Today in History: June 24

Whatever it was that pilot Kenneth Arnold saw out the window of his CallAir A-2 two-seat plane near Mt. Rainier in Washington on this date in 1947, he did not keep his mystification private. He told the staff and management at the Yakima airport what he thought he saw upon landing.

Word got out. He was interviewed about what he saw by a reporter for the East Oregonian newspaper the next day. By June 26, it was a national story, and he was starting to regret telling anyone, but he also felt that what he saw was too important to be kept secret.

What had he seen? While flying at an altitude of about 9000 feet, he saw nine unidentified and unidentifiable objects in the sky with him and a DC-4. The objects were metallic and shined in the midday sunlight. (The pilot of the DC-4 reported seeing nothing, which is probably important.) The objects moved remarkably fast and made maneuvers that pilots could not yet perform in 1947; “they flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water” he said, and they were shaped like bats.

On June 26, a headline writer for the Chicago Sun crafted this headline for the Associated Press article: “Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot.” This is the first appearance of the phrase “flying saucer” that has been found in American media. Arnold went to his grave miffed that he was misunderstood; he had not reported that what he saw were objects that were shaped like saucers but objects that moved erratically and sharply like saucers skipping water.

It did not matter. From this moment in history on till this day, when people report seeing UFOs, they do not use the term “bat-like.” They say they saw a flying saucer. Immediately upon the national news media reporting Arnold’s sighting, reports of flying saucers went from approximately zero to several hundred a week across the country, more than 850 over the rest of 1947.

The UFO craze had begun. It has not yet ended.

* * * *
Ambroise Vollard presented 75 works by Pablo Picasso, 19 years of age, at his gallery in Paris on this date in 1901. The exhibition received positive notices and Picasso decided to remain in Paris and continue creating.

* * * *
In 1909 alone, Mary Pickford appeared in more than 50 movies. Between 1910 and 1916, she grew into an international star, one of the first film icons. In the spring of 1916, she negotiated an agreement with producer Adolph Zukor that ended her days as an actor under contract and made her a producer of her own films. Her new salary was $10,000 per week, and 100 years ago today, Mary Pickford signed a deal that gave her producer’s control over her own films. Even though the films that resulted were both artistic and financial successes, she did not have script approval, and this led to her eventually helping form United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks.

* * * *
Phil Harris was born on this date in 1904. “Thomas O’Malley, the Alley Cat,” sung by Phil Harris:

John Ciardi was born 100 years ago today. The late Al Molinaro was born on this date in 1919. (He died in October.) The late Jack Carter was born on this date in 1922. (He died last June.) Chris Wood was born on this date in 1944.

* * * *

“There are 10,000 books in my library, and it will keep growing until I die. This has exasperated my daughters, amused my friends and baffled my accountant. If I had not picked up this habit in the library long ago, I would have more money in the bank today; I would not be richer.”—Pete Hamill

Writer, editor, and beloved bookstore customer Pete Hamill is 81 today. He never left our bookstore with less than an armful of books, and anyone who chatted with him felt like the world made a bit more sense than it had until just before the conversation.

Julia Kristeva is 75. Michele Lee is 74. Jeff Beck is 72. Governor George E. Pataki is 71. Robert Reich is 70. Mick Fleetwood is 69. Peter Weller is 69. Curt Smith is 55 today. Mindy Kaling is 37.

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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