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History Channel’s ‘Project Blue Book’ drops the Maury Island incident on us

Hey, at least they admit this one’s a hoax.

If you had to pick one, which would you call “the most important UFO encounter in American history”? According to a shadowy figure on History Channel’s Project Blue, it’s the Maury Island incident of June 21, 1947.

Astute UFO buffs will recognize that date as being before the sighting that started the modern flying saucer craze, as pilot Kenneth Arnold coined the term (well, the news media coined it after misquoting him) following his observation of nine round objects flying as if they were “skipping water” near Washington state’s Mt. Rainier on June 24. Editor Raymond A. Palmer informed Arnold of the Maury Island encounter (which also took place in Washington), and Arnold’s “investigation” of it became the cover story to the first issue of Palmer’s new, now legendary Fate Magazine.

By that time, though, Palmer should have known better. He’d already published an article by one of the principle Maury Island players, Fred L. Crisman, in the magazine Amazing Stories. It was a follow-up of sorts to the “Shaver Mystery,” a pulp science fiction tale told as “true” by Richard Sharpe Shaver, which involved two warring, subterranean races. Crisman claimed to have fought off a pocket of the evil, robot-like Deros with a submachine gun.

Crisman introduced Arnold to Harold Dahl, lied about their professions, then told Arnold that Dahl had seen six doughnut-shaped aircraft while they were working on a patrol boat. One suddenly appeared to be in distress, and dumped what’s alternatively been described as lava, slag, or “white metal” onto a Puget Sound beach, breaking someone’s arm and killing a dog! The pair showed some of the stuff to Arnold, who freaked out and called the Air Force. Two officers determined it to be ordinary aluminum, and they both tragically died flying back to California, when their plane caught fire and crashed.

If it pisses you off that people lost their lives following up on a probable hoax, understand there’s no “probable” about it. The FBI concluded as much in a later investigation, noting Arnold and Dahl had told conflicting stories elsewhere and were likely angling for another profitable magazine story. The real project Blue Book’s Edward Ruppelt, the analogue of whom is the show’s Michael Quinn, called it the “dirtiest hoax in UFO history.”

In a roundabout way, the Maury Island tale has punished us all, though obviously not to that ultimate degree. It was also the first “Men in Black” incident to be reported in modern ufology, as Dahl claimed a mysterious figure had threatened him the day after the incident, saying he knew more about it than Dahl realized. So if Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomspon’s careers never recover, you know who to blame.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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