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Column: The skies of Northeast Georgia are full of strange phenomena
Johnny Vardeman

It’s too bad Charles “Burrhead” Wofford didn’t live in this present era when unidentified flying objects are getting more serious attention, and private citizens are getting their astronaut wings.

Burrhead was a Gainesville scientist who left his hometown to work for NASA. He was involved in some of the administration’s early space exploits. He left the government organization to join a fledgling private space company, similar to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

Burrhead was excited about the future of space travel and believed private organizations would shoot people into orbit as well as NASA. He probably would have been one of the first passengers had he lived long enough.

Burrhead was a big believer in unidentified flying objects. He was convinced they were piloted by aliens from other planets. He constantly tried to convert his skeptical friends into UFO believers. Working in the space industry, he had access to what he called authentic verifiable information, but whatever it was never came out in public.

Lately, there have been long-hidden government reports about UFOs. There are videos showing mysterious objects flying at high speed. Several pilots have seen them. UFO enthusiasts believe the government has more evidence, but for some reason is reluctant to report it.

There are scientists who believe the unexplained phenomena can be explained. Some say the UFOs simply are satellites, hundreds of which are launched every year, and may cause strange lights to be seen on Earth. Others say they could be meteors or low-flying airplanes with colorful lights.

Unexplained phenomena aren’t always things flying about in the sky. Phil Hudgins, who was a writer and editor for The Times, recalls being sent to a White County cornfield where something had made a circle among the rows. 

Was it the footprint of a flying saucer that had made a landing, a farmer’s wayward tractor or the beginnings of a corn maze? Crop circles —  some of them hoaxes, others unexplained — have appeared in fields all over the world.

If space aliens are real, they’ve taken a liking to Northeast Georgia. The Times over the years reported on numerous sightings. Writer Kelsey Podo detailed many of those in an article last year. In 1964, 30 people in Northeast Georgia reported 11 sightings of unexplained objects flying through the sky.

That same year, a Hall County high school student was driving home on Cleveland Road in the River Bend area, past River Bend Baptist Church and the old Big Bear Café, next to what is today’s Johnny’s Barbecue. She described a bright silvery disc hovering over the treetops. It had no windows, made no sound and hung dead still in the air until it disappeared at high speed.

Because she didn’t want anyone to think she was hallucinating, she told nobody but her mother at the time. Later, she told friends who also had seen UFOs and her husband. Only recently has she gone more public with her account. Now 77 years old, she relayed her experience to a website that logs UFOs. Her name was not on the report.

Also that year, a Spartanburg, South Carolina man reported seeing a spinning-top-like object emitting a strange smell near the Georgia-South Carolina line. A Geiger counter check of his car later indicated radioactivity. Exactly a week later, on a Tuesday, a Tallulah Falls woman and her neighbors spotted a similar flying object that also “smelled terribly.”

The next Tuesday night, a girl and her friends saw a similar UFO while out riding bicycles.

Because those sightings occurred on Tuesdays, a group of high school students from Toccoa armed themselves with telescopes and other gear and watched from Currahee Mountain. Sure enough, late that Tuesday night, the students witnessed what they described as a big glow coming across the horizon.

During that same time period, swimmers at Green Street Pool in Gainesville reported seeing a strange object in the sky.

The skies, it seems, are full of all sorts of phenomena, explained or unexplained.

Richard Branson rode in his Virgin Galactic ship to the edge of space a few days ago. Waiting in the wings are other private space explorers: Elon Musk of SpaceX and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. With so much activity among the stars in the skies, perhaps if there are other beings on other planets, they’ll be writing about UFOs in their universe.

Burrhead would be beaming.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, His column publishes weekly.

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