Colored orbs of light zigzag across the Arkansas night sky. Metallic discs hover over tree lines and triangle-shaped crafts cruise over roads. Rocks levitate, and instruments record odd electrical pulses emitted from mysterious things …
Whatever is causing the phenomenon is out there, but so are those who hope to find the sources and identify these unidentified flying objects (UFOs). It’s a culture of people who have often been viewed with skepticism in the past but have gained more credibility with the U.S. Navy’s recent admission that UFOs could be real.
This month, hundreds of people who have either seen UFOs, investigated them or have a curiosity about them will converge on Eureka Springs for the 33rd Annual Ozark Mountain UFO Conference. The three-day event will be held July 24-26 at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center.
Whitley Strieber, the author of Communion, a New York Times best-selling book about his claim to have been abducted by gray aliens, is perhaps the best known of those scheduled to speak at the conference. Strieber will talk about several abductions he says he has endured since 2015 and his reunderstanding of the world as seen through “alien eyes.”
Other speakers include: George Noory, the host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Coast to Coast AM,” who will discuss his beliefs of the paranormal and his 17-year broadcasting career; and Terry Lovelace, a former state’s attorney in Vermont and a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, will venture into his claims that he and a friend were abducted by an alien craft while camping at Devil’s Den State Park in Washington County in 1977.
The conference has grown in size over the years, now attracting more than 500 visitors and becoming one of the premiere UFO gatherings in the country.
It began in 1988 when Bill Pitts of Fort Smith organized a meeting to discuss information on UFO investigations compiled by various U.S. governmental agencies. Of the 12 who spoke at the first conference, three were involved in the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book which investigated UFO reports in the 1950s and 1960s.
A year later, Lucius “Lou” Farish of Plumerville wanted to turn the conference into a yearly event. He scheduled it for the first weekend in April to take advantage of the off-season rates at area hotels. Since then, the conference has drawn such speakers as Travis Walton, an Arizona logger whose claim of his abduction became the focus of the 1993 movie Fire in the Sky; Stanton Friedman, the first civilian investigator at the Roswell, N.M. crash site in 1947, and Donna Lynn, a Missouri author who said she is contacted by aliens while she sleeps.
“As awareness of UFOs increases, so do our investigations of reports,” says Norman Walker, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). “People aren’t scoffing at what we do as much as they did before. People feel more comfortable coming forward with their sightings.”
Walker and members of MUFON record sightings in the state and often send investigators to locations to gather more information. MUFON averages about 130 to 150 reports a month. Some are flashing lights that could be satellites or airplanes; others, though — such as the report of a large triangular object that flew over Interstate 40 near Ozark on Jan. 13 — cannot be explained, Walker says.
“It was southwest of the interstate between Ozark and Mulberry,” the witness wrote in a report on the Arkansas MUFON’s website. “The craft was rather large and almost looked like a plane, but it had bright lights on the lower portion of the majority of the object.”
The object was hovering between 5,000 and 10,000 feet over the road, the witness, who did not include his or her name with the report, wrote.
“Folks get anxious and report what they don’t understand,” Walker explains. “Maybe it’s an aircraft that they’ve not seen before. We get a lot of reports each month. It gives us a job thinning those out.”
“We’re not touching the surface of what’s really out there,” Walker says.
There are three types of sightings that MUFON investigates. The first is the “unknown vehicle,” which includes saucer-shaped discs, the triangular objects and other shapes. A second type is the “unknown other,” or orbs, odd lights, streaks and other phenomenon. The third is categorized as “natural phenomenon” that includes drones, aircraft, balloons and other man-made crafts.
The MUFON sightings read like science fiction at times. On Feb. 8, a “bronze craft” flew over West Memphis, a person reported. It “stopped on a dime” and reversed direction before disappearing.
Another wrote that viewers saw four blue lights over the sky in Cabot on Jan. 15. One was larger and had a halo around the largest orb. An hour earlier, someone else reported several people saw 25 lights flying in formation over Rector.
Yet another reported being abducted at an unknown location while he slept. When he returned, he had burns and marks on his leg, the claimant wrote.
“We need more people out there reporting their sightings,” Walker says. “That’s where the UFO conference brings more awareness.”
One of the more bizarre spots in Arkansas for UFO sightings is the Board Camp Crystal Mine near Mena. Since Feb. 18, 2017, owners have seen scores of orbs, beams of lights and rocks that either fall from the sky or roll on the ground.
“Before, we were normal people,” says mine owner Cheryl Murphy. “Then, the paranormal things began happening. You can’t deny it. It keeps repeating itself.”
Murphy and her husband Orville closed the mine to visitors for a year while representatives from MUFON and other paranormal investigators visited the site.
David Marler, former director of the Illinois MUFON and now an independent investigator, says the events at the mine were “unexplainable.” He reported seeing several triangle-shaped objects and discs there. Others say they have seen evidence of Bigfoot, the tall, hairy, elusive ape-like creature of lore.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Murphy says. “You’d be sitting in a chair and a rock rolls down your back for no reason. It’s crazy stuff.”
