Myth Monday: The Great Worcester MA Airship Hoax—Or Not? (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: The Great Worcester MA Airship Hoax—Or Not?

By Kara Newcastle




It’s funny how little you know about your own home state until you do your research … or just pick up a book. A few years ago I bought a copy of Weird Massachusetts, one of the books in the awesome Weird series edited by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, and while I was familiar with a fair bit of the folklore chronicled within, one entry took me by surprise; in 1909, the city of Worcester—coincidentally, not far from my original hometown—was plagued by a huge UFO!

Apparently, 1909 was fairly busy year for unidentified flying objects, as enormous, cigar-shaped, floating vehicles were seen in Britain and New Zealand. Now, the first man-made rigid airship was introduced in 1900 by Count Fredrich von Zeppelin (hence the name), and those suckers were 420 feet long, had multiple engines for propulsion, and could carry about twenty passengers plus crew in an attached area referred to as a gondola. Since the airships were kept aloft by lighter than air gases contained within essentially a ginormous balloon, airships (zeppelins, blimps, dirigibles) were classified as “lighter than air” flying crafts.

The things that people were seeing, however, were a lot freaking bigger than a zeppelin, and appeared to be made out of solid metal, lined with glowing lights.

Whatever the thing was, the huge, cylindrical flying machine (or machines) saw whatever it was they wanted to see in New Zealand and Great Britain and struck out across the Atlantic to, of all places, Massachusetts. First appearing on December 23, it drifted over Boston, then apparently followed the railway line through what is now the Greater Boston area, into MetroWest, and finally into Central Massachusetts, traveling at about eighty miles an hour. Allegedly thousands of witnesses reported seeing at least two men moving around in the gondola, with one operating a powerful searchlight at the front of the cabin, which he would shine down on the bewildered towns below. A police officer in Athol remarked that the flying ship almost seemed to be racing one of the trains, pulling ahead, stopping to hover in midair as if to allow the train to catch up, then zipping on ahead again.

Weirdness all around.

Anyway, the mysterious airship buzzed over Worcester shortly before Christmas and again on Christmas Eve. It hung around a bit, shined the searchlight here and there, made a few circles over City Hall, then floated off and disappeared (apparently reappearing in Connecticut), leaving the residents of the Worcester in a tizzy. What was that thing? Where did it come from? Was Santa Claus trying out a new mode of transportation?

Luckily, the frightened citizens soon received their answer—Wallace Elmer Tillinghast, an engineer and businessman from Worcester, stepped forward and announced that he was the inventor, owner and pilot of the airship. He told the public that it was the world’s first heavier than air flying craft—in other words, an airplane.

Almost immediately Tillinghast was scoffed at; few people believed that he and his two mechanics—men he never would name—were able to build and fly a machine that big. Furthermore, his description of his airplane didn’t make a lot of sense; he said that it was 1,550 pounds, had a gas-powered motor, it could fly 300 miles at a speed of 120 miles an hour, could carry three passengers, had antennae like a bug … each one of which had a box kite at the end to maintain the plane’s stability in the air.

I don’t know why the kites were there. Tillinghast was an engineer, I’m sure he knew what he was talking about.

Tillinghast went on to claim that he had flown the plane roundtrip from Boston to New York and back twice that previous September (400 miles each time), saying that not only had he circled the Statue of Liberty in his machine, but it had once malfunctioned during flight and he was skilled enough to fix it in midair. When asked why no one had seen him during his test flights, Tillinghast responded that he had flown the plane at night. When asked why he would fly at night, Tillinghast said he didn’t want people to see his plane and steal his idea.

Some people believed him, as Tillinghast was known to be a respectable person, the vice president of a manufacturing company. Others thought he was full of it, not least of whom was Wilbur Wright, co-creator of the first real motorized airplane, the Wright Flyer, which flew in 1903. He went as far as to say that Tillinghast’s claims were “absurd.”

The public demanded to see Tillinghast’s plane, or at least some kind of proof that it existed. Tillinghast refused, saying it wanted to keep it secret but promising to reveal it to the world in February 1910. Well, February 1910 came and went, and Tillinghast never unveiled his top-secret heavier than air flying craft. Understandably, the good citizens of Massachusetts and the rest of the United States were cheesed off and denounced him as a hoaxer. The director of the New England Aero Club, J. Walter Flagg, declared, “I believe this man is a faker … I do not find one fact to warrant the statement that he has ever made an ascension or completed a machine in which to fly.”

