The Philosophy of the Flying Saucers

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Seth discovers an old reel to reel recording of a man discussing flying saucers, a secret language, and a race of evil aliens living in caves below the Mojave desert. Seth realizes that the man on the tape is his father, who was part of what could be America’s first viral conspiracy theory; The Shaver Mysteries. 

The Shaver Mystery. Photo courtesy of Seth Whaland.

CHARLIE (TAPE):  I have your latest letter in front of me, February 19th, but it wasn't mailed until March the 1st. And uh, I want to go over that. I have a bunch of Shaver’s letters here, and all this…there’s so much to go into. This is probably going to take me a couple of days. Because I don't know what all to say here. One thing that I want to say now while I think of it this is to do with the flying saucers.

WILL: My friend Seth was going through old boxes that his family had and he found a reel to reel tape. He just thought it was cool so he kept it around. Eventually all this time later his friend offered to dub it for him. And so he put it on, he was with some friends and they started listening to it. 

SETH: We put it on and it's just a man talking. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): I work at General Electric here in Allentown, I’m on the assembly line. 

SETH: It has that old timey sort of timbre it just sounds old. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): And the woman that works aside me is a rather elderly woman. And she goes for walks sometimes at one or two in the morning. 

SETH: Then starts mentioning stuff that I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

CHARLIE (TAPE): This particularly night she was out and she saw an object in the sky, a luminous roundish shaped object. It came down near this field. As she went through the tree and she could see this object she came close enough to see humanoids come out of the object. They were not green but they were sort of grayish in color, just walking around and talking right around the ship. They were plainly seen because of the ship still giving off this luminous glow. And there were footprints of tiny creatures all around this object. Well this is one of those things that I’ve heard, and I believe it.

The man on the tape wasn’t just telling a story he’d heard, he seemed to be part of an investigation of some kind…. communicating with others and corroborating stories.

CHARLIE (TAPE): The proof was there are far as footprints. Of course that’s not real proof, but I mean there was evidence there. It’s gone now, and it would have been a good landing report.

He also kept mentioning a man named Richard Shaver, who seemed to be a focal point of the discussions and a leader of the investigation

CHARLIE (TAPE): Now what should I say about Shaver? Well you’re getting tapes from him so you must know something about him by now. ‘Dick was pretty annoyed with some of the things you said in your tape’.  Huh. Well that guy gets awful annoyed awful easy and then he gets mad if you get annoyed at something that he says. I don’t know.

The man mentions something called the Shaver Mystery… and even describes driving to Summit Arkansas to meet Richard Shaver himself.

CHARLIE (TAPE): When I was down there, that was an awful expensive trip, I think it cost me 200 and some dollars when you figure everything out. Well I learned my lesson, I'm not going to drive down to Arkansas alone in my Oldsmobile again. When I finally found this town I went to the general store and I asked if they had ever heard of a Richard Shaver. They said sure, he's 3 houses down the road. So I walked around and knocked on the door, and he said come on in. I said I’m Charlie Whaland from Allentown.

This is my friend Seth again

SETH: It wasn’t until he said I’m Charlie Whaland, from Allentown Pennsylvania, that I was like oh wait. That’s my dad.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Dear Mr.Whaland, I hear that you are a personal long time friend of Dick Shaver. If you have time I would love to find out your opinions of Dick and the Shaver Mystery. 

The story of the Shaver Mystery began in 1943 when a man named Richard Sharpe Shaver sent a letter to Amazing Stories, an early science fiction magazine. But Shaver said his story was not fiction, it was an incredible thing that had actually happened to him. These are excerpts from Shaver’s writing, read by an actor.

Copy of Amazing Stories, March 1945. Photo credit: Ziff-Davis Publishing / Robert Gibson Jones (CC BY 2.0)

VOICE READING EXCERPT: I myself cannot explain it, I know only that I remember Lemuria. Remember it with the faithfulness that I accept with the absolute conviction of a fanatic. And yet, I am not a fanatic. I am a simple man, a worker in metal employed at a steel mill in Pennsylvania.

While working in a factory, Shaver said he gained the ability to hear the thoughts of others. He quit his job, he became a hobo for a while, and that led to his discovery of a race of Pre-historical extraterrestrial creatures called the Titans. They were once part of a large civilization here on earth,  but most of those had left in spacecraft… while a few were abandoned here on earth. Of those, a small number were the Noble Teros. But unfortunately, a larger number of the ones left behind became mutated by the sun’s radiation into sadistic savages. They were called Dero.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: A race of Dero is produced whose every through movement is concluded with a decision to kill. They will kill instantly. They will instantly kill or torture anyone who will make contact unless they are extremely familiar with them and fear them. That is why they do not instantly kill each other.

And the reason Richard Shaver knew so much about Deros and the underground caverns, is because he was held prisoner by the Deros in the Cavern World. He saw how they used rays to read and manipulate people’s minds. Now he was here to tell readers… they’re still doing it

VOICE READING EXCERPT: By the elder gods. I swore to myself with the realization that no god ray was going to protect us. It’s true, our perfect government is not so perfect after all.

