October 1973. US involvement in Viet Nam ended with the springtime Paris Accord, and the Nation was moving on. The meat shortages of summer were behind us, we hoped. The embargo on soybean exports to Japan ended. Inflation was still with us, but we were doing better. Nixon was drowning in Watergate, a topic now a big part of high school US History II and Civics I. The hellacious heatwave of September broke, ending three weeks of roasting dry heat and blessed half-days at school. I was in my junior year of high school, finally an Upperclassman and going on seventeen. Just as we all thought life would be normal, the Yom Kipper War broke out in the middle east. There was noise from OPEC that if we dared support Israel, they would cut off our cheap oil. Driving less was discussed for the first time since WWII, and we didn’t like that. You can mess with a lot of things, except the USA’s automobile culture.
Being a sane and logical country, America took all this in stride with foot stamping, temper tantrums, and delusions. We blamed Nixon. We blamed political parties. Religious nuts blamed loose morals, teenagers, rock and roll, the Devil, and announced the “end times” had come. Our fathers prepared to tighten budget belts; our mothers bought more Hamburger Helper and soybean meal. High school students realized something terrible – pay from our after-school jobs could take a hit, and we’d have reduced car privileges. We teenagers whined at this specter in our spoiled American way. In response to the very mention of a 200% rise in gasoline prices, skyrocketing inflation, and the specter of Winter gas rationing, Americans bellyached, looked up in the sky, and started seeing UFOs.
Ahhh, October – that time when the nation heads outdoors at night! The summer heat and haze are gone; there are carnivals, hayrides, frost on the pumpkin, roasted wieners, and s’mores over a nice fire. Large throngs gather outdoors to witness our annual autumnal ritual of high school football. During these pleasant nocturnal forays, people began seeing strange lights whizzing through the skies.
In early October, news reports began trickling in from the Ohio Valley. Soon, the sightings spread across North America. People were witnessing puzzling lights zooming about after dark. Some were spotted at a distance. Others were closer and appeared to be chasing hapless automobiles. A few people swore these meandering nocturnal lights landed, though none were found, and landing traces were elusive. As this was far more entertaining than the impending resignation of Spiro Agnew and the rapidly escalating tensions in the Middle East, Americans ate it up. The evening news, local and national, did what newsies do best – they made humorous reports on TV about flying saucers and watched news stories write themselves. Soon the whole of the USA flocked nightly outside, looked skyward, and reported strange things.
A season of silliness was upon us. Not only were people seeing strange lights, but they also saw strange beings. As with all manias, each new story grew exponentially wilder as a public hysteria was fueled by the numerous print and television news accounts. I’ve listed some of the
lulus, more entertaining reports, below:
Early October – Southwest Ohio. After nights of seeing meandering nocturnal lights, the United Press International news service reported hundreds of sightings over southwest Ohio. A woman, hysterical and screaming, called local police reporting “some … some … thing!” landed on her farm and killed two cows.
Then, another woman called her neighbors and the police, claiming that a blue diamond-shaped UFO swooped onto her lawn and tried to kidnap her baby and toddler.
Early October – Between Columbus and Mansfield, Ohio. While driving after midnight, a man saw flashing lights surround his car. On a dark road, he saw three beings with arms and legs outstretched in an “X” fashion. He then lost consciousness and wound up in Cleveland because everyone should lose consciousness and wind up in Cleveland at least once in their lives.
1 October – Anthony Hill, Tenessee. Three teenagers saw a huge-hairy robot-like creature with a huge round head who walked mechanically with its hands upraised.
4 October – Simi Valley, California. A man driving on the Simi Freeway saw a 30 by 50-foot triangular object in a dust cloud near the road. As he watched, a normal-sized being wearing a silvery wetsuit crawled from behind the craft, saw the man, and scampered away. The UFO immediately disappeared.
6 October – St. Mathias, Quebec, Canada. A married couple saw bright lights after midnight on their property. They then witnessed at least five “spacemen” milling about in a field. As they went to investigate, they discovered that all had abruptly vanished.
