Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Chasing Footnotes: The Kelly-Hopkinsville Edition

It has been a while since I chased a footnote. These are difficult to find and I usually just blunder into them. This time I was looking at some the documentation about the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter on August 22, 1955.

For those unfamiliar with the case, it is basically an “attack” on a rural farmhouse. There was a report of a UFO landing in the area, which skeptics suggest might have been a bright meteor that didn’t really land anywhere near the house. The perspective of the witness caused him to believe it had fallen, or landed, close by.

Later, the residents of the house believed they saw strange creatures described as about two and a half to three feet tall, with glowing eyes and short legs. Frightened, the men in the house, using a shotgun and a .22 caliber pistol, engaged the target… or targets. According to the reports, they did hit one or two of the creatures but they seemed unharmed. One, knocked from the roof, floated to the ground.

The men and there weapons after the "invasion."

The family, now hysterical because of the encounter, fled the house to report the incident to the police. Several members of law enforcement, and apparently some interested bystanders, drove out to the house. By the time they arrived, the creatures, it seemed, had gone.

The excitement over, the cops and others left. The family went to bed, only to have one of those creatures return, staring through a window. The men opened fire again, and the creature disappeared. By dawn, everything had quieted down.

There was some sort of an investigation and although the Air Force denied they had any part in that, an Air Force major, on reserve duty at Campbell Air Force Base (and before you all write in to tell me there is no Campbell AFB, I will point out in 1955, there was… it is now Campbell Army Airfield) was asked to look into it. True, it was more unofficial than official, but he was told to go out there and he was in the Air Force.

Investigation in the next couple of days found bullet holes in the window screens, expended shotgun shells (three, I think is the official count), and evidence of rounds fired by the pistol. No UFO was found, no footprints were found, no landing traces were found and no Great Horned Owl remains were found (the Great Horned Owl now the preferred explanation for the creatures).

I found, at a website, a partial explanation for the sighting. According to the website, “The ‘aliens’ were in fact, Great Horned Owls, and the eyewitnesses were probably intoxicated during the ‘alien attack’ (Davis and Bloecher, 1978).” You can read it here:

Davis and Bloecher refers to the book Close Encounters at Kelly and Others of 1955. This footnote (as they are done in the academic world today) seems to suggest that the information about the intoxicated witnesses came from that source.

The creature as described
by the witnesses

Since I have a copy of it, I looked it up. I found nothing in the work of Davis and Bloecher to suggest that those involved were intoxicated. However, on page 83 of their book, they wrote, “(Alcohol had been ruled out early by all the official investigators, though not by the public, to judge by the way the accusations still rankled Mrs. Lankford’s [one of the witnesses] mind when I talked to her.)”

Or, in other words, the source cited as evidence for the suggestion of alcohol specifically addressed that point and ruled it out.

In the Project Blue Book files, there is a newspaper report that appeared on August 22 that addressed that issue as well. According to it, “All officials appeared to agree that there was no drinking involved.” The document was signed by Charles N. Kirk, a first lieutenant in the Air Force. Interestingly, a copy of that document, according to Davis, is missing from the Blue Book file. I do have a copy of it, however.

It establishes two things. One is that there was an Air Force officer who investigated (and before you write to tell me, yes, he conducted that investigation two years after the fact, I know this as well). And two, there was a newspaper article, as part of the file (or however it was categorized by the Air Force) that reinforced the idea that there had been no drinking.

So, no, this wasn’t much of a chase. Just from the source claiming that drinking might have been the problem, to the source they quoted that said that there had been no drinking.

I haven’t really dealt with the fact that there were no bird remains found to establish that Great Horned Owls were the culprits. Had that been the answer, and one of the beings was shot from nearly point-blank range, some evidence would have been found. The Air Force officer, Major Albert, who was there later in the morning saw no evidence of the birds.

I will also note that I believe that the skeptics have an obligation to be, well, skeptical of solutions if those solutions don’t work. Some have leaped on the Great Horned Owl bandwagon and I believe that to be premature. As I said, there was nothing found to suggest birds…

And, no, I’m not endorsing the alien creatures theory either. I have to admit that this case is just weird with no similar cases anywhere. You have to wonder why aliens would travel light years and then assault a rural house… You have to wonder why something like this hasn’t been reported elsewhere… And, you have to wonder about the lack of any physical evidence for aliens or birds.

Of course, the point here was to chase the footnote and show that it doesn’t support the information in the document where it was cited. Clearly, the opposite of their claim was true.

PS: I have reached out to one of the authors of the paper but have not heard a response. If I do, I will append it here. 

I have received the following email from one of the authors, Rodney Schmaltz:

Thanks for the email.  The Hopkinsville case is an interesting one and makes for great class discussion.  The error you reference was pointed out to us earlier.  We should have cited Nickell (2006) rather than Davis and Bloecher (1978).  When this was brought to our attention, we immediately contacted the journal and had a corrigendum published.  If you’re interested, here it is: 

Nickell does not think alcohol is the explanation for the sightings (see Nickell, 2006 – it’s an interesting read), but does say, “I talked with one of the original investigators, former Kentucky state trooper R.N. Ferguson (2005), who thought people there had been drinking, although he conceded he saw no evidence of that at the site.  He told me he believed the monsters “came in a container” (ie., a can or bottle of alcohol).  A visitor to the farm the next day did notice “a few beer cans in a rubbish basket (Davis and Bloecher, 1978, 35).”  We agree that intoxication was not the cause of the sightings, though there is some speculation that there may have been drinking involved. 


starman said...

Do skeptics have any other explanation besides booze and owls? Like a hoax? Information presented by Edwards seemed to rule that out.

jeff thompson said...

What a bunch of nonsense!

jeff thompson said...

What a bunch of nonsense!

Clarence said...

"Rural Folk", because of their location (for starters), are often very familiar with the flora and fauna of their surroundings, much more so than their urban counterparts. It's hard to believe someone in the group, even at night, couldn't recognize a native, well known species of Owl....

John Steiger said...

Jeff Thompson: Before you write-off Kelly-Hopkinsville as "a bunch of nonsense," you should invest some time into researching this strange, perplexing, and rather unique case in the annals of UFO history. For instance, according to Jerome Clark's The UFO Encyclopedia, the Air Force lists the case as "Unidentified."

KRandle said...

John -

I don't think this is right. Officially, the Air Force did not investigate the case. The Air Force listed it as information and no documents about the case can be found in 1955... the investigation was conducted two years later.

John Steiger said...

Kevin: I'm sorry if the information from Mr. Clark's UFO Encyclopedia is inaccurate, but this is what the latest edition reports. In any event, Kelly-Hopkinsville remains as an intriguing encounter yet to be fully and adequately explained.

P.S. to Clarence: Your point is well-taken. Thank you!

Clarence said...

I might be wrong, but I took the comments by Jeff Thompson, "what a bunch of nonsense", as referring to the so called skeptics explanation, owls, for the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter...