On the 21st of February 2002, Erik Reuterswärd passed on. 46 years ago, his picture of a Ghost Rocket became famous and went on to be published in newspapers in several countries. The picture came over the years to represent the Ghost Rocket Wave, despite the fact that it shows a daylight meteor.

The famous ghost rocket picture

By Clas Svahn

On the 9th and 11th of August, 1946, two mass observations of intense light phenomena were made over Sweden. By these observations, the so-called Ghost Rocket Wave reached its peak. But despite being witnessed by thousands of people, this phenomenon was only caught on picture by one person alone. I questioned Erik and Åsa Reuterswärd in their home in Uppsala, Sweden, in August of 1986. The interview took place 40 years after the event; an interview concerning what really happened that summer's day in 1946. The interview is now published for the first time.

On the 9th of July 1946, Erik and Åsa Reuterswärd were on vacation at Guldsmedshyttan, north-northwest of Lindesberg in the county Västmanland. At 14:30 pm, right after having taken a swim in a nearby lake, the two of them climbed a forest watchtower, situated by an old abandoned silver mine, to admire the view. The tower, which during the war years had been used as an aerial reconnaissance tower, offered them a breathtaking view of the landscape. They could see for miles and miles.

"I remember the event very well", Reuterswärd said when we met in 1986. "We were out hiking peacefully and didn't think of any Ghost Rockets. We climbed the tower in order to photograph the view, and we were completely alone except our one-year-old son." "At the exact same moment as I pushed the shutter button, then right there it was, something mysterious on the sky which both me and my wife observed. I'm not able to remember exactly how it looked, but I know that it was a light which passed us. It looked rather special. We were both startled, and for a long time discussed what it could have been."

The Reuterswärds
Erik and Åsa Reuterswärd.
The two of them got to see their picture get published in several newspapers, both Swedish and foreign.

In his report to the Ministry of Defense's Air Defense department, dated 11th of July and written on the vicarage at Guldsmedshyttan, Erik Reuterswärd retells the story the following way: "We observed a sharp, greenish white (neon-colored light) gleam of light in northwestern direction and in a 45 degree angle, which emerged suddenly and swiftly moved downwards perhaps five moon diameters; after which it disappeared.

The disappearance occurred - by my opinion - with a explosion like burst of flames, and I also thought myself hearing a hissing sound. We got the impression that it was a meteorite, though we've never seen one in daylight. The whole incident was over in a moment."

"We then went home, the vacation ended, and we sent the roll of film to be developed, and it then became clear that there was something on it. We had no idea that it had been caught on film until we got to see the copy."

How much time, do you believe, elapsed until you sent to film to be developed?
"It probably wasn't that long. After all, we were at Guldsmedshyttan visiting relatives and after that visit we probably went home to Stockholm and then we got the film developed. Later that summer we made another trip and I didn't have many vacation days in those days so I guess it wasn't long. Yes indeed, I did have it developed before we went on that second trip, we sent the film away."

So it was sheer accident that the light phenomenon ended up on your photograph.
"Sheer accident. At that time the newspapers hade been saying that the Ministry of Defense was interested in hearing from people who had had observations. So I gave the film to the Ministry of Defense."
Enlarged picture
Enlarged picture.

What did they tell you when you handed in the film?
"They investigated the film and made copies of the picture. But they told me they were unable to locate any nucleus in it. Apparently only the burst of light has been caught on it, as if there was an explosion at the same time. They discovered nothing and drew no real conclusions as far as I understand. It might have been a meteorite, it might have been a bomb. But I don't think they ever came to terms with what it really was."

"After we handed in the picture we went on another trip, and that's when this whole thing was picked up by the newspapers. The Ministry of Defense was swarmed by the press and felt obligated to hand out the picture."
"At then time of my return the picture had been published in numerous newspapers."

The fact that the photography came to interest the Defense isn't very unexpected. Despite numerous reports, interviews and analyzing of finds, the Ministry of Defense's secret group of investigations under colonel Bengt Jacobsson had been unable to find any sorts of evidence which could point to a possible intruder. The prime suspect was the Soviet Union, but any definite evidence didn't exist. The picture taken by Eric Reuterswärd seemed to be the best piece so far in this mysterious jigsaw puzzle.

- I had a very simple camera in those days. It was a small camera. There were no exquisite lenses on it at all. It had just one lens I bought it as a schoolboy using my savings.

It wasn't easy remembering all the details surrounding the moment of photographing when we met four decades after the event, but Erik Reuterswärd believed the time of exposure was 1/50 of a second, a setting he normally used on that camera.

