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Drawing of Kelly-Hopkinsville Little Green Man YouTube: Kentucky Educational Television
YouTube: Kentucky Educational Television

“Little green men” has become a standard slang term when talking about aliens, particularly human interactions with aliens from outer space, but did you know it has an actual origin story? In 1955, a family in Hopkinsville, Kentucky arrived at their local police station and reported that aliens had visited their farmhouse and they had been fighting them for hours.

They described the extraterrestrials as “little grey men”—this was misheard and when the story hit the presses, they reported the story of the “little green men.” That’s one of the least bizarre elements of the tale of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter.

Close Encounters of the Kentucky Kind

Per Country Living, the night of August 21, 1955, a young man named Elmer “Lucky” Sutton was visiting his mother, Glennie Lankford, and three younger siblings at the Sutton farmhouse near Kelly, Kentucky. He was on a break from his job with a traveling carnival and had brought his wife, Vera, and their friends Billy Ray Taylor and June Taylor along for the visit. Taylor’s brother JC and sister-in-law Alene and a family friend, OP, were also at the farmhouse. As the group sat down to play a game of cards, Billy Ray went out to the well to refill his water glass. When he came back inside, he told everyone he’d seen a “round, metallic object” flying through the sky with rainbow-colored streaks trailing after it.

His family and friends were skeptical, insisting he had seen a meteor or shooting star and not a flying saucer. Billy Ray led Lucky outside, where they reportedly saw “a glowing object” emerge from the woods that turned out to be “a short, human-like creature, with large eyes, two legs that seemed to float rather than walk, and two arms raised as if in surrender.”

The two men ran back into the house and grabbed some guns. A gun battle ensued when a creature pressed its face to a window, as reported by All That’s Interesting. The aliens apparently jumped up into trees when shot at and one apparently grabbed Taylor’s hair. When the battle slowed, the group jumped into a car and rode to the Hopkinsville police station to report what was happening. According to the Completely Kentucky Wiki, they told the police that they had been fighting for four hours and had shot at “twelve to fifteen” of the “little grey men.”

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Christian County, Kentucky Still Celebrates Little Green Men

Concerned that local citizens were shooting guns at one another, “four city police, five state troopers, three deputy sheriffs, and four military police from the nearby US Army Fort Campbell” went to the Sutton farm to investigate. They found nothing but bullet holes on various surfaces. Neighbors later told authorities that the family had “packed up and left” after the aliens returned around 3:30 AM.

News of the alleged alien encounter spread throughout the country with varying descriptions of the aliens, including “large pointed ears, clawlike hands, eyes that glowed yellow and spindly legs.” The aliens were referred to by some as the “Hopkinsville Goblins.” Dozens of tourists descended upon the farm wanting to see where the little green men had landed. Glennie Langford was so shaken by the ordeal that she sold the farm and moved into an apartment in town.

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Many people attributed the family’s story to having had too much moonshine in the course of the evening, but Mrs. Langford was reportedly a religious woman who didn’t allow alcohol in her house; indeed, authorities found no evidence of any drinking. Skeptics such as Committee for Skeptical Inquiry member Joe Nickell have theorized that the aliens were actually great-horned owls, which can stand up to two-thirds of a meter tall. The mysterious glowing has been explained by meteors as well as foxfire, “a bioluminescent fungus on decaying wood.”

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Regardless of what actually happened, the story has remained influential. Director Steven Spielberg credited the tale of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter as inspiring his movies E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A Little Green Men Days Festival has been held annually in Christian County, Kentucky since 2010. Lucky’s daughter Geraldine Sutton Stith often speaks at the festival and has written two books about her family’s experience, Alien Legacy and The Kelly Green Men: Alien Legacy Revisited.

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Karen Corday is a writer who loves history, [un]popular culture, nostalgia, smart people doing smart things, books, TV, movies, music, food, karaoke, things you forgot about but are happy to remember, and more.
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