1935-05 The Secret in the Sky

Cover Date: May 1935
Volume 5 # 1
Copyright Date: Friday, April 19, 1935
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f.271-278
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

The Secret in the Sky by Kenneth Robeson
Royce’s Luck by Bruce Harley
Medicine Magic by George Allan Moffatt
Trail of the Tiger by Beech Allen
The Death Cache by Edwin V. Burkholder

Doc Savage Club
– You Can Do It
– Tramp Ship Declines
– The Name of Nome, Alaska
– Rikki-Tivvi-Tavi

From Our Members

The “Secret in the Sky” is a Doc Savage adventure from May 1935. The central theme in this story is an amazing sky conveyance that propels occupants thousands of miles across the country in a fraction of the time then required by more conventional conveyances. This is pointed out by the death of Willard Spanner who calls Doc Savage’s New York headquarters at 12:02pm from San Francisco, California. Spanner’s location is confirmed by newspaper accounts reporting his kidnapping in San Francisco less than half an hour after calling Doc’s office. Amazingly, Spanner’s body turns up in New York City less than three hours after his reported abduction in California. Some mysterious force had whisked Spanner’s body over 2,500 miles across the country in less than three hours. This was faster than the speed of sound and no known aircraft was yet capable of achieving that speed. In fact, this speed would not be achieved until 1947 when US Airforce test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier flying the experimental rocket propelled Bell X-1.

Doc Savage, along with Monk and Ham, travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Shortly after their arrival, the men end up in the rural countryside at the site of an abandoned mansion. The story explains that the mansion was built by a member of the Osage Tribe who died. It seems likely that Lester Dent is blending two different historic incidents together. For a time, the Osage Tribe was fabulously wealthy from oil revenues found on lands in Oklahoma, earning as much as $20 million in one year. Unfortunately, their riches did not last, and the tribe declared bankruptcy in 1930.


The second part of the story centers around a Native American named Jackson Barnett. There are many newspaper headlines describing him as the “Wealthiest Indian” in the world. Barnett also suffered from a head injury which left him legally incompetent to manage his own affairs. His name first appeared in newspaper headlines in 1917 and was mentioned regularly in headlines for the next thirty years. Jackson Barnett died in 1934 at his estate on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.


This passage from “The Secret in the Sky” raises some interesting questions concerning the astounding sky-craft’s abilities. Stunted removes a large suitcase-sized device from one of the strange sky vessels.

  • “This is the heart of the invention. Take that away and there ain’t nobody can figure out how these balls work.”

Stunted words were prophetic. As the story concludes, the operational power behind the mysterious ships remains unknown. Just exactly what was inside that box? Could it be an atomic accumulator like the one we later see in “The World’s Fair Goblin?”

Dent refers to Willard Kipring Parker Spanner as a Nobel Prize winner. He may have been influenced by the death of Marie Curie in 1934. Curie was the recipient of two Nobel Prizes.

The idea of floating air ships is not new. Back in 1929, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote “The Sky’s the Limit” which was serialized in the December 7 and December 14 issues of Argosy. This ship is bell shaped rather than spherical. The ship operates using magnetism.  A trip to Venus is the high point of the story.

Earlier in 1928, E. E. “Doc” Smith wrote “The Skylark of Space” which came out in the August issue of Amazing Stories. The Skylark operates using a previously unknown element that acts upon a copper bar coupled with a particle accelerator to provide enormous power.

The big name in the arena is H. G. Wells who published “The First Men in the Moon” in 1901. The ship in this story operated on an antigravity compound called Cavorite. Something similar to this comes along in the October 1937 Doc Savage story, “Repel.”

But Wells was not the first, or even the second to use this concept. In 1890, Robert Cromie published a story about a spherical spaceship that traveled to Mars. His story was titled “A Plunge into Space.” Cromie accused H. G. Wells of plagiarizing his story when he published “The First Men in the Moon.”

The first type of such a story came out in 1864. That distinction goes to Chrysostom Trueman’s “The History of a Voyage to the Moon.”

Brick Bradford Comic Strip
The Daily Ink includes the vintage Brick Bradford newspaper comic strip in its offerings. The current story is “Adrift in an Atom” from 1937. This story features a ship that shrinks down to the size of an atom. The illustrations of the ship flying through the air of the atomic world is strikingly similar to the same fantastic airship depicted earlier in the interior illustrations of “The Secret in the Sky.”

Brick Bradford seemed to return to a similar theme in 1950 involving a “smokeball” mystery.

Dick Tracy Comic Strip
Moving forward to August 27, 1962, the Dick Tracy newspaper strip begins a new story involving Diet Smith’s Space Coupe. There are several items in this story that parallel the earlier Doc Savage story. Both stories involve a ship that travels at previously unheard-of speeds. The Space Coupe was a revolutionary space craft that utilized magnetic forces as propulsion. The craft in the Doc Savage story was spherical and propelled by nullifying gravitational waves.

The incredible incident depicted in “The Secret in the Sky” with Willard Spanner is reproduced in the Dick Tracy story. Tracy’s author and artist, Chester Gould, introduces a newspaper editor named Jose Gomets of La Paz, Bolivia. Gomets is in town to speak at an International Law Enforcement Association meeting. The criminal gang whose activities Gomets is going to expose kidnap him after hijacking the Space Coupe and dump his body in his hometown in Bolivia some 3,300 miles away. The strip notes that this is only 35 minutes after he had given his speech in town. One more item of interest remains. In the Doc Savage story, the strange craft are referred to as “comets.” Gould seems to make a pun by naming his La Paz newspaper editor “Gomets.”