Encounter at Flatwoods

by Alan Caviness

Just as it was getting dark on September 12, 1952, a flaming light was seen crossing the sky into the small community of Flatwoods located in Braxton County, West Virginia. The time was approximately 7:25 pm. Extraordinary reports of an extraterrestrial craft and a strange creature would come from the local town folks, later that evening.

According to investigator and witness testimony over the years:
Twelve-year old Freddie May, his thirteen-year old brother, Edward, and 10-year old friend, Tommy Hyer, stopped playing on the playground at the local elementary school yard and watched as the flaming object slowly streaked across the sky. It appeared to be at low altitude and flying directly over the surrounding hills. The object appeared to slow down, turn, and descend onto a nearby ridge at the G. Bailey Fisher farm not far from the main road that runs parallel to what is now Interstate 79. Tommy Hyer ran with the May brothers to their house where they alerted their mother, Mrs. Kathleen May, to the mystery object's sudden arrival.

Mrs. May accompanied the boys into the oncoming darkness and walked up the hill to the ridge along with other local children, Neil Nunley (14), Ronnie Shaver (10), and Eugene Lemon (17). Eugene's dog also followed them then ran ahead to the top of the ridge. But moments later, the dog came running back with his tail between his legs.

As the party reached the ridge in the early darkness, they noticed a "pulsing ball of light" on or near the ground approximately fifty feet to their right. They also noticed a pungent mist that irritated and burned their noses and throats.

Initial landing site of the mysterious "craft"

Seventeen-year old Eugene Lemon saw two small lights at the base of a large oak tree. Suddenly, a shrill, hissing sound pierced the night and, whatever it was, something began moving across the ground toward the investigating group. Something, perhaps twelve feet tall, with brightly lit red "eyes" came at them then turned toward the red light on the ground not far away. It seemed to be gliding over the ground. Everyone panicked and fled the scene----heading back down the hill to the May home. There was obviously something loose in the woods roaming about----something that had come from an unidentified flying object seen only minutes earlier by several people in and around the area. This object seemed to be a smaller craft, probably an "escape craft" that may have contained an extraterrestrial being.

Wooded area where the "alien" creature was sighted

Mrs. May called Sheriff Robert Carr and Mr. A. Lee Stewart (co-owner of the Braxton Democrat newspaper). Stewart met the group then took 17-year old Eugene Lemon and went to the site on the ridge at the Fisher farm. There, they noticed a sickening, burnt, metallic odor still lingering in the air ("metallic" being like the smell of a burned out vacuum tube in the back of an old-style TV set). Sheriff Carr and a deputy were also searching the general area, independently, at the same time, but reportedly found no evidence, themselves, that night.

Early the next morning, Mr. Stewart returned to the site taking advantage of daylight. He discovered two lengthy tracks on the ground and traces of a thick, black liquid on tree leaves and on the ground. He interviewed, one by one, each of the witnesses.

Several of the group had become ill—Eugene Lemon suffering the worst. In addition to the nose and throat irritations, Eugene experienced vomiting and convulsions. Throat difficulties lasted for weeks.

In the next few weeks, the Flatwoods incident would find its niche in ufology and remained rather obscure for many years. Skeptics worked to place the incident into folklore further complicating matters. But, one day, a few decades later, a man went to the Flatwoods area just to visit a relative. But, during the visit, he learned about the story for his first time. He became intrigued enough to take it upon himself to investigate and talk with some of the local folks. He also did a lot of digging into old newspaper accounts. The more he learned, the less it sounded like local folklore. Something unusual and very odd had definitely happened that night in 1952. Not all of the findings from investigators made sense to the man.

      Local resident Destin examines remains of mysteriously charred tree

I met Frank Feschino in 2008 and had an opportunity to chat with him for a good part of the afternoon at the annual "Mothman Festival"----which commemorates another strange UFO-related event that had been reported in another West Virginia town in 1967. While the so-called "Mothman" case was certainly intriguing, I was delighted to find that someone had thoroughly investigated the Flatwoods case, once and for all, and I was astonished to find out from Frank that there was much more to the story than anyone had ever known or could have ever anticipated. Mr. Feschino's exploration of the Flatwoods case went much further than any previous investigation.

