In 1952, the Flatwoods Monster Terrified 6 Kids, a Mom, and a Dog
by Roy Wenzl July 20, 2018 (history.com)
• At dusk on Sept. 12, 1952, brothers Ed, 13, and Freddie May, 12, had been playing in their schoolyard with their 10-year-old friend Tommy Hyer when they saw a pulsing red light streak across the sky and crash on a nearby farm. The three boys and the Mays boys’ mother, went to check out where the light had landed. A few other boys and a dog showed up too. According to the local newspaper, “Seven Braxton County residents on Saturday reported seeing a 10-foot Frankenstein-like monster (see illustration above) in the hills above Flatwoods,” a central West Virginian mountain town of less than 300 people.
• “A National Guard member, [17-year-old] Gene Lemon, was leading the group when he saw what appeared to be a pair of bright eyes in a tree,” stated a local newspaper account. Lemon screamed and fell backward “when he saw a 10-foot monster with a blood-red body and a green face that seemed to glow.” The story got picked up by national radio and big papers all over the country. Mrs. May and Gene Lemon ended up going to New York to talk to CBS television news.
• Local newspaper publisher A. Lee Stewart said, “Those people were the most scared people I’ve ever seen.” State police laughed off the reports as hysteria,” It was the era of Cold War anxieties. LIFE magazine had recently published a story about flying saucers. The Korean War was raging and Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Minnesota had been stoking fear of communism in every corner of the nation.
• People across the nation were “seduced by the story,” said behavioral psychologist Clay Routledge who has studied brain science, UFO beliefs and culture. “There’s the hope that we are not just insignificant organisms walking around aimlessly on a rock floating in space,” says Routledge, “There’s the hope that we’re part of something bigger.”
• The U.S. Air Force sent investigators. They concluded that a meteor had streaked across the eastern sky. And that the ‘monster’ was likely an owl. But that didn’t stop the townspeople from promoting the incident with merchandise, a museum, and a highway sign that reads, “Home of the Green Monster.”
• Freddie and Ed May are in their late 70s now, and still stand by their story. “As far as for myself,” Freddie says, “It doesn’t matter to me whether people believe, or don’t believe.”
The Flatwoods Monster has not hissed at boys in the little village of Flatwoods, West Virginia, since Sept. 12, 1952.
People grin about it now—and take Monster souvenir money, from hundreds of Monster tourists every week. But it scared people plenty back then, including the eyewitnesses: six boys aged 10 to 17, a dog and a Mom.
“One of the boys peed his pants,” said John Gibson, a high-school freshman at the time, who knew them all. “Their dog (Rickie) ran with his tail between his legs.”
The encounter made the local and national news, scaring a wider swath of people.
Then it prompted a U.S. Air Force UFO inquiry, part of a project called Project Blue Book that dispatched a handful of investigators around the country to look into such claims.
It also became a local legend, a Southern spook story that defined the tiny village of less than 300 people for more than six decades. To this day, tourists come out of their way to Flatwoods—secluded in the low, timbered Appalachian hills of central West Virginia—to visit its monster museum and buy Green Monster tchotchkes and T-shirts.
What they witnessed
It was dusk when they saw it. The May brothers Ed, 13, and Freddie, 12, had been playing in their schoolyard with their 10-year-old friend Tommy Hyer. After noticing a pulsing red light streak across the sky and crash on a nearby farm, the three youngsters ran to grab the Mays boys’ mother, then high-tailed it up that hill to check out where the light had landed. A few other boys, one with a dog, showed up too.
They ran back down—in sheer and credible terror.
“Seven Braxton County residents on Saturday reported seeing a 10-foot Frankenstein-like monster in the hills above Flatwoods,” a local newspaper reported afterward. “A National Guard member, [17-year-old] Gene Lemon, was leading the group when he saw what appeared to be a pair of bright eyes in a tree.”
Lemon screamed and fell backward, the news account said, “when he saw a 10-foot monster with a blood-red body and a green face that seemed to glow.” It may have had claws for hands. It was hard to tell because of the dense mist.
The story made the local news, then got picked up by national radio and big papers all over the country, said Andrew Smith, who runs the Flatwoods Monster Museum and the Braxton County Convention Visitors Bureau. “Mrs. May and the National Guard kid ended up going to New York to talk to CBS,” Gibson said.
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