Degree of Separation

- by Don Ecsedy, February 15, 2014, additions: 2/17, 2/18, 2/19

Throughout this site I use the term “ufologist” to mean anyone who studies the ufo phenomenon, thus I include ufo skeptics, as well as ufo advocates, under the term. I am not a ufologist because I am not studying the ufo phenomenon as a whole. As the banner above reads, this site is about the 1947 wave — the wave itself as an historical event, rather than a ufological study to gauge the veracity of individual sightings or to collect and catalogue them. I am not bound by the needs and interests of ufology. This leads to my asking questions about a case that may not be on-point from the perspective of ufology.

I’ve studied the Rhodes case first and more thoroughly than others. The more I delved into the USAF and FBI files, the more odd it seemed, and so there is a plethora of quite obvious questions awaiting resolution, but there was something else. It is the “something else” in a case that calls to the ‘Sherlock’ in me and the game’s afoot.

In the Rhodes case, the ‘something else’ became the question, “I wonder if the AAF or the USN had an interest in Rhodes’ work?”

The Rhodes 16 Inch Telescope

The most public of Rhodes’ work, his 16 inch telescope, occurred in 1952.

William A. Rhodes 16-inch Telescope - Courtesy of Graeme Woods

The Rhodes 16 inch telescope was leased from him by the University of New Mexico, and was installed at Cloudcroft, NM.

From the 1961, report on Cloudcroft prepared for the USAF: From the 1961, report on Cloudcroft prepared for the USAF:

It was later purchased for Clyde Tombaugh (who seems to have been a fan of 16 inchers) when he became head of the UNM’s astronomy department, and moved to Mt Tortugas.


The Rhodes Photo-Multiplier Telescope

However, the 16 incher does not answer my question. 1952 is too late, and the USAF interest too incidental, to impact 1947. Lucky for me, Rhodes was working on another telescope then. This is the device referred to by AFOSI agent Lynn C. Aldrich in his report of July 15, 1949:

“Subject has built a small telescope to study astronomy, has made a television set and numerous other items” (NARA-PBBB1-916 and MAXW-PBB2-1253, as found elsewhere on Foreshadower).

The “small telescope” and “television set” is the “Photo-Multiplier Telescope” (for which a patent for an “electronic light amplifier” filed by Lee DeForest and William A. Rhodes in 1950, is related).

The photo of Rhodes and the telescope is from the March 1949 issue of Radio Electronics magazine, the other appeared in Popular Astronomy in 1949.

This telescope seems the best candidate for an item of interest to the USAF and USN in 1947. However, to get to 1947 we will have to go back a decade or more, to review a project undertaken by Dr. Donald H. Menzel at Harvard.


Donald H. Menzel

In the mid-1930s Menzel became interested in Bernard Lyot’s coronagraph telescope. Menzel built a coronagrarph at Harvard, however, unlike Lyot’s which was installed in the Pyrenees, Menzel’s coronagraph was at sea-level and in the coastal climate of New England. The atmospheric conditions were not suitable for a coronagraph. Menzel made attempts at filtering for the conditions with little success. Obtaining funding for the project itself was difficult and sporadic in the depressed economy, and more difficult still to find the funds needed to move the project to a suitable location.

Menzel was a Coloradan. He sought funding in Colorado and obtained it. He sought a location with the infrastructure to support the project and found it in Climax, Colorado. I suspect Menzel would have preferred the filtering to have worked in or near Harvard, rather than relocation to Colorado. Consider the commute between Climax and Harvard in 1940. Menzel turned over the Climax operation to his student Walter Orr Roberts, and returned to Harvard.

I’m interested in Menzel’s attempts to filter the atmospherics but haven’t located a good account of it, yet. I understand they were (or. some were) “electronic”.

With the US involvement in the war, the United States Navy funded the coronagraph project. I do not know how this came about. Menzel joined the USN as a Lt. Commander in Intelligence and I assume the two events are related. According to Dr. Roberts, the USN assigned an officer to the Climax coronagraph, Lieutenant Lewis Larmore (

Larmore joined the Navy in 1943 while an “instructor in physics” (University of Utah Bulletin 1942-1943). I do not know when Larmore and Menzel first met, but would like to know. It may have been while both were in the Navy; perhaps Larmore was chosen by Menzel for the assignment, but I don’t even know whether they met at all. They were definitely acquainted, working and publishing together during the 1960s and afterwards.

