Weird Georgia: Great Balls of Fire! Part 1: Impact!
On the night of August 30, 1973, the most intense of wave of UFOs sighting in history started in southwest Georgia. UFOs reached Griffin on Sunday night, September 9, when Mrs. Hugh D. Beall called the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office to report an “upside down cup and saucer-shaped object” hovering at treetop level above her house. It had gold, red, and green lights on the bottom that changed colors, and made a “funny” noise, pitched too low for a conventional aircraft A deputy dispatched to the scene radioed that he had seen “two red lights descending slowly to earth” which then disappeared.
At four p.m. on September 10, Ress Clanton, a retired textile worker known by his friends as Shorty, was sitting in a yard chair beneath the shade of a large magnolia tree beside his house in Orchard Hill, five miles south of Griffin. Clanton was contemplating supper while scanning a beautiful, sunny afternoon sky. He was focused on a small thunderhead crossing the face of the sun “when the thing dropped.”
The “thing,” variously described as having the size and shape of an egg or baseball, was bright gold in color, but its most curious aspect was that it did not plummet rapidly to earth, but appeared to be descending at a controlled rate of speed, floating, apparently under intelligent control. The object did not spin, it “just come down plumb straight…didn’t come down too fast, just take its time,” Clanton recalled
When tree branches blocked his view, Clanton jumped out of his chair and ran to a yard swing, which he climbed onto for a better look.
“I stood on the swing till it come down,” Clanton said. “It didn’t make no racket, now, when it hit the ground. When it hit the ground it stay there for a second, and directly white smoke raise up. It never did spread, it just stay together about as big as a nail keg, it just keep going up till it was a little wisp of a thing, and then one line of smoke come...”
The projectile vanished when it encountered the ground, apparently destroyed on impact. Once the white smoke dissipated, all that remained was a smoldering, scorched patch of lawn the size of a basketball, about a foot long and five inches deep. Strangely, there was no crater.
Clanton started for the point of impact, then wisely changed his mind and detoured to a neighbor’s house. He enlisted another neighbor, a former deputy sheriff, before the three ventured to the scorched site, located 25 yards from his house, on the property of an adjacent warehouse, between grain elevators and the municipal water tower.
When the men kneeled down beside the lazily smoking spot, Clanton passed his hand three feet above the charred spot. The heat was so intense that it nearly burned his palm. Clanton unfolded his pocketknife and ran the blade through the soil for several seconds. When he extracted it, the metal was too hot to touch.
Clanton reported the incident to the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office. Before a deputy arrived, a crowd gathered, patrons of a convenience store across the road, who had been attracted by the commotion. No one in the area had heard or seen any aircraft operating in the vicinity.
While deputies made an official report, a crew from local radio station WKEU arrived. They took it upon themselves to excavate the center of the seared ground to a depth of four inches. Most of the earth was deposited into a zinc washtub, but a fine gray ash from the hottest part of the spot was dumped onto an unfolded county map. None of the assembled multitude had an idea what the mysterious object could have been, but one of the radiomen thought to call Dr. O.E. Anderson, head of the Agronomy Department at the Georgia Experiment Station in Griffin.
Anderson waded through a crowd that was four to five people deep. Although he arrived at the scene two and a half hours after the incident, when Anderson placed his hands near ground zero, which was still smoldering, he estimated the temperature at that time to be 200 degrees. Presumably it would have been far hotter immediately after impact-Anderson later ventured an estimate of 300 degrees. He said a normal afternoon soil temperature for the area in summer would be 115-120 degrees.
The soil scientist took three samples-from the impact site, a spot two feet away, and a third site thirty feet distant. Anderson also collected the soil excavated by WKEU and departed to run a soil analysis, a reluctant scientific participant in a bizarre event. He estimated it would require three days to determine if anything unusual had been found.
Shorty Clanton had no need to await test results. “I tell you, I believe it to be a piece of brimstone from Heaven come down here to show people how He can burn the earth with it,” he proclaimed.
By nightfall WKEU had received at least three reports of area UFOs.
“Something definitely elevated the temperature of the soil,” Anderson soon informed the press. “The soil was unusually hot for just grass to be burning. It was hot down to a depth of at least a half an inch and for as much as an inch the soil was very, very hot.” He also said a “glob about the size of your little finger of molten metal or slag, had remained on the ground. They are seeing some form of energy, but what?”
Anderson was also convinced of Clanton’s sincerity, saying he “had the feeling he was telling us what he thought he had seen.” After a second interview with Clanton, Anderson said, “he stuck to the same story. It is a credible story. I don’t think he dreamed something up and went out and set a fire.”
From Weird Georgia, Cumberland House, 2000.
Jim Miles is the author of two Weird Georgia books and nine books about the Civil War. See Jim’s books.