After Kenneth Arnold kick-started the UFO craze in 1947, a group of believers sprang up, claiming that they had sustained contact with flying saucers. These “contactees,” as they were known, told outlandish tales about talking to aliens via telepathy and visiting distant planets.
Their most famous spokesmen, such as George Adamski and his friend George Hunt Williamson, wrote best-selling books and lectured across the country during the 1950s. Though their popularity faded in the ‘60s and their stories were blatantly fake and unscientific, there’s no denying that the original contactees were a strange, interesting bunch.
10 Buck Nelson
The host of an annual UFO convention on his own Missouri farm, Buck Nelson was a humble, plainspoken man who self-published in 1956 a ridiculous pamphlet entitled My Trip to Mars, The Moon, and Venus. After two earlier UFO sightings, Nelson claimed that four occupants from a UFO had come to his house on March 5, 1955.
The visitors consisted of a young earthling, a pair of men from Venus, and a giant, 136-kilogram (300 lb) dog named Bo. After examining his house, the visitors told Nelson that they could take him on a trip to other planets sometime.
More than a month later, on April 24, Nelson’s new friends picked up him and his dog Ted for a trip to outer space. First, the men traveled to Mars, which Nelson described as colorful and similar to Earth. Next, they made a stop on the Moon. Then they finished the trip with a look at Venus, a utopia that had no need for jails, policemen, or wars.
After returning to his home planet, Nelson promised the aliens that he would tell everybody about his travels. He spoke to the media about his experiences and was supposedly questioned by the armed forces. At his farm conventions, Nelson sold pieces of Bo’s hair to back up his story. Skeptics noted that the Venusian dog hair was similar to the kind found on Earth dogs. He told them, “Dawgs is dawgs. Don’t matter what planet they’re from.”
9 Cynthia Appleton
On November 18, 1957, English housewife Cynthia Appleton was taking care of her children at home when she suddenly heard a high-pitched whistling sound in her sitting room. Once the sound stopped, Appleton saw a tall, blond man materialize near her fireplace. Using telepathy, the man instructed Appleton not to be afraid. He was a visitor from the planet Gharnasvarn, and his people wished to make contact with special earthlings like Appleton.
Over the next year, the man from Gharnasvarn would make seven more appearances at Appleton’s house, sometimes bringing along a friend. When not explaining how to cure cancer, the man would make pseudo-philosophical babble, insisting that time was not real and that all life was unified. During his last six visits, the man also shunned teleporting and opted to arrive in a big black car instead.
In September 1958, the Gharnasvarn man and his friend showed themselves to Cynthia Appleton one last time. They told the mother of two that she was pregnant. Confusingly, the child would be “of the race of Gharnasvarn” yet also her husband’s son.
In May 1959, Appleton gave birth to a baby boy just as the aliens had apparently predicted. Despite some media attention, the Appletons never saw the Gharnasvarn men again, and they soon quietly disappeared from the public spotlight.
8 Gabriel Green
Once a professional photographer, Gabriel Green gave up his career to pursue an interest in UFOs. He was the founder of an early UFO organization called the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, Inc. and also edited the group’s journal, the Flying Saucers International. In 1960, Green launched an independent campaign to become president of the United States, competing against Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon.
Though Green was a write-in candidate and had no political experience, he took his bid for president seriously. In an August 1960 interview, Green claimed that the “Space People” had asked him to run.
He admitted that he was reluctant at first, but he realized that Earth was doomed unless mankind listened to the wisdom of the Space People. In his official platform, Green promised the abolition of taxes, free college educations, and a spaceship mission to Mars.
Unfortunately, despite the support of the Space People, Green eventually withdrew from the race. In 1962, Green tried running for the US Senate as a Democrat but lost the election. After another failed bid for the presidency in 1972, Green quit his political ambitions for good, presumably content that the Earth was doomed.
7 Ted Owens
Calling himself the “PK (Psychokinetic) Man,” Ted Owens considered himself something like a real-life superhero. A member of MENSA, Owens was a genius with a 150 IQ who claimed that aliens had given him supernatural powers. Thanks to the help of “Space Intelligences,” he could do everything from controlling the weather to altering the results of a sports game.