11 October – Pascagoula, Mississippi. In the mother of all fish stories, two good ol’ boys, Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, were fishing on a pier in a restricted area of the F.B. Walker and Sons Shipyard where they both worked. The time was about 7 PM. The dock was adjacent to the extremely busy Pascagoula River Bridge. Hickson and Parker saw a blue “fish-shaped” UFO with two headlights descending upon them. Suddenly a door opened on the flying object, and three tall robotic beings floated out. They had grayish-white wrinkled skin “like an elephant” and pointed cone-like protrusions where the ears and nose should be. No eyes were seen, and the “robots” had lobster-like claws for hands. The strange trio floated the pair of baffled men into the waiting craft. Though Hickson remained conscious and immobile, Parker “done went hysterical,” passed out, and remained unconscious during the entire encounter. Hickson related that the alien trio communicated by buzzing sound. Once inside the UFO, and football-shaped “eye” scanned the two men. Then, both were unceremoniously deposited back on the fishing pier, none the worse for wear. The UFO then flew off without so much as a by-your-leave.
12 October – Tanner Williams, Alabama. A three-year-old boy reported to his mother that he had been playing with “some old monster” in the backyard the previous day. The monster had gray wrinkled skin and pointed ears and nose. The mother called the police.
16 October – Between Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. John Lane, a cab driver, reported he was confronted with a blue, oblong UFO that landed in front of his car on Interstate 90. He was approached by grey wrinkled robots with claw-like hands. The cabbie escaped.
17 October – Falkville, Alabama. Falkville Chief of Police Jeff Greenshaw, after receiving a frantic call of a landed UFO in a field outside of town, went to investigate. Arriving at the location, no UFO was found. However, he encountered a 5 ½ ft tall “being” in a silver suit. Grabbing his trusty Polaroid 2 camera, he snapped several pictures before the “being” ran away. After making the reasonable decision to run over the intruder, he crashed his car in the field as the silver man fled “as if he had springs on his feet.” The alien looked like a man wearing a standard foil-covered fire proximity suit.
17 October – Mansfield, Ohio. During a nighttime Army reserve helicopter training flight, the crew discussed the recent UFO activity—the crew commander, Maj. Larry Coyne saw a red light on the eastern horizon. Suddenly the light was on course for his helicopter. Getting closer, the crew saw red and green lights attached to some cigar-shaped vehicle that pulled alongside the helicopter. The object pulled above the chopper and turned a beam of green light in their direction. The vehicle paced them even as they made a rapid descent to 1,700. The craft broke off contact with the helicopter and suddenly ascended. Suddenly, the chopper felt turbulence and rose to 3,800 ft with the craft. Coyne regained control, returned to 2,500 ft, and continued to Cleveland, where he landed and breathlessly told his tale.
For my social circle and me, these tales were just perfect. It broke the monotony of music lessons, marching band, Beowulf, writing reports, my increasingly annoying beau, and outrages written about some of us on the boy’s locker room wall. My friends and I wanted to see a UFO, and we looked hard for one. Anytime we were outdoors at night, our necks were perpetually craned up, hoping for some glimpse of a craft from another world. My cool English Lit teacher, who liked ESP, ghosts, and Sci-Fi, suggested I keep a file of news clippings. By the end of the month, the file was bursting from the wire service reports.
Leave it to American pop culture to make this event a bona fide mania. Tabloids blared lurid headlines about UFOs at the supermarket. Paperback publishers rushed to reprint old UFO books from the 60s and Von Daniken’s ancient astronaut tomes. New UFO magazines went to press and sprouted at the newsstand like mushrooms. These all flew out the doors and into the hands of every teenager like me across the nation.
Americans will commodify anything, even if it’s an impending alien invasion. In North Carolina, a rather staid state-wide savings and loan, United Federal Bank, launched a brilliant ad campaign capitalizing UFOmania. Running for two weeks and broadcast after the evening national news, the ad featured eerie music, a set swirling with fog, and a robotic-looking studio tripod topped with a red flashing light. As hair-raising sci-fi movie music played, a voice-over told us, “What is it? It’s a mystery. Is it a UFO? Or a UFB? Stop by United Federal Bank – it’s out of this world!” I have no idea how many savings accounts were opened, but that ad was much more attention-getting than a free toaster.
The final icing on the cake for my group of peers – Gerry Anderson’s UFO was finally in syndication in the United States. Talk about perfect timing! In third place viewership-wise, our local NBC affiliate quietly debuted the show in the last week of September. As UFOmania swept the nation, programming moved the show to 5 PM daily. The time slot was perfect. Late enough that we older students were arriving home from after-school activities and early enough that it didn’t infringe on homework time. If we couldn’t have our own otherworldly experience, then we could live vicariously through the exploits of Ed Straker and S.H.A.D.O. For about a week in typing class, we’d spend our practice minutes trying to type as fast as the teletype in the opening credits. Hey! It was the early 1970s. It didn’t take much to keep us amused. We only had foosball, air hockey, and pinball machines. Videogames were still years away.
