Whatever happened to Kenneth Arnold and his Flying Saucers?

It is, to say the least, an unusual signature; ‘Kim’, surmounted by an unusual bat-wing shape in motion. For my benefit, Kim Purvis wrote a brief explanatory note next to her signatory glyph:

‘one of my dad’s saucers!!! 2nd from the last in group of 9 over Mt. Rainier in State of Washington.’

Kim’s maiden name is Arnold, and her father, Kenneth, changed world history by reporting seeing nine unusual aerial objects on June 24th 1947, comparing their motion to ‘a saucer if you skip it across the water’. Estimating their speed at a then staggering 1200 mph, he reported what he saw, Kim told me, ‘out of the deep fear for the military protection of our nation. He felt that this speed in combination with nuclear weapons could easily have destroyed our great nation.’

The contemporary records portray the businessman and private pilot as a respectable man who sincerely believed he saw something of genuine significance and reported it as such. But thereafter became embroiled in a media sensation that did not always treat him kindly, especially what became known as the Maury Island hoax, and perhaps the more exotic theory he eventually developed about his seminal report.


The Arnold Legacy

Kim Arnold became the guardian of his legacy, and so I contacted her whilst researching the potential TV series The Secret History of Flying Saucers. She was initially wary about my contact, explaining:

‘My father was interviewed by BBC Television years ago. They…re-enacted his original sighting over Mt. Rainier [and] promised him honourable representation in their documentary. Their creative results were not what they promised. My father wrote them a 2 page letter stating his personal dissatisfaction (I have recently checked on the existence of any original footage of this interview, they have discarded it). He never heard from them again and could do nothing to alter their finished product.’

However, she eventually and enthusiastically agreed to co-operate with my project. Of obvious interest were any cine-film records of her father, or shot by her father. Not least because in the book he co-authored with fantasy magazine publisher Ray Palmer, The Coming of the Saucers, Arnold stated he had another sighting of multiple aerial objects, no more than 2 feet in diameter and brass coloured, which he filmed from his aircraft. Did this film survive?

‘I do not have any of the film with the golden objects or saucers that my father took…it was so bad…If I did identify it…I tossed it. When I was going over the film[s], I had the help of a professional movie producer…so don’t think that I threw out anything of value,” [verbatim] wrote Kim.

Tape Recording

There were, however, other historical treasures in the archives. Kim told me she had discovered an audio recording dating to 1950, wherein her father had re-flown his fateful flight to Mt Rainier, Washington State, narrating recollections of his 1947 sighting. This recording evidently lasts some 40 minutes and is surely of vital importance to historians of the subject.

As to the Maury Island affair, it became the prototype of almost every conspiracy theory that would dog the subject thereafter. Kenneth Arnold’s investigation of a reported multiple saucer sighting by one Harold Dahl and Fred Crisman involved claims of mysterious debris disgorged by one of the saucers, threats to Dahl from a ‘man in black’ and the tragic death of investigating Army Air Force Intelligence Officers whose plane crashed on the return flight from collecting samples of the ‘debris’.

Kim Arnold wrote:

“I have read all the government documents in regards to the Maury Island Incident. I have personally and recently talked to Fred Crisman Jr. the son of Fred Crisman. The dedicated UFO historians have been correct. Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl were con-artists looking for a fast buck.’


‘It is with deep sadness [sic] that they took my father on a fantasy trip and two military intelligence men whom my father respected were killed in a plane crash.’

Spirit in the Sky

She asserts that her father was profoundly affected by his sightings ‘and always felt within his soul that his experience was spiritual and part of a divine plan.’

I was surprised at the depth of this feeling in her subsequent remarks:

‘The only other request is that your program does not shape the UFO phenomena into a negative thing like “devil related” My father’s experience was of a spiritual nature, and he was personally a believer in a divine plan for each person’s life. He believed in a Creator, but believed that the universe and our surroundings were unlimited in thought and creativity. I would not want my father’s pictures used in any kind of production that would promote devil type insinuations, or beliefs.’ [emphasis in original]

As to what her father actually saw, no one knows for sure. Meteor fragments? Mountain peaks seen through air turbulence? Many times Arnold was quoted in the media:

‘They’re living organisms of some sort “that come down to the lower atmosphere when they are disturbed by earthquakes, atomic explosions or things like that.” – Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sun Jul 24, 1955

Arnold believed what he saw were actually organisms rather than spacecraft, and possibly extraterrestrial (reminiscent of the Arthur Conan Doyle short story The Horror of the Heights[i])

Certainly Arnold never described the objects as circular, saucer-like or with any form of cupola, cockpit, dome, appendages or features of any kind. The sketches for the Army Air Force depicted eight of the objects as looking rather like a military shovel or spade head in plan form, with the description that they were about 1/20th the thickness of their apparent length. The 9th object he described as a bat-like wing (as depicted in Kim Arnold’s signatory glyph). USAF investigator J Allen Hynek, who re-examined the case made a strong argument that Arnold’s estimates as to size, speed and distance could simply not have tallied.

But few doubt that whatever Arnold saw, he sincerely believed it worthy of reporting. And historians of the subject should resist the revisionist attempts to link the emergence of the saucer phenomena with the Roswell farrago rather than its true impetus: Kenneth Arnold and his ‘Flying Saucers’.

Many thanks go to Kim Purvis nee Arnold, who, in 1997, was unfailingly courteous and helpful in response to my various questions. I offer my obvious regret to her and others that the project was never completed. Kenneth Arnold’s story surely deserves a film in its own right.

[i] http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/HorHei.shtml

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