According to Owens, the Space Intelligences were hyperdimensional beings who rode around in UFOs and kept a close eye on Earth. He first made contact with them in 1965 when one of their UFOs appeared and vanished before his car. They communicated with Owens via telepathy and were the source of his PK powers. In his own words, Owens was a test “to find out just how much of the PK power a human being can absorb and stand.”
Although Owens had his fans, he struggled to convince academics and scientists of his abilities. He obsessively collected newspaper clippings and records that allegedly verified his demonstrations and predictions. Most professionals treated him skeptically, however. Only some sportswriters, a CIA agent, and a NASA official believed his bizarre stories.
6 Aladino Felix
In 1959, under the pseudonym of Dino Kraspedon, Aladino Felix published a typical book of the contactee movement called My Contact with Flying Saucers. Felix, a Brazilian, wrote that he met the crew of a UFO in the state of Sao Paulo. The experience led to the UFO’s captain visiting Felix at his home a few months later, where he made the usual extraterrestrial warnings about the dangers of the Atomic Age.
Six years later, Felix resurfaced in the public eye, styling himself as a psychic. He made vague predictions about natural disasters, coinciding with one of the deadliest flash floods in Brazilian history in 1966. During a politically turbulent time in Brazil, Felix also prophesied spates of terrorist attacks in the country.
If some of Felix’s predictions proved eerily accurate, it might have been because of his own intervention. In 1968, Felix and 18 other people were arrested after being suspected of some bank robberies and bombings. The gang had even plotted to assassinate politicians, and it turned out that Felix was their ringleader.
Before he was sent off to prison, Felix vowed, “My friends from space will come here and free me and avenge my arrest. You can look to tragic consequences for humanity when the flying saucers invade this planet.”
5 Daniel Fry
On July 4, 1950, Daniel Fry was taking a walk in the New Mexico desert when a remote-controlled UFO landed 20 meters (70 ft) away from him. A voice from the UFO invited Fry to come for a ride. While the ship’s remote pilot talked to him, Fry was whisked away to New York City and back in only 30 minutes.
Fry’s host, Alan, had a lot to say to his bewildered passenger. Alan revealed that the aliens who were riding around Earth in flying saucers were originally earthlings themselves. Alan’s ancestors had built the legendary countries of Atlantis and Lemuria, two advanced superpowers that ended up destroying each other. The few survivors were forced to relocate to Mars, where they rebuilt their civilization and observed Earth from afar.
To spread the Martians’ messages, Fry founded a spiritual organization called Understanding, Inc. When it was founded in California in 1955, the group had only nine members. But it soon grew to have a number of members organized in 60 “units” across the world. Long after the original heyday of the contactees, the organization survived into the 1980s, although one academic study had noted it was by then “in serious decline.”
4 Orfeo Angelucci
A factory worker who had once suffered a nervous breakdown, Orfeo Angelucci and his contactee adventures were studied by the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Angelucci’s stories had a Christian tinge, involving angels, Lucifer, and even a meeting with Jesus Christ.
In possibly his most amusing anecdote, Angelucci claimed that he had swapped bodies with an alien named Neptune in January 1953. Angelucci remembered falling asleep on a divan on Earth but woke up in Neptune’s body on another planet.
Neptune’s companions, Lyra and Orion, showed Angelucci a projection of an ancient planet called Lucifer. The Luciferians tried conquering the people of other planets, and as punishment, they were imprisoned on Earth. According to Angelucci’s hosts, most modern humans were the descendants of the fallen Luciferians.
Like many of the other contactees on this list, Angelucci felt an obligation to save his fellow humans. While in the body of Neptune, Angelucci was shown a horrifying vision of the apocalypse. If the people of Earth failed to change their ways by 1986, their planet would be destroyed by a gigantic comet. Needless to say, the comet never came and Angelucci quietly died in 1993.
