"The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer." So started the Daily Record front-page story 66 years ago yesterday that launched a thousand UFO conspiracy theories. Here’s a look at seven other brushes humankind has had with UFOs.
1. Burritt College, Tennessee (1859)
Early risers at Tennessee’s Burritt College spotted a pair of luminous objects (one like a “small new moon,” the other “a large star”) floating just north of the sunrise. Professor A.C. Carnes reported the sighting to Scientific American with skeptical speculation that the so-called UFO was just electricity:
"The first then became visible again, and increased rapidly in size, while the other diminished, and the two spots kept changing thus for about half an hour. There was considerable wind at the time, and light fleecy clouds passed by, showing the lights to be confined to one place."
Scientific American responded with a conjecture that “distant clouds of moisture” caused the sighting.
2. Aurora, Texas (1897)
“The town that almost wasn’t” (according to the tiny Texan town’s history book) found its claim to fame on April 17, 1897, when townsfolk watched a slow-moving airship crash into a windmill. Dallas Morning News reporter S.E. Haydon (sometimes spelled "Hayden") chronicled the crash:
About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship… It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went into pieces with a terrific explosion…. The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
The Martian (as it was deemed by an Army officer from neighbor city Fort Worth) was buried at the Aurora Cemetery, but not before townspeople gave the pilot a proper funeral with “Christian rites.”
In a 1979 Time article, however, at least one resident claimed the whole thing was a hoax: "Hayden wrote it as a joke and to bring interest to Aurora," Etta Pegues, 86, told the magazine.
3. Mount Rainier, Washington (1947)
Kenneth Arnold, an aviator and businessman, ushered in what Ufologists consider the modern UFO age on June 24, 1947. Flying over Washington’s Cascade Mountains searching for a missing aircraft, he instead found several objects which he told reporters looked like “a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.”
Arnold’s sighting—he clocked the objects’ flight from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams at an unprecedented 1200 miles per hour—was made immortal by newspaper reporter Bill Bequette, who coined the name “flying saucer” in his story on the Associated Press news wire. By the end of July 1947, the U.S. media covered 800 reports of UFOs.
4. Lubbock, Texas (1951)
On August 25, 1951, three professors from Texas Technological College—a geologist, a chemical engineer, and a petroleum engineer and department head—saw 20 to 30 lights flying over one of the professors' backyards at 9 p.m.
Five nights later, a Texas Tech freshman named Carl Hart, Jr. snapped five shots of the same formation of lights. A lieutenant investigating the “Lubbock Lights,” Edward J. Ruppelt, released a statement about the photos, declaring, “the photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine.” The official Air Force explanation? They were birds—probably ducks or plovers—with street lights reflecting off of them.
5. Washington, D.C. (1952)
At 11:40 p.m. on July 19 in the capital, air traffic controllers noted pale blips flitting on their radars. Fighter jets were dispatched to chase down the objects, leading to sensationalist headlines the next day. In the Cedar Rapids Gazette of Iowa, the front page screamed “Saucers Swarm Over Capital.”
6. Leary, Georgia (1969)
At a Lions Club in Leary, Georgia, two years before he was elected as the Peach State’s governor, Jimmy Carter reported watching a self-luminous, color-changing object arc across the sky. He’d mention it in a 1973 report, saying, “It didn't have any solid substance to it, it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was."
Years later, Carter shied away from his extraterrestrial sighting, saying that it was only a UFO because it was, in fact, unexplained, and that he knew it couldn’t be an alien ship, thanks to his background in physics (he was also an amateur astronomer). In a 2007 interview with The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, he debunked rumors that the CIA refused to give him information about UFO cover-ups.