Nearly 70 years ago, a four-hour encounter between two families and a group of unidentified visitors put Kelly, Kentucky, on the paranormal map.
While for years the area celebrated the paranormal legacy, this year will skip the festival again. The last Little Green Men festival was held in 2019. Covid shut down the festival last year. Frank Brown, who had been organizing the festival for several years, moved out of town, said Brooke Jung, executive director of Visit Hopkinsville and since then, plans to bring the festival back have been placed on hold.
But the experts say the incident was a significant moment in the study of UFOs and alien encounters, and a moment that forever changed how we talk and think about visitors from outer space.
On August 21, 1955, two families – a total of 11 people – flooded into the Hopkinsville Police Department, their eyes wide with terror. Their house, they said, had come under attack from beings from another planet.
According to police reports from the witnesses, it all started about 7 p.m.
It was a hot Sunday night on the Sutton farm, police reports indicate. The family of Lucky Sutton – which included 50-year-old widow and matriarch Glennie Lankford; four of her sons, including Lucky; two of the son’s wives; a brother-in-law; and the widow’s three younger children ages 12, 10, and 7 – were gathered in the unpainted three-room house to visit with family friend Billy Ray Taylor and his wife June. Taylor had worked with Lucky in traveling carnivals and was visiting from Pennsylvania.
Around 7 p.m., Taylor went outside to fetch some water from the backyard well. While out there, reports indicate he saw a silver-colored object, “real bright, with an exhaust all the colors of the rainbow.” The object, he said, came silently toward the house, passed over it, and then stopped in mid-air before dropping straight to the ground.
When Taylor went back into the house, the Sutton family laughed off his experience.
But, newspaper reports indicate, about an hour later, the family’s dog began barking. Lucky Sutton and Taylor went to the back door to investigate and saw a strange glow in the backyard, in the middle of which was a small human-like creature, about three and a half feet tall, with an “oversized head… almost perfectly round.” The creature had arms that extended almost to the ground, hands with talons on them, and oversized yellow glowing eyes. The body, they said, gave off an eerie shimmer in the light, as if made from “silver metal.”
It was then that the two men grabbed their guns – a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle – and opened fire on one of the “little grey men”. In response, the little man did a flip, righted himself, and then fled into the darkness.
Not long after, the men reported seeing a creature in a side window of the house. They opened fire on it through the window screen, where it, once again, flipped and disappeared.
Mrs. Lankford told Isabel Davis, author of Close Encounter at Kelly and Others of 1955, she witnessed the creature too.
“I went out in the hallway and crouched down next to Billy when I saw one approaching the door,” Mrs. Lankford said. “It looked like a five-gallon gasoline can with a head on top and small legs. It was a shimmering bright metal like on my refrigerator.”
Mrs. Lankford reported that she and the creature stared at each other, inches apart from one another and separated by the window screen, for some time.
At this point, Taylor reportedly ran onto the porch to confront the creature. Witnesses inside the house said a claw-like hand reached down from the porch’s roof and touched Taylor’s hair. Those inside grabbed Taylor and pulled him back into the house, while Lucky shot at the overhang and then at other creatures he said he saw in trees nearby. Each time, the creatures evaded bullets and then floated to the ground before running off into the woods, the group reported.
For the next couple of hours, the group stayed inside the house, listening to scratches on the roof, guns ready for any further “attack.” Eventually, around 11 p.m., the group made a break for their cars and took off toward the Hopkinsville police station.
Once there, the eight adults and three children ran into the station. One thing was for certain, police said, they were genuinely terrified.
“These aren’t the kind of people who normally run to the police for help,” police chief Russell Greenwell later told Kentucky New Era newspaper. “What they do is reach for their guns.”
Investigators descended on the farm. Hopkinsville police and state troopers came to investigate, but no evidence was found that indicated the farm had been visited by aliens. No tracks of “little men” were found, nor were there any marks indicating anything had landed. Investigators did find bullet holes in the screen door and shell casings on the ground, however.
Eventually, investigators left, but apparently, the creatures didn’t. The Suttons reported the men reappeared around 3:30 that morning.
Naturally, the incident was picked up by the news in the area and then spread across the country.
Somewhere along the way, the Sutton’s were misquoted and “little grey men” were turned into “little green men.” It was the first time the phrase was used to describe extraterrestrials, and it has been a term for referring to extraterrestrials since.
In fact, news of the Sutton farm encounter garnered a reaction from Washington, D.C. According to Associated Press reports at the time, Senate Republicans in Congress thought the “little green men” were likely Democrats searching for candidates, and that the opposing party’s members were “green with envy” at the popularity of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
UFO-ologists say the incident is important for several reasons. First and foremost, the contact between humanoid occupants of a spacecraft and earthlings.
“The Kelly humanoids were among the earliest ‘occupant’ reports associated with UFOs in the U.S.,” said Thomas Bullard, UFO-ologist with the Center for UFO Studies. “Most examples prior to 1955 described ‘Space Brothers’ here to warn us against nuclear weapons and to invite us to join the interplanetary community–and had no credibility as factual events. More credible accounts had come from Europe and South America in 1954, but the only well-known US example was the Flatwoods Monster (West Virginia) in 1952.”
But, Brian Dunning, editor of Skeptoid, said the sighting likely wasn’t spacemen.
“At this point, it seems clear that this was an honest misidentification of a pair of Great Horned Owls who were reacting aggressively to their nest being disturbed,” Dunning said in an email interview. “When you strip away the decades of “enhancement” to the story and go back to what the family actually reported at the time, it’s virtually a perfect match. The family do seem to have been genuinely traumatized and frightened by it.”
Since the 1950s, however, the sighting has been the subject of books, TV shows, and speculation.
Sadly, at the time, the incident brought scorn and derision to the two families.
“Some of the reporters and sightseers subjected the family to cruel ridicule, tramped across the property and even barged into the house despite requests from Mrs. Lankford and orders from Lucky to go away,” Bullard said. “These witnesses had to be country bumpkins and their story a tall tale, perhaps the result of moonshine, even though Mrs. Lankford had a strict rule of no alcohol in the house. Her sterling reputation for honesty among the people who knew her, and who took the event seriously once they learned she was a witness, weighed nothing on the scales of judgment for the gawkers and curiosity seekers.”
Eventually, the family left the area and scattered across the country, the only thing left of the encounter being tales passed from generation to generation.
It was a story the community finally embraced in 2010. Looking for ways to make money, the idea of a festival came up. Kelly’s history came down to two themes – trains or aliens, Joann Smithey, one of the festival’s organizers told The Washington Post.
The town, she said, chose aliens.
And for nine years, the festival drew crowds of alien aficionados, cosplayers, and tourists to the town of about 300 people. Smithey estimated that in 2017, during the solar eclipse where Kelly landed in the path of totality, some 21,000 people visited the town.