I don’t know why flying saucers don’t visit the Columbus area anymore.
Maybe it was something we said. Or maybe they have no interest in internationally acclaimed architecture. Or maybe flying saucers have stopped by but no one paid any attention to them.
Back in the late 1950s and 1960s, a lot of local folks called this newspaper to report the latest UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) sightings. Calls also came in on a fairly regular basis to the Columbus Police Department, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and Bakalar Air Force Base (now the location of Columbus Municipal Airport).
Newspaper reporters, photographers and police were dispatched to track down the visitors. Front page news stories appeared in the newspaper — quoting eye witnesses.
The first such story hit the front page of The Evening Republican (now The Columbus Republic) on Aug. 8, 1957, beneath the headline “Flying Saucer Missed Us, or Did We Miss It.” The story told of strange, fast-moving lights in the sky all over northern Indiana and as far south as Greenwood — witnessed by numerous police agencies and tracked on radar.
Local disappointment at being left out of the flying saucers’ flight plans evaporated, however, with a followup story the next day quoting two Columbus men who had seen the UFOs while roofing a house on Rocky Ford Road. Two third-shift Columbus police officers also said they saw an alleged UFO, but agreed it was a star.
From that night on, reports came in repeatedly over the next 10 years. Some of the more interesting ones included:
November 1957 — Several Hope residents reported “blood red” objects hovering in the sky west of town. A Hope farmer on Route 2 reported seeing a “bright yellow light” moving fast and making a “funny noise” above his barn when he went out to milk the cows. A part-time newspaper photographer reported a “flying saucer” hovering, flashing red and orange lights and making a high-pitched whine sound over the Columbus High School football field. (He said he didn’t have a camera with him.) A woman in the 1200 block of California Street said a UFO over her house was causing her TV to make a “grinding sound.”
October 1958 — Police in Greenwood, Franklin and Greensburg reported a series of white lights dancing in the sky. Columbus police and a newspaper photographer drove to Johnson County but were unable to locate the UFOs.
January 1959 — A rural Columbus woman called police to report a red, glowing light was hovering over her pasture and scaring her cattle by making “siren sounds” and throwing off sparks.
May 1959 — A Columbus man and a teenager reported watching a “ball of fire dancing in the sky” in East Columbus.
July 1959 — A Columbus couple and their three children said they chased a triangular formation of hovering lights with their car for 13 miles from North Vernon to just south of Columbus. The lights eventually sped up and shot off into the sky.
July 1965 — A newspaper reporter said he followed a disk-shaped flying saucer, with a dome on top, down U.S. 50 between Seymour and Brownstown. Other similar reports came in from all over southern Indiana.
December 1966 — A Columbus man on his way home from work reported a UFO hovering about 500 feet in the air along U.S. 31 between Columbus and Edinburgh. He said it was “egg shaped” and he and other motorists pulled off the road to watch it. He left his car running with the headlights on, but the headlights kept coming on and off and the engine “ran rough.” He later drew a picture of the UFO, which ran in this newspaper with the article.
As far as I can tell, this newspaper has run no local UFO sighting articles after 1972. That may mean no sightings have occurred. It may mean the whole era before was engaged in what some have called an “hysteria of perception.” Or maybe the “little green men” just decided they were not welcome here and saw no reason for a visit.
After all, the Columbus Visitors’ Center did not open until 1973.
Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007.