Published: 12:48 PM 10/31/2013
by RANDY FOX
Forty years ago, America seemed on the edge of disaster. The country's involvement in the Vietnam War drew to a close without even an illusion of victory. The vice president resigned in disgrace. The president was embroiled in a scandal that seemed almost certain to end with charges of impeachment.
A war was raging in the Middle East between Israel and Egypt. Arab oil-producing countries announced an embargo against the United States for its support of Israel, and gas prices soared.
Misunderstandings between the U.S. and the Soviet Union regarding the war pushed the two countries to the brink of nuclear confrontation, with the U.S. military on DEFCON 3 alert for first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And amidst all this chaos, aliens descended on Dixie.
The fall of 1973 brought one of the largest waves of UFO sightings in U.S. history. Hundreds of reports poured in to news outlets across the country, with the greatest concentration in the Southeast. And Tennessee was no exception.
Newspaper accounts chronicle unknown objects in the night skies and even a few reports of "high strangeness" on the ground. September and October became an "Autumn of Aliens" as adults shook their heads in disbelief and kids gobbled up the news with a mixture of excitement, wonder and fear.
In Nashville, the encounters began on Sept. 3, 1973: The Tennessean reported a sighting by a South Nashville homemaker and her three children, who described a distant light that changed colors, then a red triangular object with three white lights moving rapidly across the sky. Metro police investigated but proclaimed the lights to be out of their jurisdiction.
Perhaps because of MNPD's declaration, reports in Nashville didn't attract much attention for the next few weeks. But West Tennessee law enforcement apparently didn't get the memo. On Sept. 25, The Tennessean reported that Shelby County deputies in Memphis spotted a whirring, hovering craft sweeping the ground with two white spotlights.
Later in the week, similar objects were reported by sheriffs in Lauderdale and Obion counties. Judging by news reports, the UFOs seemed to be edging closer to Middle Tennessee, making their first landfall in Giles County on Oct. 1. The Pulaski Citizen reported that three teenage boys witnessed the landing of an egg-shaped craft near the Anthony Hill community and a large, hairy, stiffly walking occupant.
Reports continued to trickle in from Tennessee and around the country throughout the first week of October. They began to flow like a gusher of swamp gas after one of the most famous abduction cases in UFO history broke on Thursday, Oct. 11.
That evening, two dockyard workers in Pascagoula, Miss., said they saw a light approaching them as they were fishing on the banks of the Pascagoula River. Within minutes, Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker were confronted by wrinkly-skinned eyeless gray creatures with long arms ending in claws. Hickson and Parker were paralyzed and "floated" into the hovering craft for a short examination before being dumped back on the shore.
The story took the national media by storm, and while no one could explain what had really happened to the pair, those who met them almost all agreed they had experienced something truly terrifying.
In the week that followed, reports of strange lights, unusual aircraft, landings and bizarre occupants proliferated across America. On Oct. 15, the Pulaski Citizen reported that a Berea, Tenn., family saw lights in the woods, and a separate witness spotted a being with a glowing white head crossing a highway nearby.
Claw-like tracks were later discovered in the road, as well as what appeared to be landing marks in the woods.
The Oct. 17 issue of the Nashville Banner reported sightings from around Tennessee — Columbia, Hartsville, Knoxville, Lawrenceburg, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet. The next day, The Tennessean reported glowing cones and saucer-shaped objects in Clarksville, a triangular object hovering over a car near Springfield, and the tale of a Putnam County farmer menaced by two lights that barreled directly toward him before shooting almost vertically into the sky.
Then, at last, the visitors entered MNPD's jurisdiction. The Tennessean reported several sightings from around Nashville on the evening of Oct. 18 — including a silver, cigar-shaped craft, a glowing blue mist and a trio of hovering, glowing objects.
After showing off for their respective witnesses, the objects vanished with great speed. The next night, the blue mist was back, along with more glowing hoverers emitting a cacophony of humming and whistling noises.
Reports from Tennessee and around the country began to slow in November, even as interest in UFO books, magazines, TV shows and movies began to take off. In the years that followed, the aliens crept into all corners of pop culture, evolving far beyond the fad status they achieved in the flying saucer craze of the 1950s.
The various alien hijinks and accoutrements gradually formed a cultural cornerstone, supporting tales of abductions, big-headed "Grays," crashed saucers, government conspiracies and all manner of cultural tropes. Whether you want to believe or remain a hardline skeptic, there's little doubt that the great UFO wave of 1973 was one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever, whoever — or whatever — was running the show.