Flatwoods Investigator Frank Feschino with Alan Caviness at "Mothman Festival"

For the past year or two before I met Frank, I had been thinking more and more about the Flatwoods mystery, myself. My travels would sometimes take me right by the Flatwoods, West Virginia exit on Interstate 79. I had heard about the case many times but had not seen much information elaborating on what all had happened there in 1952. I remembered an image of an alien creature associated with the event that looked a bit on the sci-fi side. Though uncertain, I was beginning to think that maybe this would be a case worth looking into—despite it having happened a long time ago.

On one occasion in my travels, in 2007, I finally took the Flatwoods exit on Interstate #79 and decided to see what I could find out, if anything, in the short time I had to look around. I happened to pick the right restaurant and the right waitress to ask----if she knew anyone who had seen the famous "Flatwoods Monster" or the UFO that supposedly landed back in 1952.

Next exit Flatwoods, West Virginia

Within minutes, literally, I was able to track down a gentleman, a Mr. Lloyd, who personally knew the people directly involved in the incident and had also personally seen the unidentified flaming object fly over the community and come to rest at the top of a nearby ridge. The gentleman was now at retirement age and had been a child when the event occurred. I was able to talk with him for a short while. The landing site area was within walking distance from where we stood.

It was roughly a year later that I found myself hoping to rub elbows with other UFO investigators at the Mothman Festival located in Point Pleasant, West Virginia where a 1967 event had been reported to also involve a strange creature and local UFO activity. This town was known for the famous "Mothman" creature in which a book had been written and a movie had been made (The Mothman Prophesies). From late 1966 to late 1967, many people in the region had reported a strange flying creature with wings. Also included in the mysterious events surrounding the Mothman sightings were mysterious people (men in black) from unknown origins and a considerable amount of UFO activity during that year. Even more strange, the activity appeared to culminate with a major disaster that hit the town of Pt. Pleasant just before Christmas of 1967 in which a bridge collapsed and almost 50 people lost their lives.

Mothman sculpture featured at Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Strangely, the very researcher at the Mothman Festival I would have chosen for my number one pick to have discussions with that day was actually present----and, as far as I could tell, was the only UFO/Alien researcher there… And, I found myself getting a chance to finally learn about the Flatwoods Incident of 1952 from the one person who could tell me the most. Frank Feschino had recently published a definitive book on the Flatwoods, West Virginia case, and I was able to obtain a copy from him and hear him lecture to a crowd at the festival. I had just heard of Frank Feschino and his new book on the Flatwoods case a short time earlier but did not understand the title of the book. It did not seem to relate to anything concerning the actual Flatwoods encounter. What I did not realize at the time was that the title included some of the most important aspects concerning the Flatwoods event that had happened so many years earlier. While in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Mothman researcher, Jeff Wamsley, introduced me to Frank.

In his book "Shoot Them Down: The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952", Frank Feschino unmercifully demonstrated his ability to collect tons of facts----that revealed a convoluted account of what all happened to cause the Flatwoods Incident. This incident was far from a simple event. Frank had spent over a decade-and-a-half collecting evidence. What he had uncovered was shocking. While researching for his book, he was able to get the attention of the well-known ufologist, Stanton Friedman, who realized what Frank was uncovering. Mr. Friedman graciously offered to help Frank dig even deeper. In the end, a powerful reconstruction of events was created.

Early on, Frank Feschino found himself stunned at the content of the interviews he held with some of the original witnesses to the incident of 1952. One interview led to another and some interviews had led him to dig into archived records from many sources. Before long, he had collected enough information to show that the Flatwoods Incident, mired in folklore and obscurity for so many years, had in actuality been but a single part of a complicated set of events that tied in with the huge amount of UFO activity that had been reported in and around The United States during the year of 1952.

Most UFO researchers are aware of the year 1952 as being one of the most active years in the history of UFO activity. The Air Force's official Project BLUE BOOK study of UFOs accumulated the most reports during that year. (My own grandmother told me back in the mid-1960's of a UFO sighting she had in July of 1952.) Researcher Frank Feschino uncovered a heavy military role in the Flatwoods situation that had been withheld from the public the entire time. Stanton Friedman assisted Mr. Feschino in obtaining Freedom of Information requests from government archives.

