Conspiracy Corner – When the Sky Fell   


In small towns, it is easy to forget the strangeness of the world around us. Our lives are made of potlucks, family events, and community gatherings. Life is slow and humble. The darkness of the world seems so far away – things that happen in other places, happen to other people. Yet, sometimes, the bizarre will force you to recognize it, that an incident so strange and terrifying will drop itself on your doorstep and leave you with one simple lesson: It can happen here. It can happen to you.  

Welcome back to Conspiracy Corner as we discuss the infamous Flatwoods Monster – one of the most notorious alien encounters in American history. The incident occurred September 12th, 1952, when a mysterious object was sighted over the town of Flatwoods, West Virginia. Witnesses describe it as a ball of fire across the sky – visible even in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The object was seen by five young boys that were playing baseball. The five of them consisted of brothers, Edward (13) and Freddie (14) May, along with their friends Neil Nunley (14), Tommy Hyer (10), and Ronnie Shaver (10). They watched as the flaming ball arched through the air, though they noted that it did not seem to follow a natural trajectory. According to the boys, the object moved about in the sky – resembling something attempting to land. And land it did, crashing near a farm owned by one, G. Bailey Fisher. 

Hoping to investigate, Edward and Freddie lead the others back to their house. There, they were joined by the brothers’ mother, one Kathleen May. Before departing for the forest, they recruited the assistance of a local National Guardsman, one seventeen-year-old Gene Lemon, and his dog. Together, they set off into the woods in the direction the flame had fallen. Little did they know, as they set off into the woods, that they would come face-to-face with something possibly not of this Earth. 

It was dark when they entered the woods. What little light they had was obscured by the canopy of tree branches above them. As they approached, they noted that the air was thick with a fog that smelled of sulfur. In the distance was a strange red light, said to be pulsating like a heartbeat. Suddenly, Gene saw something – orange, glowing eyes. Suspecting it was a raccoon, he swung his flashlight around. Then he screamed. 

The creature, as the six people would later describe it, was ten feet tall with two orange eyes on a red circular face. Behind that was a kind of hood resembling the spade of a playing card. Its green body was hourglass shaped, along with its unnaturally long arms and hands with long, sharp claws. Strange enough, witnesses would describe it as mechanical. It resembled more a machine than an organic creature. Stranger still, the creature was said to be levitating. For a moment, the creature watched Gene as he did the same. Then, the creature hissed and flew towards the six witnesses. Needless to say, the witnesses turned and ran; they did not stop running until they reached the May house.  

The police were called. The sheriff took a while to arrive, having been interviewing a man named Woodrow Eagle. Eagle claimed to have seen a strange, burning object in the sky – most likely the same as the ones the boy saw – and reported it as a plane crash. 

The site was investigated by a co-publisher for a local newspaper, A. Lee Stewart from the Braxton County Democrat, along with a group of armed volunteers. No monster was found. Instead, they discovered the same lingering stench of sulfur and several flattened bushes. However, a follow-up investigation in the morning turned up a bit more evidence. 

So, what did the witnesses see? Well, we here at Conspiracy Corner were not content to sit on the sidelines and decided to get out in the field. To this end, we traveled to the town of Flatwoods and its sister town, Sutton, to see what we could find of the notorious Flatwoods Monster.  

Around 12:30 PM, we arrived in Flatwoods. We were greeted by a black, wooden sign. Written in bold white letters were the words “WELCOME TO FLATWOODS: HOME OF THE GREEN MONSTER. It was a promising start. After a quick stop to take a photo, we took off for our first stop: The Flatwoods Monster Museum in Sutton, West Virginia. Founded in 2018, the museum stands along the town’s main street; it was like driving back in time. You could see the exact point where the asphalt road gave way to brick, a kind of line in the sand between the present and the past. Brick buildings with vintage signs – originals, not replicas – and a movie theater with the old-fashioned bulb lights over the front. It was the kind of town you see on postcards, where people still read newspapers and listened to radios. A lost nostalgia hung in the air. 

