Kelly Hopkins 1955
Kelly Hopkins 1955

Kentucky's Alien Visitors

Kelly Hopkins 1955
Kelly Hopkins 1955

If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

This week we’re heading to the home of a chicken-loving colonel, a knife-designing frontiersman, and a really famous horse race: it’s the Bluegrass State—Kentucky.

Alien Invasion

No one believed Billy Ray Taylor. There was no way he’d just seen a flying saucer land in a nearby gully. But considering he was a guest at Elmer “Lucky” Sutton’s cabin, located between the towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, he didn’t want to press the issue. Then again, he didn’t have to convince anyone his story was true after the aliens showed up.

After the Suttons’ dog started barking, Billy Ray and Lucky grabbed their guns—a shotgun and a .22 rifle—and went out to investigate. That’s when they saw a “small man,” described as a “goblin” by Lucky, coming towards them. It was about 3.5 feet tall, with a round head, round, glowing eyes, pointed ears, and long arms that ended in sharp claws. When the thing was within 20 feet of the house, the men were understandably frightened, and fired. When the shots found their target it sounded like the bullets and buckshot were rattling around in a bucket. And instead of going down, the little man did a backflip, landed on his feet, and took off into the surrounding trees.

Lucky and Billy Ray scrambled inside and the houseful of family and guests wondered what all the shooting was about. Just as they tried to explain about the “goblin” they’d seen, a strange face appeared in one of the windows of the front porch. The men turned and fired, shooting holes in the wall, but there was no goblin body outside. As Billy Ray stood on the edge of the porch, looking into the darkness, a clawed hand reached down from the roof and grabbed his hair. Lucky rushed into the yard, and spun, shooting the thing on the roof. Once again, the bullets did nothing but force the creature to flip end over end and run away.

Then, chaos erupted as two goblins were seen scampering around on the roof, in the trees, around the corner of the house, and back into the darkness, both seemingly impervious to the barrage of gunfire Billy Ray and Lucky unleashed. One creature was knocked off the roof, but instead of falling, it seemed to float down to a fence nearly 40 feet away. Lucky got a bead on it and hit it again, but it just did a backflip and ran off, using its arms in a swimming-like motion as if it was wading through the air.

After a few hours, the families inside the house decided to make a run for it. They piled into two cars and headed to town to get the local sheriff. The police investigated the scene, but could find no evidence of little silver men from Mars. After the authorities left, the goblins returned, taunting and teasing Lucky, Billy Ray, and the rest of them until the early hours of the morning. The next day, the police interviewed the occupants of the cabin and they all told the same story, described the goblins in the same way, and even drew the creatures almost identically.

Since that night in August 1955, the Kelly-Hopkinsville Goblins Case has fascinated UFOlogists. The story was quickly dismissed as a publicity stunt by most people, but neither the Suttons nor Billy Ray Taylor ever benefitted from the story. In fact, the Sutton family got so tired of curious people stopping by the cabin to see where it all happened that they wound up moving away. Even years later, no one changed their story, and no one ever copped to the whole thing being a hoax. As far as they were all concerned, the Sutton cabin was visited by aliens from another world.

Although it wasn’t uncommon for the Air Force to investigate UFO sightings at the time, the Kelly-Hopkins Goblins Case was not explored until 1957. Major John Albert interviewed the Suttons—none of whom changed their story—and did a cursory examination of the facts before determining that the goblins were not aliens, nor were the Suttons perpetrating a hoax. In his opinion, what they had most likely seen was a monkey that had escaped from somewhere—maybe a travelling circus that could have been in the area, though he could never confirm if such a circus existed.

In 2005, as part of the 50th anniversary of the encounter, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) looked into the case and determined the most likely explanation for the “goblins” was a pair of Great Horned Owls. The owls have a striking similarity to the aliens—about 3 feet tall, round heads, round eyes, and pointed tufts on either side of the head—and would have been feeding a set of young in August, causing them to defend their nest.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!

Peruse the whole Strange States series here.

Boston Public Library, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Is This the Most Mysterious Grave in Virginia?
Boston Public Library, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Boston Public Library, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

In 1816, local legend has it that a ship dropped off an unknown couple in Alexandria, Virginia. The woman was extremely ill, possibly from typhoid fever, and couldn’t wait until their final destination to receive medical attention.

Alas, it was too late; she died a few weeks later while boarding at Gadsby’s Tavern. No one had spoken to her or, some say, even seen her face—any time anyone saw her, her features were hidden by a long, black veil. Her husband quickly arranged for a burial at St. Paul’s Cemetery, then borrowed money for a headstone from a local merchant named Lawrence Hill.

