In addition to being the home of Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet,” Hopkinsville’s next biggest claim to fame is as the location of the Great Goblin Encounter, also known as Kelly Green Men Case.
For the record, the creatures were not Kelly Green in color. Rather, Kelly is the rural community just outside of Hopkinsville where the close encounter occurred. That much everyone can agree on; just about everything else about the incident has been disputed ever since.
The incident occurred in 1955 and to this day ranks as one of the best documented—and scariest—close encounters in UFOlogy. Seven persons from two farm families witnessed the events and their accounts, examined and cross-examined repeatedly over the years, have stood up to withering criticism and scorn and remain remarkably consistent.
On the evening of August 21, 1955, Billy Ray Taylor of Pennsylvania was visiting the Sutton family in the rural community of Kelly, in Christian County outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. As the house had no indoor plumbing, around 7pm Billy Ray went outside to the pump to get some water. It was at this point that he observed strange multi-colored lights to the west, which he interpreted as a disc shaped craft of some sort.
Billy Ray ran into the house all excited like and told the folks inside he had seen a flying saucer. The Suttons scoffed at his sighting, telling him he must have seen a shooting star or some such.
About an hour later, the folks inside the house began to hear eerie and unexplained sounds outside. The Sutton’s dog began barking wildly, as if there were strangers lurking about; then the dog suddenly became terrified and quickly ran under the house, where it remained for the duration.
Billy Ray and the family patriarch, Elmer “Lucky” Sutton, grabbed some guns and went outside to investigate. There they saw a strange creature coming at them from a line of trees.
When it got within about twenty feet, they let loose a volley, one of which was a twelve gauge and the other a 22 cal. varmint gun. The creature flipped over and then ran into the darkness; the boys were sure they’d hit it.
Stepping off the porch, they went in search of the creature, when they spied another one sitting on an awning. Again they fired and knocked it off the roof. But as before, although they were sure they had scored a direct hit, the being seemed unharmed. A bit shaken by the encounter, the duo went back into the house.
A few minutes later, Lucky’s brother, J. C. Sutton, saw another creature peering into the house through a window. J.C. and Solomon, another kin, fired through the window at them, seemingly to no effect.
For the next several hours the little green men played whack a mole with the Taylors and Suttons, popping up at windows and doors, with the two clans replying with hot lead.
Whenever they scored a hit, they heard a hollow rattling sound, like banging around in a metal drum. The creatures also seemed to float off the ground at times, rather than walk.
Finally, the family matriarch, Grandma Lankford, counseled the boys to stop shooting at the creatures; not only did it not seem to have any effect, but the creatures did not seem to mean any harm to the humans.
Because the small children were badly frightened, around 11pm the group made a break from the house and got into their cars, making it to the Hopkinsville Police Department around 11:30pm, where they filed a report.
Police Chief Russell Greenwell, in writing up his police report, noted that the group were visibly shaken by the experience beyond reason. The Suttons, he noted, were not folks easily upset and not prone to filing complaints to the police; without weighing in on the accuracy of their account, he concluded that “something frightened them, something beyond their comprehension.” The witnesses were also judged not to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.
Elsewhere in Christian County, around 11pm a state trooper reported seeing “unusual meteor-like objects” flying overhead, with a sound “like artillery fire” emanating from them.
Upon investigating the scene of the incident,police officers themselves witnessed strange lights in the sky and in the nearby woods (although later, some would refuse to talk openly about it).
To their surprise, the officers found that nearby neighbors were also terrified and reported seeing the same strange lights in the sky, and strange sounds, at their homesteads and diners at the local Shady Oaks restaurant, also reported seeing the strange lights in the sky. .
The Hopkinsville police investigating the farmstead that night, found numerous bullet holes and hundreds of spent shells. They found a luminous patch of unknown substance on one of the fences where a creature had been shot but neglected to collect a sample for testing. Moreover, in the distance a green light was seen that night.
When the police left around two am, the green men returned and kept poking around the farmhouse until close to dawn. They were never seen again.
In the days and weeks that followed, the incident garnered national publicity and scores of curiosity seekers came visiting, some in awe, many to scoff.
People accused the witnesses of being drunk or of being liars. The usual mob of professional debunkers fabricated their well-worn explanations to deny what had happened.
At first the Suttons freely told the press and others willing to listen of their harrowing experience. Eventually, however, the ridicule and criticism by self-anointed experts caused the family to refuse to discuss their encounter with outsiders.
Apparently military types visited the farm to investigate the close encounter, but the Air Force denies ever visiting the Sutton farmstead. Curiously, though they claim never to have been there, Project Blue Book listed the case as a hoax without comment.
It is curious that Project Blue Book could make that judgment if, as they say, they never investigated it. It should be noted, however, that Hopkinsville is not far from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which, while not an Air Force base, is not only home to the 101st Airborne Division, but also to various Special Operations units. Some of these special ops units are known, but others remain top secret–officially, they don’t exist. What Special Ops units were operating there in 1955 is not known.
In 1957, one Air Force spokesmen theorized that the creatures were just some circus monkeys, painted silver, who’d escaped–which was perhaps the least believable of all the vain attempts to rationalize away the event.
Because of the creatures green color, they began to be referred to as “Goblins” by some in the media. Over time the cynics grew tired of heaping ridicule on the community and its close encounter, and, not being able to grab media attention with their visits, ceased plaguing the community.
For their part, the citizens of Hopkinsville began to embrace the incident as part of their local lore. The “Little Green Men” Days Festival is held at annually and has become a major event.
An artist’s impressions of these “Green Goblins” is even said to have inspired one of the many Pokeman anime characters.
While people may celebrate the event in song and story, to Lucky Sutton and his family it was serious business and remained so for the rest of their lives.
As his daughter related as an adult, “He never cracked a smile when he told the story because it happened to him and there wasn’t nothing funny about it. He got pale and you could see it in his eyes. He was scared to death.”
For more strange stories of unexplained lights, close encounters and unidentified flying weirdness in the Mid-South and elsewhere in Dixie, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.