A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part One): ‘Misty Limbo of the Lost’

Miami News 9-17-1950-1

Miami News 9-17-1950-2

The first known reference to mysterious disappearances attributed to the region now known as the Bermuda Triangle was a nationally syndicated Associated Press article by E.V.W. Jones first published in the Miami Herald and the Miami News on September 17, 1950. Jones does not specifically mention a triangle, though the diagram accompanying the article all but completes one, with the now common vertices named (Miami, Bermuda, and San Juan, Puerto Rico). What he does reference is a “limbo of the lost… into which men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.”

The slant of Jones’ article is that no matter how powerful our technology in “the age of the mechanical mind,” it cannot penetrate or control the world’s great mysteries, the sea preeminent among them. The “small” world of the modern harbors the same potent, often violent secrets that beleaguered “the same vast globe the ancients knew.”

The article appeared only five years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the advent of the Cold War. Skepticism of or downright hostility towards technology was not uncommon, with humility in the face of God and His creation a prevalently prescribed antidote. (Throughout the 1960s, up until the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, “45-60% of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space…”)*

The freighter Sandra “carried radio,” an instrument that Jones likens to a modern miracle, a voice that “comes out of the void”—yet the cargo ship “disappeared without a trace.” A plane with 32 passengers departing from San Juan and bound for Miami never arrived—“the elusive limbo into which they flew was on no map,” a map being only a demarcation of the known world. The phrase “without a trace” or “no trace” appears four times in the short article, “mystery” or a variant thereof appears seven times, and “disappeared” and “vanished” each appear three times.

Says Jones, in the final, key passage:

These, and other modern mysteries have established a roll of about 135 persons who went forth confidently into a world they thought small. [Italics mine]

“Confidence” in this case means hubris, and “a world they thought small” carries a tone of warning, as if everyone who trusts the modern world’s “speeding wheels and wings” is attempting to catch a hurricane in a thimble.

Though the disappearances are in no way attributed to supernatural or extraterrestrial forces, there is certainly a distinction between the known world, circumscribed by our modern machines, and the “vast unknown” or “elusive limbo” into which those machines have been “swallowed up,” just as utterly and consistently as in the days of Scylla and Charybdis.


Note: The relationship between technological growth and belief in the occult is an intimate one. The bottom line is that the tremendous advancements in science and technology over the last 70 years have done nothing to curb belief in the paranormal. If anything, the opposite has happened. In 1957 only 25% of Americans believed UFOs were extraterrestrial in nature*, compared to nearly 50% today.* Nearly half of Americans today believe astrology is a science*, a number not seen since the height of the New Age fad in the early 1980s. According to a recent poll in the UK, 39% of respondents believe in ghosts, compared to only 10% in 1950.* In that same time period, church attendance in America has declined significantly, as has membership in, trust in, and relevance of organized religion.*

Most human beings require mysteries, myths, and a meaning that transcends the confines of physical time and space. It just so happens that science is in the business of eliminating those things.

Spokane Daily Chronicle (September 8, 1952):`Bible Explains Flying Saucers’

Spokane Daily Chronicle 9-8-52

The modern UFO era started in 1947 with Kenneth Arnold, who spotted nine shiny objects in the sky while flying his single-engine airplane near Mount Rainier in Washington. He said the objects were flying in “V” formation and looked like “a saucer if you skip it across water.” The press called the objects “flying saucers,” and here we are.

The convergence of the Bible and UFOs appears almost immediately after the widespread publication of Arnold’s story, mostly within the Christian Dispensationalist community (end times believers), which thrived during the anxious heat of the Cold War. Here Rev. Louis Gardner espouses the theory that UFOs are modern-day miracles (“signs and wonders”) meant as a warning from God. (Here’s another article about a different Reverend citing UFOs as a prelude—“the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory“—to the Second Coming.)

Gardner wrote to Einstein in July 1952 asking what the latter thought of UFOs, and Einstein’s response made quite a stir in the press at the time. The letter is below. That’s Gardner on the left.

Gardner Einstein 1952

(Images via Google News and USC Libraries)