Friday, March 17, 2017

Something's in the Breeze

A portion of the following is from an essay I wrote back around 1996 or 97 while hosting chats on America Online for 'Sightings' (yes, that Sightings), and later for 'ParaScope'. This blog post is not meant to argue the validity of Ed Walter's story, nor the photographs - it is to show that the area has had a strange history long before Walter's came on the scene. The prevailing thought even today is that Gulf Breeze started and ended with Ed Walters. It's important to note that it did not.

A photo from Walter's original series, Nov. 11, 1987
UFOs have been reported in and around Gulf Breeze since July 24, 1952, when a Warrington Navy man reported seeing three amber-red lighted objects (an important color to note). Just a short while later, an East Pensacola woman reported seeing disc-shaped objects flying overhead, that had an "orange glow" to them. 

That same day, several residents of Eglin Air Force Base reported two orange colored discs hovering to the south-southeast for three or four minutes before vanishing. These people were very familiar with conventional aircraft and their characteristics, and they were certain these discs were not conventional aircraft.

On November 25, 1957 crewmen of a B-66 jet bomber from Eglin AFB reportedly saw three unidentified objects in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Hurlburt Field. The crew originally thought they were stars, yet they also showed up on Eglin's radar screens.

October 19, 1973, Clarence Ray Patterson reported he was "picked up" in his truck by a UFO while returning to Pensacola from Mobile, Alabama on Interstate 10. Police called by Patterson found that he was seriously upset and crying, but not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Patterson told the police that an "unidentified spaceship" hovered over his truck, then pulled him, truck and all, inside. Once inside the craft, Patterson said he was taken from his truck by six "strange looking creatures." His description of these beings was sketchy, but he could recall they were short, and had "clawlike" hands. Patterson stated that during the examination the creatures seemed able to read his mind. During this approximately 30 minute encounter, he was taken from Loxey to State Road 297 in Esambia County. After being released unharmed, he drove to Pensacola and contacted the police immediately.

Elgin Air Force Base
Eglin Air Force Base itself has had its share of odd sightings as well. On February 2, 1976, an unidentified object was sighted at the east end of Duke Field. Air Force officials say the UFO did not show up in more than 40 photographs, or on their radar screens. Officials could not explain why this was so. Strange it wouldn't photograph, since the object being reported to be as large as a Boeing 707, or C-130 cargo plane. Half a dozen people saw this object; the first to see it was a military policeman while making his rounds about 4:35 a.m. According to Lt. Steve Phalen of the Eglin Information Office, the object was then visible till first light. When Phalen was asked why nothing appeared on any photographs, he answered, "That's a good question." 

In the little panhandle town of Florida of Vernon, a resident named Joan Pflueger reluctantly reported a 26.5 foot circle in her pasture, a circle that had small burned circles around the outer edge. This was after several local residents reported seeing UFOs in the area at night. Ms. Pflueger found the suspicious mark in her field a few days later, on April 11, 1980. The area affected was described as looking "sucked up" by a giant vacuum. Pflueger hadn't a clue as to what had made the mark, but she did recall the day before her dog had acted "crazy, and trying to tear down a screen door to get outside." She stated the dog had never acted so oddly before. Ms. Pflueger was genuinely puzzled about the entire matter, saying less about the evidence in her pasture, and more about her hope that the incident wouldn't attract a lot of attention. "I guess I'll have to keep my gate locked all the time now," she said. 

Gulf Breeze continued to report UFO events in 1996 (as the UFO 'flap' began subsiding). Although sightings were decidedly down that year, Carole Baker, a recorder and compiler of UFO reports in the area, said the sightings had "changed a bit." The familiar sightings of the bright red UFO over Shoreline Park, better known as "Bubba," had been replaced by daylight sightings of spherical chrome-colored objects, seen and recorded on video moving at unheard of speeds. The Skywatching group that gathers at Shoreline Park had a rather close encounter with a "Tinkerbell," an object about the size of a golfball that passed by very close, then stopped directly above of the group. The object exited into the woods at the park, not to be seen again that night. 

Walters' infamous "Road shot"
Now I don't think any of the aforementioned incidents caused the same uproar in the media or the local community as the Ed Walters photos did. I don't want to focus so much on the Walters' UFO events, but rather the effects on the community during the events. Gulf Breeze was and still is to a large degree a small, close knit community. While they have resort-like beaches (they're beautiful white sand) and hotels, they don't really have the tourist business a tourist beach like Pensacola has. I recently spoke to a local newspaper and they informed me of some of the developments after the UFO activity in the area. This is one thing mainstream UFOlogy seems to miss completely - the long term follow up and monitoring of previously hot areas and the effects on the community.

When I spoke to Bland Pugh (who sadly now has passed away) some years ago about what kind of activity was still going on, his reply was short and direct - "None." I asked if the local skywatchers were still going to Shoreline Park every night to try and see UFO activity in the form of "Bubba" the bright red UFO seen dropping out small white lights that would flit away into the darkness. 

Photo taken by Bland Pugh, 1993

"None of that has been seen in awhile." he said. "That group fell apart and many moved on. It was a mess." When I asked when "Bubba" or any UFO activity was seen to have effectively stopped at Shoreline Park, he responded "When people stopped going to the park to look for them."

In 1997 - years prior to my discussion with Bland I spoke with several locals during the Gulf Breeze UFO conference about the skywatch group, and the rumors I'd heard of a schism of discontent within the group and that Ed Walters had been one that exited and no longer associated with many in the skywatch community. 