The series began when Shaver’s original letter was turned into a novella, called I Remember Lemuria. It was written along with the editor of Amazing Stories, Raymond Palmer who enhanced the Shaver stories with scantily clad women and more action… and it began the most successful series in the history of the magazine.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: To me, it is tragic. That the only way I can tell my story is in the guise of fiction. And yet I am thankful for the opportunity to do even this. And to editor Ray Palmer I express my unbounded gratitude. I know that if even a few of you go to the length he has gone to check many of the things I remember. A beginning will have been made to something. The ending of which, if ending there is, awes me beyond my core power to express my feelings.

They called it The Shaver mystery.

TORONTO: The Shaver mystery at the time was a new approach to science fiction in that it was claimed to be real.

I found Richard Toronto through a website called Shavertron, which he’s run for almost 30 years. He also wrote a book on Shaver’s life called War Over Lemuria. At first he didn’t want to talk to me because he said he was retired from serving as a Shaver spokesperson. But eventually he came around to the idea. 

TORONTO: I mean it was huge, it was written up in Life magazine at the time. To me it was the beginning of conspiracy theories, UFO’s I mean it was ground zero right there with Shaver mystery.

For people who were unhappy in their lives, The Shaver Mystery explained a lot. It wasn’t their fault things were going badly for them, the problem is we’re all being manipulated by Deros.

TORONTO: I guess if you just say, “oh yeah there's these really ugly demon-like creatures living in caverns, and they have these weird machines, and they can put thoughts in your heads and they control us, and they make all these bad things happen” No one likes to think that they’re being controlled although its happening constantly. If you go to conspiracy lore in general, it’s like forget physics, it’s conspiracy that runs the universe. 

Richard Toronto told me about Vaughn Greene, another long time Shaver mysteries fan. He’s 90 years old now, but he’s still very invested in the mystery.

VAUGHN: A group of extraterrestrials and they came to the earth called the Titans. There were two groups, the bad guys were the Deros and the good guys were the Teros. Shaver would say that’s why a lot of these things happen, like wars, massacres and plagues. Because Deros were doing this stuff. 

Photo courtesy of Seth Whaland.

TORONTO: There was this movement after it all became real popular in ‘46, ‘47, people forming clubs and going out looking for cavern entrances. Everyone wanted to get into the caves and find those Deros and wipe ‘em out, and stop all this mind control that was going on.

VAUGHN: Well what happened was, I guess it must have been around 1947. I had a motorcycle, we figured we’d try to find some caves that Shaver was talking about. So we looked on the map and there was this place called Mitchell’s caverns out in the Mojave desert. We packed a kerosene lantern, kerosene, a couple of pistols, all kinds of stuff you know we were looking for caves, entrances. We didn’t know what we were going into.

These are excerpts from “I Remember Lemuria,” read by an actor

VOICE READING EXCERPT: Any person is Ro who is weaker than the mental impulses about him. Men are Ro today because they are not self-determining, though they think they are. We are part of a huge juggernaut, and we are ro in consequence..

WILL: Seth’s dad, the man on the reel to reel tape was another one of those people caught up in the Shaver Mystery conspiracy theories. But he had met Shaver himself, and like Shaver, he saw this as a kind of philosophy…a way of examining human behavior. The word Ro means a person who is subservient, a slave.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I had in mind a book on Ro and what it is to be Ro, and explain the various ways in which we are becoming a race of Ro people. What if Ro is inevitable? And if this is the case, let it be a state of Te-ro, and not Dero.

He could feel the negative influence the Dero were having on him, and having on society in general. 

CHARLIE (TAPE): I get disgusted times like the last couple months. Very disgusted with everything. I believe that it’s almost a hopeless case, and I almost decide to become Ro. But I don’t know, it’s not in my makeup.

The language of The Shaver Mysteries, words like Tero and the Dero, it’s an ancient language that Richard Shaver said he learned during his time in Cavern world.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: The universal language of space; a language originated by a Titan Elder of the far past. The name of the language is Mantong. 

This is Richard Toronto again

Vaughn Greene. Photo courtesy of Will McCarthy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

TORONTO: The Mantong language was an alternate alphabet that Shaver developed. Each letter which was just like our letters, coincidentally, ABCDE, each letter stood for a concept.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: A is for Animal, B is to Be, C means to See, D disintegrate

TORONTO:  It’s supposed to be the original language here on earth, mantong. By using his alphabet you could decipher what the real meanings of words were.

VOICE READING EXCERPT: D disintegrate energy, detrimental, E energy, R horror, dangerous quantity of Dis force in the object, O orifice, a source concept 

CHARLIE (TAPE): My main interest in this Shaver mystery, as I look over all the material I have here, is in the philosophy of it. I’m interested in the philosophy of the flying saucers. 

