Published: 12:06 PM 7/31/2012
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
The summer of 1947 may be considered the summer of the flying saucer. That summer 65 years ago is noted for some famous and some not-so-famous encounters with flying saucers.
The Roswell UFO incident made news in late June and early July in 1947. The Jamestown Sun carried only brief stories on the incident. Some publications reported the capture of a flying saucer and the recovery of alien bodies. The official explanation was a crashed weather balloon.
The truth of what happened in the New Mexico desert is still debated today.
Few issues of The Jamestown Sun that summer did not carry some reference to a flying saucer being seen somewhere in the United States. Still, no reports of UFOs in Jamestown or Stutsman County occurred.
The July 7, 1947, edition lamented the lack of Unidentified Flying Objects in the area with the headline, “None reported here – Saucers spurn city.”
That appears to be when some young men in Woodworth decided to cook up their own flying saucer.
“This kind of joke was all in character for them,” said Chris Wingire, nephew of John Wingire, one of the saucer conspirators. “From what I heard they seemed to be up for most anything.”
Not all of the pranks were completely harmless.
“Dad and John did things that were a little odd or funny,” Chris Wingire said. “They got a hold of some dynamite one time. They didn’t want to make too much noise so they set it off in a garage and blew it up.”
Older residents of the community agree.
“When they got together you didn’t know what to expect,” said Virginia Struxness, community historian.
The headline of The Jamestown Sun for July 11, 1947, said “Woodworth ‘Saucer’ Revealed as Hoax.” The subheading was “Five Confess Prank; Nation Gets Excited.”
The article detailed how Oscar Cellmer, William Clark, Wingire, Palmer Hanson and Leslie Thompson had made the “flying saucer” out of a part of a washtub, a lamp shade, some radio parts and a car fan. A coat of silver paint was added to make the unit look like something from out of this world.
“John (Wingire) was a welder,” said Chris Wingire. “They worked all the night before to build it and then put it in somebody’s yard. When she found it they came over and said, ‘hey, it must be a flying saucer.’”
The conspirators sweetened the story by adding they had heard there was a $1,000 reward for the capture of a flying saucer.
The saucer had been placed in the yard of Mrs. Bert Miller. It would appear, from the newspaper article, that Miller alerted a lot of people.
By noon July 11 more than 100 people had flocked to the Miller home. This included Capt. G.W. McCoy of the Civil Air Patrol in Fargo. He was given orders to make sure the object was “watched and closely guarded.” He was also told to make sure the item got “as little publicity as possible.”
The part about little publicity just wasn’t going to happen.
According to an article in the Minot Daily News, people were flying in to Woodworth to see the flying saucer. The story was picked up by United Press and distributed to papers and radio stations around the country.
The Associated Press also distributed the story, which ran with the headline “Hoax saucer excites N.D.” in the Bismarck Tribune.
Somewhere in the middle of the military visit and the “hundreds and hundreds” of visitors, the five conspirators couldn’t keep a straight face.
“Cellmer, Clark, Wingire, Hanson and Thompson, all residents of Woodworth, ‘broke down’ amid gales of laughter and admitted the prank after whispers of a hoax began circulating in this community,” wrote The Jamestown Sun correspondent.
Struxness said until the conspirators admitted the hoax, many in the community were frightened.
“People were scared,” she said. “From what I’ve been told it shook everybody up.”
The Jamestown Sun article described the level of concern the hoax raised this way; “Long distance telephone wires began to hum with activity as newspapers, radio stations and just plain curious folks contacted Woodworth.”
All five of the men who built the Woodworth flying saucer have since died. The last to pass away was William Clark, who died in spring 2012.