Seeing the big monster mascot in the statue, we knew we were in the right place. Inside, we found a museum with a diner-style counter and shelves that encapsulated the elongated room that made up the museum. The shelves were stocked with art, brochures, and merchandise made in the likeness of the monster. There was also a cat they had adopted. Her name is Braxxie. And yes, she is adorable 

In a ring of armchairs, we interviewed one Andrew Smith, Director of the Braxton County Visitor Center. One of the most striking things he told us was that the Mays were not the only witnesses that night. There were two other sightings, one involving a woman named Harper and the other involving a visiting New York family called Snitowsky. 

The Harper sighting took place roughly three miles north in the town of Heaters. Audra was walking to a store with a friend when she claimed to see a ball of fire on top of a nearby hill. When she told her friend and glanced back, she saw that the fire was gone. Its place was a tall figure described by Audra as “three heights of a man”. Frightened, the two ran away – supposedly as the figure took off after them. The account Audra would later give reads as such: “We started running, crossing a barb-wired fence I never even saw, and came to a gate. We opened it and (name redacted) started to close it. ‘It’s right behind us,’ she said. I didn’t think it was possible for it would have to run twice the distance we did. I turned around and fastened the gate before I looked up. There it stood. I can’t remember anything but just this big, black shape.” 

Audra and her friend managed to reach a local store. Despite their pleads and even their requests for a firearm to defend themselves, the townspeople did not take them seriously. They concluded that the girls had imagined something. Instead, the only help the girls received were two boys who offered to walk them home. 

Details of what exactly Audra saw are scarce. Yet, the presence of a fire ball and a large figure seems to instinctively link the two. “Those two things put together are odd enough and unlikely enough that it seems weird for them to be unrelated,” Smith says. 

It is worth noting that the Harper sighting did not come to light until 2015. The report quoted within this article, was hand-delivered to the Flatwoods Monster Museum by Audra’s granddaughter. 

The other sighting took place on the 13th, around twenty miles south of Flatwoods. It involved a New York family returning from a visit to a friend in Ohio, crossing through the town of Strange Creek. The family consisted of George Snitowsky, his wife Edith, and their infant child. Night had already fallen as they made their way along route 4, through a particularly lonely stretch of road. Suddenly, their car came to a stop. The engine died completely and would not restart, despite multiple attempts. Shortly after, they noticed a strange smell in the air: sulfur. Then, a bright light appeared as a creature emerged from the woods. The creature was described as having the same metallic skirt as the first yet, there was a strange difference: the creature’s upper body was said to be reptilian. It approached the car and placed a hand on the hood before turning and descending again into the trees. Once the creature was gone, the car started up again. 

Smith, however, has his doubts. “I put a lot less stock in it.” 

And there is reason to doubt its credibility. Even though the sighting supposedly happened the same night as the 1952 May’s sighting, George did not report his encounter until three years later in 1955. On top of that, he directly profited by selling his story to Male Magazine, a pulp publication known for mostly fictional adventure stories. Further, as Smith points out, the Snitowsky family are outsiders with no one to vouch for their credibility. Perhaps it was this outsider aspect that kept the family from being comfortable reporting the incident to local authorities. Still, it is also possible that George heard of the story and was attempting to ride its coattails, given how quickly the May’s story came to national attention. Thus, it is best to take the account with an added dose of salt. 

“If nothing else, it’s great entertainment.” 

The story of the Flatwoods Monster became big news shortly after the May encounter with it. Looking into who helped to spread the story has become a veritable “who’s who” of Ufology history. Initially, the May’s gave their story to one Gray Barker. For those versed in UFO lore, one may know that Gray Barker is the writer of They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. His article on the Flatwoods Monster was sold to Fate magazine and mentioned the Flatwoods Monster repeatedly in his books. Another author who wrote about Flatwoods was Major Donald Keyhoe, a Marine Corps pilot turned Ufologist. He put forward the claim that government agents were sent to Flatwoods to investigate the incident disguised as reporters. It appears that he may have been on to something.  

