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I have seen the saucers! (World Contact Day)

Capitol Records
Ringo Starr pilots a flying saucer over L.A. in a commercial promoting his 1974 album "Goodnight Vienna."
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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OKLAHOMA CITY – On March 15, 1953, just two days before The U.S. military began conducting a series of 11 nuclear test shots at the Nevada Test Site codenamed Operation Upshot-Knothole, the International Flying Saucer Bureau, declared that date “World Contact Day,” in hopes of getting the world to join in – via meditation and/or telepathy – attempting to peacefully contact extraterrestrial beings.

The message from the International Flying Saucer Bureau was pretty simple and straightforward:

Interplanetary brothers and sisters. We wish to make contact with you. We are ready for you, and would like you to make an appearance here on Earth. Your presence before us will be welcomed with the utmost respect and friendship. We will do all in our power to promote mutual understanding between your people and the people of Earth. Please come in peace and support us in our Earthly problems, and we will assist. Give us some sign that you have received our message. Be responsible for creating a miracle here on our planet. Give us a sign.

Again, the flying saucer enthusiasts and “contactee” crowd of the 1950’s, as sincere as they might have been back then, appear to not have been successful. However, some would say UFO sightings were on the upswing in the mid-1950’s, subsiding until the mid-1960’s, when sightings increased dramatically around the United States (and while we're on the subject, it seems that interest in UFOs and space travel are definitely on the uptick ...)

The founder of the IFSB, Albert K. Bender, opened the bureau in 1952, but shut it down not long after the World Contact Day effort, claiming a visit by “three men in black,” an event that seriously spooked Bender. Much has been written about the notorious “Men in Black” and their efforts to silence truthseekers like Bender.

One test – “Upshot-Knothole Harry, a.k.a. “Dirty Harry” – which involved a 32.4-kiloton blast of pure plutonium, detonated on May 19, 1953, that left a wide-swath of radioactive contamination in its wake, resulted in a lot of fallout coming down in Snow Canyon, near St. George, Utah. We wrote about this tragic event here.

The following year, for 13 weeks in that summer of ‘54, Hollywood director Dick Powell took top actors John Wayne and Susan Hayward out to the canyon to film a notorious turkey of a film – The Conqueror – about Genghis Khan. That decision would prove catastrophic for the cast and crew of the film, as many would develop cancer and die in later years, most likely due to the intense exposure they received in radioactive Snow Canyon.

The radioactivity in the area where The Conqueror was filmed had been downplayed and filming continued. By 1980, when People magazine did a story on the radioactive location shoot, 91 members – out of 220 – had contacted cancer, with 46, including Wayne (stomach cancer), Hayward (brain cancer), and Powell (lung cancer), succumbing to their cancers by that time.

Coincidentally, the “World Contact Day” guy, Albert K. Bender, who would reemerge in society nine years after shutting down the International Flying Saucer Bureau, having written Flying Saucers and the Three Men, was a big fan of film composer Max Steiner (who happened to compose the music to two of my top five films – The Big Sleep and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, both starring Humphrey Bogart).

Bender launched the Max Steiner Music Society in 1965, running it until 1981. What is the coincidence? John Wayne was also a notable member of the society. This is the only known connection between Bender and “The Duke.”

So … “World Contact Day” happens on March 15, 1953 and on March 17, 1953, Operation Upshot-Knothole commences, likely garnering interest by the alleged ET’s monitoring activity on Earth. Perhaps they figured we were too self-destructive to be part of the galactic brotherhood?

NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, told the British tabloid The Mirror, in August 2015, that “peace-loving aliens” were interested in our discovering of atomic weapons, having first taken note following the July 16, 1945 Trinity test at White Sands in New Mexico, allegedly appearing near the site of an atomic test that changed the world forever. 

As Mitchell told The Mirror, just months before his death: “White Sands was a testing ground for atomic weapons - and that's what the extraterrestrials were interested in. They wanted to know about our military capabilities.

"My own experience talking to people has made it clear the ETs had been attempting to keep us from going to war and help create peace on Earth."

Interestingly, in the same article, noted British UFO researcher Nick Pope expressed skepticism about Mitchell’s claims, saying that the “idea that peace-loving extraterrestrials are here to warn humanity about our destructive ways” is simply too close to the plot of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still.

There is a long history between UFOs and nukes, as I have noted previously.

Mitchell and Bender would die about six weeks apart in early 2016, coincidentally.


It is here where I want to shift forward, to 1964 and the explosion of “Beatlemania” in the U.S., following the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the release of Meet the Beatles!

