At first it looked like a monkey. Maybe even an old man.
But the more Glennie Lankford stared, the more she realized it was something much weirder.
The figure toddled through the darkness. It was no more than three-feet tall, with two eyes that shined from the far edges of its head. And good lord: was it covered in metal? Or was that aluminum foil?
Lankford was one of several people who spotted the creature out the window of a cramped Bell, Kentucky, farmhouse on the night of Aug. 21, 1955. There was John Sutton and his brother Elmer; their wives; O.P. Baker; Billy Taylor; and a gaggle of children. And all of them were growing increasingly tense.
Earlier in the evening, the kids had noticed eerie circles of light hovering above the home. And right before the figure appeared, some of the adults thought they’d seen something plummet out of the sky and cannonball into a nearby field.
Some said it looked like a shimmering bathtub. Others, though, claimed it resembled a flying saucer.
They were starting to wonder if that’s where this sawed-off little grunt had come from when they realized their problems had multiplied – literally.
The figure was now joined by an army of tiny monsters who rose from the weeds and swarmed around the house, pressing their grotesque faces against the windows. One of the men charged out of the house and immediately felt something seize him by the hair.
Lankford fainted. Children screamed. And the Suttons had enough.
They grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22 pistol and opened fire. Lead lashed across the once-quiet farmland, causing the creatures to scatter.
But according to the Suttons, they could have just stood still. Because the bullets just bounced off them.
Several law enforcement agencies, from the nearby Hopkinsville police to the U.S. Air Force, investigated the encounter in the coming weeks. All of them dismissed it as nothing more than fantasy.
“I think it was imagination that built up from talk that got started among the people,” Christian County Sheriff’s Deputy George Bates said. “They just got themselves worked up over nothing.”
But what’s now known as the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter has become an infamous story among alien fanatics. Proof, to them, that extraterrestrials have visited this planet.
And later this month, it will be the subject of a popular television show.
Project Blue Book
The History Channel series “Project Blue Book” will devote an entire episode to it on Feb. 11.
The series – named after the Air Force’s half-hearted study into unidentified flying objects – has been described as a mix of “The X-Files” and “Mad Men.”
It follows a highly fictionalized version of ufologist J. Allen Hynek as he travels the country to investigate UFO sightings and paranormal encounters. The show has already tackled Roswell and Area 51, among others.
It’s at least based in a smidgen of reality. Hynek did work with the Air Force on Project Blue Book and, despite the government’s best efforts, eventually blossomed into a full-fledged believer.
He created the “close encounter” scale and nabbed a job, fittingly, as a consultant for Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
He spent more time working as a professor than he did trudging around the globe and upending government secrets like a fedora-ed Fox Mulder, but hey: TV!
His center for UFO studies, however, did examine the Hopkinsville encounter. That work eventually birthed a book called “Close Encounter at Kelly and Others of 1955.” You can find it online.
And “Project Blue Book” isn’t the only program to delve into the saga in the last couple months.
The comedy / paranormal podcast “The Boogie Monster” took a stab at it back in December. Hosts Kyle Kinane and Dave Stone were split. Stone desperately wanted to believe it, while Kinane accused the Kelly clan of getting liquored up and shooting at owls.
But everyone there that night claimed to be sober. And they all stuck to their story.
“I hold my hands to God,” Elmer Sutton told the Evansville Press the next day, “and swear on my mother this is true.”
Russell Greenwell wasn’t so sure.
The Hopkinsville police chief was sitting at home around 1 a.m. on Aug. 22, 1955, when the phone rang.
“The desk sergeant told me a flying saucer had landed at Kelly,” he told the Press 21 years later. “I thought he was kidding and told him I’d get even with him in the morning.”
But when Greenwell arrived at the chaotic scene, he realized it was no joke. Any aliens were gone, but several law enforcement agencies had taken their place – including, reportedly, a smattering of military police from Fort Campbell.
According to the people in the farmhouse, the goblins or aliens or whatever they were had swatted away bullets for hours. When they finally vanished, the group reported the gun battle to police.
Law enforcement scoured the property, even hiking to the spot where the saucer had supposedly landed.
“There were no indentations, no burnt grass,” Greenwell said.
The tiny figures didn’t leave behind any evidence, either. And none of the neighbors reported hearing or seeing anything strange.
The only person who even flirted with confirming the story was a Kentucky State Police trooper who claimed to see a meteorite dash through the sky and slam into the ground like an artillery shell.
But the tension returned just after dawn.
“There were MPs and police everywhere. And all of the sudden a cat came out of an old hog house, and one of the MPs stepped on the cat’s tail,” Greenwell told the Press. “You never saw so many guns come out of holsters and machine guns come up to the ready when that cat screeched.”
Large claws and a furry palm
The Evansville Press published a front-page story that afternoon, complete with drawings of the otherworldly figures.
As more media outlets picked it up, scores of rubberneckers invaded the farmhouse – so many that Christian County Sheriff’s deputies had to shoo intruders off the property.
Additional stories cropped up, too. Earlier that summer, an Evansville woman who had been swimming in the Ohio River told the Courier that a creature with “large claws and a furry palm” had tried to pull her under the water.
The two incidents, she reasoned, must be connected. Come to think of it, she may have even seen a flying saucer dart overhead just before the monster grabbed her knee.
All this bothered John Sutton. He’d been brave enough to report what he’d seen, and all he got in return was hassle and mockery.
“If the (aliens) come back,” he told the Courier, “I’m not going to let anyone know about it.”
Monkeys painted silver
You can giggle at the idea of bullet-proof goblins if you want. Plenty of people have. But the explanations offered by skeptics were even more ridiculous.
In a statement given to Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies, Air Force Major John Albert said Glennie Lankford had recently sent away for a Christian publication that – for some ungodly reason – contained a picture of a monkey painted silver.
That image apparently disturbed her so much that, when an innocuous figure appeared on her lawn, she twisted it into the visage of an extraterrestrial covered in metal.
The monkey theory weaves all through “Close Encounter at Kelly.” One skeptic told Hynek’s researchers that a traveling circus had stopped along U.S. 41 and sent its monkeys out on leashes. Some of them apparently escaped and descended on the farmhouse.
There was no evidence of a circus coming through town, and according to the researchers, there’s a slight problem with that theory anyway.
“Monkeys struck by bullets bleed and die,” they wrote.
In the end, Glennie and all the others won out. Their story is known by millions. And come Feb. 11, it will be known by millions more.
“You can believe it or not,” John Sutton told the Courier a few days after his battle with the heavens. “Just don’t laugh at it.”