Why you should care
Because not everyone likes having house guests.
Mrs. Lucky Sutton needed to wash dishes, so one of the men went to fetch some water. That’s when he saw them: aliens. They were small, silvery and in the backyard. He got his gun.
After four hours of shooting, Billy Ray Taylor — a friend from Pennsylvania visiting the Sutton family on their Kelly, Kentucky, farm — went for help. And, boy, did help come. Hopkinsville sent police, and sheriffs’ deputies from two counties joined the fight. Kentucky State Police and military police from nearby Fort Campbell followed suit. Nearly 20 people were there all night long — guns blazing, eyes searching — but come morning, the only tracks they found were their own.
Anytime you have a phenomenon like this — of extraterrestrial beings — the imagination of people can just go wild.
Hopkinsville-Christian County historian William Turner
The next day, Aug. 22, 1955, Hopkinsville’s newspaper, the Kentucky New Era, reported “the bizarre story of how a spaceship carrying 12 to 15 little men landed in the Kelly community last night and battled occupants of a farmhouse.” Its front page showed a picture of the house and the exact spot where Taylor claimed an alien had stood on the roof and pulled his hair. While the article said officers found nothing “either to prove or disprove the story,” it did offer a possible explanation about U.S. Air Force probes, a 1950s military drone prototype. Indeed, a lone Air Force representative showed up at the farm, conducted an investigation, said the ’50s equivalent of “nothing to see here, folks” and moved on.
I grew up seven miles southwest of Kelly. In addition to Air Force probes, the “true stories” I’ve heard by way of explanation range from the family making it up to a circus monkey that somehow made its way to rural western Kentucky. For decades, everyone you asked had a different take on the event. Even the “10 or 12 persons at the house” that night, according to the Kentucky New Era, had their own account the next morning, as “investigating officers were not able to determine exactly how many of those present actually claimed to have seen any of the little men from the spaceship.”
But my great-uncle, Arthur “Hoss” Cansler, claimed to have the answer. As sheriff in Crofton — the closest town to the north — he was the first to arrive at the scene. Uncle Hoss always said it was a cat; he said the Suttons were having a party, drinking and playing pranks, and that some of the men were tossing a cat on the screen door to scare the others. “When I saw [the Suttons’ daughter] reach up and pull that cat off the screen, and the cat scream, I knew then that that was the Martian,” he told the Kentucky New Era on July 12, 2003. Figuring the men would sober up eventually, Uncle Hoss got back in his car and drove home.
But my uncle’s story doesn’t completely line up with other law enforcement accounts. Everyone present during the search agreed that, while the Suttons were scared, they were not drunk. Yes, there was a cat, and when one military police officer stepped on its tail, it let out such a screech that chaos broke out — frightened men with guns running everywhere in the dark.
As I noted, though, Uncle Hoss is not the only one with a tell-all. A family friend recently told me that a group of teenagers — that he may or may not have been a part of — stole the school projector and drove to Kelly, casting reflections of “aliens” they’d drawn onto the side of the Suttons’ metal barn. His story explains why the aliens were silver; it explains the lack of non-human tracks; and it explains the lanky-armed, big-headed “aliens” seen fleeing the scene as soon as shots rang out. But when my mother asked where they plugged in the projector, his story ended.
Neither projectors nor cats explain the three flying saucers that two police officers, including the desk sergeant on duty that night, Frank Dudas, had seen the summer before. “I think the whole story is entirely possible,” Dudas told the local paper. “I know I saw [those saucers]. If I saw them, the Kelly story could be true.”
To explain the many “truths” about Kelly, Hopkinsville-Christian County historian William Turner says that “anytime you have a phenomenon like this — of extraterrestrial beings — the imagination of people can just go wild. And I think that all these versions came up by the sensationalism of the event itself, if it occurred.”
One thing everyone agrees on is that something scared the living daylights out of the Suttons. There must be some truth to their story, even if it is only the Joseph Campbell-style mythology living inside us all. Turner calls it “the human nature of people, to like to dwell on the unusual, on the unexplainable.”
Of the many alien sightings the world has seen, Kelly definitely stands out. It gave birth to the expression “little green men” (Turner believes “a reporter at the Evansville Courier took the license to alter the color”), and the story is rumored to have given Steven Spielberg the idea for E.T. Kelly also is the sighting many continue to believe.
Sixty-two years later, those believers still gather. Little Green Men Days, an annual festival held on the sighting’s anniversary, includes a 38-foot flying saucer replica, the chance to dress like your favorite Martian and — this year only — a total solar eclipse. That’s right, Aug. 21, 2017, is the Great American Eclipse, the first total solar eclipse in history exclusive to the U.S. Stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, 80 percent of Americans live within 600 miles of its band. And the point of greatest eclipse? Seven miles from Kelly, Kentucky.
Coincidence? Or are the silver invaders plotting their return? Either way, expect several versions of the story.
- True Story
When Patrika Darbo from Days of Our Lives decided to do the Kentucky Derby, she never expected to do it with a broken wrist.
- Politics & Power
What to do with waste? Some states are quietly dumping it on their neighbors.