The Secret Sits

The Flatwoods Monster

December 01, 2022 John W. Dodson Season 2 Episode 37
The Secret Sits
The Flatwoods Monster
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Show Notes Transcript

The Flatwoods monster from West Virginia, is an entity reported to have been sighted in the town of Flatwoods in Braxton County, West Virginia, United States, on September 12, 1952, after a bright object crossed the night sky. Over 50 years later, some investigators have stated that they believe the light was a meteor and the creature was a barn owl perched in a tree, with shadows making it appear to be a large humanoid.

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[Underscore Music]

Buckle up, because today I am going to take you back to September 12th, 1952, when the small town of Flatwoods, West Virginia permanently took its place in the history books.

[Theme Music Start]

Welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host John Dodson.  Join us every Thursday as we uncover the Secrets behind the world’s most fascinating true crime cases.  You can find all episodes of The Secret Sits for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts.  And if you like what you are hearing, reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook @The Secret Sits Podcast or on Twitter @SecretSitsPod. Now, on with our story.

[Theme Music Play Out]

[Under Score Music]

Our story today takes place on a very special day, September 12th, why is this date so special you ask, because that just so happens to be my husband’s birthday.  That is right, Gabriel Dodson, who masterfully edits my crazy true crime stories into what you hear as our finished product.  And I have to say, Gabriel is not a lover of true crime, like you and I, but he still puts in the hard work and makes me very proud to call him my husband.  So, as a dedication to Gabriel, I am writing the type of story that we have never covered in two seasons of The Secret Sits, a mysterious UFO and crypted story.

Our story begins, as I said, on September 12th, 1952, exactly 30 years before Gabriel was born.  It was 7:15 PM, dusk was just setting in, it is the golden hour as the sun is setting in the distance and everything is bathed in a warm glow of golden light.  Some would argue that this is the best time of day for outdoor selfies, but I digress. 

Some young residents in the town of Flatwoods, West Virginia which is located in Braxton County, were out playing football on the lawn of the Flatwoods Elementary School. These young residents were; Ed May at 13-years-of-age, Ed’s younger brother Fred May who was 12-years-old and their 10-year-old friend Tommy Hyer.  As the boys were playing, suddenly a bright red light streaked across the sky, just over their heads.  The boys said that this object looked like a blazing fireball about the size of a small house.  As the fireball passed over their heads, the boys watched as the mysterious object crashed just over the horizon of a hill close by.  Because this is the 1950s, and a town in West Virginia of just under 300 residents, where everyone knows everyone, the boys knew that where the object had landed was on the property of one Mr. G. Bailey Fisher, a local farmer.  The boys, of course, decided to run after the mysterious object and investigate.  They could still see a red light pulsating from behind the hill where the object had landed.  Laying between the Elementary School and the crash site on the hill, was Ed and Fred May’s home, so on their way to check out this flaming ball from the sky, the group of young boys decided to stopped by the May’s home to tell their mother, Kathleen May, what they had witnessed.

Kathleen was a former teacher who now ran a local beauty shop, she was a spirited woman who was known to be fiercely independent.  Kathleen May was startled by the children’s story, and she immediately placed a call to 17-year-old Eugene Lemon. Gene, as he was known, was a National Guardsman, who lived in the town.  Gene was known around Flatwoods as fearless boy who had, had many encounters with wild animals while he roamed through the woods.  Gene rushed over to the Mays’ house, accompanied by his dog, Richie.  While waiting on Gene to arrive, several other children from the area also joined the group, which now totaled 7 inquisitive humans and one loyal dog.  After Gene arrived, the brood of children along with Kathleen and Gene’s dog Richie, all headed out to view the crash site.

This gaggle of humans, and one dog, traversed the quarter of a mile to the crash site, and as they crested the hill they all observed a putrid, heavy mist which clung to the hillside and also, a bright pulsating red light.  The smell was that of rotting eggs, which the group quickly recognized as the smell of Sulphur.  There was a small fence separating the group from the crash site and so they decided to climb over the fence so they could get closer to their objective.  Kathleen had some difficulty scaling the fence and she landed on the opposite side of the fence with a great thud.  Gene produced a flashlight and led the party the rest of the way to the pulsating red light, which seemed to be hovering just above the ground.   As the ensemble stood there, transfixed by the pulsing red ball of light, suddenly Gene’s dog Richie began growling at something to the left of the group.  Gene swung his flashlight to the left and aimed it at whatever had caught Richie’s attention.  As the flashlight darted around the darkened area, the group witnessed a chilling sight, just before them and right next to a large oak tree was a terrifying ten-foot-tall creature.  This creature had a head shaped like a spade from a deck of playing cards and it appeared to be wearing a dark green metal outfit, shaped like a woman’s dress.  The creature had twisted hands with long claws at the ends of its sinewy fingers and there appeared to be two eyes, which glowed from within with an unnerving orange light.  The creature was not walking or standing, instead it appeared to be levitating above the ground.  A strange nauseating mist continued to grow and it clung to the air around where the fireball had crashed on the hill.

