The belief in unidentified flying objects around the United States is unquestionably growing. Locally, in Pierce County, eyes are on the skies as the area is known for UFO sightings. A recent Gallup poll found that fully 46 percent of Americans are true believers, and about 80 percent believe that life exists outside of Earth. That is more than certainty in evolution and just ten points off the number of people who believe the Earth is round.

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Cultures throughout history have recorded unusual sightings, some historians state. They point to primitive drawings like those found in China dating to 5,000 B.C.E. that show what some say is a row of saucer-like craft bearing strange-looking animals peering down at the ground below. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans also reported sighting UFOs, as have the Mayans and Inca. Their descriptions are strikingly like those of modern-day observers. In fact, records exist of more than 300 sightings of UFOs before the 20th century.

Pierce County UFO sightings
The sculpture in front of the Pantages Theater shows the basic description of what was reported in the Maury Island Incident. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

Local Native American Tribes have lore passed down through generations of strange sky creatures and darting balls of light. The earliest written account of flying saucer sights on Puget Sound dates back 110 years, when the Tacoma Daily Ledger ran a story under the headline, “What was it? Wonderful apparition seen over Tacoma” way back in the fall of 1896.

The article regaled its readers with an account of a husband and wife seeing a strange light from their Tacoma Avenue house. The light seemed high in the sky over what was then commonly called Mount Tacoma, and modern folks call it Mount Rainier. The Puyallup Tribe calls it t?q?u?m?? — pronounced “Taquoma.”

“It flashed often and each time, sent forth various colored rays of light, shooting out from the center in every direction, like spokes from the hub of a wheel,” the article stated. “It seemed to have a wavering motion and swayed back and forth in its course through the heavens like a vessel at sea in a storm. He is puzzled to know what it was.”

Pierce County UFO sightings
“Paris in Orbit” was a benefit roller skating show organized by the Tacoma Roller Skating Dance and Figure Club and performed at the Tacoma Roller Bowl in 1959. The show included a dance number, “The Martians,” that involved space children from the planet Mars with their handy flying saucer in the background. Photo courtesy: Richards Studio D123737-10/ Tacoma Public Library

This strange occurrence would not be the last account of mysterious things flying in the sky over Puget Sound. The recent declassification of military reports on such matters suggests that our skies might be a hub of unknown objects. The location of large and active military bases and airplane testing facilities might explain a few things since it is not unusual for new plane designs to stream through our skies that go unacknowledged for security reasons.

One of the most known sightings of UFOs in Puget Sound has gone down in history as the Maury Island Incident because it was one of the first to start the “Alien Invasion panic” of the late 1940s that lasted more than a decade. The facts behind what really happened over the skies of Commencement Bay and Mount Rainier and the legacy the Maury Island incident created are matters of debate to this day. The tale is a complex case that spanned several months in the summer of 1947.

Pierce County UFO sightings
The coolest parents on the block built the rocket ship “Space Raider” out of plywood in September of 1953 so that their imaginative youngsters could travel to our planet and demand that Earthlings “Take them to their leader.” Photo courtesy: Richards Studio D77853-1/ Tacoma Public Library

Harold Dahl would later claim that on the afternoon of June 21, 1947, he and his crew of log scavengers were putting around Commencement Bay near Maury Island, the lesser-known sibling of Vashon Island to the north of Tacoma. The story goes that they were salvaging logs that had floated away from their sawmills that Dahl would then sell back to the buzzsaws of progress.

Dahl then said he saw six flying saucers in the skies, and two of the objects even collided. The mid-air crash, the story goes, caused debris to cascade into the water, some even hitting Dahl’s boat.

Just three days later, a pilot and businessman named Kenneth Arnold would later say that he saw nine disks skipping around Mount Rainier. Frontpage stories appeared on the “flying disks” “flying platters” or, to use the more popular term, “flying saucers.”

Those articles prompted more sightings, and the sky watchers were in full force.

Pierce County UFO sightings
Kenneth Arnold with a drawing of what the flying saucers he witnessed looked like. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Historical Museum

July 4, 1947, was a big day for UFO sightings as reports from Portland to Bellingham streamed in, including some from police officers, four harbor patrolmen, and people on the street reported seeing disks in the sky. A military statement stated the sightings had not produced enough facts “to warrant further investigation.”

The first seed of coverup for the conspiracy-minded was planted. An exposé of the Maury Island incident ran in the pulp magazine Fate in 1948. The book “The Coming of the Saucers” and Gray Barker‘s 1956 book “They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers,” which helped to popularize the image of “Men In Black” in mainstream culture, kept the story alive for years. However, the Maury Island Incident would be overshadowed by “The Incident” at Roswell, New Mexico, which happened just weeks after our locally famous cases.

New sightings are reported every few days and are all noted on the National UFO Reporting Center.