by M. D. Jackson
Was it a deliberate hoax or did the editor of Amazing Stories use a man’s mental illness for profit?
The Shaver Mystery is part of the history of Amazing Stories Magazine, but it is certainly not considered one of the magazine’s shining moments. In a nutshell, the Shaver Mystery was the “UFO phenomenon” before the actual UFO phenomenon.
In 1943, Richard Sharpe Shaver began writing letters to the then publisher of Amazing Stories, Ray Palmer, detailing the existence of a sinister, ancient civilization living below the earth’s surface. In caverns deep underground these beings, called Deros, harbored fantastic technology and occasionally kidnapped people from the surface and performed unspeakable tortures upon them.
Shaver’s semi-coherent ramblings, which he claimed were delivered to him telepathically through his welding machine in the factory in which he worked (I’m not making this stuff up, I swear) caught Ray Palmer’s attention. Instead of referring him to a psychiatrist, Palmer contacted Shaver and encouraged his delusions, prompting him to write more and more about this fantastic story.
Perhaps it started out as an amusing diversion, but Palmer published Shaver’s letters. He re-wrote Shaver’s 10,000 word missive, originally entitled “A Warning to Future Man”. He added 20,000 more words of exciting plot and re-titled it “I Remember Lemuria”. It was published in the March 1945 issue. The issue sold out and generated a significant response. People wrote letters attesting to the truth of Shaver’s claims. Sales increased and soon over 75% of the magazine’s content was given over to writings about the Shaver Mystery.
Whatever you feel about the right or wrong of the Shaver Mystery, the phenomenon produced some amazing art during its run in Amazing Stories and when it eventually moved to its own dedicated publication, The Shaver Mystery Magazine in 1947.
The first Shaver Mystery cover was the March 1945 edition which featured “I Remember Lemuria” as the lead story. The cover for that issue was by Robert Gibson Jones and depicts a metal bikini-clad woman (a ubiquitous sight on pulp covers of the time) in black rubber gloves preparing to throw a massive switch while regarding a green bat-like creature in a glass cage. One would assume that the switch will do something nasty to the critter and the critter seems to know it, judging by its expression.
The artwork looks pretty standard for a pulp cover. I imagine readers were anticipating an exciting Science Fiction story. What they got was an assurance that this was all real!
Some called it a hoax. Perhaps it was. I’m certain that Palmer had little doubt that Shaver’s hold on reality wasn’t all that firm. Nevertheless, he certainly wasn’t above exploiting it for his own purposes. When the issue sold out, there was no turning back.
January 1947’s cover was by H. W. McCauley and sports a frightened looking woman (who kind of resembles the actress Patricia Neal). She is in a metal room holding some sort of wand or stick into a fire or some sort of forge. A strange looking helmet sits nearby. She is startled by something that the viewer can’t see, but by her frightened expression it can’t be good. THE MIND ROVERS blares the bold typeface, a story attributed to Richard Shaver but likely “sweetened” by Palmer himself.
There is more to this article and more illustrations featured in the third issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly. The magazine is chock full of other amazing stuff and it is available as a FREE download from Rage Machine Books.
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