The group of humans stared at this alien creature, lite by the glow of Gene’s flashlight, and then a loud thumping sound began to emanate from the creature and it began to make a shrill hissing sound.  A dense cloud of mist escaped from the monster’s mouth and it began advancing towards the onlookers, quickly gliding through the dark night as the pungent smell permeated the air, at this, Gene promptly dropped his flashlight, and the group quickly turned on their heels and retreated into the night, terrified by what they had just witnessed.  Ed and Fred May had somehow been sprayed with a mysterious dark oily substance that was already making them feel ill.  As the group ran for their lives, one of the young boys wet himself as he ran.  Kathleen, who previously had difficulty scaling the small fence, suddenly turned into an Olympic athlete and she cleared the fence in a single leap as she ran.

As the group arrived back at Kathleen May’s home, she and Gene Lemon called Robert Carr, the Braxton County Sheriff, additionally they called the owner of the Sutton newspaper.  Ed and Fred May were being cared for by their grandmother as she attempted to wipe the oily residue from their faces.  Soon though, both of the boys’ throats began to swell and they could not even swallow water.  The Sheriff was not available when Kathleen called the Sheriff’s office in Sutton, because he was at a reported plane crash along the Elk River, south of Gassaway.  This crash had been reported by Woodrow Eagle, who had seen strange streaks of red lights in the sky.  When the Sheriff was finally able to arrive in Flatwoods, a local newspaper man from the Braxton Democrat named Stewart Lee was already there.  The Sheriff listened to Kathleen’s story and he observed that the hill was still covered in the thick fog.  As dogs approached this fog, they let out loud yelps and they would run away from the clinging haze.  

The following morning, Gene worked up his nerves and he volunteered to guide the men back to the scene of their terrifying encounter so they could investigate.  The search team traveled to the area, but they reported back that they had found nothing on the hilltop of Mr. Bailey Fisher’s farm.    All that had remained at the site were some track marks in the grass and a strange oily residue.  The Sheriff also found some pieces of a black rubbery substance that he could not identify.  The group of boys that had witnessed this strange alien encounter, all soon began suffering with throat irritation, vomiting and nausea, which persisted for days.  Local doctors said that these effects were simply side effects from their hysteria on that night, but these symptoms also mimicked the effects of exposure to mustard gas.  It was reported that for over two weeks Gene Lemon’s throat was so soar, he could not even swallow carbonated drinks without being in pain.  One thing that was clear, all who had been present to witness this extraterrestrial being had suffered both psychologically and physiologically.   

The day after the arrival of this UFO and its extraterrestrial inhabitant, at approximately 6:30 in the morning, the director of the Board of Education called the Sutton newspaper to report that he had just witnessed a UFO taking off not far from his home.  It was during this phone call that he was informed about the events of the previous night.  The owner of the Sutton paper, Mr. Stewart, then traveled out to the sight of the encounter to investigate for himself.  Mr. Stewart also observed two tracks in the tall grass, along with some pieces of a black plastic material that would not burn when he attempted to burn it.  There was still a faint melodious odor that he could smell close to the ground. 

When investigators went to the Lemon household, they were told that at the time of the landing, Mrs. Lemon, which was Gene’s mother, and a close friend were sitting at her dining room table having coffee, the small house began shaking so violently that their coffee spilled all over the table, the women stated that it felt as if the entire house would shake off of its foundation.  The radio also suddenly turned off by its self, only to mysteriously come back on 45 minutes later, all on its own.

Not long before the September 12th sighting, there had been another report of a creature, matching the same description.  This sighting had been from one Mrs. Audra Harper.  Mrs. Harper claimed that she had seen the Monster while out walking through the woods near her home in the town of Heaters.  Heaters is located just about five mile north of Flatwoods.  Mrs. Harper had been walking to a near-by store with her friend, they avoided the road which led out of her property because it was covered in deep ruts and it was almost impassible on foot.  Taking a short-cut through the woods would save them time during their trip to the store.  Approximately half a mile into their trip, the two women noticed what appeared to be a ball of fire on top of one of the hills that they were passing.  Mrs. Harper had dismissed the red ball of fire and assumed that one of her neighbors was out fox chasing.  The women proceeded on, but after they had passed the hill, Mrs. Harper looked back and she saw that the fire ball had suddenly vanished.  Where the fiery orb had been, now stood a tall, dark silhouette of a human shaped figure.  Mrs. Harper and her friend, now terrified, ran to escape the creature and they hid amongst the large rocks and boulders that dotted the hillside.

