1915 - 1984
This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress. This was written for my owl book project. What follows probably won't make it into the final draft, instead there will be a much shorter version.
The name Kenneth Arnold holds a special place in UFO history. The dawn of the modern UFO era can be traced back to June 24h in 1947, the day Arnold saw something very unusual while flying alone in his private plane. His wasn’t the first sighting of this kind, but it was the one that exploded onto the national stage, ushering in the flying saucer craze of that forever changed the popular conciseness.
Here’s something I find delightful,
Kenneth Arnold had a pet owl!
Kenneth Arnold had a pet owl!
Arnold built a cage for his daughter Kim so she could raise an injured Great Horned Owl. Kim had been driving in a car with her sister and her husband when they saw a young owl that had fallen from it’s nest. It had an injured eye and they took the little bird to a veterinarian. Kim would put ointment on it’s eye each day for weeks until the bird recovered. As the owl grew it was getting harder and harder to deal with, the stronger it got, the more dangerous it felt any time she needed to handle it. Eventually Kim and her father donated the adult owl to the Boise zoo.
Reflecting back, Kim says the owl wasn’t really a pet. That said, she thought it was really incredible that her father would actually let her keep a wild owl. She described the cage her father built as an expression of his character, it was something truly wonderful.
Kenneth Arnold is credited with unwittingly coining the term flying saucer. He was mis-quoted in the press after he reported seeing nine silvery objects flying at a tremendous speed in the summer of 1947. He saw these craft from his private plane while flying in the skies above Mount Rainier in Washington state. He described what he saw to reporters, "they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water." The iconic words Flying Saucer ended up in the headlines and from that moment on Arnold became a reluctant celebrity.
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Curiously, he did not report seeing anything shaped like a saucer, his description was that these craft were chevron (half moon or crescent) shaped, it was their motion that mimicked a saucer skipping across water. The term flying saucier inadvertently became the catch phase for the entirety of the phenomenon. What seems peculiar is that in the follow up media circus and public hysteria, this is exactly what people around the world began to report, flying saucers. This discrepancy amazes me.
Arnold’s experiences went well beyond that initial event in 1947, he went on to see a number of other UFOs throughout his life, he reported that UFOs could read his mind, he and his family saw floating orbs in their home, he claimed his phone was tapped, he was threatened by the military to keep quiet about what he knew and he was fascinated with synchronicities. He came to see these events as happening to him for a reason and he eventually saw the whole thing as a spiritual experience. Arnold also came to believe that the UFO phenomenon might represent some kind of connection between the living and the dead. All this and a pet owl on his ranch!
Arnold had another sighting that involved a cluster of about 25 small craft. He later had a yet another sighting over California in 1952. He was in his plane and flew above two distinct craft. One was “as solid as a Chevrolet,” the other was semi-transparent, and he could look down on it from above and see the pine trees on the ground through the center of the object. He sensed these objects had the ability to change their density, seeing them as living organisms.
Here’s what he said in 1967:
The impression I had after observing these strange objects a second time was that they were something alive rather than machines—a living organism of some type that apparently has the ability to change its density similar to [jelly] fish that are found in our oceans without losing their apparent identity.Arnold had some bold ideas about UFOs in an era of nuts and bolts ideology. He wrote about his beliefs in the November 1962 issue of Flying Saucers:
After some 14 years of extensive research, it is my conclusion that the so-called unidentified flying objects that have been seen in our atmosphere are not space ships from another planet at all, but are groups and masses of living organisms that are as much a part of our atmosphere and space as the life we find in the depths of the oceans.Journalist and UFO researcher Bob Pratt interviewed Arnold in 1978 (linked HERE). Arnold describes something that is commonly reported by witnesses, but that was rarely whispered in that more conservative era of UFO research. Here here’s some of what he shared:
I think that this (the June 24, 1947 sighting) was the first indication that… there was some intelligence somewhere that was able to read my mind. I think other pilots have felt the same way about it… It was a rather frightening experience due to the fact that when you actually felt inside that somehow your mind was being controlled or being read in some way by some unknown entities that were apparently making use of it. It didn’t really make any sense.At the time of his 1947 sighing, Arnold was searching for a large military transport aircraft that had crashed the previous January on the glaciated flanks of Mount Rainier, presumably killing all thirty-two Marines on board.