Flying saucer fever hit a crescendo after the alleged Pascagoula abduction story. UFO sightings exploded. The skies seemed full of mysterious lights. Now, to make things more interesting, “little silver men” seemed to be running around all over the country. As mysterious lights would appear, so would little spacemen dressed in foil clothing. Some brave ones were seen in backyards. Some were popping out of hedgerows, frightening pedestrians out for an evening stroll. An extremely rude little man appeared along a busy highway in Macon, Georgia. Seen on several consecutive nights, he would make an obscene but very terrestrial gesture with one finger at passing cars. The boldest encounter was in Ohio near Xenia. For several nights on US Highway 35 and the Xenia bypass in Beavercreek Township, motorists were terrorized by three silver-suited spacemen, complete with antennae and holding a flashing red light. This gang of extraterrestrials would jump out at passing drivers or saunter down the side of the road, causing several near accidents. Once, they stopped traffic on a bridge.
Even the governor of Ohio said he saw a UFO. When elected officials see strange things, the national news media pays attention. This revelation, the Hickson/Parker and Lane encounters, and the plague of strange lights in the skies were all featured on the October 17, 1973, CBS Evening News. Alas, all fun stopped as Walter Cronkite ended the segment with a humorous quip announcing the arrest of the three little silver spacemen in Ohio.
All good fun comes to an end. The public realized it was close to Halloween, and kids were out for a lark. After half a month of chasing strange lights nationwide, public services found pranks made up 99% of reports. The rest were simply aircraft lights seen from a distance. Most unexplained lights were helium balloons with attached flashlights or homemade hot air balloons made from dry-cleaning bags. As the hot air balloons were powered by small gondolas full of lit birthday candles, they were a fire hazard. When the homemade UFOs crashed starting small fires, the authorities declared them a menace, decreed fines would be issued, and the aeronauts prosecuted. Nothing terrifies a teenager like being fined by John Law and getting it from outraged parents after. The prospect of being grounded for life, no car, forfeiting burger job money, and not going to the prom was a clear and present danger. Production of unexplained aerial phenomena ceased as quickly as American mothers could scream, “just wait until your father gets home!”
I will confess I never tried any of the hot air balloon pranks. I knew if I did, I would get caught. I knew of several pranksters who sent up balloons, then sat back and listened to the fun on police radios. As a person prone to mischief, I’m eternally grateful the foil-wrapped trio in Xenia were arrested first and the detention announced on national TV. Dreamed up in homeroom, I had the same idea. It was easy to accomplish as the stores were flush with Halloween costumes, and tin foil was cheap. Thankfully, I kept that idea on the QT and never mentioned it. My mother would have been outraged that I’d even entertained such a foolish notion in the first place, grounded me on general purposes, and washed out my mouth with Life Buoy for good measure. I remained content to stick my head out the car window and scan the skies when riding around with my friends.
The whole UFO thing was over for me on October 20. I remember that day clearly. My family and I had gone to the NC State Fair. It was the fair’s last day, and the weather was beautiful, crisp, and chilly. The wind turned to the north, reminding us that winter would soon be here. I saw a slew of silver mylar State Fair balloons floating off in the wind in the parking lot. My dad quipped, “Well, there will be lots of UFO reports tonight!” And he was right. A few reports trickled in and made the newspaper, but it was no longer front-page news.
Twenty days is a long time in the life of a 16-year-old. And that’s about the maximum limit of teenage attention spans. By then, the novelty had worn off. Halloween was coming, and with it came the holiday season. Teenagers like me in the high school band were extra busy. There were the usual exams and studies, plus parades, travel, and concerts. Sports-wise, football would change to basketball, so we went from marching on the field to the pep band in the gymnasium. As the band’s repertoire changed in November, I also had lots of practice on the horizon. I had no time for fantastic UFO tales.
I remember one last lonely UFO report. Our local paper, The Fayetteville Observer, published a sighting in early November. On Halloween night, someone living in the Haymount Hill district called the police. The caller claimed a lighted UFO “the size of a foot tub” landed in his back, then took off again. This parting joke was published on the last page. I dutifully clipped it, put it in my folder, placed it on the top shelf of my closet, and then forgot about it.