After returning to civilian life, Larmore and his wife, Mary Elizabeth (nee Russell) moved to Phoenix Arizona. He became an assistant professor of physics at Arizona State, Tempe in 1947. In 1946 they owned, with a partner, a store in Phoenix, Sunland Photo, and Acme Radio Sales and Service.

I have not yet found a document combining the 1946 Lewis and Mary E Larmore of Sunland Photo and the 1947 Lewis and Mary E Larmore of Arizona State, Tempe. It is a long shot that they are not the same couple. Both electronics and photography were technologies employed by the ’1947′ Larmore, who had already published on the subjects.

Larmore at Arizona State


Society for Research on Meteorites

The Southwest has an appeal for geologists and astronomers, professional or amateur. An interest in meteorites brings the two sciences together. The Society for Research on Meteorites was founded, I believe, by New Mexicans H. H. Nininger and Lincoln La Paz. They held their 9th annual meeting in 1946 in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Attending the meeting, besides Dr. La Paz and Nininger, were Dr Frederick C. Leonard, UCLA, Dr. Paul Houl, UCLA, Dr. Asbjorn Ousdal, USC, Dr. John A. Russell, USC, Dr. A.S. King, Mt Wilson Observatory, and Dr. C. C. Lampland, Lowell Observatory, plus Walter H. Hass, William A. Rhodes, Oscar Monnig, Archie M. Newton, and Major L. F. Brady. Dr Fred C. Whipple was on the executive board.

I’ve pointed out these names because of a comment I received from a ufologist upon my mentioning Rhodes membership in it: that the Society was just a social club for amateurs (because, I assume, they accepted Rhodes as a member). According to the ufologist, Rhodes was an embittered loner and poseur, so the Society couldn’t be for serious science.

A few weeks after the meeting, Nininger (who, like Rhodes was self-taught) had the public opening of the Meteorite Museum outside Winslow Arizona (Nininger had perhaps the largest private collection of meteorites in the world. More can be found in the Nininger article in Wikipedia). A news story in the Winslow Mail about the event reports:

“Dr. Nininger expressed interest in the report Lincoln La Paz of the Univeristy of New Mexico had visited Phoenix last Sunday to inspect a metallic object believed to be a meteorite found by two Phoenix men following the meteor display recently.

According to William Rhodes, who with Cody Hutson, traced the fall of the meteor with cameras and then found a 15 3/4 pound piece of metal about 12 miles south of Chandler, he expects a report from La Paz within a week. La Paz took the object and collateral data for study.”

Rhodes and La Paz knew each other from the Society, and Nininger had known Rhodes since at least the late 1930s. Cody Hutson would become a founding member of the Phoenix Observatory Association, along with Rhodes and Larmore, in 1948.

I expect sooner or later to find Larmore’s name on the Society’s member list. It was a good fit for his interests at the time.


The Phoenix Observatory Association

POA was founded in November 1948 at Phoenix College under the leadership of Amos H. Hoff, professor of astronomy there. Its major project then was making a 24 inch telescope.

Graeme Woods provided Foreshadower with a photocopy of the May 1961 POA Bulletin. The relevant section reads:

“By way of a little history in regard to the club and to the Telescope. The first meeting of the Phoenix Observatory Ass’n. was held November 15, 1948, at Phoenix College. William A. Rhodes was elected President, and Cody Hutson Secretary-Treasurer. The charter members were as follows: Bill Rhodes, Cody Hutson, Amos Hoff, James Corn, James Wells, J. D. Roeder, Paul S. Griffin, Thomas A. Frye, Floyd F. Lyon, S. Ray Booher, Lewis Larmore, John Ericson and Carl Ericson.”

The date, November 15, 1948 — Lt. Col. Clingerman’s letter to Lewis Larmore is dated June 16, 1948, five months earlier. I wonder what Rhodes and Larmore had to say about it to each other.


Waynes Midway Inn

I doubt the “revelation” that Dr Lewis Larmore had been a shopkeeper will taint his reputation. Bill Rhodes was a jazz musician.

At least since the late 1930s in Phoenix, Rhodes had been a bandleader, although I do not think the band at Wayne’s was the “Bill Rhodes Orchestra” mentioned in earlier news stories. The third image, from 1944, shows Rhodes and the band at Waynes. As I recall the context of the photo, the pianist was a guest. I think he was someone well known on the club circuit who had dropped by Waynes. Rhodes is either playing the trumpet or posing with it for the shot. Rhodes also had a local radio show, which back in the day, meant live music rather than recordings, so he was probably not a disk-jockey, but a performer or host.

There is this.