Under the circumstances, you might think the mysterious man would keep the epitaph simple, resulting in a more affordable stone and a smaller loan to repay. Instead, he went the opposite route, having a huge marker etched with this wordy tribute:

“To the memory of a Female Stranger, whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816 Aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone is placed here by her disconsolate husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold dead ear of death."

It was followed by some verses adapted from Alexander Pope and a Bible quote, adding even more to the bill. The man spared no expense, and it’s no wonder—he apparently had no intention of paying back the loan. The female stranger’s husband skipped town without paying doctor bills, lodging bills, or funeral and burial fees (he did leave behind some currency, but it was forged). And when he left, he took more than his wallet with him—he also took his wife’s identity.

Rumors ran rampant, even 70 years later: In 1886, the Lawrence Gazette reported on several theories, including the popular notion that the woman was really Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr. Alston had been lost at sea around 1812, but conspiracy theorists speculated that she faked her disappearance to escape a loveless marriage. “Why the stranger’s husband would permit no one to see her face after she was dead gives rise to the supposition that he may have feared its recognition by those who looked upon it,” the Gazette said.

Outlandish? Perhaps. But even more so is the tale that the woman was actually a man—Napoleon Bonaparte dressed in drag, to be exact, attempting to escape his exile.

Yet another story declared the woman was named Blanche Fordan, and the man claiming to be her husband had actually hypnotized her into marrying him, though she really loved another.

Sadly, if you're looking for answers, you're going to be disappointed—we still don't have any. The female stranger remains as mysterious today as she was 200 years ago, although her grave has since become a local tourist attraction.

The Greenbrier Bunker of West Virginia

If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home. This week, we head to West Virginia, the home of Star Wars VII co-writer, Lawrence Kasdan, Barney Fife himself, Don Knotts, and Morgan Spurlock, the guy who ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days. 

The Greenbrier Bunker of West Virginia

Nestled in the mountains of southeast West Virginia is White Sulphur Springs, a small town of just over 2000 people. The main attraction in White Sulphur Springs is The Greenbrier, a 157-year-old hotel for the rich and famous, with amenities like five golf courses, a casino, tennis courts, spa treatments—and a secret underground bunker built to provide a safe haven for the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government in the event of all-out nuclear war.

Built between 1958 and 1962, under a covert project codenamed “Greek Island,” the two-story, 153-room, 112,554-square foot reinforced concrete bunker was built into a hillside around 60 feet under the West Virginia Wing of the hotel.  While it was never used as a secure location for Congress as intended, it was held at-the-ready until 1992, with 75,000 gallons of water reserves, and over 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel to run three generators that could power the facility if the main electrical grid went down. A large air conditioning unit kept the air contaminant-free and an incinerator would have been used to dispose of garbage and biological waste.

As technology advanced in the ensuing years, new equipment was brought in and installed. To keep the bunker at such a ready state, it was staffed 24/7 for 30 years by a team of government employees operating under the guise of TV repairmen for the hotel.

In order for the government to continue working after the evacuation of Washington D.C. in the event of nuclear war, the bunker was built with a professional studio for radio and television broadcasts, complete with a variety of background photos that gave the impression the speaker was still in Washington.

In addition, the House of Representatives and the Senate each had separate meeting rooms, as well as a large hall for joint assemblies. These conference rooms were hidden in plain sight—they could be booked by hotel guests for special events, under the belief that the rooms were just part of the West Virginia Wing. Little did they know there were secret wall panels that concealed blast doors as large as 18 tons that led to the rest of the compound. 

To accommodate the 1100 people that could potentially live there, bunk beds were installed in 18 dormitories, and a fully-stocked cafeteria was prepared to make meals for up to 60 days. If more food was needed, thousands of military-grade Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) were stocked along the 430-foot tunnel that led into the facility from the main entrance. Complete medical facilities were on-site, including an operating room, ICU, and an infirmary that could hold 14 people, all manned by a staff of 35.  

Every one of the four entrances to the bunker was protected by a set of blast doors, including the largest that was 12 feet by 15 feet of steel and concrete, and weighed 28 tons. However, the door was so well-balanced on its 1.5-ton hinges that it could be opened and closed by a single person.

Although the bunker remained secret for 30 years, there were whispers of its existence around White Sulphur Springs and among the staff at the hotel. Contractors involved in the construction were suspicious of the 50,000 tons of concrete that were poured at the site, and workers remember the blast doors being installed, but no one could ever confirm just what they were building. Many told their story, but it wasn’t until May 1992 when reporter Ted Gup of The Washington Post wrote about the Greenbrier Bunker that these stories were given legitimacy. Shortly after Gup’s story was published, the U.S. Government verified the existence of the bunker—then promptly shut it down. By July 1995, the facility had been turned over to the hotel, which now offers daily tours of the bunker for its guests. 

Peruse the whole Strange States series here.


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