"There was only one picture from the incident. After all, it traveled with an enormous speed. Then there was nothing. First there was that light, and after that there was nothing to see."

What did you do afterwards, after this had taken place?
"Well, there had been much writing in the newspapers about ghost rockets. So of course we discussed it. But it wasn't until we got back the photograph that we had something to show. The Ministry of Defense inquired into sightings from a certain day and a certain time. And that coincided with what we had seen. And, as I said, we had something concrete to show. So we let them hear from us."

What Erik Reuterswärd didn't know was that the Defense literally had been swamped by reports of strange light phenomena in the sky at 14:30 pm the 9th of July. The reports came from all over central Sweden where the weather was nice and the visibility good The many reports coming in from a very large area further indicate that the object spotted must have traveled high in the atmosphere.

"I lived in Stockholm at that time, and I was at the Ministry of Defense talking to them. I met a very lovable officer who apologized, on behalf of the Ministry of Defense , for the extreme publicity the incident had resulted in, and furthermore informed me of my possibilities of receiving some sort of financial compensation from the newspapers."

The lovable officer was Major Nils Ahlgren, who in a letter to Erik Reuterswärd dated the 9th of August 1946 informs him that he has given the picture to the newspaper "Morgontidningen", but without mentioning Reuterswärd. It's also likely to have been Ahlgren who conducted the interview with Mr. Reuterswärd when he arrived to hand in the picture:

"There was never such a thing as a cross examination. It was just plain talking. It was I who contacted them, and after I'd done that did I go over to them, I think. Then my wife and I went away, as I said, and when we returned we saw that we've received a letter from them telling us they'd made it all public. And after that, then we [Reuterswärd and Ahlgren] had that conversation."

Contact is made with Bofors
The picture was a great mystery for the military. In a few attempts to find an explanation, Major Dahlgren wrote the commander at the AB Bofors shooting range [a major Swedish exporter of weapons]. Could it have been a rocket launch by Bofors? The answer was no: No launches had been made at the time of the sighting. But the affair was of a sensitive nature, and Major Ahlgren, who in his letter to Bofors had demanded the matter to be considered classified, had furthermore turned to professor Bertil Lindblad at Stockholm observatory. But the answer was ambiguous: "However, judging from the photograph and the visual sightings, one cannot definitely rule out the possibility that what we have here is a meteor." In an attachment to the letter, professor Lindblad presented an idea for a "V-bomb spectrograph", a surveillance camera which could differentiate meteors and rocket bombs by analyzing their spectrums. Erik's wife Åsa also remembers the incident well. This is what she said during our meeting:

"We were out hiking in the forest when we reached that forest watchtower and climbed it to watch the view, as simple as that. And then it's tradition to take a picture of a beautiful view. We're not professional photographers or anything, it was very amateurish."
"There we stood at a wooden rail which went all around the edges, aiming the camera northwest, I believe. It must have been pretty early in the day."
"Anyway, we stood there watching, my husband snaps a picture, and we say 'wow, what was that?' There was a lightning of some sorts. I can still see it. Obviously, I might be influenced by the picture and what I saw in the newspaper, but it was like a comet with a small tail which came and went very quickly."

What happened when you came back home?
"It was around the same time as when the newspapers said that something had happened that day and that they wanted to get in touch with people who had witnessed something. We realized that not only had we seen something, we had also been able to photograph it."

You're not mentioning anything about the fact that you had taken a picture in the letter your husband wrote to the Ministry of Defense.
"Does he only mention that we've seen something in that letter? Oh well, in that case I guess that the request to the public to report strange sightings hadn't been made yet, and when it did we didn't know whether or not anything had been caught on film since we hadn't had it developed yet. Thanks to it [the request] our attention was caught. Otherwise we'd never bothered looking at the photograph. It wasn't very noticeable."

The original picture
The original.
It wasn't very noticeable.
And then the picture was sent to Swedish newspapers.
"Yes, and that's pretty stupid. We weren't that great photographers. But of course we thought it was pretty funny. The picture even made the cover. We were happy for the packet we pulled in. It wasn't very much, 50 SEK or so. But it was a lot of money in those days."

Today Erik Reuterswärd has passed on, and his suspicion that it was in fact a meteor - something he put forward during our conversation - is very likely to be true. But his picture lives on as a memorial of a year when the whole of Sweden looked to the skies hoping to catch a glimpse of the strange Ghost Rockets.

Whatever was behind the strange rockets is still anyone's guess.