  • Reflexions

    I don’t attempt to convince the reader of my interpretation of the evidence, but I do present the evidence for it, and the readers can make up their own minds. I appreciate critique, but the evidence has to be accounted for. New evidence, contradictory evidence, is always welcome.

    Some things I don’t present because I have nothing to qualify it. There are lots of Bill Rhodes and Lewis Larmores in 1947, including in Arizona. Such references have to be qualified by something identifiably this Rhodes and this Larmore before I’ll incorporate it.

    Larmore is important, not only because he is named in the Rhodes PBB file, but if the Navy were interested in Rhodes’ work, Larmore is a possible vector for it. It would clarify matters if I knew whether Larmore and Menzel knew each other in the Navy, whether Larmore was chosen by Menzel for the Navy-funded Coronagraph project or not, and whether, like Menzel, Larmore was associated with Navy Intelligence. Until something in that line shows up, I won’t speculate. At this point I can’t prove whether Rhodes and Larmore knew each other on July 7, 1947. We know they were acquainted in November, 1948, and that Rhodes names him in May, 1948, but there is nothing I have that is earlier. I can prove Rhodes’ had an association with Arizona State, Tempe, but not before 1951, and even though there is circumstantial evidence for it earlier, it is not enough to present.

    A second possible Navy vector was Dr Lee De Forest, whose long career had strong Navy associations, including during WWII. Quoting him from 1957 on the tv show This Is Your Life, “The Navy was my best friend, from the beginning”. The Rhodes, De Forest team lasted a good long while, especially regarding the Photo-Multiplier. They kept in touch.

    I am no scientist and I don’t even play one on tv, but I think the Photo-Multiplier Telescope was cutting edge when Rhodes first got the notion, probably in the early 1940s, long before places like RAND existed, and he had built it before the ink was dry on RAND’s drawing boards after it did exist. Here in the 21st, it may not seem such a big thing, but then it was General H. H. Arnold’s fantastic vision of the future. There is nothing in Project Blue Book that gives the slightest hint that Project Saucer knew anything at all about it.


    Lee De Forest

    Since I am working my way to a discussion of General Arnold’s vision of the future and its propagation in the news media, post-war, and its relationship to the 1947 flying saucer wave, I thought I tag it with a foreshadowing. Lucky me, in a search for one, who should provide it, but Lee De Forest.

    In the infernally long-titled RAND’S Role In The Evolution of Balloon and Satellite Observation Systems and Related U.S. Space Technology, 1988, we have this interesting paragraph quoting James E. Lipp:

    The above story from the Mansfield News-Journal foreshadows, with its eyeball toggling headline and vague story — a style we are so familiar with in ufo news stories. Substitute ‘flying saucer’ for ‘robot plane’ and Keyhoe for De Forest, and it might be from 1950.

    Here’s a better account:

    And two pages from Popular Mechanics, December, 1940:

    De Forest’s ‘drone’ didn’t have a telescope, which might not have occurred to him, this being before the war and V-2 rockets, for launching his ‘drone’ into orbit. Is there an earlier use of “mother ship” than the Salt Lake Tribune story? I wonder if this was a ‘term of art’ at the time. Also, of interest is the dual use, weapons and reconnaissance, which also appear in the RAND studies. I don’t know yet whether De Forest offered it to the U.S. Navy, as well.


    The Rhodes Photographs as a Hoax

    I think we can dismiss one of the rationales for the opinion that Rhodes faked the photos: that he was an embittered loner craving attention. Instead, he had plenty of attention in Phoenix, and is referred to in the Arizona Republic as “well known”. In the 1949 CIC report, is his neighbors’ opinion that he “devotes considerable time to community projects”. Some of those involved the public schools and science and music. He appears to have been well known and well-regarded in the community and among his peers. If the legitimacy of the photos was questionable, I would expect his peers to shun him. Instead, they elected him President of the Phoenix Observatory Association.

    Then there is Project Grudge. Grudge built a case against Rhodes based on the compromised report of the FBI interview of Rhodes by CIC Special Agent George Fugate, which conflicts with the report of FBI Agent Brower, who actually conducted the interview. Fugate, who was now a civilian, was asked for his comments on the case. As if washing his hands of the matter, he referred Grudge to the FBI because his recollection was “hazy”. Since pages of Brower’s report are in PBB, we know Grudge did that (Brower ended his report by stating he would not forward a copy to the CIC because their man was at the interview). It appears they ignored it.