The day following September 12th, and the infamous sighting of this alien creature in Flatwoods, there was another inexplicable sighting.  This time the creature was seen nearly 20 miles south of Flatwoods near Strange Creek.  A young couple, George and Edith Snitowsky along with their 18-month-old baby boy were driving through a rural area between Clay and Braxton Counties on route 4 when all of the sudden, their car just died, right in the middle of the road.  George got out of the car to check the engine, but he could not locate the source of the problem.  He attempted to get the car to turn over, but no matter what he tried, the car would not cooperate.  It was already dark out and there were no other cars on this desolate stretch of road.  As the couple sat, trying to decide what to do, suddenly the air around them began to smell, it was a distinct sulfurous smell that clung to the air and their baby cried out in the night.

All of the sudden, the dark night was illuminated by a strange bright light, and contained in this inexplicable light was a 10-foot-tall monster, it seemed to be hovering just in front of their car.  The difference in the monster that the Snitowsky saw and the one witnessed by the May clan, was that this monster did not appear to be wearing its spade-shaped cloak, instead the Snitowskys could see clearly that this monster had an almost reptilian and bony shaped face.  As the monster hovered closer and closer to the couple’s car, its long reptilian like hand drug across the hood of the car, and then it floated over the car and into the nearby woods.  

The couple was terrified, this had been the fright of their lives, but as soon as the monster disappeared out of sight, their car restarted and the couple drove away as fast as they could.  The following morning George Snitowsky discovered a dark brown mark on the hood of his car, it almost looked like a burn mark, right where the creature have grazed its unnerving fingers across the car’s hood.

The story of the sighting on September 12th was picked up in the news cycle with the newspaper proclaiming, “Seven Braxton County residents on Saturday reported seeing a 10-foot Frankenstein-like monster in the hills above Flatwoods.”  This article was subsequently picked up by national radio and newspaper outlets.  Kathleen May and Gene Lemon even appeared on the CBS News to talk about what they had experienced.  All of these news reports led to an investigation by the United States Air Force, as part of Project Blue Book, which was the government’s investigation into alleged UFO sightings and alien encounters.  Project Bluebook was more than likely less about investigating UFOs and alien encounters and more about Cold War concerns pertaining to Russian bombing planes appearing in US air space. 

UFO investigators, Gray Barker, who was originally from Braxton County, and naturalist Ivan Sanderson both traveled to Flatwoods to do their own research on the events of September 12th.  Sanderson arrived in town first on September 18th.  The men explored the landing area and they interviewed all of the witnesses.  After their investigation, both men concluded in a report that the group had, indeed encountered an actual extraterrestrial craft and its alien occupant.  In Sanderson’s 36-page report he states that, “at least five objects came over, traveling in a straight line from Northwest to Southeast.”  They go on to claim that several of these crafts crashed and were never recovered, but one craft landed outside Flatwoods and its occupant was able to exit the ship while wearing a protective suit before the craft disintegrated.   

A local school teacher suggested that a combination of the light from a nearby plane beacon and the fiery trail of a blazing meteor reflected in some manner to take the shape of a glowing monster.  Another noted scientist said that if a meteor broke up over Flatwoods, a piece could have fallen to the ground, disintegrating into vapor that could rise up from the ground in the form of the monster.  Then there were those who claimed that the apparition was a sign sent by god.  We will just move past these people.  One other suggestion of what the monster could have been came from a Wisconsin cheese company, as they claimed that the monster could have been an inflatable rubber cow, which they had launched on September 2nd as a publicity stunt.  Sanderson rejected all of these explanations.

So, we can now look at these events and try to reasonably discern what could have taken place on that fateful night.  And this is where you should feel free to visit our social media and let us know what you think the Flatwoods Monster may have actually been.  But, there was definitely something in the sky on that evening and our group of seven intrepid explorers did actually travel up that hill to find out what had taken place.  The random formation of this group completely sets aside any form of hoax being perpetrated against the public, the group was too slap-dash and their ages were such a range that this group perpetrating a rouse is very unlikely. 

Looking chronologically at this event, the first thing we need to explain is the mysterious lights in the sky.  It is important for us to remember that on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot, claimed that he saw a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects flying past Mount Rainier at great speeds.  This sighting was credited as being the first of our modern era UFO sightings. This sighting came at the forefront of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Because of this, people were constantly looking to the skies, expecting, wanting to see something they had never seen before, like a UFO.  There was a meteor reported on this night that was seen across three states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  It is widely believed that one meteor had entered Earth’s atmosphere, and it began to glow red hot as it was heated by the friction in our atmosphere.  At some point, the meteor most likely broke into pieces, the piece of this meteor seen by Ed and Fred May, as they were playing football, was most likely the same piece seen by Woodrow Eagle, Woodrow, not understanding what he had just seen, reported this to the Sheriff as a downed aircraft.

