It was a night that would live in infamy, a terror-filled encounter that would haunt the minds of those who witnessed it. On a warm summer evening in 1955, two families in the rural town of Kelly-Hopkinsville, Kentucky, encountered something that defied all explanation, something they called the “Hopkinsville Goblins”.
Little gray beings with big black eyes, these strange visitors caused panic and terror as they descended upon the peaceful countryside. The encounter lasted for several hours, leaving the families shaken and the town buzzing with rumors.
An Alien Attack
On August 21, 1955, a large extended family called the Suttons went running into their local police station in Southwestern Kentucky. Upon their arrival, they told a terrifying story of how their farmhouse had been under siege by aliens for several hours. They were quite clearly terrified.
What makes the Hopkinsville encounter stand out is the fact that most alien encounters tend to be short, at a distance, and usually only have a small number of witnesses. The Hopkinsville encounter on the other hand was drawn out, at close range, and had twelve witnesses.
Unsurprisingly the local and then national news soon got hold of the story. The story became the basis for the idea of aliens being “little green men”. This is despite the fact that the witnesses never actually described the aliens as green, only small.
A UFO sighting is only as good as its witnesses and their ability to recount what they’ve experienced. This particular sighting occurred on the Sutton family farm in the tiny hamlet of Kelly, Kentucky. The Sutton family lived in a small, unpainted house that lacked water, a phone line, a radio, a TV, or even books.
Of the 12 witnesses to the event 11 arrived at the police station that night, 8 adults and three children. They were all terrified. The local police chief noted that these poor, rural folk weren’t the type to run to the police for help. They were the kind to grab their guns and defend themselves. The fact the women and children were hysterical and that one of the men had a pulse of 140 bps pointed to the fact they’d seen something strange.
The family claimed that at around 7 pm, their family friend, Billy Ray Taylor, had been fetching water from their well when he saw a silvery object which was, “really bright, with an exhaust all the colors of the rainbow.” He claimed the object silently approached the house and then landed.
The Suttons, Glennie Lankford, her two older sons and their wives, a brother-in-law, and three young children (7,10, and 12) laughed off poor Billy’s claim at first. But an hour later Billy Taylor and Lucky Sutton were drawn to the backdoor by the family dog’s incessant yapping.
They noted a bizarre glow and said they saw a small humanoid creature watching them. The creature was three and a half feet tall with an almost perfectly round, oversized head. It had long arms that nearly reached to the ground and at the end of each arm were talons. To top it all off the creature’s eyes glowed yellowish light. Some people dubbed these creatures the “Hopkinsville Goblin”.
This being rural Kentucky, the two terrified young men grabbed a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle and started firing at the creature. Supposedly the creature carried on approaching the kitchen door with its hands up before fleeing from the gunfire.
Not long after this first encounter, the men claimed to have seen another creature approach a side window. They fired again and the alien once again retreated. The family later reported that their weapons appeared to have had no effect on the little men.
For some reason, Taylor then decided it would be prudent to step outside. The door had a small overhanging roof, and he claims a claw-like hand reached down and touched his hair. The terrified family yanked him back in while Lucky gave covering fire, firing into the overhang and at another creature perched in a nearby tree.
From there things calmed down a little. The next several hours were spent hiding in the house listening for the creature. The family heard repeated scratches on the roof and by 11 pm were sufficiently terrified that the entire family made a run for their cars and raced to the police station.
Seeing the family so terrified, and not particularly enthused at the thought of a pitched gun battle in his small town, the local police chief took the report seriously. The police called for backup and soon they were joined at the Sutton farm by state police, military police from nearby Fort Campbell, and, of course, a photographer from a local paper.
The only evidence they found was empty shell casings from the gunshots. Police investigators returned the next day to look for clues in the light of day and they found nothing. Many locals decided the family had either been drunk or, since they didn’t have much money, had carried out a hoax to try and make some.
Professional ufologists eventually came to investigate and were torn. All agreed that the lack of any physical evidence was problematic. But they also disagreed with the idea that the family had been drunk or that the sighting was a hoax.
Apparently, the family was deeply religious, and alcohol was not allowed on the premises. Furthermore, the police hadn’t noticed that the family seemed intoxicated, and no evidence of alcohol had been found at the house during either police visit.
A hoax also didn’t add up. Investigators noted that Mrs. Sutton, the family matriarch, appeared to be no-nonsense and intensely private. It seemed unlikely that she would allow or encourage a hoax that would put her family under a national spotlight. It was also noted that none of the witnesses had a history of making outlandish claims.
This isn’t to say that the ufologists were convinced. If one looks more closely the individual claims from that night can be picked apart, mostly. The greenlight/ glow that family members reported seeing is consistent with foxfire (a bioluminescent fungus that is common in woodland) or swamp gas. The first UFO sighting that sparked the whole encounter was likely a small meteor, there had been other sightings that night.
But what about the little men themselves? They were probably Great Horned Owls. These large birds have long wings that could be mistaken for arms, talons, “glowing” yellow eyes, and a large round head. A large Great Horned Owl also comes in at around the right size for the smallest creatures the family claimed to have seen. They are also active at that time of night and can be extremely aggressive when defending their territory.
Owls and Meteors
Like so many UFO sightings before it, the Hopkinsville encounter is quite easy to write off as false if one looks at all the facts. It seems most likely that the family saw a meteor streak across the sky and then came under attack from owls. Perhaps they’d been drinking, or perhaps a case of mass hysteria set in, for whatever reason the family mistook the birds for aliens and got increasingly worked up as they fed off of each other’s fear.
Of course, not everyone is convinced, and many people believe the encounter was real. These believers point out that the creatures the family saw seemed to be more curious, than aggressive, even after coming under fire. And since when were owls immune to bullets? These believers are also likely to point out that skeptics always blame alien sightings on swamp gas.
Perhaps the least realistic part of the story however is the part where the aliens were seemingly deterred by the gunfire. It seems unlikely that visitors advanced enough to travel interplanetary distances would be afraid of a .22.
Or maybe they weren’t aliens at all but were actual goblins. People will always believe what they want to believe. Whether the Hopkinsville Goblins were real or not, one thing is true, they gave pop culture its “little green men”.
Top Image: The Hopkinsville Goblins would give the world its characteristic “little green men” aliens. Source: lisa_L / Adobe Stock.