Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

02 February 2008

Remote Encounters of the One and Seven-Eighths Kind

Sitting in the garden a few twilights ago, I saw a bright something arc across the sky over the ocean to the east, and my mind went instantly to the the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and from there to the long ago evening when I, personally, had a “Remote Encounter of the One and Seven-Eighths Kind.”

It was during that hectic period in the 1950s when everybody was seeing pie tins, manhole covers, or poker chips flitting about in the night sky and UFOs seemed to be the perpetual public conversation du jour. For me, the whole thing seemed to speak of mass over-imbibing until I myself witnessed the arrival of the Braxton County Monster from Outer Space.

I think.

We were living in Charleston, W. Va., and shortly after dinner on Sept. 12, 1952, I was in the front yard, admiring the twilight, when I saw a fireball, or meteor, or something. Only this wasn’t like most meteors because, instead of streaking straight down from high up, this one, a big rascal all glowing and fizzy, chugged along horizontally, eventually to disappear in an arcing descent behind the eastern hills.

I went into the house and waited nervously for the 11 p.m TV news. There was only one channel in that locality in those primeval times, and I was hoping that its newsguys would mention the meteor, or whatever it had been.

Boy, did they ever mention it. Practically the whole program was given to an interview with a pretty young housewife, Mrs Kathleen May, who, I recollect, was doing her best to remain cool and lady-like in the midst of all the hullaballoo. I sat nailed to my chair while — in her gentle, matter-of-fact way — she told a tale of creepy horror:

She had just returned to her home in Flatwoods, Braxton County, after finishing her daily stint as a beautician. When the fireball crashed on a hilltop nearby, she and her two sons, Eddie and Freddie, and four of their grade-school playmates over came their shocked surprise and, grabbing flashlights, clambered up the hill to investigate.

When they reached the crest, hoo-boy.

There was a huge ball of light, and it hissed and pulsated and emitted a choking smell “sort of like ammonia that stung our eyes and burned our noses.” Then, off to their left, two powerful lights appeared “up in the treetops,” and (I recall her emphasizing) “we could hear a sound like a big bellows huffing and puffing.” One of the boys directed his flashlight at this, and the beam fell on what Mrs. May described as “a man-like creature, about 12 feet tall and four feet wide, with a face of fiery red, a green body, a head shaped like the ace of spades, and clothes that hung from its waist in great folds.” The twin lights were its glowing eyes, and, she said, the monster “was moving toward us as if it was floating through the air.”

“What did you and the boys do then?” I remember the unctuous TV guy asking in his condescending way.

Mrs. May, for all her courteous manner, gave the interviewer a look that should have broken his chest bones. “We began running like crazy, that’s what we did,” she said tartly. “We all ran down the hill to my house and phoned the sheriff. When he got to the hill, there was nothing to be seen — only some kind of oily stuff.”

Later on, as a writer researching some outer space stuff, I found myself wondering whatever had happened to Mrs. May. Was she still alive and well? How about the boys? Did she still think of that wild night? I picked up the horn and started dialing around, eventually locating her in Pennsboro, W.Va. She had remarried and was now Mrs. William Howard Horner. She was still friendly and candid, and she exhibited that gentle politeness so common to the hill country people.

“Sure I remember that night,” she told me. “Just as if it was a minute ago. How could anyone forget it?”

“Do you still think it was a monster?”

“All I know is what I saw. And that drawing the TV ran was what I saw. All kinds of government people, from the intelligence service in Washington, to the Navy, to the National Guard, tried real hard to convince me that what I and the boys saw was an experimental machine the Navy was testing.”

After same closing chitchat, I rang off and dug up an extract of the Sanderson report as published by the Charleston Gazette in l966. Sanderson, a New Yorker whose credentials as a naturalist and science writer were said to be formidable, studied the incident and its principals for weeks and eventually issued a 26-page report which reads, in part:

“We are of the opinion that a flight of intelligently controlled constructions flew over Braxton County, W. Va., on the evening of 27 [sic] Sept. 1952, and, further, that two of them landed or crashed, a third crashed, and a fourth blew up in the air. . . ”

The Sanderson report added: “The one that reached Flatwoods landed, rather than crashed, and its ‘pilot’ or occupant managed to get out before it disintegrated. He, or ‘it,’ did so in a spacesuit . . . regulated to counteract gravity. . . . It then moved to the highest point available either to scout out the land or to look for its colleagues. It was caught in the act by the seven humans . . .

“This object at Flatwoods . . . might have warmed up too rapidly (while passing through the atmosphere) and thus started to glow. As it began to melt it gave rise to the gaseous form of whatever it may have been constructed. This caused the mist and the stench. It rapidly dissolved altogether, which explains its disappearance (before the sheriff arrived). Its contained intelligent entity could not cope with our environment except in a suit which was itself disintegrating . . . ”

The Sanderson report went around the world and appeared in some form, it seems, in every medium from British TV to the Petunia-Raiser’s Bulletin.

Obviously, human beings — belabored as we are by difficulty, anxiety hypocrisy, fear, resentment, or aimlessness of life and purpose — yearn for a sign that there is something bigger and better than the crud and exasperation all around. The heart insists that, somewhere out there in the velvet void, there has to be a Higher Power, an Influence, a Benign Intelligence That Cares.

So when the Mrs. Horners of the world gaze coolly into the TV camera and tell of unworldly things — or even when we see a movie that speaks of close encounters with superior, spiritual beings — we feel the same excitement, the same sense of tingling anticipation, felt by children who think they hear reindeer in the darkness of a Christmas morning. And the feeling supports our persistent inner conviction that a greater, more noble reality lurks unseen beyond the stars.

Of such things are religions made.

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.