The next part of this story to examine is the strange sulfuric mist that covered the hillside and the pulsating red glowing object.  The simplest explanation for the mist is this, all of this occurred in the Appalachian Mountains, which are quite often covered in a thick fog, depending on the time of year and the weather.  The Braxton County weather report for September 12th 1952 had called for evening fog.  The sulfuric smell, however; may be harder to explain.  West Virginia is home to a number of natural Sulphur springs such as Green Sulphur Springs, White Sulphur Springs and Blue Sulphur Springs.  The group was not extremely familiar with the area around them and it is possible there was a nearby cave that contained a Sulphur pool. 

The pulsating red light observed by the original group of explorers could have simply been one of three airplane beacons which could be seen in the area.  Due to the group hysteria brought on by the alarming circumstances, the group most likely saw one of these beacons and they saw it as much closer than it actually was, to the group, it appeared to be hovering right before them, but it was most likely really far away.

The monster, as it was described was most likely something truly mundane.  The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has suggested that the monster seen on that dark night was simply a barn owl.  The owl was most likely perched on a tree branch, remember that the creature was floating next to an old oak tree, this would make the creature look tall in stature.  The foliage of the tree below the bird was seen as a green armor in the shape of a dress.  As barn owls are nocturnal, this incident took place at the time of night the owl would be out hunting for its dinner.  Female barn owls have a reddish-brown plumage around their face and the added light from Gene’s flashlight must have made the animal look exaggerated, and horrifying in the dark of night.  As the light hit the owl, it took flight from its perch and cried out that there were intruders in her hunting grounds.  The owl’s out-stretched talons appeared to the group as long spindly hands.  A barn owl’s cry can be quite startling, especially in these scary circumstances.   

[Female Barn Owl Screech]

The sicknesses brought on by the encounter with the Braxton Monster may actually simply be attributed to the group’s hysteria compounded by their physical exhaustion after having fled the scene so quickly.  

The story of the Flatwoods Monster encounter was picked up by media outlets all over the country and the National Press service rated this story as No. 11 for the year.

These stories about the Monster have now become local folklore, and officials in Flatwoods have erected welcome signs that designate the town as the home of The Green Monster.  The monster, or alien, whatever you would like to call it, now has several monikers, “The Braxton County Monster”, “The Sutton Monster”, “The Green Monster” and “The Flatwoods Monster” just to name a few.  And the town now has cultivated a fascinating culture around this legendary story.  Every year, the town throws a, “Flatwoods Days” festival, and in the town of Sutton, there is now a Flatwoods Monster Museum, dedicated to the legend of this monster.  Each year, the county of Braxton holds an annual Flatwoods Monster Fest in celebration of the famous alien encounter, this event includes a parade, live music, carnival games, a house decorating contest, the center piece for this festival is of course a pancake breakfast.  If you choose to visit Flatwoods you can stop in to The Spot, an ice cream shop that offers a photo opportunity with their painting of the monster.  As Americana goes, you can purchase locally crafted souvenirs, a big money maker for the people of Flatwoods, including one resident who has sold over 1,000 12-inch-tall ceramic figurines of the Monster out of a gas station next to a Shoney's, talk about iconic American tourism. The Braxton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau also commissioned the building of 5 enormous chairs in the shape of the monster, each chair serves as a landmark and visitor’s attraction, and you can drive around and have your picture taken at each chair.  The Visitor’s Bureau rewards visitors who get photos with all 5 chairs with a “Free Braxxie” sticker.  Locals now lovingly call the once feared monster, Braxxie.

While some cryptids like Bigfoot or the Locke Ness Monster have been seen hundreds of times, Braxxie, the Flatwoods Monster, was only seen by just a handful of witnesses and it was only seen on this one occasion.  But that has not stopped Braxxie from taking his place in the hall of legendary monsters and he has gained an international audience by frequently being added as a creature in popular video games.  Fallout 76 and Everybody’s Golf 4 both have an appearance by the Flatwoods Monster and Japanese video game designers noticeably gravitate towards this monster, as Braxxie has appeared in several Japanese video games as an end level Boss that the player must defeat in order to move on in the game.  My favorite Braxxie appearance in a game is when he made an appearance in Zelda.

I will finish our story today with this, everyone is free to believe in, whatever they choose, and that is what is so great about the United States.  Weather we allow this to actually happen, is all up to us, as human beings that have to share this giant rock we all live on.  So go on believing what you want, don’t be afraid, there is at least one other person that will agree with you.  But did the Flatwoods Monster actually exist?  We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.