The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter
Throughout human history, there have been innumerable instances of potential encounters with extraterrestrial beings, meaning aliens. Yes, the little green men that you’ve seen hobbling around on your screens and across the pages of your novels proclaiming, “Take me to your leader!” In recent history, most likely in conjunction with the rapid advancement of recording technology, we have seen renewed interest in these little green men. But how did they get that name? If they don’t exist, how have we all somehow agreed on the fact that they are “little” and “green” and “men”?
Of the many supposed “encounters” with alien lifeforms, none stick out quite as much as The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, the origin of this classic image. It is one of the most famous cases from the era of near hysteria over UFOs that swept across America in the 1950s. But are the claims that a small family farm was targeted and attacked by a small band of celestial-tourists on that hot summer night legitimate? UFOlogists (yeah, that’s a real thing) and extraterrestrial experts have pondered over this case for nearly 70 years, and many are still left scratching their heads.
The claims that came from The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter
On the evening of April 21st, 1955, the Sutton family farm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, was hosting a comfortable evening among family and friends. Amongst the Sutton family was Billy Ray Taylor, a family-friend and carnival employee that had stopped by for dinner that evening. After finishing their meal, the carnie left the house to fetch water from a nearby well. However, he was shocked to see a strange saucer-like object land about one city block’s length away from the home. According to Taylor, the saucer apparently gave off strange rainbow lights and had a strip of brighter light around the rim. Like the hero he is, he turned tail and ran back to the house.
Although most claims only address Taylor’s sighting of the saucer, no-nonsense family matriarch Glennie Lankford claims to have seen the spaceship from inside the house. According to her report, upon seeing the strange object, she fell backwards in shock and had to be carried to the bedroom.
Taylor tells the family what he had seen and is reasonably frustrated when nobody takes him seriously. However, not long after, the family dog starts to bark incessantly at something in the darkness (is it aliens?) In an effort to prove the truth of his previous statements, Billy convinced Elmer “Lucky” Sutton to accompany him outside to investigate further.
Into the unknown.. The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter
While outside, the two men noticed an odd glow coming from the woods behind the farmhouse. Upon closer inspection and backlit by the strange glow, the men claim to have seen a strange creature walking at them with its hands raised as one does when a gun is pointed at them (great news, it’s aliens!) Reasonably stunned, Lucky lets out a curse of surprise and the two men retreat to the safety of the house.
Although the drawings created later by reporters do not match perfectly from account-to-account, the images of the mysterious creature are fairly consistent. It was short, anywhere between 2 and 3 feet tall, with a disproportionately large head and arms that stretched almost all the way to the ground. Its head was adorned with large, pointed ears, and massive glowing eyes. On either side of its muscular torso hung gangly arms, each ending in a claw-like hand. Its feet were not seen very clearly, but according to one sketch, its legs ended in small suction cup-like appendages. However, they were not initially described as having green skin; instead they were grey, or otherwise dark in color. These strange creatures, although otherwise unclothed, appeared to be wearing a strange material best compared to metal armor. Even from the first well-recorded close encounter with extraterrestrial life, these things are ugly looking.
After the two men see the creature advancing on them, they run back into the house and grab a .22 caliber rifle and a 20-gauge shotgun to defend the family. Not long after, one of the creatures appears in the doorway, and the men promptly fire on it, deciding to shoot first and ask questions later. After it disappears from view, Taylor goes outside to investigate further, and is promptly attacked from above. According to the family witnessing from inside, something “claw-like” reached from above and latched on to the man’s hair. The family quickly grabs Taylor and pulls him back inside.
For the next four hours, the group defends the home from a small band of these creatures that would occasionally appear in windows and doorways. It is important to note that other than attempting to give Taylor an impromptu hair cut, the creatures did nothing that could potentially be construed as potentially aggressive in nature. All-in-all, they were just being incredibly creepy by peeking in through the windows and doors Wasting dozens of rounds of ammo in the process, the two men shoot at the creatures at every given opportunity. However, the creatures seem completely unaffected by gunfire; the sound made when they were struck with bullets was later compared by UFOlogist Jerome Clark to the sound of shooting a metal bucket. The group occasionally hears scratching coming from above, potentially indicating that the creatures are scurrying along the roof.
At one point, one of the creatures was spotted in a nearby Maple Tree. Upon shooting at the creature, the group was astounded to witness that it did not fall out of the tree upon being hit. Instead, it floated out of the tree and back into the cover of the forest. The family also noted that, while they appeared to be immune to gunfire, the strange creatures were averse to bright lights.