So, if Tillinghast didn’t make the strange airship—and it’s safe to say that he didn’t—what the hell were people seeing? There have been many suggestions since then, from atmospheric anomalies, floating lanterns, mass hysteria and misidentified celestial objects (interestingly, the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft saw what people were claiming was the airship on December 24, 1909 in Rhode Island, but he identified it as the planet Venus.) One guy, Mr. C.D. Rawson of Worcester, claimed that he was responsible for the sightings, saying that he had tied little lanterns and reflectors to several owls and then let them loose over the city as a prank. Even then, people found that hard to believe.

What do I think? It was probably more mass hysteria than anything else, coupled with the fact that newspapers at this time were notorious for writing outlandish stories (the original fake news) just to sell papers, with very few editors taking the time to factcheck the articles before putting them to print. However, starting in 1908, the U.S. military was beginning to build a fleet of blimps to use for defense, so it’s possible that there really were airships floating around out there, manned by inexperienced crew.

And if it was a bunch of old-timey aliens flying around in space-zeppelins … let me put it this way: I’ve read a lot of stories of people faking UFO sightings to get famous. This is the only time I’ve heard of somebody trying to get famous by basically claiming that they faked a UFO that was in fact real.




Myth Monday: The Hopkinsville Goblins (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: The Hopkinsville Goblins

By Kara Newcastle



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Artist’s impression of an Hopkinsville goblin by Tim Bertelink



Kentucky is known for a lot of things: horse racing, blue grass, bourbon, guys in white suits and goatees hawking fried chicken … but being the place of what could have possibly been an alien invasion on a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?

Yeah, that doesn’t rank too high on the state’s boast list.

Or, at least, it didn’t use to; the story of the Hopkinsville Goblins—also known as the Kelly Little Green Men—has gained more attention in the last few years, and for the last nine years, Kentuckians and people from (possibly) all over the galaxy descend upon the town of Kelly every August to celebrate the arrival of the spacemen.

Though at the time, the two terrorized families didn’t see anything to be happy about.

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On the evening of August 21, 1955 (eight years after the alleged UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico), the Sutton family and their neighbors decided to spend a lazy evening hanging out and playing cards at the Suttons’ home in Kelly, KY. Of the people gathered, there were five adults and seven children.

The Suttons’ home had no indoor plumbing, so at length, either Elmer Sutton or Billy Ray Taylor (I’ve heard so many variations on this story that I’m not 100% sure who it was), decided to head out to the water pump to get himself a drink. Conveniently, there was a tin cup tethered to the spout, and as the witness held it under the spout, a strange light overhead caught his attention. He glanced up and saw a large, glowing, disc-like object floating overhead, passing by him and settling down some distance away in the woods.

Bewilderment turning to fear, the young man raced back into the Sutton house and exploded through the door, yelling that he had just seen a flying saucer land in the woods. Naturally, everyone there laughed at him—as the story goes, the witness was thought to be something of an exaggerator, so no one believed what he said. Frantic, he insisted that he had really seen it, and demanded that someone come out and look.

At length, the men dragged themselves out of their chairs and headed over to the front covered porch, probably thinking they’d just humor the guy. Stepping through the screen door, they lined up on the porch and looked out into the dark woodland, likely snorting their disbelief. As the story goes, just as one of the men began to say to the witness that there wasn’t anything out there, the Suttons’ hound dog came whipping out of the forest, yelping and whimpering, its tail between its legs. It ignored all the startled humans and scurried straight under the porch.

This was highly unusual behavior for this dog, and when the men tried to coax it out, it just squirmed back further beneath the porch. Now the men were starting to feel uneasy; what could have scared a hunting dog so badly that it would feel the need to hide?

Unfortunately, they got the answer.

It’s unclear who noticed the figure at first, but everyone there saw it; it was small, less than four feet tall. It had skinny legs and gangling arms that hung down past its knees. It had a large, rough head, protruding eyes that glowed yellow, and what appeared to be pointy ears. It seemed to be wearing a silver, metallic-looking bodysuit.

Oh, and it wasn’t walking—it was floating over the ground—straight towards the Sutton house!

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Not long after the appearance of the first creature came another, then another, and another, and by then all the men were in a panic, racing back inside the house. They slammed and locked the doors, pushed the frightened women to the floor, shoved the children under beds and tables, yelling that they were about to be invaded. Each man then grabbed a shotgun and took up positions at the windows, fearfully peering out.

