When You See Those Flying Saucers

UFOdays.net has a new favorite song: “When You See Those Flying Saucers.”

It’s a hit from 1947, the year that the flying saucers made their dramatic debut over North America. The song has long since passed into the public domain. Someone created a video by adding clips from the 1956 movie “UFOs: The True Story of Flying Saucers.” The clips accurately depict the national mood during the 1947 UFO wave. We’ve added a historical note on the front end and subtitled the video with the lyrics.

Flying Saucers first burst into public notoriety in June of 1947 when pilot Kenneth Arnold’s story about nine glinting saucer-like craft passing Mount Rainier at tremendous speed was picked up by newspapers all over the country. It turned out that Arnold’s sighting was neither the first nor the last. Instead, those nine saucers were just one incident in the great 1947 UFO wave that kicked off the Saucer Era. Over the next several weeks, sightings flooded in from all over the country and dominated the headlines of major newspapers. Skeptics and critics dismissed it as mass hysteria inspired by the Arnold story. It wasn’t. A careful study of the wide array of similar reports that came in simultaneously from all over North America exclude that possibility. The evidence indicates that, in the summer 1947, North America was legitimately visited by … something.

Whatever it was, it didn’t stop in 1947. It’s never really left. Reports of UFOs have continued mostly unabated since then. Sometimes they come in clusters, like the 1947 wave, and sometimes they appear sporadically.

The evidence indicates that, in the summer 1947, North America was legitimately visited.

Thirty years after Kenneth Arnold, Elmwood, WI was visited. The regular appearance of UFOs in the vicinity inspired the idea of creating a sort of extra-terrestrial welcome center in Elmwood where we might try to initiate first contact. Elmwood declared itself the “UFO Capital of the World.” The proposed landing site never came to fruition, but the small town of 800 still celebrates that claim to fame with an annual UFO DAYS festival on the last weekend of July. (This blog is named after the Elmwood festival.) All of that is to say, the phenomenon is right here in our own backyard. Is someone trying to tell us something?

The 1947 appearance of the Flying Saucers did not inspire mass hysteria, but they did inspire a great deal of speculation. While assuring the public that there was nothing to be alarmed about, the military suspected a new Soviet technology in our airspace. Other military analysts came to the conclusion that the craft could only be extra-terrestrial visitors. Meanwhile, preachers in pulpits all over America warned that the mysterious vessels in our skies were signs of the second coming of Jesus.

The military suspected a new Soviet technology in our airspace. Other military analysts came to the conclusion that the craft could only be extra-terrestrial visitors.

What were they? From where did they come? The public wanted answers, but no one had any answers. More than seventy years later and literally tens of thousands of sightings later, we are no closer to solving the mystery. The enigma remains frustratingly elusive and outside the scope of scientific analysis.

In 1947, American pop-culture absorbed the new phenomenon without missing a beat. Comedians and satirists made saucer jokes, fashion designers created saucer hats, pulp magazines featured saucer sensationalism, and the Buchanan Brothers captured the mood of the nation with their prescient song, “When You See Those Flying Saucers.” Don’t let the folksy Bluegrass mandolin and banjo-plunking fool you. The song asks a legitimate question about the meaning of the UFO phenomenon. The Buchanan Brothers took the saucers to be an ominous sign about humanity’s future:  “If you’ll just stop and think you’d realize just what it means.”

Speculating over the possibility of impending apocalypse and divine judgment, the 1947 radio hit is no less pertinent today than when first recorded:

You’d better pray to the Lord when you see those flying saucers

It may be the coming of the Judgment Day

It’s a sign there’s no doubt of the trouble that’s about

So I say my friends you’d better start to pray

They’re a terrifying sight as they fly on day and night

It’s a warning that we’d better mend our ways

You’d better pray to the Lord when you see those flying saucers

It may be the coming of the Judgment Day

Many people think the saucers might be someone’s foolish dream

Or maybe they were sent down here from Mars

If you’ll just stop and think you’d realize just what it means

They’re more than atom bombs or falling stars

And though the war may be through there’s unrest and trouble brewin’

And those flying saucers may be just a sign

That if peace doesn’t come it will be the end of some

So repent today, you’re running out of time

When you see a saucer fly like a comet through the sky

You should realize the price you’ll have to pay

You’d better pray to the Lord when you see those flying saucers

It may be the coming of the Judgment Day

Seventy-two years later it’s easy to feel blasé about the phenomenon. The materialist-reductionist limits of the scientific community coupled with a successful government propaganda campaign to debunk the existence of the UFOs left the field in the hands of sensationalists and the conspiracy-theory nuts. A robust mythology has grown up around the phenomenon, and it’s proponents are as dogmatic and intransigent as any religious fundamentalist. Today it’s almost impossible to sort through the noise to find the signal. But in reality, almost nothing has changed since 1947. We don’t know any more about it than we did then. The UFOs are still aloft in our skies, still seen by reputable witnesses, and still a mystery. And as a species, we remain perched on the edge of apocalypse. Who knows, “It may be the coming of the Judgment Day.


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