Frank had studied early investigations into the Flatwoods incident carried out by Dr. Joseph Nickell, a representative of the science community, who had decided that the entire matter consisted of nothing more than a bright meteor accompanied by an infectious hysteria generated by ignorant people with wild imaginations. The only problem is that this had not been an isolated incident. Many other related situations involving strange aerial vehicles had occurred that day----both near and far and very similar in nature. As a matter of documented fact, September 12th, 1952 was not the only day of strange events, and Frank Feschino decided that these other events occurring in various locations on a variety of dates needed to be tied together, if possible, in hopes of better explaining the nature of the Flatwoods event in West Virginia.

Like a typical member of the scientific community back then (as well as today), Dr. Nickell felt content to leave the matter with a "meteor" explanation. This, in spite of the fact that witnesses in Flatwoods had reported seeing the aerial object slow down and make a turn before setting down on the ridge----and the fact that no evidence of a meteor impact was ever found. Nickell never went up to the hill and never interviewed any of the key witnesses. The government eventually claimed they agreed with the explanations of Nickell and other skeptics. But, no skeptical investigators had conducted a thorough investigation of the Flatwoods event.

Pioneer paranormal researchers, Gray Barker, Donald Keyhoe and Ivan T. Sanderson also investigated the Flatwoods event shortly after it happened. Barker lived just a few miles away from the Flatwoods landing site and, like Sanderson, began investigating the matter only a few days after the incident. They both investigated----together and independently----and later determined that an unidentified flying object and a possible occupant had been seen that night in Flatwoods. And, that there were many reports of aerial phenomena across the eastern part of the nation on September 12th, 1952.

Dr. Ivan T. Sanderson, was a great world collector of animals, a writer and a holder of degrees in the fields of zoology, botany and geology. Later, he founded The Society For The Investigation Of The Unexplained. A world class explorer and major contributor to the world's knowledge of various types of life on the planet, Sanderson had eventually come to also study the most unusual types of life forms as well as the rumored ones. He became fascinated with creatures the science community refused to acknowledge and investigated such matters as the Flatwoods Incident. He wrote in his 1967 book, Uninvited Visitors, conclusions regarding the Flatwoods case contradicting the conclusions of Dr. Nickell. Sanderson also claimed that the Flatwoods object's flight path that night could be traced back to Baltimore, Maryland and that other flying objects had been involved, as well, that night.

Donald Keyhoe wrote of the Flatwoods event in his 1953 book, "Flying Saucers From Outer Space". Keyhoe was an aviator and considered to be a leader in UFO research in the 1950's and 1960's. After his investigation, he could not agree with any skeptic explanations regarding the Flatwoods case. An early pioneer investigator, he advocated that the government should investigate UFO phenomena more seriously.

Gray Barker was a native of Riffle, West Virginia, a community only five miles west of Flatwoods. He summarized the event in Fate Magazine, January 12-17, 1953 and began writing magazine articles, afterwards, about unidentified flying objects for various outlets. In 1956, he published the book, "They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers", after determining that the government was intentionally trying to keep UFO information from the public, suppress witnesses and keep the public thinking it was all wild fantasy. Gray Barker devoted two chapters to the Flatwoods event. Later, he also wrote about the 1967 "Mothman" case centering on Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia, 80 miles to the west of Flatwoods.

The military was not ignoring the fact that many people were reporting strange aerial objects in skies around the world. The United States Air Force's main mission was to keep the skies safe and secure for the American people. If unknown objects were roaming freely in America's skies, then the USAF could not claim it was doing its job. World War II was over but the Cold War was in full swing and paranoia was in the air. The military had not ignored the Flatwoods case. Unknown to many people for years, military soldiers were all over the ridge in Flatwoods during the night of September 12th, 1952----after everyone else had gone home for the night.

Since 1947, the USAF had systematically studied UFO phenomena being reported over the United States and other countries. This had been announced publicly by the USAF, itself. Project SIGN began in 1947. However, its investigators concluded that UFOs were real but their bosses wanted different conclusions. The official results wound up to be inconclusive.

In 1948, Project GRUDGE became the Air Force's official study of unidentified aerial phenomena. This study debunked unidentified flying objects as nothing more than misperceptions and misidentifications of normal phenomena. It failed to identify for the public what unidentified flying objects really were.