I was told such rumors were true, with one prominent skywatcher and his wife telling me that the group had become "...nothing but a little Peyton Place". Indeed, the group had fractured in fairly short order, with allegations of extramarital affairs and boatloads of infighting. The competition among many in the group was also rather fierce. Another skywatcher who'd recorded a lot of UFOs at Shoreline Park (some of which was seen on "SIGHTINGS" and other programs of the time) said that they were out "every night", and "even holidays, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving - we're there"

Such obsession or devotion to attention seems to fuel the phenomena, but also speaks to the highly competitive aspect the paranormal seems to incite. 

So again we see that these groups have a short life, and often de-evolve into warring factions - instead of a collective data gathering effort. It's a mistake to think this is a psychological effect - this assumes that everyone in the group is acting this way in a deliberate and calculated fashion - and this simply doesn't seem to be the case (as evidenced by the repetitive nature of these effects and actions across cases). Asking the cause isn't productive. The question is what happens over and over to people involved in these fields, cases and events.

Competition and personal issues erupt out of these 'flap' events - and the phenomena seems to respond with more displays. When that group finally dissolves and ceases any participation (in this case the viewing of aerial phenomena and gathering visual data) the phenomena subsides as everyone drops back into routine (i.e. not going to Shoreline Park to even look)

Even the man who seemed to have touched off the sightings in the 1980's and penned the book "The Gulf Breeze Sightings" with his wife Frances, Ed Walters - also divorced during the UFO fervor in Gulf Breeze. Although I'm told that the divorce wasn't due to stress of the sightings or the public response, but that it was the result of Ed meeting the woman who would later become his wife. Take that how you will - it seems to reinforce the notion that paranormal involvement isn't good for relationships of any kind. 

From the day Walter's first photos were made public, lines were drawn and accusations flourished. Probably even within the Gulf Breeze community. In fact, you could lat bets on it.

Old advertisement for one of the group's gatherings
Today, according to the local paper the Gulf Breeze skywatch group reformed more or less as "Unlimited Horizons" - a group that delved into a lot of  trappings many would deem highly marginal such as the holistic, spiritual, and metaphysical - in addition to paranormal, UFO, extraterrestrials, and crytozoology. The group held meetings on the second Sunday of every month, and hosted annual Metaphysical Festivals and Spring and Fall Psychic Fairs. In typical fashion, the group descended into a far more marginal state than the UFO skywatch group it began as. 

As I tried to gather more information on the current state of Gulf Breeze - again, the local paper tells me that "A lot of the people you've probably heard of aren't here anymore. Either they've died or they've moved away."

Oddly, Carol Baker who was the lady who cataloged all the sightings and wrote for the Pensacola Beach Islander - I cannot seem to find no matter who I ask or where I look. (If anyone knows how to contact her, please let me know)

It's a shame that investigators didn't study the people and situations involved in the Gulf Breeze sightings just as much as they did the photos and reports of UFOs and 'abductions'. I'm sure going back to the 50's that had those questions been asked of the aforementioned cases - we'd see the hallmarks there as well. I've seen comments on the net about Gulf Breeze having a lot of 'colorful characters' - I would love to be able to document what kind of people have lived there over the decades, their interests and quirks. 

In closing, and in fitting trickster fashion, a late 90's hurricane destroyed the office where Ed Walter's original photos were stored. The original source material of the case, like many of the Gulf Breeze skywatch members are now lost to time. 🔻

(This post dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bland Pugh)


  1. Interesting observations about the group dynamics involved with skywatch groups. I believe the primary motivation with many of these folks (not all, mind you) is just to see something unusual, rather than engage in serious cataloging and, dare I say it, scientific research. The overarching missing element seems to be the general failure to perceive and process the clues that lead to asking the deeper questions, the questions which may lead us to more understanding.

    Then, too, are the ulterior motives, a la "I'm going to hang out with these people because there's a hot chick (or guy, as the case may be) who I'd like to get to know better," or even other more nefarious reasons. Again, I must stress that all people engaged are not like this.

    It reminds me of the popular sentiment about religion. "Church would be great if it weren't for all the people."

  2. Starting from the paragraph that says “So again we see that these groups have a short life,” I assume that you want to argue that manifestation of the phenomenon is related partly to (i.e. causes or is caused by) anti-structure in human social life. Which in theory makes sense, like the five blind men who all feel only a part of the elephant and then they start arguing about who is right about the elephant. I just have a problem in how to rule out plain old human nature – like you say, competition and personal issues, or greed and vanity. Because those don’t require the supernormal to happen; they are very, very normal.

    Certainly, it makes sense that the more of a flap-tastic kerfuffle there is about a sighting, especially in a small community, the more psychic energy might be available to a local phenomenon to allow it to manifest even more. But I wouldn’t take divorces or group dissolutions as indicators of anti-structure. Sometimes an amicable break up is the best thing that could happen to a couple or group. In terms of anti-structure, I would look for grudges, hatred or bitterness that people just won’t let go of.

    1. Hi Sue- The human nature or psychological angle is fine to examine, but this is not an isolated situation: it happens over, and over and over again. To ascribe it to human nature doesn't add up to me.

      "But I wouldn’t take divorces or group dissolutions as indicators of anti-structure."

      I would. You again see paranormal groups fall apart over and over again, with many not lasting 6 months. The divorce rate in UFOLogists has actually been studied (so it must be significant enough to have warranted a look). I and others have seen time and again the destructive impact on relationships of any kind in relation to the paranormal. I have experienced them myself. Again, this is repeated pattern - not chance.

      As far as grudges/hated/etc - you'll certainly find that everywhere in UFOlogy, with many taking it to their graves.