It soon became obvious that the house was surrounded by these floating, bug-eyed creatures—twelve to fifteen of them, as Elmer Sutton and Billy Ray Taylor later stated. The things came within a few feet of the house, but they stopped where the light from the house reached outside; they seemed to be sensitive to it.

That was little comfort to the horrified humans within, so someone aimed a gun and fired, striking one of the little bulbous-headed flying men dead in the chest. To the shooter’s disbelief, the thing flopped backward with the loudly ringing impact of the buckshot, somersaulted back, popped up onto its feet, then turned and sped back into the woods. This likely sent everyone into a greater state of panic, and the men began to unload their shotguns at the assembled invaders. Each time a shot found a creature, the thing would somersault backward and then flee.

The firefight continued on for about four hours until it appeared that the otherworldly critters decided to give up and retreat. As the story goes, Billy Ray Taylor, Elmer Sutton, and anyone else holding a gun crept out onto the porch to see if the coast was clear. As Billy Ray leaned over the edge to peek around the corner, a small hand snaked down from the porch’s roof, wound itself in Billy Ray’s hair and yanked! I don’t know this for a fact, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the men all blasted a crater in the porch roof.

Deciding that this was all too much, the adults grabbed the children, piled into their cars and sped to the nearest police station in Hopkinsville, the next town over. The police were understandably alarmed when seven people came crashing into their station, sobbing and screaming that they had been attacked by small floating creatures. Creatures that were not human, creatures that had been seen after something that looked like a flying saucer touched down in the woods.

They had been attacked by aliens!


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Inflatable aliens, by Lewis Francis


Although, admittedly, it was the humans that did the attacking.

Anyway, the families were so hysterical, and the Suttons were known to be reliable, sober people, that the police decided to take them seriously (and by the way, at least one officer reported seeing the UFO heading in the direction of Kelly shortly before the incident occurred).) Led by Chief Greenwell, over a dozen local and state police officers went to the Sutton farm. En route, they noticed what looked like a meteor shower streaking away from the Sutton home, but upon arriving, they didn’t find any trace of aliens, though some versions of the story claim that there were strange indents in the ground from the UFO, or there was a silvery liquid substance on the grass. What they did find was a helluva lot of bullet holes and shell casings … a gunfight had certainly occurred there.

At a loss, the police returned to the station and told the agitated families that there appeared to be nothing amiss. Unhappy but not having much choice, the two families returned to the house … only to go tearing out of there again when the spacemen returned at 3:30 AM.


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Space Invaders, second row by Adlen at English Wikipedia.



After that, there were no more sightings of UFOs or floating aliens in the Kelly-Hopkinsville area. As to be expected, many people thought that the whole thing was a hoax, and newspapers derisively referred to the things as “little green men” or “goblins.” Project Blue Book investigated, but wrote the whole thing off as a hoax. The Suttons were irritated by the bad press and nosiness, and soon refused to give any more interviews. The story was largely forgotten about for years, but interest has revived thanks in part to author Geraldine Sutton Stith, Elmer Sutton’s daughter.

In the meantime, a variety of explanations have cropped up about what the Suttons and their friends had encountered that night. Some skeptical researchers had postulated that what the people encountered were actually great horned owls, which had pointed ear tufts and eyes that glow yellow. I find that difficult to believe on multiple levels; these were Kentucky farm folk living on the edge of a forest, they would have known what a freaking owl looked like. When the things were shot, a loud metallic ring was heard, as though the bullets and buckshot were bouncing off of metal plate armor. And then, pointy ears aside, there’s the overall description of the aliens; skinny humanoids. No mention of wings.

Could it have been a hoax? Possibly, but for what reason? Neither the Suttons nor their friends seemed to be in financial trouble. The Suttons were renting their farm, but there’s no rumor that they had any problems with their landlord, so they had no reason to bust up the place and then split. The Suttons themselves were known to be decent people, not the kind to make trouble.

Could someone have played a prank on them? While there are stories of people pulling this sort of crap on others (such as the case of a Montana man dressing up in a ghillie suit to scare highway drivers into thinking he was Bigfoot … only to be hit and killed), this area of Kentucky had a lot of farmland and woods, which meant that everybody was packing a gun somewhere to either hunt or protect their families. Seems highly risky to pull a stunt like this when there’s a real likelihood of getting shot.

