Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week, some light summer reading. Summer is a time for stargazing. We’re nearing the right time of year for meteor showers, which fill the skies with dazzling light from “falling stars.” But sometimes stargazing leads to sightings of flying objects of the unidentified kinds.
On July 13, 1966, it was reported that a UFO was sighted near Larned. “An unidentified flying object that spanned a four-county area was spotted by law officers and citizens last night.”
The first report came from Larned Police around 10 p.m., with officers saying the object, emitting a bluish-green light, was seen heading in a northeasterly direction. A short while later, Deputy Nate Sparks saw the object near US-56 and Dundee Road. Then, John Liston, 2549 McBride, was westbound on Bissell’s Point Road around 10 p.m. when his wife, Ruth, spotted the object.
A short while later, Lyons Police reported the object north of Lyons, and County Attorney Brock McPherson, returning from Topeka that night, spotted apparently the same object near Abilene. “It was not learned what the object was but all descriptions matched.”
The story prompted two additional stories the following week concerning sightings in the area over the previous couple of years.
On Monday, July 25, 1966, an inside story, Have you seen any UFOs lately? by Tribune reporter Carol E. McWilliams, reported on the sightings of UFOs by 18 area people from Great Bend to Larned over the preceding year. The editorial note reported the sighting in the area July 13, 1966. Bright lights, zig-zagging through the night sky, hovering over areas, and then darting away were the common report. McWilliams gathered a group of 10 who had reported sightings to talk about their experiences.
Pawnee County Sheriff Roland Reese and Deputy Tiny Ness reported seeing a zig-zagging red light in the distance, coming towards them and finally hovering over their car at an altitude of around 500 ft. They had been trying to abduct watermelon thieves, so they were in a rural area at the time. After a few minutes, it sped away to the west.
Others who reported sightings included Mrs. harry McCarter, Ray Nuss, and Sam Bavuso in 1965, and in May 1966, Patrolman Larry Schenkel and high school students Barry Chesebro, Butch and Sally Strain of Larned, who reported seeing several lights over the drive-in theater on the north side of Larned. The lights moved in several directions, they said., and darted off after some time passed.
Wednesday, July 27, 1966, A story on the front page of the Great Bend Daily Tribune asked the question, Did anyone else see a UFO here last night? The Tribune’s own photographer, Jim Lewellen, reported seeing a UFO in Hoisington. At first glance, he thought it was a shooting star, until it came almost to a complete stop part way down at about 400 to 500 feet.
“Kooky or not, I got a good clear look at this thing and it was like no aircraft I have ever seen,” he said. Too bad he didn’t have his camera with him, right? The best he could come up with was a sketch.
Another Tribune employee, Mrs. Richard Latas, also reported seeing a similar UFO while at the drive-in with her husband in Larned a little later the same night.
The reports of sightings in rural Kansas didn’t stop there. A 2011 article by Hutchinson News writer Amy Bickel talked about a series of sightings in 1972 around the area. (http://ufodigest.com/article/ufo-sightings-once-common-rural-kansas)
“The year was 1972 and Kansas was a hotbed of UFO sightings. In fact, the state had the most sightings in the nation that year,” Bickel wrote. “Dighton made the national news — and not for anything ordinary. Up in the sky on the darkened plains, they saw them. Lights. Crazy moving lights. Lights that chased vehicles. Lights that could hover low or move in directions no ordinary aircraft could.
From well-respected farmers to the city’s police chief, they said they saw flying objects — unidentified flying objects.”
It remains unknown if those sighting were aliens from outer space, or if they were simply experimental aircraft, as Dirk Vader Ploeg, an expert quoted in Bickel’s report, believed. His opinion was in line with a 2013 report from the Central Intelligence Agency concerning the declassification of information linked to Area 51, long suspected by conspiracy theorists to be the location where the U.S. government was holding captured aliens from outer space. It turns out, this was where testing of the high-altitude U-2 spy plane was being conducted during the 1950s-1970s. The CIA claims to be responsible for at least half of the UFO sightings reported from that era. The problem is, the previously redacted material includes information about flights over China, the U.S.S.R. and certain Pacific bases. It mentions nothing about flights over rural Kansas. Other than this one admission, we could find no other verifiable explanations for what was behind the lights. It’s still is and may forever be a mystery to those who have seen them hovering. A historical timeline of UFO sightings can be found at http://alien-ufo-research.com/history-of-ufo-sightings-timeline/
Another website with information about investigations of UFOs is http://www.nicap.org/, the National Investigations Committee of Aerial Phenomena.