Press newsman, reportedly lost his job and suffered numerous personal difficulties. He claimed to have employed his own network of informants in an effort to trace the identity of the mystery caller, but never succeeded. He finally suggested to Smith and Arnold that they leave town for their own safety.
Crisman disappeared and it was rumored (again by an anonymous caller) that he departed Tacoma aboard an Alaska-bound military transport. Dahl was found sitting in a movie theater, and according to Arnold seemed unconcerned about the deaths of the two Army intelligence men.
Arnold himself nearly suffered a fate similar to that of the two Army officers. En route home he stopped for fuel. On takeoff, the aircraft engine stalled, and only quick reflexes and skilled piloting saved him from a fatal crash.
Following the incident at Tacoma, Ken Arnold grew resentful and angry over what he believed was an inappropriate response to UFO sightings on the part of the U.S. government. He said a sense of national loyalty had prompted him to file a report on the strange flying objects, but instead of being congratulated, he, Smith, and other pilots were all “made to look like [damn] jerks.”
Both Arnold and Smith continued to fly in the years afterward, Smith commercially and Arnold as a private flier. Of his friend Smith, Arnold said, “He retired after 38 years at the age of 60. They had a banquet in his honor but I couldn’t attend.”
In 1949 or 1950, Arnold turned down a $50,000 offer from Doubleday for the rights to his story—a tremendous sum from any publisher at the time. “They wanted to have someone ghostwrite the book,” Arnold said. “I wanted it in my own words, so I turned down their offer.” Film rights too remained with Arnold due to the flier’s insistence that the story be documented accurately. In the end, the only complete account of the incident came from Arnold’s collaboration with Ray Palmer, first as an article in Fate and later as the 1952 book The Coming of the Saucers.
There was, however, another written account—one never intended for public consumption.
Amid rumors of sabotage and espionage in connection with the crash of the military transport, the FBI initiated a field investigation that included interviews with the various Maury Island players. The result was a 15-page report to the director, compiled by Jack B. Wilcox, special agent in charge, in Seattle. The report was dated August 18, 1947.
A copy of the report, made available some years ago under the Freedom of Information Act, remained heavily censored particularly in the matter of names. However, because the chief players were already known through Arnold’s account and subsequent stories, it was a simple matter to fit an appropriate name to most blanks.
Judging by the report, the FBI quickly concluded that the Maury Island episode was a hoax. One section of the report, for instance, describes a news interview with Harold Dahl at the subject’s home. According to the account, the reporter was attempting to confirm a story about a “disintegrated” disc near Maury Island. However, during the interview, Dahl’s wife reportedly went into a “considerable rage” and demanded that her husband admit the story was a fantasy. The interviewer said Dahl then recanted, acknowledging the flying disc story was a hoax.
During an interview with Dahl and Crisman on August 7, 1947, at the bureau office in Tacoma, the resident FBI agent found the two to be vague and evasive in response to questions. The agent said both men initially “denied making any statement to anyone” suggesting that the slag samples came from a flying disc. It was apparent, the agent continued, that the two men “were not telling their complete and true connection with the flying disc story. They refused to give any definite information…but gave evasive answers and repeatedly stated that they had nothing to do with it…”
Faced with a lengthy interrogation, Crisman and Dahl finally told the agent that, in communicating with Ray Palmer, they had manufactured a portion of the flying disc story only because it appeared that “that’s what he [Palmer] wanted them to say.” The FBI interviewer, however, remained unimpressed with what seemed a total and deliberate fabrication, and in his summary reiterated that “no definite information could be obtained…as to what each [man] specifically had done to start the flying disc story.”
