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Extra-Close Encounters

Jan 06, 2015 11:07AM, Published by A Kitchen Drawer Writer , Categories: Community

Originally published in Volume 3 Issue 6
By C. Bryan Clanton  

Georgia, in the autumn of 1973. It is perhaps not commonly known or remembered, but Georgians bore witness to an unprecedented number of unexplained phenomena over the brief period of August 30, 1973 to October 18, 1973. Occurrences such as strange lights, vehicles being pursued, and airborne acrobatics beyond human capabilities were observed by hundreds of witnesses across the state, including law enforcement officers and firemen. One of the best-documented incidents, and one with physical evidence, occurred in Orchard Hill just a few miles south of Griffin. 

On September 10, 1973, a retired gentleman was enjoying the afternoon in his yard on Swint Road when he observed something fall from the sky. The gold-colored object, described as either spherical or egg-shaped, appeared to descend in a controlled, intelligent manner. The object contacted the ground and generated white smoke. The impact was unusual in that neither a crater nor sound was produced. According to the witness, the object ascended just moments after landing.

That witness was my paternal grandfather, Ress Clanton. When he related this story to me nearly 11 years later, I could still see the physical evidence on the ground near the Orchard Hill water tower. At 7 years old, I tried to impress him with my obvious solution to the mystery – a meteor strike. The problem with that explanation is that meteors usually leave craters upon impact and generally do not resume flight after impact. 

My grandfather had reported the incident to the Spalding County Sheriff’s department immediately after it happened. Meanwhile, a member of the growing crowd around the site had the presence of mind to call the Experiment Station. This seemed the logical thing to do, considering the facility’s extensive research on such things as tomatoes. And grass. The head of the Agronomy Department, Dr. O.E. Anderson, responded and, fortunately for local history, was actually the right man to collect, examine, and document the available evidence.

When Dr. Anderson arrived, almost two and half hours after my grandfather witnessed the object’s descent, the ground was still smoldering. Anderson estimated that its temperature was still close to 300 degrees, far too elevated to be caused by a simple grass fire. He recovered a small piece of molten slag from ground and collected soil samples from the impact site and two other nearby sites for comparison. After two separate interviews with my grandfather, Anderson told the media he felt the account of the incident was credible. 

The analysis of the evidence indicated that hydrocarbons were not present, which ruled out petroleum products as a source for ignition. Magnesium and strontium in the soil were at normal levels, thus also ruling out ignition by signal flare. However, copper was present in the soil at the impact site. Its concentration was 43,050 parts per trillion which was 2,000 times greater than copper levels in the control samples. Interestingly, the copper level in the same soil just 30 feet away was 7.4 parts per trillion. Also, chromium levels were 200 times higher at the impact site. And unlike meteor strikes or returning space debris, no crater or significant detritus remained at the point of impact.

Dr. Anderson reached the conclusion that the evidence supported the observations of my grandfather. My grandfather was vindicated, but he scoffed at notions of alien contact. He applied his limited education, which mostly centered on faith-based teachings and agriculture, to his experience. The opinion that he maintained for the rest of his life was that the earth had been scorched by brimstone in light of the idiomatic biblical expression for God’s wrath – fire and brimstone. It was his opinion that it was a sign of a Higher Power. 

Interestingly enough, the incident in Orchard Hill had a sister incident which occurred on September 14, 1973, in Brooks. Roy Lawhorn and his daughter, Donna, were awakened in the early morning hours by a bright light and cacophony of noise similar to a swarm of locusts. Mr. Lawhorn observed an illuminated object near his house that appeared and behaved just as the one in Orchard Hill. However, he interpreted it as a threat to his home and chose a more aggressive response than my grandfather. Mr. Lawhorn shot at it three or four times, then watched as it disappeared into the ground. A charred spot was left on the dirt road near his house, but Dr. Anderson’s analysis of this site revealed nothing unusual.

Reports of UFOs in the Griffin area continued during what author Jim Miles describes in his book, Weird Georgia, as the “Clash of ‘73.” At least four more incidents occurred following the Orchard Hill and Brooks sightings. There were the usual explanations involving clouds, hot air balloons, etc. Yet they still do not explain every incident, especially our local ones.

The incidents were documented by various media outlets around the U.S., and I even recall my grandfather having a translated copy of a Japanese article covering his incident. If it were not for Mr. Miles’ painstaking research, the incidents would be on their way to being forgotten. His book, written 11 years ago, has preserved these stories for younger generations. 

Do I believe in UFOs? I really don’t know. I do know that something happened in Orchard Hill that day. Besides my grandfather’s consistent account of his observations, there is also Dr. Anderson’s soil analysis that proves that something happened there in 1973. During the same period across Georgia, there were hundreds of witnesses, most of whom were respectable and credible, who observed strange occurrences. I cannot say that I believe in otherworldly visitors, but neither can I deny their possibility. Like others, I wonder if I would want to know the truth. As Albert Einstein said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot."

volume 3 issue 6 Bryan Clanton

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