POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — A Poplar Bluff UFO report was among previously classified documents released online recently, but the report does not dispel the mysteries of a bizarre 24-hour period in the fall of 1950.
More than 130,000 files from U.S. Air Force “Project Blue Book” were added to the The Black Vault online database last week. The database is the work of UFO enthusiast John Greenewald, who spent years requesting the files through the Freedom of Information Act.
Among the files are U.S. Air Force reports of a UFO the afternoon of Sept. 19, 1950, witnessed by several Poplar Bluff residents and followed across Southeast Missouri by two F-51 fighter jets.
The UFO was dismissed as a weather balloon by the Air Force, but the report revealed two other strange events hours later — a meteor explosion and a military jet crash near Piedmont, Missouri.
A ‘What’s it’ object
Phones at area police stations and newspapers in Butler and surrounding counties started ringing off the hook on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 1950.
Callers were frantic, according to a Daily American Republic report. What the Memphis [Tennessee] Press-Scimitar reported as Poplar Bluff’s “flying saucer” had been spotted hovering high in the sky “like a silver marble” over the city.
Various Poplar Bluff residents described the aerial mystery visitor as looking like a “translucent wash tub,” “two balloons tied together” and a “translucent silver sphere with a red tubular affair hanging from the bottom.”
Another witness reported a sphere with lavender edges, a bright gold center and a red tip. Police, after receiving numerous calls, told a reporting party the object was out of the city’s jurisdiction.
Airport manager James Newsom asked for an investigator.
Lt. Claude Haverty was dispatched at 4:45 p.m. from Memphis in a National Guard F-51 and arrived over Poplar Bluff at 5:30 p.m.
An Air Intelligence Information report says Haverty spotted the object but was unable to reach it.
“It looked like a big silver marble,” Haverty told the Press-Scimitar. “I’m sure it was some kind of weather balloon.”
He kept the object in view for an hour as it drifted toward Malden. He described it as a big weather balloon that got caught up at about 60,000 to 80,000 feet and was drifting along. He headed for home when his fuel ran low.
A second pilot flying an F-51 out of Memphis spotted the object and something else.
Lt. Donald L. Soefker climbed to 40,000 feet. Unable to get close enough to confirm its origin, he said “it appeared to be a silver balloon with neither fire, lights nor exhaust that appeared to be between spherical and elliptical in shape.”
Soefker reported to Air Force command that in the area above Malden, Missouri, he also spotted a set of white and green lights above him moving at a high rate of speed.
The green light was in the front and the white in the rear, similar to a U.S. Air Force craft. The lights appeared to move in bursts of speed in a northernly direction toward St. Louis.
No one ever confirmed what either object was.
Jimmy Sisler of Dexter, Missouri, said he saw it through his telescope and it was a weather balloon with a box suspended beneath.
Call of the Kytoons
An Associated Press report published Sept. 19, 1950, said the Southwest Power Administration was using phosphorous flares suspended from what they called “Kytoons” to survey a radio communications route through Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The “Kytoons” were described as miniature captive blimps, and the SPA added the following warning:
“The combination, especially at night, might cause the uninformed to think they are being raided by some mysterious enemy in this time of war. We want to give a lot of publicity to this story. We don’t want anyone getting hysterical and phoning the National Guard or worse, resisting the ‘invaders’ themselves by taking pot shots at our men with their squirrel rifles or scatterguns,” an SPA spokesman said.
The AP report, however, does not explain the mysterious green and white lights over Malden seen by Soefker.
The astronomical anomalies kept coming the following day.
AMS 2326 meteor
The Daily American Republic and AP reported at 1:35 a.m. Sept. 20, 1950 — just hours after the “What’s it” event — meteor AMS 2326 blasted through the sky west of Poplar Bluff and exploded in the air near a swamp between Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, rocking a two-state area.
Several people in Poplar Bluff reported seeing the meteor.
A railroad signalman at Covington, Tennessee, 40 miles north of Memphis, told of seeing a ball of fire in the sky getting larger and larger and then exploding, according to the AP.
Other reports of the fireball came in from personnel all along the Illinois Central Railroad.
The strangest report of the fireball came from American Airlines Capt. H.J. Garman, who saw the meteor while he was en route to Memphis from Washington, D.C.
“We sighted that thing some 50 miles east of Nashville,” Garman said. “I was flying at 18,000 feet, and it looked as though it just came across our nose.
“I tell you I never saw such a brilliant flash of light before. No, it wasn’t a clear light. It seemed to be burning with an orange, yellow and blue flame.”
He said he did not see the object hit the ground, but it was the lowest meteor he ever saw.
“I tell you, it lit up the whole sky,” he told the AP.
The Tennessee State Highway Patrol sent six cars north of Memphis, according to the AP. One car reported the meteor hit in the Hatchie Bottoms, a semi-swamp area between Memphis and Millington Naval Base.
Piedmont fighter crash
A Navy fighter plane crashed into a hillside near Piedmont at 10:19 a.m. Sept. 20, 1950.
According to the AP, civilian Logan MacMillan was not hurt as he used an ejection seat to clear the F2H twin-jet Banshee Navy fighter.
No information was available on the crash, according to the AP.
A guard was placed at the wreckage as Navy investigators traveled to the scene from St. Louis.
MacMillan went to the Piedmont post office and telephoned headquarters, saying the plane had crashed, he was safe and gave the listener the crash location.
The AP quoted him as saying, “I am not permitted to give out any information whatever.”
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Wayne County sheriff’s office also responded to the scene of the crash.
The crash, the third unexplained event in the Daily American Republic’s coverage area in a single day, capped a strange 24 hours, the explanations for which may never be known.