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‘Project Blue Book’ turns the Hopkinsville goblin encounter into a literal circus

Leave it to the History Channel to muck up one of the coolest UFO stories ever.

History Channel’s docudrama Project Blue Book, based (but not really) on the Air Force UFO investigation of the same name, has a knack for sensationalizing actual reports. Yet somehow, in episode 4 of season 2, they go ahead and make one of the weirdest cases ever kind of boring.

As the story goes, on the evening of August 21, 1955, a group of people in Hopkinsville, Kentucky saw a mysterious flying object land in the woods nearby, and when a pair of the men tried to show someone where, they found that 12-15 “little men with big heads and long arms were approaching the house … having huge eyes and hands out of proportion to their small bodies ….”

Fearing an attack, they returned to the house and armed themselves with a shotgun and a pistol. The creatures approached and were fired on, but while their shots knocked the aliens down, they didn’t seem harmed by them.

The siege went on for hours, but during a lull, the family piled into two vehicles and reported the attack to the police. Checking it out, the police saw the evidence of gunfire, but no intruders. The goblins returned in the early morning, but retreated for good before daybreak. In a later retelling, the aliens were little green men (the origin of the term), but they were not described that way by the witnesses.

Project Blue Book made the bold choice to have the goblins look like wimpy old greys, with some minor discrepancies from different witnesses. Jumping (or “floating”) out of trees and on the roof seems a lot more exciting that general lurking in the front yard, too, but we’re sure History knows what they’re doing!

The explanation the show comes up with is the one place they really lean into the crazy, and it’s way more unbelievable than the real-life skeptical one — circus monkeys in leotards with green paint on their hands. And people think Joe Nickell’s great horned owl assessment is out there! Okay, he does go to the owl well fairly often, but these ones are pretty freaking big and do exhibit the kind of intimidating behavior described, when their nests are threatened.

Oh, and MKUltra had to do with the CIA testing the effects of LSD, not psychics seeing the future. Come on, now. THAT was actually an Army unit called “Stargate Project,” and it was more about the “remote viewing” of faraway objects and events.

The real Project Blue Book had a fat folder on the Hopkinsville encounter, but they say they didn’t (officially) conduct an investigation. At least two men from the Air Force checked on it, though, but the organization didn’t want the word to get out that they were hunting spacemen or monsters.

While Project Blue Book’s astronomical consultant, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, didn’t investigate, he had friends involved, and described the incident in his 1972 book, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry:

Another classic Close Encounter of the Third Kind is the Kelly-Hopkinsville sighting of August 21, 1955 in which it was the humanoids who took the center stage, the UFO being mentioned only in passing. My connection with this affair was purely fortuitous since I had not been called in to consult on this case … Blue Book records on this event are sketchy, and little or no investigation was conducted. Still, the case is carried in Blue Book files as ‘Unidentified.’ That much it certainly is.

Although the Hopkinsville story was not the origin of the phrase “little green men,” it would become permanently connected to UFOs. The 1957 movie Invasion of the Saucer Men seemed to take its cue from the farmhouse goblins, and it was the first of many.

The 1970s show Project UFO was loosely based on Blue Book files, but dramatized and updated (sound familiar?). The Hopkinsville encounter was featured in the episode “Sighting 4004: The Howard Crossing Incident,” but the show’s budget wasn’t up to producing aliens. While the script described the goblins accurately, the aliens were depicted on screen as blurry, green lights.

Around the same time, Steven Spielberg was considering a follow-up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and wanted to base a movie on the goblin invasion that would be called Night Skies. The story got killed, but elements from the treatment were split into three other Spielberg paranormal encounter films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins, and Poltergeist. Other films have exploited the story, too, like the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan movie, Signs.

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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