In 1952, Project BLUE BOOK replaced Project GRUDGE and ran until January of 1970. 12,618 reports were analyzed and evaluated. The Condon Report of 1969 summarized the findings of Project BLUE BOOK and announced to the public that most of the reports were misperceptions and misidentifications of normal phenomena—even though it could not offer reasonable explanations for a significant number of its collected cases. And, most importantly, UFOs had been determined, officially, not to be a threat to national security----as far as the public was to be concerned. The military had always maintained to the public that it saw no reason to take UFOs seriously, if they even existed at all as anything other than normal phenomena. Project BLUE BOOK logged its busiest year with 1,501 sighting reports during the year 1952 with July being the greatest month for sightings.

In spite of its supposed disinterest in UFOs, the USAF had sent Army National Guard troops out to several areas in the vicinity of Flatwoods, West Virginia that night after reports of the UFO landing. It was claimed that they were mobilized to answer earlier reports of an aircraft in distress reported by citizens in several different locations on the night of September 12th. Extensive investigations later, however, showed that the military leaders in the high command were not looking for a crashed airplane.

According to Donald Keyhoe, the military denied any involvement in the Flatwoods case. But, Mrs. May, one of the original witnesses to the Flatwoods landing, told Frank Feschino that she was sent a letter stating that the military claimed to have had four secret experimental aerial vehicles conducting operations in the area on that date. Mrs. May also told UFO investigators that two men who claimed to be reporters approached her and wanted to investigate the entire matter with her but later stated to her that they were really from Washington, DC (suspected to be working secretly for Project BLUE BOOK).

The Flatwoods craft had been seen by many others before it reached Flatwoods that evening. The vehicle had been seen earlier over Washington, DC, where twelve other UFOs descended and positioned themselves into a horseshoe formation to protect the damaged craft. The damaged craft was later seen over Front Royal, Virginia. In West Virginia, it was later seen over the vicinities of Burnsville and Heaters before being seen landing in Flatwoods at approximately 7:25 pm.

Many other sightings of strange aerial phenomena occurred that day. And, careful analysis showed that a single aerial object could not account for all the observations.

According to information collected in "Shoot Them Down", at least sixteen aerial objects had been tracked by the military earlier that day just off Florida. They had apparently organized into groups of four each.

Earlier in the afternoon of September 12th, 1952, a USAF fighter jet disappeared with its two crewmen along the Florida panhandle and no wreckage was ever reportedly found. And, even though accident reports for crashes were found just before and after September 12th, this fighter incident could not be found anywhere in military archives at all. The record of this incident had somehow been "lost". According to Frank Feschino, four UFOs had descended into the area that day with one of them staying higher than military aircraft could fly. The other three descended to lower altitudes where they were attacked by USAF fighters. One UFO was badly damaged and was forced low to the ground while two military fighters suffered critical damage caused by the UFOs and had to return to base. Other fighter interceptors were ordered to go after the damaged craft while it was being escorted by another UFO craft. The United States Navy joined in the aerial battles with jets from nearby air bases. The combat over the Gulf intensified and the UFOs began to use something to disintegrate the military aircraft trying to shoot them down. The UFOs seemed to be taking only defensive measures, but the military considered them invaders of American air space and did not know their intentions. The military did not let up, and after many attempts to down the one damaged UFO, unsuccessfully, twelve more UFOs descended from the upper atmosphere into the region apparently to try to provide more protection and to break up the engagement.

That same afternoon just after the fighter incident, a USAF "observation" plane had reportedly run into trouble and the pilot had bailed out over the open waters of the gulf. According to Frank Feschino, the pilot of that craft bailed out as one of the UFOs was approaching his aircraft.

Frank had also found that the United States military had a confrontation later that same afternoon over the Atlantic Ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast with several aerial objects that would not identify themselves. Apparently four unidentified craft were damaged in the engagement (no information was available on military casualties). Three of these UFOs were later determined to have headed inland apparently to either make repairs or get rescued by their sister ships. A large unidentified craft parked itself over Washington, D.C. presumably to ensure that the craft were not fired upon any further.

One damaged craft was seen travelling across Washington, D.C. in the early evening and ultimately became the Flatwoods craft, according to Frank Feschino's investigations. The same craft is believed to have lifted off from Flatwoods only to be forced down again at James Knob near Frametown, West Virginia.

