One of the weirdest, quirkiest parts of the book I’m writing sends readers just up the highway from where I live. That’s where the UFOs were sighted in 1987 — or so husband and wife Ed and Frances Walters claimed in their book The Gulf Breeze Sightings, published in 1990.
There’s plenty to research about the Gulf Breeze sightings. Plus, Molder mentions them in the first episode of The X-Files. So of course they’re included in my Literary Travelers Guide to the Gulf South: From Bay St. Louis to Apalachicola. This part of my research is providing plenty of entertainment along with some legitimate searching in my neighborhood.
Reports vary on the number of UFO sightings around Gulf Breeze, Florida, between 1987 and 1988, up to 170 sightings and 135 witnesses. Twenty-five years after the sightings, people are still talking about the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings, though the “proof” (and the book) was officially debunked in 1990.
Back then, Walters’ UFO sightings and Polaroid photographs sparked a cottage industry of publishing along with a media frenzy. Walters wrote three books, The Gulf Breeze Sightings, UFO Abductions in Gulf Breeze, and UFOs Are Real: Here’s the Proof. In pure Florida tourism fashion, Gulf Breeze and the surrounding towns cashed in. They named a bar and a used car lot with UFO terms like “Area 51.” Restaurants added extraterrestrial items like UFO sundaes to the menus, and entrepreneurs sold alien souvenirs and T-shirts with drawings of aliens on the beach. Tour buses visited and organizations hosted international UFO symposiums at Pensacola Beach.
Local singer Ken Manning’s music video “Gulf Breeze UFO” won one of Florida’s film and motion picture association’s top awards in 1999, even after the debunking. And this music video is a hoot – toe-tapping lyrics with aliens popping out behind Mister X in a trench coat! Watch it and I promise you’ll belly laugh loud enough to be heard in outer space! It’s on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AaIl-vHIns
You see, in 1990, after Ed Walters moved out of his home at 612 Silverthorne in Gulf Breeze, a tiny model UFO made of Styrofoam plates resembling the one he claimed to have photographed was discovered in the attic. Also, in 1990 a witness, using only his first name and living in Chicago, told City of Gulf Breeze officials he had been present during the UFO fake-photo session. But at late as 2006, Ed Walters, no longer married to Frances, told the Pensacola News Journal he still stood by what he saw.
There’s a sadness to this story, though. I bought a copy of the Walters’ book at an estate sale in Gulf Breeze a few years ago. The book is autographed by both the authors, who must have known the book’s original owner, Bobby. The personal inscriptions point to a story behind the story, unspoken troubles in Paradise. The couple, after all, were well-respected leaders in the community.
Despite the debunking, locals still love the lore. And it’s understandable. Driving along U. S. Highway 98 through the Naval Live Oaks, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore,it’s common to spot strange lights and shapes in the pitch-black skies. Even now along that stretch at night, I look up to the dark skies, wondering.
And sure enough in 2019, a credible sky watcher reported nighttime, flashing beacons of light to a local TV news stations while watching the skies over his backyard. https://weartv.com/news/local/florida-man-captures-video-of-ufo-sighting-in-gulf-breeze.
In the summer of 2020, a Pensacola Beach hotel group revamped its putt-putt golf course using a UFO and alien space theme. The 18-hole mini-golf course, now named UFO’s, is a kitschy tribute to the sightings complete with alien mannequins in golf attire.
My research includes some interesting photos of drive-by sights including the house on Silverthorne in Gulf Breeze , the kitschy, clever miniature golf course, and two Pensacola Beach “alien” homes – one with an alien peeking out the back door.
All that excitement right in my own backyard, where we have a clear view of the Southern skies, a good view of the International Space Station whisking overhead, and then, occasionally, some things fly by and we just can’t identify them.