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Glen Burnie's Aftermath


Where were the Caldwells while the Glen Burnie flap was raging? According to Karl's widow, the family probably never even knew that the Air Force was looking for them. Pearl Caldwell recalls that her husband Karl, whom she married in 1944, was by then estranged from his parents and had little to do with them for the rest of his life. She remembers her father-in-law as a quiet and unassuming man, and believes that he made his living as a contractor and builder after abandoning the aircraft business. During Karl's childhood, the Caldwells had lived an amazingly nomadic life. According to Pearl Caldwell, Karl had attended no less than forty different schools as a child and had "suffered" from his father's obsession with flying machines. At the time of the Glen Burnie incident, Karl and Pearl were living in Florida and Jonathan and Olive may have settled in New Orleans.

Was Caldwell a misunderstood visionary or a con artist? He and his wife seem to have been average folks - with the exception of their preoccupation with autogyros. His landlord, Louis Pumphrey, described him as "extremely likable and pleasant." John Ganz's opinion was that Caldwell was obsessively secretive, since he covered his prototypes with tarps at night even in securely locked workshops. Photographs taken in the late 1930s show Caldwell as a tall, dapper, gray-haired, professorial-looking man, not at all like a mad scientist or a confidence trickster. On the other hand, Pumphrey recalled Caldwell's wife Olive, a sometime schoolteacher, as being "talkative and bossy." However, Caldwell's career leaves one with the distinct impression that he was merely constructing a series of elaborate props that he could use to entice investors into handing over tidy sums of cash in return for shares in companies that never materialized. The fact that he seems to have perfected the art of absconding seems to confirm this impression.

Ironically, the story of Jonathan Caldwell's saucers shared the pages of many newspapers with another bizarre tale on August 20, 1949. According to the International News Service story, two California prospectors named Buck Fitzgerald and Mase Garney reported that a twenty-four foot disc flying at three hundred miles per hour had crashed in Death Valley the previous day. When the miners approached the object, two "little men" jumped out and ran off into the desert. "The men looked human but they were very small -- like dwarfs," the miners claimed. (Photo that ran in paper was unrelated to Caldwell's story)

William Moore argued in a 1992 article that the Fitzgerald-Garney story may have inspired one of the most insidious myths of UFO lore -- the alleged Aztec, New Mexico crash-retrieval of August 1949. The key player in the Aztec affair was a con artist named Silas M. Newton (Newton himself may have been behind the Fitzgerald-Garney story, according to some sources). Newton was an amateur golfer and "oil financier" who lived in New York City in the 1930-32 period. In July 1932, Newton was arrested for selling $25,000 worth of bogus oil stocks to a New Jersey investor and was extradited to Newark. According to Moore, sometime during the August 21-23, 1949 period, just after the Caldwell and Fitzgerald-Garney stories had run their course, Newton met with Frank Scully, a columnist for the Hollywood-based film magazine Variety. Newton confidentially informed Scully that he had amazing news: just the day before he had met a scientist who had been involved with the analysis of a flying saucer and its dead, dwarfish extraterrestrial crew, which had been captured by the military near Aztec, New Mexico. Scully swallowed the tale and quickly produced several Variety articles and eventually a book, "Behind the Flying Saucers," on the Aztec incident.

Someone finally did track Caldwell down, but he had nothing to add to the story.

After breaking with his father, Karl established a business as an electrical technician and tried to put his strange youth behind him. When Jonathan passed away in 1956, Karl destroyed many of the papers of his father's former corporations.

Karl Caldwell, whom the U. S. Air Force once suspected of being the son of the man behind the flying saucers, ended his days repairing pagers for the staff of the Stanford Linear Accelerator near California's Silicon Valley. He died in 1993.

Today the farmland where Caldwell's Glen Burnie workshop once stood is a typical residential suburb, built over with homes, strip malls and convenience stores. Available documentation gives no hint as to how the OSI finally disposed of the two "prototypes of the flying saucer."

The Glen Burnie Incident offers a different perspective on the Air Force's handling of the flying saucer phenomenon circa 1949. It was a time when opinions about unidentified flying objects had still not hardened. The suspicion that they were some type of secret weapons was still entertained within the intelligence community, and technical intelligence agents would continue to sift for clues that saucers were Soviet reconnaissance vehicles well into the 1950s. Even the possibility that they were the products of some lone inventor's workshop could still be considered with some seriousness.

Even so, the fact that Jonathan Caldwell's bizarre, impractical flying machines were investigated by the Air Force, and even heralded as the original prototypes of the flying disks, stands as one of the most peculiar episodes of the early history of the UFO phenomenon, as cluttered with odd incidents as that is. The Glen Burnie fiasco also reveals that the problems the Air Force faced regarding flying saucer press relations remained unsolved. Twice within little more than two years senior Air Force officers were forced to issue strong statements denying hasty claims by lower levels that genuine flying saucers had been retrieved.

If the true nature of the debris recovered at Roswell remains controversial, the Glen Burnie saucers are merely ridiculous. But somehow it seems perversely fitting that Jonathan Caldwell - whether he was a dreamer, an unsung genius, or a conniving swindler - achieved through the Air Force's obsession with flying saucers the kind of reputation that he had never been able to build for himself. For two days, at least, he was the man who invented flying saucers.