After deciding it was safe, the Murphys reopened the mine and now conduct tours.
“We feel comfortable with it now,” she says. “We live with it every day.”
Francis Ridge, a UFO investigator in Newburgh, Ind., has created a radar device he says can detect the energetic pulses of UFOs. He has placed 70 of them throughout the world, including one in Jonesboro and another in Fort Smith.
The Multiple Anomaly Detection and Automatic Recording instrument monitors electromagnetic changes associated with UFO energy, Ridge says. It’s a tool that can add to researchers’ work. Investigators can check the instruments to see if there are variations in frequencies during reports of UFO sightings.
“To think there’s no other life out there is absurd,” he says. “There are millions of planets in the universe. To think we’re the only life form is ridiculous.”
The instrument may need fine tuning, though. Ridge keeps one in his office, near the garage, at his home. Whenever his wife pulls her car in too close to the wall, the radar detector goes off.
Since the radar was installed in Jonesboro last summer, it’s recorded 16 “events,” according to the MUFON database.
“Anything we can add to research helps,” Walker says. “I think we’ll see an increase in reports after the conference. People who see things are taking more initiative to report them. I think that’s where the UFO conference comes in.”
Eureka Springs Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry has never seen an unidentified flying object, nor has he ever attended one of the conferences in his town.
Still, he is appreciative of the conference. “We like anything that brings people to town,” he says. “It’s always interesting to see them come in. Some people come for the three days and then stay longer to see the town. Off the top of your head, it doesn’t sound like a legitimate thing, but it’s amazing to see how many people are interested.”
He says he doesn’t worry that the UFO visitors add to the quirkiness of his free-spirited town. “We always say Eureka is where the misfits fit in. It’s just another part of Eureka Springs. We have all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs.”
While Arkansas doesn’t have the recognizable UFO stories like the alien craft crash in Roswell, N.M, the colorful orbs over Rendlesham Forest near London (not the one in Pope County) or even the mysterious lights in Levelland, Tx. (that was the basis for the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind), the state has seen plenty of its own mysteries. Here are a few stories collected over the years.
Viney Grove — Aug. 4, 1965
Bill Estep reported seeing a flashing light in Washington County. He saw a long, narrow silver object with lighted windows and a revolving light on top hovering just above the trees. The same night, several others in Washington County reported seeing lights in the sky and less than a week later, two women in Blytheville reported seeing a similar craft land in a field
Devil’s Den State Park — June 1977
U.S. Air Force medic Terry Lovelace and a friend went on a two-day camping trip at Devil’s Den State Park in Washington County. The two woke up to bright lights and saw a five-story craft hovering over a field. Lovelace said he thought at first he saw children walking in the light under the craft and watched as they “dissolved.” Lovelace said the two men fled, returning to their air base in Missouri where they discovered they had severe burns on their bodies. Nearly 40 years later, Lovelace said, an x-ray of his right leg showed a foreign object the size of a half dollar embedded near his knee.
Fort Smith — Aug. 11, 1965
More than 1,500 saw strange aircraft over Fort Smith. Investigators with Project Blue Book, designed by the U.S. Air Force to study UFO reports, traveled to Fort Smith to confirm the reports.
Russellville — Nov. 8, 2014
Witnesses reported seeing a “platform-like UFO” at Arkansas Nuclear One, a two-unit nuclear power plant on Lake Dardanelle near Russellville. The craft hovered over the plant for over two hours, emitting different colored lights, before vanishing.
Hot Springs — May 7, 1897
Constable John Sumpter and Garland County Deputy Sheriff John McLemore were on horseback outside Hot Springs when they saw bright lights in the night sky. The Hot Springs Sentinel reported the two rode toward the light until the horses refused to go further. The two drew their weapons and approached a 60-foot long cigar-shaped vessel. Several men got out of the craft, and the pilot asked the two lawmen if they wanted to ride in the ship.
“We can take you where it’s not raining,” the pilot said. “We told him we believed we preferred to get wet,” the men told the pilot.
Later, after several reports of the flying craft surfaced around the state, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that any airships crossing the state should pay taxes on any freight they were carrying.
Texarkana — April 21, 1897
Jim Hooton, a railroad conductor for the Iron Mountain Railroad, stopped in Texarkana to pick up a train engine. While waiting, Hooton decided to go hunting in nearby brush and heard what he thought was a locomotive air pump. According to a story in the April 22, 1897, Arkansas Gazette, Hooton said he saw an airship land in a field and a man wearing smoke-colored goggles emerge from the craft.
Hooton said he told the man the noise sounded like a “Westinghouse air brake.”
“Perhaps it does,” the goggle-wearing man said. “We are using compressed air and aeroplanes, but you will know more later on.”
The Wright Brothers didn’t launch their airplane in Kitty Hawk, N.C., until 1903.