The question about the origin of the “Beatles” name is well-known. And my favorite answer, of course, comes from John Lennon who, during a Capitol Records press interview on Jan. 20, 1964 said in his most Lennon-ish, sarcastic fashion: “Well, I had a vision when I was twelves. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are the Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.

A flaming pie? It almost sounds like the ancient accounts of prophets seeing “wheels” in the sky and so forth, while receiving messages. Very Ancient Aliens of John Lennon, eh? For all we know, it actually happened. Aliens seemed to have a particular interest in Lennon.

And yet, when you recall that John Lennon turned 12 in October 1952, and was that age through much of 1953, one wonders if there was far more taking place on the “superspectrum” than we first realized? It was that same time period when Albert K. Bender launched “World Contact Day” and then quickly closed shop after running into the sinister Men in Black.

And let’s fast-forward to 1974. The Beatles had broken up some four years earlier. But in UFO lore, it was a big one for both Lennon and drummer/singer Ringo Starr.

During August 1974, Ringo was recording Goodnight Vienna, an album that would feature his former bandmate penning “(It’s All Down to) Goodnight Vienna,” while also singing, and providing guitar and piano. With Ringo liking that Liverpool slang, “Goodnight Vienna” (which means “it’s all over,”) he chose that as the album title and used a still photo from the aforementioned The Day The Earth Stood Still with Ringo’s head replacing the head of actor Michael Rennie, the guy who played the alien Klaatu in the film.

To promote the album, Ringo and Lennon would film an absurd TV commercial promoting Goodnight Vienna with Ringo zipping around smoggy Los Angeles in a Klaatu-like saucer, eventually landing at Capitol Records’ iconic building in Hollywood. Lennon did the voiceover.

And Ringo would later return the favor doing a commercial for Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album, the one that featured Lennon’s artwork, which also noted his notable August 23, 1974 UFO sighting with May Pang from their apartment in New York.

I want to also note that Elton John gave Ringo the song “Snookeroo” for Goodnight Vienna. Earlier in the year, John had recorded a song called “I Have Seen the Saucers” for his album Caribou. Elton John also collaborated with Lennon on “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” a track on Walls and Bridges. A shared interest in UFOs, it seems. Oh, and "Snookeroo," a biographical number, was used during the saucer-themed commercial for Goodnight Vienna.

During this same period, Elton John covered “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” There has been much speculation about what Lennon meant with that song. Regardless, it has a decidedly psychedelic and otherworldly feel that never seems to age, even after more than 50 years since it was written. 

That said, it brings us back to 1964 – 10 years earlier – when Lennon was talking about “a man on a flaming pie,” or what sounds like an alien on a dazzling UFO. There was always something different about The Beatles, love ‘em or hate ‘em. They still attract massive amounts of attention.

And clearly Lennon was fascinated with UFOs, having had his photo taken in 1965 holding a so-called “UFO detector.” Oddly, a 2014 Dust Devil Dreams post, "Just curious," ties in the famous "Klaatu barada nikto" line from The Day The Earth Stood Still to a NASA astronaut obsessed with his "glowing" copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to a 1985 New Twilight Zone episode involving an alien lifeform and featuring the uncle of a friend of mine at that time who links me to the Space Shuttle Columbia - and my coverage of its demise over Texas and Louisiana in 2003 for a newspaper I worked for. Weird syncs, all!

Flashforward to 1976. The mysterious, Canadian pop-rock band Klaatu records an album titled 3:47 EST which featured the song “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.”

This song, of course, was inspired by reading about the IFSB’s “World Contact Day” launch of 1953 in Jay David’s 1967 book The Flying Saucer Reader. Their song  would be “discovered” in 1977 by The Carpenters, who recorded an amazing cover of the song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." The song became the anthem for World Contact Day, a celebration observed by an unknown number of people around the world.

All the while, the mysterious band was thought to be The Beatles themselves (listen to "Sub-Rosa Subway"), although this was revealed to be a rumor that simply helped album sales for Klaatu.

So, today is World Contact Day. March 15th. The 65th anniversary since it was first launched. Perhaps the intense nuclear testing in Nevada spooked the "space brothers"? Or maybe there was an intergalactic battle taking place at the time that humans on Earth were largely unaware of. What really happened to Albert K. Bender back in the spring of '53? And why did he choose March 15th - "The ides of March" - for World Contact Day? The day Julius Caesar was assassinated?

Who knows? What I do know is that is for sale, in case you are interested.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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