Americans had more things to worry about than silly flying saucers. Angry at US support to Israel, OPEC turned off the tap to post-oil peak America. The words “Arab Oil Embargo” replaced “UFOs” on the front page as November’s winds blew in our first energy crisis. Signs in the skies were replaced by signs at the gas pump: “Sorry, No Gas.” We prepared to turn the heat down to 68 degrees, and winter consumed our minds.
Why people went wild in October 1973 and saw UFOs everywhere was anyone’s guess. Americans do strange things because we are so pampered, have a lot of spare time and money, and aren’t very bright. Psychologists weighed in with interviews printed in The New York Times and Time Magazine. Perhaps it was some huge psychological release from the pressures of the Viet Nam War, the tumults of the 1960s, and the war’s ending, they thought. Others said it was mass hysteria brought on by the oversaturation of news reports. Reading about or hearing these accounts made people go outside into the night, suspiciously eyeing every airplane, star, and satellite they saw. Wanting to have their own experience, they convinced themselves they had witnessed something out of this world. As people tried to top the latest confabulation in the news, each new story became wilder until the whole event collapsed.
Many years have passed since this autumn of strangeness. Being nosey, I did a little follow-up to see if there were any explanations for so many sightings. As usual, the truth is out there and stranger than the tales spun in the papers.
Ohio Valley Sightings
People in the Ohio Valley and many parts of America were indeed seeing a lot of lights and activity in the skies. The advent of the Yom Kipper War saw several Arab nations, well-armed by the Soviet Union, attempting to destroy a vastly under-armed Israel. To defend her country, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered thirteen 20-kiloton nuclear warheads built for existing missiles to be fired at each combatant nation.
This horrific response would potentially put the United States in a direct nuclear exchange with Soviet Russia. To avoid this unpleasantness, the Nixon administration ordered Operation Nickel Grass, the largest airlift since World War II. For 32 days, twenty-four hours a day, cargo aircraft departed Wright- Patterson AFB in Ohio bound for Israel on a weapons delivery/resupply mission. These flights were direct, non-stop, from Ohio to Israel, requiring a fleet of airborne refueling tankers. As our arm and resupply mission outperformed the Soviets’, a ceasefire was declared between combatants on 2 November 1973.
The Pascagoula Creatures
The Pascagoula encounter remains “unsolved” to this day. Though the Pascagoula Bridge was bristling with CCTV security cameras in 1973, no footage was recorded to corroborate the sighting. Several security guards and toll booth attendants saw nothing, either. Of course, True UFO Believers ™ ignored such things and claimed the UFO and aliens used some special cloaking device to hide the event. They also regarded Parker and Hickson as celebrities on the UFO Convention circuit. As time passed, the original story remained the same, with Hickson and Parker updating their stories to better conform to popular UFO trends. By the late 70s, Hickson was receiving telepathic messages from space. In the 1980s, gray aliens somehow appeared to the pair in hypnotic regression sessions. As the 1990s became the 21st Century, Parker revealed he had a sexual encounter with an alien female that he had somehow forgotten. They kept this up until their passing, with the men adding more lurid details to their adventure to remain relevant. I’m guessing they still resented not winning the National Enquirer’s UFO Story of the Year.
The Falkville “Tin Man”
Likewise, Ex-Police Chief Jeff Greenshaw seems to have had a lot of time on his hands in 1973. He still lives in Falkville, Alabama. At last look, he still swears he saw something but regrets he ever said anything. His 15 minutes of fame were marred by job loss, divorce and his trailer burning down.
True UFO Believers ™ still use his photos of the “tinfoil man” as proof of a spaceman on Earth. They conveniently forget that three years later, NICAP and Ground Saucer Watch, using the new tech of computer-aided photo analysis, declared the photos a hoax. Not only did GSW find this photo was of someone wearing a foil fire suit with a bit of tinfoil added for effect, but the culprit wearing the suit also confessed. As he was a minor in 1973, he refused any further involvement or the public use of his name. This disclosure was published in the November 1976 MUFON Journal and reiterated in subsequent issues.