And then there is the fairy aspect to all of this; some researchers have found many similarities between alien visitations and sightings of fairies (which I’ll get into some other time), and noted that the Hopkinsville goblins were rather elfin-like, complete with pointed ears. Native American tribes spoke of a race of little, magic-working people long before the Europeans ever got here, and sometimes these little people were incredibly ugly, but they were always described as being unmistakably human. These things had a humanoid shape, but that was about it.

I usually have theories of my own with most stories of the bizarre, but this one I have to file under, “I Have No Freaking Idea.”  But, if you decide to take a trip to Kelly for the Kelly Little Green Men Festival August 16 -17, 2019, ask around and see what people say—I’d love to know!

Maybe they just wanted some fried chicken?






Myth Monday: The First Recorded UFO Sighting in America (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: The First Recorded UFO Sighting in America

By Kara Newcastle


(C) Ricktails, via Wikimedia Commons


First off, let me say

  1. Storming Area 51 is a seriously bad idea
  2. If you’re actually going to do it, livestream it so I can watch.

And I’m really kicking myself today for not buying that Area 51 book I saw at Barnes and Noble yesterday!

That aside, I found what might be the first recorded case of both a UFO sighting and abduction/lost time situation in American history—and it happened in my home state of Massachusetts!

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In 1639, a mere nineteen years after the pilgrims established their colony at Plymouth, Governor John Winthrop (grandfather of Waitstill Winthrop, an early judge in the Salem witch trials), sat down on March 1 to record in his diary the strange events that had happened near Boston and the village of Charlestown a short time before. He wrote that one James Everell and two friends were rowing along the Muddy River one evening when they noticed a strange glowing light in the night sky. They watched with mounting apprehension as the light would hover in place and flare up and die down over regular intervals. When it moved, the light transformed into the shape of a “swine,” as Winthrop described it (it’s interesting to note that the Puritans frequently reported cases of hog-like demons, including several alleged encounters recounted during the witch trials), and would tear back and forth across the sky between the three men and Charlestown, which was about two miles away.

The three men said that they watched the light hover and zip about for nearly three hours before it finally vanished into the night. Once the strange light had disappeared, James Everell and his friends were shocked to find that they had moved a mile upstream—with no memory of how they got there. They didn’t paddle there, and the tide should have carried them downriver to the bay, not up it. They had no explanation of it. (It’s possible that the wind pushed them along or the tide had reversed, but we’ll never know.)

Winthrop noted that James Everell was known as a “sober and discreet man”, which, in Puritanical speak, meant he wasn’t a drunk and not prone to exaggeration. In addition, several other people in the village reported seeing the same strange light that evening, moving in the same bizarre pattern.

Seeing as how the three men had been closed to a swamp when the sighting occurred, it’s possible that they saw a cloud of swamp gas. But swamp gas doesn’t form the shape of a pig and go zooming back forth across the night sky. Nor does it make a repeat appearance; on January 18, 1644, Winthrop wrote that three more men in a boat coming into Boston at midnight saw two lights rise up out of the water. The lights took a shape “like a man,” according to Winthrop, traveled towards the south a little way, then vanished.


Fort Warren, Georges Island Boston Harbor. (C) Peb765 via Wikimedia Commons


The lights appeared for an encore one week later, again at night, over Boston Harbor. Winthrop wrote that the lights joined and separated several times, and occasionally “shot out flames and sometimes sparkles.” A number of people were said to have witnessed the event.

At this same time, a disembodied, sinister voice was heard calling out, “Boy! Boy! Come away!”, traveling between Boston and the town of Dorchester, lasting about 2 weeks and heard by many people before stopping.

Interestingly, Governor Winthrop had a theory regarding these latest creepy conundrums; in his diary, Winthrop remarked that where the lights in the bay had been most recently sighted was close to the area where a ship had exploded some time before. A load of gunpowder had been ignited accidently, and the explosion killed five sailors. Four of the sailors’ bodies had been recovered but the fifth one, the body of the man who was thought to have caused the explosion—a man who had boasted that he could speak to the dead—was never found. Perhaps an evil spirit had taken the dead man’s voice and was using it to lure people away?

Hey, for a guy living in the 17th century, that’s as good an explanation as any.

There seem to be no more reports of strange lights or flying machines until the early 1900s, when a UFO decided to have fun scaring the crap out of people in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then a bunch of aliens turned Bridgewater and Fitchburg into tourist stops … and went apple picking in Lunenberg … but those are stories for another time.


