This is the story of Ray Palmer and the fabulous Shaver hoax. It is a tale full of sound and pulp, signifying... well, you'll see. As this is the 70th anniversary of the mystery, hoax, or whatever you call it, and since everyone is way too centered on the 'important' things like, the Supreme Court and ecological disaster, it's up too me to tell the story.
Now is time everyone gets all wavey...
Raymond A. Palmer, (what the 'A' stood for is a matter of controversy) born in Milwaukee in 1910, was a hunchback that stood a little over three feet tall. He said he was the victim of a childhood accident, (no one knows exactly what it was, again the stories varied) that left him hunchbacked. This crippled him and led him to be, well, around three feet. This did not get in the way of his writing/editing career, or spreading nonsense where he was fit to do so.
Palmer was a fan of early Science Fiction, putting out one of the first fanzines, The Comet, in 1926, and he started selling stories to the pulps in 1930 ("The Time Ray of Jandra", Wonder Stories, 6/30). The Ray Palmer story really kicks in when publishing house Ziff-Davis took over the dying pulp, Amazing Stories.
Ziff-Davis replaced the editor with Palmer, and Palmer and the magazine did a spectacular 180. Overnight it went from hard science to action, adventure, space opera and bug eyed monsters. The Fox network for 1938.
Now, I'm not saying that the pulps were bastions of intelligence and integrity; I mean, where do you think Scientology came from? But Palmer lowered even those standards, and raised sales dramatically. Palmer started an even sillier pulp the next year, Fantastic Adventures.
But Palmer was restless, he was looking for the next big thing, the next sales boost. He found it in a letter from a welder in Pennsylvania, Richard Sharpe Shaver (no kidding, Sharpe Shaver). Shaver had a fantastic imagination... or did he?
The Mystery of Sharpe Shaver!
Shavers' letter was the first inkling of a vast plot to destroy the surface world. I say surface world, because the threat to our way of life came from beneath the earth, deep below the earth's crust, in the form of twisted little creatures called Deros. It goes something like this:
Once upon a time, the earth was the domain of two races, the Atlans and the Titans, powerful beings who lived in, of course, Atlantis and Lemuria. To protect themselves from the sun and its rays, they built vast caverns beneath the earth. But to no use. The solar rays were too powerful, and the mighty races had to abandon earth, leaving behind the vast caverns that were supposed to be their salvation. Their kingdoms, conveniently, sank beneath the ocean destroying all sign of their existence. But wait, what about the caverns? Well, a troll-like race of creatures found the caverns, and the machines that the super-beings left behind. Radiation from the machines turned these people into mean, evil, and stupid midgets Shaver called the "Deros" (short for 'detrimental robots'). And they are still there, using mental powers gained from the radiation to effect disasters on the surface world.
Palmer took the letter and re-wrote it as a short novel (taking out all the really sexual stuff, this was 1945 after all), "I Remember Lemuria" publishing it in the March, 1945 issue of Amazing. The response was tremendous. Palmer received thousands of letters, a number of them from people who claimed to also be in touch with the 'Deros'. Palmer had found his next big thing, and took to re-writing Shavers every letter, and presenting it as fact, not fiction. The older SF fans were horrified, but they weren't the targets of the 'Lemuria' stories, were they? The audience that ate this strange stew of cracked science and myth were mostly younger readers, and, of course, those inclined to believe little evil green men and 'unexplained' disasters. There must have been a lot of them.
This went on for several years. Even though mature fans thought that to present this nonsense as if it were fact was immoral, Amazing reached it's highest sales during the Shaver nonsense. It later came out that Shaver wrote some of his dispatches from the safety of a sanitarium, but Palmer never informed his readers that the whole thing was a hoax, a sales gimmick that worked quite well, for awhile.
Ziff-Davis, probably finally tired of the whole thing, let Palmer go in 1947.
Did Palmer believe the things he wrote? The Deros, the caves, the evil thoughts beamed from beneath the earth? Some say yes, some say no, some think, well, maybe. Martin Gardner, to whose article "Who Was Ray Palmer" this writer is in great debt, (from Gardners' book, "The New Age, Notes of a Fringe Watcher") thinks no. "He may have been slightly paranoid in the pleasure he got from his endless flimflams, but I think his primary motive was simply create uproars that would sell magazines."
But Palmer's end at Amazing was not the end of the Shaver Hoax. Palmer was in search of the next thing to sell magazines. He found it in the form of an excited manufacturer of fire fighting equipment named Kenneth Arnold. Seems in 1947, Mr. Arnold had spotted nine 'strangely shaped' objects over the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. It would be the lead story in Palmers new magazine, that magazine of the paranormal, publisher of all that is silly, "Fate". Palmer went on to publish many stories about the 'flying saucers', even putting out a magazine under that title. And where did these saucers come from?
Why, from under the earth of course.
But, of course.
Ray Palmer* died in 1977. He was an increasingly marginalized figure in SF towards the end of his life, but he deserves credit. Credit for helping push the recognition of such things as flying saucers, the Bermuda Triangle, and holes at the poles of the earth where reside little beings, intent on world domination.
Gee, thanks Ray.
Yes, the super hero ‘The Atom’ was named after Palmer, because both are short. DC' editor Julie Schwartz thought it was funny.