WILL: Here’s my friend Seth again

SETH: He was just a guy that was my dad. I knew that when he was young he was in a band that toured. He was really into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and he was really into UFOs.

SETH: I never really saw him read a whole lot. Then, in his last few years, there would always be books on the kitchen table about how God doesn’t exist.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Now I’m not a religionist in the sense you might think. I’m no godly person. I don’t believe in that sort of thing. But I believe in the philosophy of this. 

This all happened before Seth was born. His dad never told him about meeting Richard Shaver, but they did talk about his theories sometimes.

SETH: So on Sunday nights he would drive my brother and I back to my mom’s. In the winter the sun would set at 5 pm, so we’d always be driving back in the dark. In those winter months on the drive home he would be more inspired to talk about UFOs or the Dero and the Tero or things he had read about or heard about. Describing this almost other theory of good and evil.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I’m wondering whether I’m making any sense to you.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Well, Shaver and I talked over doing a book. Just writing down things from day to day, things that are on your mind. And then one day sitting down with all these thousands of sheets of paper and trying to make a story out of it. Well I had thought of doing this, a story on my life. Not that I’m anyone to do a story on my life, but you can write about life as you see it and you know it. 

Amazing Stories published its last The Shaver Mystery story in 1948, even though Richard Shaver continued to write stories in other publications.

As fast as it became popular, it also just went away. I think the biggest part of that is that there was a very vocal contingent of science fiction fans who just hated the idea. They thought it was a hoax, they thought it was a gimmick, this whole true story thing. They staged letter writing campaigns, they talked about it in their local sci-fi clubs and they were able to build enough momentum that the whole Shaver Mystery ended up being blackballed by the science fiction community.

TORONTO: Science fiction fans, as crazy as they look on the outside, are really kind of conservative bunch. They always were. 

But even though Amazing Stories stopped publishing the Shaver Mystery. Richard Shaver’s philosophy still stuck with people… like Seth’s dad, Charlie Whaland

CHARLIE (TAPE): (slurps) Drinking a little Pepsi Cola here.

CHARLIE (TAPE): Uh, I didn’t want to get into this sensationalism. I wanted it to be the people who went along with Shaver, not this constant controversy all the time. Explain different people and what they’re doing, exactly what's being done, and what can people do. How can they get on the ball with this sort of thing.

SETH: We went every weekend to look for turtles and snakes. We would eat a meal together, drink a lot of ice tea, or drive back roads listening to the eagles game on the radio while we looked to see if there were any snakes in the road. Or sometimes we just would sit at the kitchen table at my grandmother’s eating slices of cheese and watching the birds. You know he wasn’t a dope, but he was also curious enough that he just wanted to know.

CHARLIE (TAPE): I believe that Shaver is closer to the truth than anyone. I believe that his story of the past is the story of the future. There are a few of us who can see this. Whether we can do anything to change the situation or not remains to be seen. I’ll get back to that later, this tape is coming up near the end anyway. I see the tape coming up near the end but I don’t know how much time I ha- (CUTS OUT, TAPE BUZZ)

Seth’s dad passed away in 2013 after battling cancer. 

SETH: He lived the entire decades of the 70s and I might have this one hour and a half long tape of him talking, but for me that’s all I have. Since he’s not around to share any stories anymore this is one concrete story that I have.

There are sources who indicate that it was likely Richard Shaver suffered from bi-polar disorder. And part of the time he claimed to have been held captive, he was actually a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

But there was a time when the stories he wrote with Raymond Palmer were not only wildly popular, they also connected with readers in a deep way; It made them question their lives and jump on a motorcycle to hunt for secret caverns.
This is Shaver fan Vaughn Greene again. One of the guys who had gone searching for the Deros out in the desert. 

Vaughn Greene’s library. Photo courtesy of Will McCarthy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

VAUGHN: A lot of people thought Shaver was either crazy, or a hoaxer. But a lot of things he did make me think he was really sincere.  He was onto something, but maybe he was onto it on the wrong track or something.

This is Richard Toronto again

TORONTO: The weird thing was, another pulp fiction writer living at the time and writing at the time: L. Ron Hubbard. He was pretty much saying the same things.

WILL: Worked out pretty well for him.

TORONTO: It worked out really well! Some people said, Shaver, if you had just turned it into a religion.

2 years after Amazing Stories Magazine published their final Shaver Mystery stories in 1950, L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics… the canonical text of Scientology. 

TORONTO: What Shaver didn’t have that L. Ron Hubbard had was a way out. L. Ron Hubbard had a whole system of getting clear and Shaver really didn’t have that part of it. Like… redemption.



Bob Carlson


Bob Carlson

Reporter: Will McCarthy is a freelance audio producer and master’s student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.  

Editor: Bob Carlson & Carla Green

Theme Music by Alex Weston, with music help from Joe Augustine and Narrative Music, Musical saw + vocals by Krissy Barker