The summer of 1947 has been called "the summer of the flying saucer." In the months of June and July alone, there were over 800 UFO sightings reported across the U.S. This rash of sightings began with a news story first reported in June of that year. While flying near Mt. Ranier in Washington State, pilot Kenneth Arnold observed nine "saucer-like" objects passing by at what he estimated was 1200 mph. The press picked up the story, and it became the first widely reported flying saucer story of its kind. In fact, the term "flying saucer" was coined in one of those early articles. The most famous incident during the same period was the reported crash and military capture of a UFO near Roswell, New Mexico, on July 8th. Although the military quickly recounted that claim, the Roswell Incident became one of the most well-known and controversial events in UFO history. Roswell isn't the only small town where the crash of a UFO was reported that summer. There was also one in North Alabama....and this one had witnesses and wreckage.
Seventeen days after the Roswell crash, a short article was published in the Times-Daily Newspaper of Florence, Alabama: "Florence Police Gain Custody of Flying Saucer." The incident occurred on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 23, and was reported in the paper on Friday, July 25. An object described as a "flying saucer" was witnessed by several residents in East Florence. They said it "shot to the ground at a tremendous speed" and described the object as making a "humming sound." It plummeted into the yard of Mr. W.T. Williams and was witnessed by his wife and several neighbors. The police were called to the scene, where the local police chief, the homeowner, and two officers retrieved the wreckage with plans to turn it over to the FBI. One of the officers took photos of the object. Below is a copy of the original article.
Florence, Alabama, is my hometown. Naturally, when I discovered this very old article from 1947, I was determined to find out more about this fascinating story. I searched the newspaper archives for any kind of additional report or follow-up. I found nothing in the Times-Daily or the Florence Herald, a second local newspaper in operation in 1947. I contacted Lee Freeman, a local historian at the Florence-Lauderdale public library. Lee also wrote a story about the article on a local history website in 2021. Lee confirmed that he, too, found nothing in the archives. Was the story a hoax?
Although the story does sound incredible, it was no hoax. I was able to find two people who were raised in the area of East Florence where the incident occurred. They confirmed that they had heard about the story growing up. Unfortunately, they had no additional information about the story but said it was talked about for years. I also found out that the street where the incident occurred, Stevenson Street, no longer exists. It was razed over years ago, and most of it lies underneath the new annex of Helton Drive that connects to the new Singing River Bridge. Only a small, unmarked portion remains of what used to be Stevenson Street in East Florence, as seen in the photo below.
The 1947 article mentioned that the crashed "flying saucer" was set to be turned over to the FBI. I checked with the FBI to see if any records from that era were still available. They told me that all records related to UFO sightings from 1947 to 1952 were already declassified, digitized, and published in the "The Vault" on the FBI website. The website states:
In 1947, a rash of sightings of unexplained flying objects (UFOs) swept America. Although the newly formed U.S. Air Force was the primary investigator of these sightings, the FBI received many reports and worked for a time with the Air Force to investigate these matters. This release details the FBI’s role in investigating such reports between 1947 and 1954.
After looking through hundreds of pages of declassified FBI documents, I was unable to find any information on the Florence incident. I also checked with the Florence Police Department in the Records Division and was told that they have no records going back that far. Once again, I was at a dead end, but I wasn't ready to give up.
My last effort to find out more about the incident was to locate a possible eyewitness. Given that the incident occurred in 1947, I knew this was a long shot. If a witness was only ten years old in 1947, they would be 86 today. I confirmed that two of the officers had passed away. Cheif Danley in 1990, and Ernest Romine in 1980. The only officer involved that I was unable to locate any obituary for was Officer Goforth, the officer who took the photos. Through another newspaper article dated 1952, I found out that Goforth had only been on the job for roughly three months when the "flying saucer" incident occurred. He stayed with the Florence police for seven years before he left to work for a chemical company in Decatur, Alabama. I couldn't find any of Goforth's or Romines descendants; however, I did find the grandson of Chief Danley. Unfortunately, his grandson said that Danley never mentioned anything to him about the story or the crash. I was never able to find anyone living who witnessed the event, either—only the two people who had heard about the story second hand growing up in the area. It seems that every avenue I took to find out more information about the crash led to nothing.
So, what exactly was this mysterious object described as a "flying saucer" that crashed in Florence in 1947? The original article gives us some pertinent clues. It states that the object made an indentation in William's yard that was only around 6 inches in diameter. That's not very large. It also says, "The residue of the saucer is odd burned stuff - some bits of electrical-like apparatus." Neither of those clues lead me to believe that an actual "flying saucer" crashed that day. My best guess is that the object that fell that day was some kind of man-made part from an airplane.
According to a retired military friend of mine, Florence was in the flight path of military aircraft traveling from Ft. Campbell in Kentucky to Ft. Benning in Georgia at that time. 1947 was only a few years on the tails of WWII, so there was probably quite a bit of aircraft being transferred from one airfield to another. There was also the nearby Courtland Army Airfield that was only around 30 miles east of Florence. Planes from there flew over Florence regularly. This adds credence to the theory that the "flying saucer" was simply something that fell from a plane: perhaps a part from the landing gear or even a broken cooling fin from the motor.
We may never know what happened that day in Florence, Alabama, in the summer of 1947, unless, by some miracle, a photo, an old report, or an eyewitness is found still living who remembers it all. I'm putting this one away for now in my "only in Alabama" file. What do you think? Leave your best guess as to what really happened in the comments!
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