Anthony Harrison, of North Hall, says he will never forget the day he saw a UFO.
He remembers staring up at the sky in his front yard at age 8 and spotting something he couldn’t explain. Harrison said he yelled for his mother, who came out of the house to gaze in awe with him.
“It was in the early ‘70s,” he said. “Me and my mother were in the front yard. It was a gray overcast day with low-lying clouds, and in the sky, there was a triangular rotation of round colored lights, alternating back and forth.”
Harrison said the peculiar sight was near North Browning Bridge Road around Don Carter State Park. He recounts watching it with his mother for around 10 minutes before it disappeared.
“I’ve got a very vivid memory of it,” he said. “Thinking back on it now, there was no sound whatsoever. It was bright and coming through the clouds and very large.”
Having sifted through his mind for explanations, Harrison said he came to one conclusion — UFO.
“I was raised Christian and believe in the Bible,” he said. “It gives me the belief that it is possible that God created other life. I wouldn’t live in fear until proven wrong.”
Harrison isn’t the only person in Hall County to have spotted an odd object in the sky. Ronald Peewee Simmons, who used to live in South Hall, said he remembers seeing one from his front yard around 1977. He was 14 years old at the time, and said the occurrence took place after dark.
“I was in my front yard with some of my family,” Simmons said. “I looked up and saw a row of lights. All were different colors, then they would change colors. This went on for about an hour then it went out.”
He said the object never made a sound.
A pattern of reports
Despite an absence of extraterrestrial data in Northeast Georgia, The Times’ archives, contains a trove of UFO-related articles and letters to the editor spanning over decades.
An article published on June 24, 1988 in The Times headlined, “UFOs Attack Northeast Georgia,” outlines reports from the area where people have spotted the unexplained.
The story, written by James Kendley, begins with accounts from July 26, 1948. Around 10 p.m. that day, several Hall residents noticed a light traveling north.
Carl E. Hopwood, his niece and J.M Lunsford told The Times (formerly The Daily Times) of a “skyrocket with varicolored fire from beneath it … about 2 feet in diameter ... had a 6-foot fiery tail and was traveling at an altitude of about 5,000 feet at a speed of 650 miles per hour ...”
The article states that Emeline Shirley of Alto reported seeing a “reincarnated saucer” on the same day around the size of a grapefruit, which shed “weird blue light.”
From June to August in 1964, The Times reported that 30 people from Northeast Georgia over the course of around 15 days described at least 11 UFO group sightings.
The first collection of descriptions involved a “top-shaped (object), glowing orange, moving then hovering. Displaying various colored lights, mainly a green light pointed downward. A smell described from brake fluid to embalming fluid.”
Other sightings published in The Times include those from Oct. 21, 1952; July 5, 1953; June 20, 1996; Oct. 5-7, 1966; March 22, 1967; Nov. 23, 1968; Sep. 12, 1973 and Sept. 12, 1980.
Both Lisa MacKinney, Hall County Library director, and Glen Kyle, executive director of the Northeast Georgia History Center, said their respective databases don’t include any information regarding Hall UFO sightings.
“We’ve got nothing here about it,” Kyle said. “I haven’t come across anything UFO Northeast Georgia related, which is too bad because I think it would be kind of cool.”
Melanie Baez, the founder of the Paranormal Society of Northeast Georgia, also expressed that she had no information about local UFO sightings but will keep an eye open.
The National UFO Reporting Center keeps a catalogue of thousands of UFO sightings through history, most of which are in the U.S. People can file a report by visiting its website at nuforc.org or by calling its hotline at 206-722-3000, which is only recommended if the observation occurred within the last week.
According to its database, local UFO sightings reported to the center include 28 in Gainesville from 1968-2019; 11 in Flowery Branch from 2006-2015; 10 in Oakwood from 2007-2020; one in Braselton in 2019; 1 in Gillsville in 2011; four in Lula from 2007-2015 and 25 in Buford from 2002-2020.
Hall County UFO data from the National UFO Reporting Center
Gainesville: 1968-2019, 28 sightings
Flowery Branch: 2006-2015, 11 sightings
Oakwood: 2007-2020, 10 sightings
Braselton: 2019, one sighting
Gillsville: 2011, one sighting
Lula 2007-2015, four sightings
Buford 2002-2020, 25 sightings
What could they be?
Lt. Kiley Sargent of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said over his 30 years in law enforcement, he has come across several UFO reports; however, not of extraterrestrial nature.
“When you’re thinking about unidentified flying objects, that’s anything that can't be identified, not necessarily an alien lifeform,” Sargent said. “That could be any type of aircraft that’s unidentified.”
While working in the Criminal Investigations Division from 2009-2015, Sargent said he touched base with the Federal Aviation Administration or the nearby airport, if a report came in about an unexplainable object in the sky.
“We generally start with the local airport,” he said. “Sometimes the military may be having some type of operations that are not very public that may be classified.”
Nowadays if people spot peculiar lights flying through the sky at night, Sargent said drones may be the culprit.
Maurice Snook of Athens, a retired chemist known by many in Northeast Georgia as Mr. Science, has been keeping a close eye on the sky for around 70 years. He received his first telescope in the ‘50s as a child, and since then hasn’t stopped studying planets, stars and other celestial objects.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the Peach State in March, Snook would travel to schools throughout the region to engage children in chemistry shows and teach them about astronomy with his massive telescopes.
Snook knows the night sky just as well as the back of his hand and has seen his fair share of odd sightings. Snook said on every occasion, he has been able to connect his own observations to a logical explanation.
Snook said he remembers when he first started spotting Echo satellites. The first one was launched in 1960, which appeared as a large silver balloon. He said Echo satellites bounce radio signals off their reflective material, allowing communication from one end of the continent to the other.
From that point on, he said more satellites have taken up residency in space. Recently, he said the pieces of equipment have arrived in larger numbers.
“Every couple of months, they’re (communication companies) sending up hundreds of satellites in one launch,” he said. “When they’re placed into orbit, they’re together near one another, and eventually will be dispersed.”
When people spot different colored lights moving in sync, on most occasions, Snook said they’re looking at recently dispatched satellites.
“Satellites are one thing, especially if they are rotating and the sun reflects off solar panels or a bright side of them, they can make a pretty bright star-like object that looks like it was moving,” he said. “And then disappears as it rotates away.”
Snook said airplanes can also produce a similar effect, appearing like large approaching objects with colorful lights. And there are natural explanations, too, he said.
If someone observes a bright sphere leaving a path of light in its wake, he said they’re most likely viewing a fireball, also known as a brighter-than-usual meteor. Snook said Georgians may even be able to spot one of these brilliant blasts of light on Aug. 11 during the Perseids meteor shower, one of the brightest meteor showers of the year.
Snook says he can’t speak with total certainty about what others saw, but for all those alien hunters out there, it’s likely bad news.
“Unless I was there seeing what they were seeing, I'm not going to say, ‘Oh you’re just crazy,’” he said. “I’m sure there is no doubt a logical explanation of a natural phenomenon, and you don’t have to invoke alien spaceships.”