It was later revealed that Ufologists weren’t the only ones investigating Flatwoods. The incident was also subject to an investigation by the infamous Project Blue Book, a government project that investigated reports of unidentified flying objects. The official conclusion? The fiery ball the witnesses saw was simply a meteor. After all, Maryland Academy of Science claimed to have seen a meteor in the sky during the night in question.  

Which brings us to the skeptical part of the article. Conventional theories have come out about just what exactly the May family and friends saw that night. One such theory comes from Joe Nickell in his 2001 book, Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal. His explanation was that the Flatwoods Monster is simply a case of mistaken identity and what the witnesses really saw was just a barn owl. The barn owl, he claims, was likely perched on a high branch that – paired with a bush below – could give the appearance of the creature described. The orange glow in the flashlights was really the reflection one naturally sees in owl eyes. Further, the long, stretching claws of the monster were owl talons and the screech noise was the normal call of the barn owl. In their frightened, anxious state, it is believed that the witnesses’ minds played a trick on them and led them to misinterpreting a harmless owl as an extraterrestrial entity. 

So, what of the strange smell? There are two theories. One is that the farm sits on a hitherto undiscovered sulfur spring. The second is that the grass omitted the odor. However, if I may interject, both of these theories fail to explain why only A. Lee Stewart was the only investigator to find the smell while later one’s could not.  

Not to mention that this conventional theory requires a lot of unconnected circumstances to line up perfectly. That a meteor’s trajectory, an owl, a bush, and an undiscovered sulfur spring or extremely smelly patch of grass would be in just the right position, all at the same time to create such a striking encounter seems to stretch the limits of believability. 

“I don’t think it was an owl,” Smith agrees, “I don’t know what it was. It’s one thing to think you saw something when you’re ten. But it’s another thing to never change what you think you saw until you’re eighty.” 

With our interview concluded, we looked around the museum’s gift shop. There was no shortage of documentary DVDs, posters, figurines of the monster, and T-shirts. The most prominent item are lanterns made to resemble the monster. Buying a small resin model of the Flatwoods Monster and giving Braxxie one last pet, we took our leave of the museum and of Sutton. 

So, it is possible that the Flatwoods Monster truly was an alien? Regardless of the story’s validity, the legend of the creature has grown. Appearances in Fallout 76 and History Channel’s Project Blue Book have helped to invigorate interest in both the legend and the town itself. Not to mention that, when visiting the annual Mothman Festival, one will find no shortage of Flatwoods Monster merchandise there. 

More importantly, the locals seem to have embraced the monster with open arms. A local project known as Monster Chairs was started by our gracious host, Andrew Smith, as well as Flatwoods residentAllan Johnson. The project has placed five chairs around Flatwoods, all ten ft. tall and designed to look like the creature. And if one gets hungry on their search for the alien, local restaurantThe Spot, sells a variety of delicious meals themed around the Flatwoods Monster and similar creatures. Personally, I would recommend the Area 51 Calzone.  

In the end, we will likely never know what the Flatwoods Monster truly was. An alien, a hallucination, or an owl, the answer eludes us. Yet, the truth of the story has almost become secondary to the impact it has had on a once humble, forgotten small town. The Flatwoods Monster is now a symbol of Appalachian pride, something strange that brings recognition to a state that so rarely receives it. And in a way, the Flatwoods Monster is the kind of thing that can only exist in West Virginia. Only a state like ours, one that knows how it feels to be a true outsider, would come to embrace a creature like this – to see ourselves in it. We find a kinship with it. And at the end of the day, what matters more than the question “Are we alone?”is the simple fact that, regardless, we won’t feel alone.