Myth Monday: The Man Who Breakfasted with Aliens (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: The Man Who Breakfasted with Aliens

By Kara Newcastle



Once again, life got in the way, so I wasn’t able to prepare the blog I had wanted to write, but hey, I promised you a blog, I (more or less) promised you a blog with an alien theme and here it is—one of the weirdest alien encounter stories I’ve ever heard of.


Sixty-one-year-old Joe Simonton wasn’t anybody particularly special. He was a chicken farmer living in Eagle River, Wisconsin. He wasn’t a military official, astrophysicist or politician. No, he was just a chicken farmer … and that didn’t seem to bother his visitors any.

On April 18, 1961, Joe was sitting down to begin a late breakfast when a strange noise drew his attention outside. It sounded like a low flying jet—a very low flying jet, prompting Joe to get up and go outside to see what was going on. As he emerged out of his house, Joe was astonished to see a huge, silvery disc hovering in the air. He later described it as being shinier than chrome with a lot of pipes sticking out here and there, and likely measured 30 feet across and 12 feet high. It dropped down into his yard but apparently didn’t land; it just hung in the air a few feet above the grass.

As Joe stared at the strange craft, he saw a hatch on the side suddenly slide open and a being of some sort leaned out. This being … alien … well, Joe described it as looking “Italian,” if that helps at all … whatever it was, held out what looked like a pitcher. It waved Joe over, and made motions towards the pitcher, then held it out for the perplexed chicken farmer. Seeming to understand that the Italian-looking alien wanted water, Joe took the pitcher, hurried over to his water pump and filled it. As he handed the pitcher back to the … guy … Joe peeked inside the ship. He saw at least two more of the aliens, again describing them as looking Italian (due to their dark skin and hair), all wearing dark colored jumpsuits with knitted hats that looked like the kind jet pilots wore under their helmets. Each alien was roughly five feet tall, about 125 pounds, and seemed to be in their mid-twenties, though I can’t imagine how Joe was able to take all that detail in. I think I’d just be standing there, thinking, “WHY ARE THERE SPACE ITALIANS IN MY YARD?”

As Joe looked inside, studying the aliens and their ship’s flashing instrument panels, he noticed one of them was working at what looked like a stovetop, flipping some tannish colored pancake-looking things over. What possessed him to do this I don’t know, but Joe pointed to the objects, and then pointed to his mouth. The alien he had given water to immediately understood, scooped up four of the things and kindly handed them to Joe. The alien then saluted Joe by touching its index and middle fingers to the side of its head. Joe saluted back in kind and stepped back as the Italien—Italian-alien—closed the ship’s hatch and fired up the repulsors or hyperdrive or whatever it is swarthy aliens of Roman persuasion use to move their UFOs, zipping off into the sky.

And then—and I must say, Joe is a braver person than I—Joe, hungry from missing his breakfast, ate one of the Martian pancakes.

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Joe Simonton with one of the space pancakes.

He was not impressed. He said it tasted like cardboard.

At some point, Joe apparently realized what the hell had just happened, and a phone call was made to the police. The officers came out to interview Joe, and while, space pancakes aside, they found no evidence of alien visitation, they were impressed by Joe’s earnestness—he really did seem to believe that he had been gifted a stack of Venusian hot cakes by a trio of olive-complexioned aliens.

Of course, the story spread like wildfire and soon attracted the attention of the U.S. Airforce. To be exact, it was Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Project Blue Book (the USAF’s project researching, recording and proving/debunking UFO and alien sightings) who was dispatched to investigate, and Joe Simonton had no qualms providing Dr. Hynek with one of the pancakes. Hynek took the pancake back to be analyzed by the Food and Drug Administration, but tests showed that it was made of nothing more than buckwheat flour, grease and water … any rumors that it was some kind of “unknown” flour are only rumors right now.

In the end, the Air Force classified the encounter as “unexplained,” and suggested that maybe he had hallucinated the whole thing. Many skeptics challenged Joe Simonton’s account, accusing him of fraud, while others suggested that somebody had played an elaborate hoax on the chicken farmer. Either theory doesn’t make sense; it seems that Joe had nothing to gain from faking the story, and why would anybody go through all that hassle to pull a prank on some farmer out in the middle of nowhere?

Me personally, I just can’t understand why aliens who can build a ship capable of flying millions of lightyears through space could be such bad cooks.

Unless my info is wrong, it seems that at least one of Joe Simonton’s intergalactic flapjacks is still in existence. You can see it at the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Airforce Base … that is, if it hasn’t already been swapped out by a spooky government official who doesn’t want the delectable truth to be known!