Pranksters were everywhere that October. Ohio Public service employees were not immune to having a few laughs at the public’s expense, either. Sometimes firefighters just wanna have fun. After the Ohio Governor’s TV spot on 17 October, the firemen of the Mansfield Fire Department decided to make their own UFO. In an evening of frolics, they cobbled together their own spacecraft from helium balloons, latex gloves, a pie pan, and flashlights. Setting it aloft, the craft majestically floated over the county and to the airport. The contraption caused quite a stir as switchboards lit up like Christmas trees with calls to law enforcement. Unfortunately, as the balloon floated through the restricted airspace, the response from the State Police was not humorous and gave the firemen pause. Fearing for their jobs and pensions, the firemen scoured the airport area the next day for signs of crashed balloon remnants and fire department issue flashlights. Recovering most of the debris, they kept quiet about the incident until all had long retired.
Beavercreek/Xenia Little Men
On October 17, 1973, Buckeyes from Dayton to Xenia awoke to the news of the arrest of the “Xenia Little Men.” On the front page of the Dayton Daily News, a headline bared: “Silver Clad ‘Humanoids’ Lurk Near Their Beavercreek Home.” After stopping traffic on the Xenia by-pass the previous evening, the Xenia police were summoned. Upon arriving, they arrested Mark Klenzman (18), Steven Lowe (20), and later, Mark Steven (a minor), who resisted arrest and fled the scene. All three were residents of nearby Beavercreek and confessed it was a pre-Halloween prank. The older participants posed in costume for Daily News photographer Bill Shepard. Though the Daily News does not mention charges, other accounts say the trio were charged with malicious mischief and remanded to the custody of their respective parents. I’m sure they were all grounded until the spring thaw.
We do have one lone winner in all this!
As flight plans for the Coyne incident, if any still exist, are still the property of the military, no official records are available to the public to analyze this adventure. Digging through reports of those who have tried to reconstruct the incident, I’ve found signs pointing to yet another mundane event. The explanation on the Parabunk Blog is the most logical.
Piecing together the story, it appears Coyne and crew wandered into an Air Force helicopter refueling exercise. As both crafts were on different radio frequencies, there was no way to establish communication. The strange object the crew saw was a refueling tanker viewed from the side. Green and red FAA navigation lights should have been a clue for the Army crew. The aerial maneuvers were the tanker matching speed and pulling above the helicopter to begin refueling. Trying to identify Coyne’s chopper as one from the exercise since it lacked a refueling probe, the tanker crew shined a spotlight on the craft and through the tinted helicopter canopy, accounting for the “green light.” The tanker crew, seeing the Army Reserve chopper was not part of the exercise, aborted the exercise, and the aircraft departed. As Coyne’s craft was far closer to the tanker than he thought, his helicopter’s rapid ascent was caused by the departing plane’s updraft. Of course, since Coyne won the National Enquirer’s grand prize ($5000) for the Best UFO Story of 1973, he was in no hurry to correct the record.
I started this story in October 2022 in a fit of autumnal nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to finish it due to my illness. The hoopla over the Chinese Balloon brought it back to mind, so I dusted it off, and here it is. I’ve long since lost any interest in UFOs or space aliens. What interests me more are those people who are True UFO Believers™. What makes them unblinkingly believe weird things? Looking at Twitter, people are twice as bananas over the acronym UFO as in 1973. Social media makes the world more news saturated than ever. However, people have not grown smarter over the years.
As for me, I never saw anything particularly weird in the skies. I came close in the late 1990s. One night, I was driving a particularly lonely stretch of Highway 55, before the area’s urban sprawl swallowed it up. It was nearly midnight, and the weather was misty and foggy. To my right over the woods, I saw a red oval light in the sky getting closer and closer. I slowed a bit to watch as it flew over the highway. Turning off the radio, and rolling down my window I heard the familiar whine and rumble of a 747. The red light broke through the low ceiling to reveal a majestic Delta 747 from Atlanta landing at RDU International. Airport Blvd was on my left; of course, a plane should be there. The red glow was simply the landing lights reflecting off the low clouds. There was no adventure that night. But, for a few seconds, I felt that same thrill I had at 16 riding down a dark country road with my head out the window, young and looking for an adventure. I sped up and went home recalling that old memory. The UFO Flap of October 1973 was one hell of a fun time. As silly as it all was, I’m glad I was there to experience it.
Here are some wonderful clippings from that era. It’s fun to read about all these sightings as the bulk are long-solved.