For this week’s Off The Shelf post, we’ll be diving into a few of the reported sightings of UFOs, aliens, and other extraterrestrials here in our very own state of Kansas. You may not think of Kansas as a hotspot for aliens, but that wasn’t always the case. From rural towns to bigger cities, people have claimed to see UFOs streaking through the skies across the Sunflower State, leaving more questions than answers.
Kansas saw an influx of UFO sightings during the 1970s. While you may not see “UFO Sighted in Rural Kansas” as the headline of the Salina Journal today, combing through their archives tells a different story. The 1970s were filled with headlines in the Salina Journal for alien sightings all over the country, but particularly ones here in Kansas. For example, in the year 1971, a teen named Ronnie Johnson was out late completing his chores near the town of Delphos, Kansas, just north of Salina, when he claims that an unidentified object hovered in his family’s yard, creating a glowing ring on the ground above where it floated.
His story, while somewhat ridiculed by the public, fascinated scientists, law enforcement, and journalists. Headlines from the Salina Journal included “The ‘Thing’ Left a Ring, Photograph Shows” and “Delphos youth ‘surprises’ UFO” Soil samples were taken from the ring and tested, showing some peculiarities (beyond the whole glowing thing). The soil had become hydrophobic and contained white particles that baffled scientists. While the glowing and white particles eventually faded (possibly due to the number of scientists and police walking through the area investigating) other strange occurrences followed the Johnson family afterward. Three years after the initial sighting, the family continued to suffer from nervous breakdowns and Ronnie claimed to develop psychic abilities. The family went on to live relatively normal lives, but never forgot Ronnie’s strange encounter.
While some sightings, like Ronnie’s, are full of details and phenomena that could be tested to some degree, others were more simple, just flashing lights in the sky that seemed to move in a way that no commercial aircraft could. In a Salina Journal article from August of 1972, multiple people from Hays to Ellis described seeing flashing red lights floating through the sky. While for some this sighting was the beginning of a belief in the extraterrestrial, others such as Lee Maxwell out of Hays believed it to be a prank committed with a build-your-own flying saucer kit. Others believed it to be the Goodyear Blimp out of Wichita, but this theory was quickly debunked. Whatever those lights were, they had a profound effect on those who witnessed them.
Another group of sightings reported a cigar-shaped UFO above Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas in July of 1980. The craft was described as being oblong in shape and flashing with red, blue, and green lights. Many civilians and law enforcement agencies witnessed the craft and quickly ruled out weather balloons or blimps. One of the more interesting details of this sighting is the description of the craft being cigar-shaped, as that description was applied to another sighting almost 100 years earlier in Kansas on the property of a farmer named Alexander Hamilton. As recorded by Tom Baker in Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Hamilton claimed to have seen a ship that was cigar-shaped, glowing red and contained six strange figures that spoke a language he was unable to comprehend. The next day he discovered that one of his cows had been mutilated, an occurrence often connected to extraterrestrials. This story has since been debunked, when it was discovered that Hamilton and some of his friends had a penchant for gathering together to tell wild and fantastic stories. One young visitor to the Hamilton farm claimed that Hamilton himself admitted the story was faked in order to gain notoriety. While this story may have been proven false, the detailed description of the ship coming up a century later is certainly eyebrow-raising.
While there could be any number of reasons for the increase in UFO sightings in Kansas during the 1970s, a case could be made that popular media at the time had a significant influence. The 1970s saw the release of cult classic alien films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Starship Invasions, UFO: Target Earth, as well as The UFO Incident, a biographical film based on the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in New Hampshire in 1961.
For one small town in Kansas, aliens are seen as a driving force for tourism. Geneseo, Kansas, situated in Rice County is home to The Geneseo City Museum, a collection of artifacts detailing the unique history of the city. The Museum includes exhibits on pioneer ancestors to the history of railroading in the area, but its most fascinating exhibit is the collection of items donated by Elmer “Doc” Janzen. Janzen was a devoted believer in the theory that aliens were just like us and in fact, living among us to influence human society. While a few of his artifacts appear dubious (such as the hair of a dog from the planet Venus), the exhibit clearly displays the fascination Americans have had with extraterrestrial visitors. It is the town’s hope they can one day be known as the “UFO Capital of Kansas” and I would say that they are well on their way. If you are interested in visiting The Geneseo City Museum, visit their Facebook Page here, it looks like they have a few out-of-this-world events coming later this year!
If you’re looking for more information on UFOs and aliens, look no further than the library! Click Here to see what we have in our collection!
If you’re interested in learning more about alien activity in Kansas, listen to Humanities Kansas’ new podcast, Kansas 1972. Episode 5: To The Stars! covers the attitudes of Kansans in 1972 regarding space travel, a new shuttle launch site, and alien encounters in towns like Delphos and Dighton. Once you’ve listened to the episode, come discuss your thoughts at our Podcast Discussion Group!
Click Here to Register For The Podcast Discussion Group
Baker, Tom. “Chapter 6: Accounts for the Midwestern States .” Midwest Ufos and Beyond, Schiffer Publishing, 2013, pp. 62-64.
“Delphos Youth ‘Surprises’ UFO .” Salina Journal , 5 Nov. 1971, p. 2.
Kelly, Bob. “The ‘Thing’ Left a Ring, Photograph Shows.” Salina Journal, 7 Nov. 1971, p. 16
Lundgren , Dennis. “Circle of Mystery .” Salina Journal, 13 Oct. 1974, p. 8
Phillips, Ted. Delphos: A Close Encounter of the Second Kind (CE II). Edited by Jennie Zeidman, UFO Research Coalition, 2002.
“Seeing Is Believing in UFO Territory .” Salina Journal , 18 Aug. 1972, p. 9.
Suber, Jim. “Life Hasn’t Been the Same since UFO.” Salina Journal, 13 Oct. 1974, pp. 1–8.
About The Author: Ben
Ben is the Information Services Programs Coordinator, putting together the adult programs and crafts at Salina Public Library. After falling in love with theatre in high school, he went on to complete a BFA in Theatre with a focus on Stage Management from Emporia State University. He is an avid reader who enjoys Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Plays, Classics, and LGBTQ+ Fiction/Nonfiction. When not at the library, Ben enjoys watching true crime shows and comedies, trying out new recipes, seeing live theatre, crafts/sewing, and spending time with his partner.
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