Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Three

The founding of Clark Publishing Company in late 1947 and the publication of the first issue of Fate in the spring of 1948 weren't just by happenstance. They were a result of the events of the first summer of flying saucers, which had its beginning on June 24, 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot flying out of Chehalis, Washington, saw over Mount Rainier a flight of nine unidentified objects that "flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." (1) Within a few days--in some places within a few hours--of Arnold's story getting out over the newswire, flying saucer fever seized Americans of all stripes, and people began seeing these unexplained aerial objects everywhere.

Kenneth Arnold was an average joe and not a crackpot of any kind. Observers found credence in his story. Around the middle of July, he received a letter from an outfit called The Venture Press, presumably based in the Chicago area. The sender asked him to investigate a supposed sighting of flying saucers over Maury Island, located about three miles north of Tacoma, Washington. And not just a sighting but a crashdown--a partial crashdown to be sure, one of debris that had supposedly fallen from a damaged craft, but one that nonetheless might yield physical evidence of the existence of flying saucers. What's more, the sighting and crashdown of debris were supposed to have taken place on June 21, 1947, three days before Arnold's sighting over Mount Rainier and about two weeks before Mac Brazel is supposed to have found evidence of a crashdown near Roswell, New Mexico. In other words, the incident--now known as the Maury Island Incident--if found to be based in fact would establish precedence for its two witnesses. Keep that thought--precedence--in the back of your mind for a while. It will come up again before too long.

The man who wrote to Kenneth Arnold from The Venture Press was Raymond A. Palmer, at the time the editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, published by Ziff-Davis of Chicago. If there ever was a Venture Press, it didn't last under that name. More than likely, the name was a front for a new venture planned by Palmer and his business partner, Curtis G. Fuller, editor of Flying magazine. According to Palmer's biographer, Fred Nadis,
[F]or nearly two years, beginning in 1947, Palmer had been leaving the Ziff-Davis offices (on North Wabash Avenue as of the mid-1940s) in Chicago's loop for long lunch breaks, during which he would head three blocks west to a drab office on Clark Street. There, using the pseudonym Robert N. Webster, he edited and prepared Fate magazine designed for an audience with a taste for the paranormal and unexplained. (2)
So, fake name and fake company. In any case, whether Fate was in the works before the first flying saucer sighting or not, Palmer and Curtis--Palmer especially, I think--must have seen a potential gold mine in the subject. And when Kenneth Arnold agreed to investigate the Maury Island Incident, Palmer uncovered another rich vein, for the incident introduced into the flying saucer story sensations of fear, paranoia, and conspiracy that have never really been shaken off in the seventy years since. The incident also brought on one of the first investigations of flying saucers by the U.S. government and resulted, tragically, in the first deaths associated with the phenomenon.

Fred Nadis goes into more detail on the origins of Fate:
Decades later, Curt Fuller said he started Fate after the first wave of flying saucer sightings in 1947. As editor of Ziff-Davis's Flying magazine, he had numerous contacts in the aviation and military worlds. He began to ask questions and concluded military officials were lying to him. [. . .] In this same period, Palmer was developing an "all flying saucer" issue of Amazing [Stories, of which he was editor until December 1949]. According to Palmer, Ziff-Davis [publisher of Amazing Stories] rejected the proposed issue after receiving a visit from a government official. Sharing notes, Fuller and Palmer decided to start a magazine that would question standard assumptions. (3)
Here again is the theme of fear, paranoia, and conspiracy, especially conspiracy supposedly carried out by the U.S. government and against believers in flying saucers.

The cover of the first issue of Fate capitalized on the flying saucer craze as it approached the beginning of its second year. The cover story is "The Truth About Flying Saucers" by Kenneth Arnold, while the cover illustration, captioned "The Flying Disks," shows Arnold's bright red Call Air A-2 in flight above Mount Rainer and overshadowed by three large, otherworldly craft. The magazine was a hit among those caught up in the phenomenon. John Keel reported that at the first flying saucer convention, held in New York City in the fall of 1948, most of the attendees (there were only about thirty) clutched copies of Fate as they shouted and argued their positions. (4) In case you're wondering, Fate is still in existence and is closing in on its seventieth-anniversary year.

* * *

Year after year beginning in 1947, flying saucers fascinated the American public, and year after year, flying saucer fans kept up on the latest news in Ray Palmer's several titles, including Fate, Mystic Magazine, The Hidden World, Search, Ray Palmer's News Letter,  and ForumBy John Keel's estimation, Palmer was the man who invented flying saucers. What has largely been forgotten, however, is that he was also the prime promoter of a mystery that served more or less as the forerunner to flying saucers. This was the so-called Shaver Mystery, which excited, perplexed, and angered readers of science fiction from its beginnings in the mid 1940s until it was overtaken by spacecraft from another world. 

To be continued . . . 

(1) From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 11.
(2) From The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2013), p. 116.
(3) From Nadis, p. 117.
(4) See Nadis, p. 116.

Kenneth Arnold (1915-1984), who made his fame by seeing and reporting the first flying saucers. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 161.

Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977), the man who invented flying saucers and kept them in the public eye for almost thirty years. As with Gray Barker, his name is suggestive: a palmer was a Christian pilgrim of the Middle Ages, in other words, a devout believer. On the other hand, someone who palms cards is a cheat or a grifter. On the other, other hand, Ray, as in ray of light, suggests something pure, warm, illuminating, heavenly, or in the science-fiction sense, a deadly force. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 163.

From left to right: Curtis Fuller (1912-1991), his wife Mary Fuller (dates unknown), and Jerome Clark (b. 1946), all on the staff of Fate magazine in 1982 when this AP photo was published. Fuller and his wife bought out Ray Palmer in 1955 and ran Fate for decades afterwards.

Fate, Spring 1948, the first issue of a magazine that continues to this day, nearly seven decades later.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

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