Arnold had his initial sighting on June 24th 1947, the crashed aircraft was found on July 24th and the memorial for the dead Marines was held on August 24th. Three interconnected events each separated by exactly one month, this overt synchronicity took on a special meaning for Arnold. He also claimed that the crashed transport aircraft was found on mount Rainier essentially intact, but with the entire crew missing. He describes it an irrational mystery:
[when the search team] reached the fuselage, the fuselage was almost intact and all the luggage of everyone was still aboard, and their parachutes had never been used. But he said there was no blood, no bones and there were no bodies! … I just thought it was a very unusual thing and there was no way they could say [the thirty-two Marines] walked off from it.This plays out with an eerie similarity to the Mary Celeste, a British ship found empty of it's crew in 1872. When it was Arnold questioned the meaning of his role, along with his UFO sightings, in these events and it frustrated him. He initially expected some explanation, but none ever emerged.
The 1947 Maury Island Incident was a UFO sighting every bit as important as Kenneth Arnold's sighting. This other event happened just three days before Arnold’s and also in Washington and probably less than 50 miles away. Arnold became involved in this event when he was hired by Ray Palmer, editor of the pulp magazine Fate, to play the role of investigative reporter. Arnold became entangled in a perplexing cloak and dagger mystery involving a set nefarious players and another military plane crash. Kenn Thomas covers this weird set of events in his 2011 book JFK & UFO: Military-Industrial Conspiracy and Cover-Up from Maury Island to Dallas.
Arnold meets the very mysterious Fred Crisman as part of his Maury Island investigation. Crisman was later the tangled up in Jim Garrison’s investigation of the JFK assassination. He was Garrison’s key suspect for the role of the trigger man on the grassy knoll.
Here's an excellent audio interview with author Kenn Thomas
Arnold, by all accounts, never wanted any fame. That said, he felt a need to talk openly and honestly about his experiences. Throughout his life he gave a series of public presentations. As he was preparing for one of these talks in in Boise Idaho, a team of government men contacted him and in threatening tones told him to stop. This was followed by a friend driving him out into the Idaho desert who expressed the seriousness of the government threat, including a story of how these men have killed their own to keep things secret.
Arnold was, by every account, an honest and decent man who never sought the attention thrust upon him by a sensationalistic public. But within this man we see a microcosm of the challenging strangeness of the overall phenomenon. Intertwined with his 1947 sighting was a checklist of the high strangeness that constantly gets reported by abductees. I cannot say if Arnold was an abductee or not, all I can point out is that his spiritual conclusions, weird synchronicities, overt government threats, tapped phones, psychic communications and personal beliefs are what get reported by abductees. These bold beliefs go well beyond the what what conservative UFO researchers, then or now, would dare to whisper.
Below is a list of curious details in the life of Kenneth Arnold:
- Initial UFO sighting in 1947
- another UFO sighting of two objects that he filmed
- another UFO sighting of 25 small craft
- another UFO sighting in 1952 of two objects, one solid, the other jellyfish-like
- Arnold stated he had telepathic communication from some of these sightings
- floating orb seen in his home
- fascination with synchronicities
- belief that UFOs were somehow connected to the dead
- the odd details of the military transport plane from 1947
- government surveillance, harassment and threats
- his investigation of the Maury Island event, and meeting the mysterious Fred Crisman
- the Maury Island event happened 3-days before his 1947 sighting
- the Roswell crash purportedly took place 10-days after his 1947 sighting
- and a pet owl!