On the matter of the crashed military transport (actually a B-25 bomber), the FBI checked with Fourth Army Air Force investigators at McChord Field, Washington. The Bureau was told that an Army investigation had uncovered no hint of sabotage linked to the crash. The cause of the crash was reportedly traced to a faulty exhaust stack that sparked a fire on the left wing. The wing sheared away and in the process tore off the aircraft’s tail. Rumors (spread by the anonymous caller) that the crash was caused by a bomb or by enemy aircraft gunfire were determined to be as false as the flying discs over Maury Island.
(A point here concerns the sudden departure of the Army investigators following their interview with Fred Crisman. The two, Brown and Davidson, must have observed some detail in Crisman’s story that gave away the hoax. If so, none of this was conveyed to Arnold, probably because the two officers were under orders to remain silent about anything they discovered.)
Murkier was the identity of the anonymous caller who, among other things, tipped reporters to the identities of Brown and Davidson even before the Army had released the names of the two men. Five anonymous calls were made to various newspaper officers between 11:30 a.m. on July 31 and 5:30 p.m. on August 2, 1947. The FBI clearly suspected Crisman of being responsible or complicit in some way. Even so, the Bureau never succeeded in tracing the identity of the caller. The curious actions of Smith, who on several occasions went off alone with Crisman and who also brought in the alleged A-2 investigator, Major Sander, bring a degree of suspicion on him as well.
The “fragments” from Maury Island were another matter entirely. Bureau investigators obtained samples and decided they bore a “distinct resemblance” to slag from a smelter near Tacoma—presumably the same smelter Arnold and Smith visited with Sander. Whether the FBI samples were part of the original material provided by Crisman and Dahl or obtained somewhere else remains unclear.
Once it became apparent that the flying disc story was a sham and (at least officially) that the crash of the Army aircraft was an accident and not sabotage, the FBI closed its files on Maury Island.
Fred Crisman never went to Alaska despite rumors to that effect. Instead, he reportedly served in the war in Korea and later became a public school teacher. Crisman eventually adopted the identity of Jon Gold, a radio talk show host in Tacoma. In 1968 he was summoned to New Orleans by District Attorney Jim Garrison, who was conducting an inquiry into the John Kennedy assassination. Crisman was tenuously linked to the assassination through photos taken at the time in Dallas—one of which showed a man who looked like Crisman.
Crisman died of natural causes in 1975, leaving UFO researchers and Kennedy conspiracy theorists to continue to puzzle over the man’s past. Many felt he had ties to the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, although the reasoning behind this is as tenuous as his supposed presence in Dallas. On the other hand, Crisman’s ability to confound the FBI in Tacoma in 1947, plus his possible connection to the anonymous telephone caller, leaves one to wonder if there isn’t some truth in this view.
Crisman’s cohort, Harold Dahl, moved to a different address soon after the incident. Meanwhile, his teenaged son disappeared, only to turn up in another state suffering, reportedly, from amnesia. Others have written that young Dahl was found by authorities in Colorado or Wyoming. According to the FBI, the boy turned up in Montana. There was no mention that the youth suffered from amnesia—simply that he had run away.
Dahl, incidentally, was not and had never been a harbor patrol officer. This was a persona he and Crisman adopted for the sake of their story, although the two did own and operate a supply boat in Tacoma harbor.
Publisher Ray Palmer, who was clearly duped by Crisman into pursuing the Maury Island story, spent his final years in relative obscurity. His death in 1977 brought an end to an era in UFO reporting—silencing what was once perhaps the strongest voice in the field.
Kenneth Arnold lived on for many active years before his death on January 16, 1984, in a hospital in Bellevue, Washington. The 50th anniversary of his sighting passed on June 24, 1997, with minimal fanfare, which is probably the way Arnold would have wanted it. Despite his Mt. Rainier sighting and his unwanted fame, he never thought of himself as anyone special—maintaining all along that he was “just an ordinary sort of guy.”
Curt Sutherly is the author of Strange Encounters (Llewellyn, 1996) and UFO Mysteries (Llewellyn, 2001). A native of Pennsylvania, Curt is currently a federal civil servant for the Air Force.