From abductions and saucers to Air Force investigations and Congressional hearings, Hoosiers have claimed their share of run-ins with the unknown.
As a subject of two recent TV documentaries, the case of former Brownsburg resident Matthew Reed—detailed in IM’s March 2014 feature, “Alienated”—might presently be Indiana’s most famous extraterrestrial encounter. But it’s certainly not the first.
Mysterious “Airship” Sightings / Vincennes (1897)
Starting in 1896, witnesses in California reported seeing a large, unidentified craft in the sky, and numerous sightings surfaced in other states as the object (or objects) purportedly made its way east across the country—that is, before the invention of the airplane and long-range dirigibles. Newspapers hyped the progress of the “airship,” including the Vincennes Morning Commercial, which, in April 1897, printed the accounts of a number of “reputable citizens” who variously claimed to have seen something resembling a sphere of golden light, a ball of fire, and a flying steamboat.
A “Huge Metallic Object” / Terre Haute (1951)
Just four years after the oft-disputed UFO crash near Roswell, New Mexico, a Teletype message arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, addressed to a member of the USAF intelligence brass. It related that Roy Messmore, chief aircraft communicator at Terre Haute’s Hulman Municipal Airport, had “joined the ranks of those who now believe in flying saucers” after he saw a “huge metallic object speeding across the field.” Air Force intelligence ordered an immediate investigation and discovered that a pilot flying over nearby Paris, Illinois, had separately reported a similar sighting only three minutes later. An official report concluded that what the men saw “may have been jet aircraft observed when the reflection of the sun may have distorted the aircraft in the eyes of the observer.” In his bestselling book The Hynek UFO Report, J. Allen Hynek—an astronomer and pioneering UFOlogist known for introducing the “close encounter” classification system—described the incident as “one of the rare cases in which observers in separate localities saw the same UFO at almost the same time.” (Hynek, left, is pictured with fellow UFOlogist Jacques Vallee.)
J. Edward Roush and the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects / Washington, D.C. (1968)
Roush, a congressman from Huntington, Indiana, and member of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, was, in his own words, “keenly interested in the whole problem of UFOs.” Accordingly, he organized and chaired the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, held on July 29, 1968—only the second (and last) time the topic has had a formal hearing on Capitol Hill. The proceedings included testimony from the likes of Hynek and now-famous cosmologist and author Carl Sagan; then-congressman Donald Rumsfeld, also in attendance, astutely noted that the study of UFOs was “a rather unique situation.”
UFO Invasion of 1973 / Delaware County
On the night of October 9, residents of east-central Indiana lit up first-responder switchboards with upwards of 700 calls reporting UFO sightings, according to an article in The Cincinnati Post. Local law-enforcement officers spent hours tracking the object, described as “blinking a red-white-blue revolving light and often hovering near the ground.” (We can only presume they weren’t merely seeing the flashers of their own squad cars.) Astronomy students at Ball State University claimed to have seen the UFO by telescope, and radar operators at an airfield in Fort Wayne allegedly “picked up an unexplained blip on their screen.” In fact, a widespread flurry of such activity—known as a “flap”—that October came to be known as the UFO Invasion of 1973, and congressman Roush, quoted in the Columbus Citizen Journal, worried that “the increased sightings nationally could lead to a state of panic and hysteria, and we ought to be concerned about it.”
Evan West - Executive Editor - Indianapolis