The fact that the “flying saucers” famously spotted by pilot Kenneth Arnold in 1947 remain unidentified to this day didn’t stop around 900 people — according to an estimate by Lewis County Historical Museum Director Jason Mattson — from showing up on Saturday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Arnold’s sighting at the Chehalis Flying Saucer Party.
The museum featured several new exhibits including one dedicated to Arnold, one about UFO activity in Lewis County, a 75 years of saucers exhibit and a “flying saucer” drop event. There were also several live music performances at McFiler’s Chehalis Theater and a litany of speakers throughout the day at the Chehalis City Farm, including Arnold’s granddaughter, Shanelle Schanz.
The Chronicle got a chance to talk to Schanz about what it was like for her grandfather as he continued his quest for answers as to what he witnessed throughout his life.
“When my grandfather had his sighting, everyone was just shocked. It shocked the whole world and he was famous overnight,” Schanz said.
The fame quickly began to turn negative as both public debunkers and government agencies began to dispute his claims.
“There was a lot of ridicule. My mom’s last name was Arnold so she was ‘Arnold the pig.’ Everybody would tease my family,” Schanz said.
She stated that she didn’t get ridiculed as badly as her mother and grandfather due to the fact that by the late 1970s and 1980s, mainstream talk about the UFO phenomenon had died down a lot. When the television show The X-Files came on the air in 1993, Schanz saw the public stigma surrounding UFO sightings and witnesses begin to change.
Arnold died in 1984, 11 years before The X-Files ever aired. He only knew ridicule for reporting his sighting and searching for answers throughout his entire life. Ultimately, he was disappointed in how his claims were handled and investigated by the mainstream, but Schanz believes he would be pleased with how perceptions have changed.
“I think he would be so happy because like I said, he died really disappointed,” said Schanz.
Schanz continues her grandfather’s pursuit of answers to this very day and is driven to do so even more now following the 2021 Department of Defense release of videos of UFOs that were encountered by U.S. Navy aircraft.
“They finally had to just admit it because too many people were seeing these things and it’s kind of sad because people like my grandfather were called crazy their whole lives,” Schanz said.
The 1947 Sighting
When Arnold took to the skies over Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947, he almost certainly didn’t think the flight would be talked about well beyond his own lifetime.
He was expecting a routine flight from Chehalis to Pendleton, Oregon, for an airshow, with a stop for fuel in Yakima in his single-engine CalAir A-2 airplane. However, the flight turned into anything but routine, when about 20 miles west of Mount Rainier he saw a bright flash in the northeast.
Initially, Arnold thought it was light reflecting off the metallic wings of another aircraft, but after more flashes appeared, he got a better look and quickly realized he wasn’t witnessing any known conventional aircraft. It certainly wasn’t a nearby Douglas DC-4, airliner which was the only other reported air traffic in the area at the time.
Arnold saw nine metallic objects flying in an echelon formation stretching nearly 5 miles. From what he could see, each object appeared to be circular, roughly 100 feet in diameter, with no discernable tail matching conventional aircraft. The objects would periodically perform various aerial maneuvers including flips, banks and weaves.
Though it was only an estimate, Arnold took the time the UFOs used to fly from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams as he observed them and calculated their airspeed to be at least 1,200 mph, more than twice as fast as any aircraft in 1947. In fact, it wasn’t even until later that year in October that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time at 767 mph.
To this day, it’s not known what Arnold saw in the skies above Mount Rainier, which eventually came to be known as “flying saucers” after an East Oregonian article used the words “saucer-like aircraft” to describe them the day after Arnold’s encounter.
Arnold co-authored a book entitled “The Coming Of The Saucers” in which he detailed his sighting, but despite that and a lifetime of investigation, he never discovered what those objects were.
If you have seen something in the skies you couldn’t identify, contact Owen Sexton at email@example.com as well as Maurene Morgan, Washington Mutual UFO Network state director, at Mufon.firstname.lastname@example.org.