Another damaged craft made it as far west as eastern Tennessee. A third damaged craft was last seen over Bluefield, West Virginia. "Rescue" UFOs were apparently what was reported over the West Virginia communities of Heaters and Sutton. Eventually, the damaged UFOs made their way back to the Atlantic Ocean to meet with the larger ship.

The next day, September 13, 1952, a couple in an automobile near Frametown, West Virginia reported a direct encounter with an alien being that seemed to be moving about near a landed UFO. The automobile engine had died and the husband got out of the car to examine the problem. After noticing the light in the woods, he made an attempt to get closer but felt strange physical effects the closer he came. A sickening smell began to dominate. Forced to abandon the attempt, he made it back to his car just before the being showed up. While inside the automobile trying to seek protection, the couple saw the being come up to the car. The being seemed to be standing inside a bucket-shaped apparatus as in Flatwoods but with the top section removed exposing the humanoid entity. The being eventually retreated and the couple reported seeing the UFO lift off and head out of sight. This being was thought to be the same being encountered in Flatwoods by the May family and others and is believed to have been successfully rescued. Frank, a graphic artist, was able to locate the gentleman who had encountered the being near Frametown and make a drawing based on a description given by the witness. Another similar being was rumored to have been found dead and badly burned in the vicinity of Wheeling, West Virginia two days later. In that case, a similar toxic odor was reported by locals.

Drawings were made of what the beings apparently looked like but were modified away from witness descriptions and made to look more "sci-fi". For example, an artist gave the Flatwoods being or contraption "arms" and "claws" and a lower torso section that looked more like a skirt.

Frank Feschino managed to uncover the fact that the United States military, for whatever reason, lost at least eleven aircraft over U.S. territory on the day of September 12th. Planes and crew were lost and never heard from, again. One pilot in the Florida engagement did manage to escape this fate by bailing out of his aircraft, apparently, just before a UFO reached his position off the coast of Florida.

From September 13th to the 25th, NATO countries conducted a very large joint military exercise near Denmark and Norway. This exercise involved approximately 80,000 personnel, 1,000 aircraft and 200 ships. This operation was the largest of its kind at the time and did not escape the attention of unidentified flying objects.

On September 13th, crewmen aboard the Danish destroyer, Willemoes, witnessed a triangle-shaped craft glowing blue travelling at an estimated 900 miles per hour during the night.

On September 19th, a British jet aircraft flying into an RAF air base was followed by a silvery sphere that stopped over the air field then shot away.

On September 20th, members of the aircraft carrier, USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt, witnessed a silvery, spherical object. It is thought by some investigators that President Eisenhower was on board the ship at the time.

On September 21st, six British pilots in formation spotted a shiny sphere over the North Sea heading toward the NATO exercise.

On the night of September 27th-28th, West Germany, Sweden and Denmark were inundated with sightings of unidentified flying objects. Cigar-shaped craft and luminous objects with comet-like tails were among the reported descriptions.

In the United States, Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington, D.C. had its share of sightings on at least three dates before the Flatwoods landing in 1952: July 19th, 26th and 27th. These sightings involved lights in the sky and, in several cases, an orange sphere. (Note: In 2006, I saw an orange flare-like object of small size suddenly drop out of a low cloud cover heading straight for the ground in broad daylight and in front of early morning work traffic. The object seemed to burn out just before reaching the treetops. I was on Highway #301 in Maryland----only eleven miles east of Andrews Air Force Base.)

Some UFO investigators have reported that the 1950's were full of military engagements with unidentified flying objects while the government continued (as it does, today) to deny that UFOs are any threat to national security. It seems that the government was quite interested in the Flatwoods, West Virginia incident.

Much more information on this matter can be found in "Shoot Them Down! The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952" by Frank Feschino. I highly recommend it.


For the past several years, the community of Flatwoods, West Virginia has held an annual "Flatwoods Festival" frequently commemorating the 1952 UFO event. On those commemorative occasions, interested visitors may get a chance to meet author and investigator, Frank Feschino, and even tour the area where the 1952 landing of an unknown (extraterrestrial) craft occurred. As details of the next festival are announced, the Caviness Report will make this information available for anyone interested in attending the event.

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