Lewis County is a strange place. Over the years, there have been many reports of unusual happenings. Some of the peculiar sightings include encounters with Bigfoot and crop circles appearing in fields. There are also reports of strange objects in the sky. In fact, Washington State has the most reports of UFO sightings in America.
The most famous of these sightings occurred on June 24, a clear Tuesday in 1947. Pilot and businessman Kenneth Arnold took off from the Chehalis Airport destined for his home in Idaho. While over Mineral around 3:00 p.m., he saw nine flying disks.
The 32-year-old said he saw the objects flying in a chain formation. The UFOs were blindingly bright and metallic, reflecting the sun like a mirror. They maneuvered in unison. He said they looked like a saucer skipping over water.
As they approached Mount Rainier, Arnold observed their outline against the snow. He said the nine peculiar looking aircraft were not completely disc-shaped, with a point in the back. He was quoted as saying, “When these objects were flying approximately straight and level, they were just a black thin line and when they flipped was the only time I could get a judgment as to their size.”
Estimating his distance from the objects to be between 20 and 25 miles, he knew they must be very large. It took one minute and 42 seconds from the time they passed Mount Rainier until they reached the peak of Mount Adams, a distance of about 50 miles. Astonishingly, Arnold determined them to be flying at least 1,200 miles per hour.
The incredible sighting made national news and the term “flying saucer” was dubbed, capturing the imagination of the world. Reports of unidentified flying objects continue to this day.
The report from the tiny town of Mineral started a worldwide fascination with UFOs. Arnold’s sighting occurred during a wave of similar accounts across the country. Hundreds of people reported flying disks in the skies. It was during that same July in 1947 the most famous Roswell, New Mexico Flying Saucer Crash occurred.
In 1948, as a response to the increasing number of UFO sightings, the U.S. Air Force began a series of investigations. An incident report from the Air Force states, “It is difficult to believe that a man of Mr. Arnold’s character and apparent integrity would state that he saw objects and write up a report to the extent that he did if he did not see them.” Finding Arnold a credible witness, investigators concluded that what Arnold saw was simply a mirage.
Becoming a minor celebrity, Arnold spent the next decade involved in interviewing other witnesses to unexplained things in the sky. He authored publications including the book “The Coming of the Saucers.” His opinion as to the nature of the crafts was that they were unexplained. He said in an interview, “I don’t know how best to explain that. I more or less have reserved an opinion as to what I think. Naturally, being a natural-born American, if it’s not made by our science or our Army Air Forces, I am inclined to believe it’s of an extraterrestrial origin.”
Frustrated by the debunking efforts of the military, Arnold went out of the spotlight for a while. He resurfaced in 1977 when he attended the First International UFO Congress in Chicago. There he was quoted as saying, “Well, right here we’ve seen something, I’ve seen something, hundreds of pilots have seen something in the skies. We have dutifully reported these things. And we have to have 15 million witnesses before anybody is going to look into the problem, seriously? Well, this is utterly fantastic. This is more fantastic than flying saucers or people from Venus or anything as far as I am concerned.”
Arnold maintained the account of his sighting until his death in 1984. A seemingly ordinary man with an extraordinary experience, Arnold’s story continues as one of the most credible accounts of flying objects, launching thousands of theories.
With his own local sighting, Executive Director of Lewis County Historical Museum Jason Mattson believes Arnold’s account. “I am of the opinion that it might be extraterrestrial or it might be secret government things we don’t know about,” says Mattson. “I saw one, a triangular-shaped thing when I was a kid, and can’t explain it. So that’s where my interest started. I believe that there are definitely things out there that we can’t explain.”
The Lewis County Historical Museum celebrates the unusual history of UFOs in our area on September 21 at the first ever Flying Saucer Party. The event will span much of downtown Chehalis, featuring speakers like Kenneth Arnold’s granddaughter Shanelle Schanz and other experts.
The fun day includes UFO movies at The Chehalis Theater and a kids’ zone. Bring the family to build flying saucers and see balloon twisting by Mr. Twister of Shankz Blacklight Mini Golf. Enjoy live music at McFiler’s and witness a really cool replication remote control R2-D2. Enjoy vendors located at City Farm Chehalis and the museum. See exhibits showcasing local sightings and the influence of flying saucers on pop culture.
Funds raised benefit the museum’s operations and also help upgrade and expand exhibits. “Please come and see some unique aspects of our community,” says Mattson. “Have fun with it. Whether you believe or not, it’s an interesting bit of our history that should be enjoyed.”
Tickets for the Flying Saucer Party are available now.