    What was important in Fugate’s report to Grudge was the statement that Rhodes said he had developed the film. Lt Colonel Clingerman, from Sign, wrote the order to re-open the case, according to Captain Doyle’s 1949 report. Here is the relevant portion and Rhode’s letterhead:

    “The experts do agree that the technique used in development and printing of the pictures is extremely crude…According to his letterhead, one of the specialties of PANORAMIC is photography” Which, combined with Fugate’s statement, “Mr. Rhodes stated he developed the negatives himself”, is all that Grudge needed. It had to ignore the FBI report because it contradicted Fugate on the matter of the negatives.

    So, who is lying? Who is faking? Who is hoaxing? We can dispense with Grudge’s opinion about a Rhodes hoax, and bring against them the charge of being ethically challenged.


    Honorary PhD, Columbia University

    There is a document on the Columbia University website listing all recipients of Columbia Honorary degrees. Rhodes name is not on the list of recipients of the degree he claimed to have. For some people the fact casts doubt as to whether Rhodes hoaxed the photos. I do not see the connection, anymore than if he had such an honor, that it would strengthen the opinion the photos are not hoaxed. Removing the embittered loner image, based on the Project Grudge files, takes some of the sting out of the PhD thing. The idea that Rhodes would attempt to gain advantages by faking his credentials dissolves when the Grudge’s characterizations are compared to the facts of Rhodes’ life. Faking photos and credentials would surely have gotten him shunned by his peers and the local press. I do not know of a version of the Honorary Degree story before 1949. AFOSI agents interviewed Rhodes’ neighbors and got several variants of the story in 1949. Early on when I first looked at the case, I saw a reference to Dr. William A. Rhodes, PhD (Honorary) in a 1949 edition of the Welding Journal. I didn’t know of any others until Graeme Woods sent me a newspaper clipping from 1960 from the Arizona Republic with that information. Otherwise over the years the Arizona Republic referred to him as self taught and locally educated.

    Short of a document by Rhodes admitting a hoax, we can only hope to prove the photos if we have the original negatives put on a light table and viewed through a 20x scope by a darkroom expert. People who understand film photography appreciate this point. Without that, a straightforward search for the truth of it will fail, but an oblique approach might yield some results.

    I don’t have an answer to whether the AF or the Navy knew about, or were interested in, Rhodes’ Photo-Multiplier Telescope, and haven’t found out yet what happened to it. Next, I want to take a closer look at Rhodes relations with Project Sign, Loedding, Beam, McCoy, and Clingerman.


    Crater Formation

    - by Don Ecsedy, February 24, 2014

    Some of the documents relevant to Degree Of Separation were not used because of lack of confirmation, but others because there was no need for more evidence, the matter being sufficiently documented. One subject, though is of special interest to myself and my wife, Mary. The debate regarding crater formation, both on the earth and its moon.

    Some of the astronomers metioned in ‘Separation’ were involved in the debates on the matter, Menzel, Larmore, Whipple, La Paz, Nininger. I was not aware of that, having a geological rather than an astronomical interest — except for Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker. But I wasn’t aware of Rhodes’ interest in it until Graeme Woods found a video on youtube.

    YouTube Video

    Here is the text from the video:

    My father, Roy Williams Jr along with his mentor Dr. William Rhodes shot this footage circa 1956 while Mr. Williams was working on a degree. I have no written documentation of the experiment, my father would briefly discuss it when he was showing it with other home movies when I was very young.

    A base of dry cement powder, such as Portland Cement straight out of the bag, un-compacted, perhaps four inches thick, was used as the target. A heated ball bearing was used to form a spherical wax mold. Two wax rods were pushed against the hot ball creating the two hemispheres of the mold. The two separate hemispheres were gently pushed together while scooping dry cement powder into an un-compacted ball. By gently pulling the wax mold apart against a flat horizontal surface one could produce a nice uncompacted spheroid of powder. Such a ball is placed on a fall away platform some five feet above the target. The platform is suddenly removed, allowing the ball to fall by gravity onto the target.

    The idea being that the parameters for the crater experiment, i.e., low density and same composition, low impact velocity due to low amount of acceleration time, were chosen to demonstrate similar, scalable, effects with regard to some of the craters we see on the moon.

    The slow motion sequence was achieved by filming at 5000 frames per second and is very mesmerizing to watch on a large movie screen with ejecta continuing to fall for many seconds.

    Of note is the somewhat ragged appearance of the main crater as opposed to the more circular seconday crater, along with the lines or rays of ejecta left over. No central peak is much evident.