3 Reinhold O. Schmidt
On November 5, 1957, German-American farmer Reinhold O. Schmidt allegedly stumbled upon a balloon-like UFO in a remote part of Kearney, Nebraska. Curious, he approached the ship, but it shot a beam of light at his chest and paralyzed him. Then two men walked out of the UFO, searched Schmidt for weapons, and invited him inside. Oddly, the entire crew spoke German and their leader spoke English with a thick German accent.
After Schmidt was let out, the UFO took off into the air. Though he was worried that nobody would believe him, Schmidt decided that he had to contact the authorities. He took Kearney’s deputy sheriff to the spot of his encounter. Schmidt showed it to the chief of police and some other local notables as well.
The city authorities admitted to Schmidt that his story must have been true, but then they pressured him into denying it. When the story spread across the city, a defiant Schmidt was thrown in jail for a day.
Of course, Schmidt had many more encounters with the odd German-speaking UFO crew, and books and lectures naturally followed. It wasn’t long, however, before legal troubles had cast doubt on his claims. In 1961, Schmidt scammed an elderly widow out of thousands of dollars. He was convicted and sentenced to serve time in prison for grand theft.
2 Wilbert Smith
When the public first became interested in UFOs, there were two groups of believers in the spotlight. On the one side were the contactees who make up this list, laypeople who claimed they were talking, meeting, and traveling with beings from other worlds.
On the other side were more educated professionals represented by the likes of Donald Keyhoe, a naval aviator and cofounder of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). Keyhoe and his group dismissed contactee stories and tried doing more scientific investigations of UFOs using their backgrounds as military figures and scientists. The two groups never got along well. For example, Keyhoe often refused to be seen on TV shows with contactees.
Wilbert Smith, a radio engineer for the Canadian Department of Transport, was an interesting mix of the two competing groups. He served as a special adviser for the original NICAP, yet he associated with contactees like George Hunt Williamson, reporting to be in contact with the same extraterrestrial characters that Williamson’s circle knew. From 1950 until 1954, Smith also directed Canada’s Project Magnet, a government-funded research group that studied UFO sightings.
Smith’s conclusions greatly embarrassed the Department of Transport. He went beyond saying that the studied UFO sightings were real and argued that flying saucers were actually from parallel universes.
He believed that people could communicate with UFOs through psychic powers and pointed to bogus studies by a contactee group called Borderland Sciences Research Associates as proof. Unsurprisingly, Project Magnet eventually lost its funding, but Smith continued researching UFOs until his death on December 27, 1962.
1 William Dudley Pelley
William Dudley Pelley was perhaps the oddest contactee to come out of the 20th century. An extreme anti-Semite, he had worked as a screenwriter during the 1920s. But he left Hollywood because he thought Jews controlled the movie industry and the world at large.
After abandoning Hollywood, Pelley got involved in mysticism and published a popular article (and later book) about a near-death experience he had. Pelley claimed that he spent seven minutes in “eternity,” visiting God, Jesus, and hyperdimensional beings who told him that souls were reincarnated throughout time until they climbed the spiritual hierarchy and became white people.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Pelley eagerly combined his mysticism and racism into the Silver Legion of America, a paramilitary fascist group that attracted over 15,000 members. In 1936, Pelley unsuccessfully ran for president under the Christian Party, a political party he founded.
After years of listening to Pelley’s tantrums and threats, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his government became annoyed. Pelley was arrested, charged, and convicted of sedition in April 1942.
Once he was released from prison in 1950, Pelley was forbidden from political activism. Instead, he channeled his energy into mysticism, and his writings became even more inane.
Using some of his earlier ideas, Pelley created a set of racist spiritual teachings called Soulcraft, teaching that Asian, black, and white people had souls which came from different planets. To appeal to contemporary crackpots, Pelley threw in telepathy and UFOs as well, meeting with and influencing such early contactees as George Adamski and George Hunt Williamson.
Although Soulcraft had a small set of fans, Pelley never regained the popularity of his heyday in the 1930s. He died practically forgotten in June 1965.
Tristan Shaw blogs at Bizarre and Grotesque, where he writes about offbeat folklore, history, and mysteries.