Upon the first safe opening, the family piles into two vehicles and guns it for the nearest police station. If these creatures were completely immune to bullets, I’m not exactly sure what they think they would have accomplished by bringing in the bigger guns. At the Hopkinsville police station, they explain to local officials what they had witnessed in the past few hours and plead for help in defending their home. Afraid of potential gun violence between citizens, the police agree to visit the property in order to resolve the issue. In total, there were approximately 12 to 15 law enforcement officers, including 4 military police from US Army Fort Campbell, that arrived on scene.
At around 11PM, the police arrive on scene. However, they are greeted with a peaceful property that is notably lacking a gang of creepy little trespassers. Other than damage to windows and screens made by the two firearms, no other property damage is noted. Very few ammunition shells are found in the home, drawing the claim that the family had emptied multiple boxes of ammunition into question. No evidence of a potential UFO landing is found anywhere in the home’s general vicinity. There are no scratch marks, footprints, or evidence of blood/biological matter to be found anywhere on the property. The only potential piece of evidence was a strange spot of liquid on the ground near where the creature was supposedly shot that had a strange sheen when observed at different angles. The source of the strange liquid was never clearly identified. Officials say that there were no indicators that alcohol was involved in the evening’s festivities.
After a few hours, law enforcement leave the property at approximately 2AM. The area is quiet for some time, until the creatures were reported to have returned around 3:30AM. After this, the family finally decided that they had enough otherworldly harassment for the evening and promptly vacated the property. They would later return to their home, although the creatures are not reported to ever have returned after that evening.
Possible Theories of The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter
Great Horned Owls
One of the most popular explanations for The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter is that the family encountered a particularly aggressive pair of Great Horned Owls defending a
nearby nest. With large wings that could easily be interpreted as long arms and legs tipped with razor-sharp talons, the physical description of the
creatures has largely been accepted as the image of an owl distorted by darkness and misinterpretation.
A potential owl-encounter would explain why one creature was seen “floating” out of a tree and into the woods. It doesn’t make much sense that
these creatures would randomly have the ability to fly, as they have no physical attributes that are characteristic of flight-enabled creatures (i.e.
wings). Unless these aliens had invisible hoverboards, the idea that they could randomly start floating on command seems counterintuitive,
especially considering the fact that they were otherwise seen running around. Furthermore, it may explain why there was no blood found at the
scene; it’s hard to hit a moving target, especially one that is flying around while backlight by a dark sky. I’d be impressed if one of them had actually
managed to hit an owl on its home turf in the midst of all that chaos
Blinded by the lights!
This theory also explains the creature’s supposed aversion to bright light. As Great Horned Owls are nocturnal, their eyes are far more sensitive to
extremely dim lights. One common method of deterring owls is to brightly light the property.
However, this theory does not explain why shooting the creatures supposedly sounded like “shooting a metal bucket”. Unless they were robot birds,
which would add an entirely new and interesting twist to this story, owls usually don’t sound like metal when they get shot. The only other metal
objects that the two men could have potentially shot in order to create a similar sound on a consistent basis were the family’s vehicles and the
In the 1950s, farm buildings were crafted from metal instead of wood. However, as the Sutton family did not have
much money, the chances of them having fully-metal buildings surrounding their wooden home were fairly slim. Furthermore, if they had
accidentally shot the vehicles, it’s logical to assume that there would have been reports of bullet holes on the car’s exterior. No such reports were
Others who have investigated The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter have questioned whether or not Great Horned Owls are known to suddenly become so aggressive. While
they are known for viciously protecting their nests, their behavior that night would still appear to be incredibly odd.
Unlike the Great Horned Owl theory, the group hallucination theory is not so widely accepted. According to this possible explanation, the entire
group underwent a simultaneous hallucination, during which they all witnessed the same impossible encounter.
This theory does not account for the fact that some of the strange occurrences that were indeed witnessed by some of the Sutton family’s
neighbors. One neighbor who lived approximately a quarter-mile north of the farm claims to have seen a glowing light in the woods behind the
farmhouse. Even upon hearing gunshots, this neighbor assumed that the family had been fending off predators that had attacked some of their
livestock. Sergeant Frank Dudas, who had not been on duty that night, also claims to have seen similar saucers on a different occasion.
However, while neighbors do claim that they heard gunshots that night, the number of bullets appears to have been vastly overestimated. According
to reports, only 4 shots were heard that night, as opposed to the dozens that the group claimed were fired at the creatures.
The plot thickens..
The concept of a group hallucination also does not account for the similarities amongst the various reports during The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter. According to reporters, as the various
men had not had time to confer on a common understanding of the situation, there was no opportunity for them to “agree on a story” had they
been lying. Furthermore the sudden and simultaneous reappearance of the strange creatures does not make much sense when considered from
this theory’s perspective. How is it that the delusion would return to the entire group at exactly the same time? And what would have triggered this
severe of a hallucination in the first place? Unless someone had slipped something “special” into the soup that evening, this theory doesn’t hold
On the same night of The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, there were also multiple reported cases of meteors streaking across the sky that were visible in the same area.
This could potentially explain the rainbow colors that Taylor saw, as oftentimes meteors can glow in vibrant colors under clear conditions. If seen out
of the corner of one’s eye, they can also appear as a flash of white light.
The major issue with this theory is the speed at which the object traveled; meteors generally appear as a bright flash of light, whereas the saucer
supposedly would have had to slow down to a stationary position in order to land firmly on the ground. Although there were no indications of a
landing on the night of the investigation, upon returning to the now-abandoned property in 1969, some from the original group found a strange
impression in the ground where the saucer was supposed to have landed. It is important to note that, as the property had been abandoned for some
time, it is impossible to indicate what caused the indent, as it could have easily been fabricated by a group of alien-fanatics or pranksters.
While this is technically an explanation for the night’s hysterics, most sources agree that it is unlikely. Not only did police report that there were no
indicators of alcohol being involved, but Glennie Lankford was well known as a no-nonsense matriarch. According to multiple reports, alcohol was
not allowed on the property, period.
Lies For Publicity
After The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, the property saw a sudden wave in attention from both media outlets and fans of the extraterrestrial. After failing to deter the
2000 some-odd people that visited the household over the course of a few days with a “No Trespassing” sign, the family decided to begin charging
an admission fee of 50 cents per person.
However, the family’s reputation is one that doesn’t appear to point towards such manipulative tactics for economic gain. Fairly poor, of very little
education, and largely cut off from popular culture, the Suttons had no apparent reason to lie about the occurrences that night. Not to mention that
they didn’t profit from the situation and were scorned for using the newfound publicity as a way of making an extra buck. What I would initially
interpret as taking an opportunity when it presents itself was apparently frowned upon by the general public.
They Were Telling the Truth about The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter
What if the family had been telling the truth surrounding the events of The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter? While this claim may initially appear to be completely
implausible, investigations have been unable to completely rule this possibility out.
First, it is fairly common knowledge that the investigation conducted that night was of a poor quality. While no tracks were found, it has been
reported that officials did nothing to protect the scene from outside contamination. Furthermore, the police officers had no real way of telling what
kind of tracks they may have been looking for, as 2 out of the 3 sketches that came from reporters did not include a description of the creature’s feet.
One sketch that did mention feet indicated that the creatures had very tiny feet that were shaped like suction cups. If this was the
case, then the tracks left behind would have been extremely small and easy to miss. Furthermore, a lack of tracks could be explained by
the fact that the creatures were shown to have the ability to fly, or possibly float.
A lack of blood would also explain the creatures’ apparent ability to deflect gunshots. Even if one of the men had managed to hit one of the
creatures, no wound was formed that would have resulted in any blood getting on the ground. Not to mention the poorly investigated “mysterious
liquid” that was supposedly found where one of the creatures was shot, which could have potentially been the creature’s blood.
The military’s involvement in the entire affair was also often misreported and difficult to ascertain. According to Brian Dunning, it was initially
reported that the military police came from a nearby Air Force base, but this was later corrected to have been an Army base. This may potentially be
a key distinction, as at the time, the Air Force was primarily responsible for investigating potential UFO encounters. Furthermore, according to a
neighbor who had gone hunting with Taylor earlier that day, they had witnessed a pair of military aircraft mysteriously hovering around the area,
supposedly taking pictures of the ground below.
At the time of the encounter, the U.S. was gripped by a “UFO Frenzy”. In 1952, a classified military operation called Project Blue Book was
launched in an effort to further investigate the possibility that extraterrestrial beings were actively paying visits to the planet. However, under the
policies set by current head Captain Charles Hardin, Blue Book was more so concerned with decreasing UFO incident reports than actively
investigating them. Under Hardin’s leadership, the operation saw a drastic decrease in the number of reported UFO incidents. Although the military
may have been involved in The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, this begs the question of whether or not they took the investigation seriously.
The Sutton farm is also located on the 37th Parallel, a line that has a high volume of UFO sightings and strange encounters.
The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter legacy – The “Little Green Man”
So then where does the image of the “little green man” come from? Yes, they were little and generally referred to as “men” despite there being no discernable sex characteristic, but they were never described as “green”. Who threw that little detail into the mix?
Before the Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, the “little green man” was found in popular science-fiction movies, such as The Case of the Little Green Men and Martians Go Home. While it was not an entirely new image, it had yet to be popularized as the common understanding for what aliens usually look like. With the of the Kelly-Hopkins encounter, it just seems like journalists doing what journalists do; slightly altering the information of a case so as to hook the people’s attention. It appears as though this technique worked a little too well, as the facts have been almost entirely clouded by media distortion. But in the end, it was good publicity for Hopkinsville, who now celebrates the annual “Little Green Men Days” Festival.