The Cairo Jaycees Flying Saucer Stunt of 1950

The Post Office Buildings in Cairo, Illinois. Photo by Michael Huntington – Spring, 2016.

by Michael Huntington
     At the very tip of Southern Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet, is the small town of Cairo (Kay-row). It was once a bustling, up-and-coming city at the trade junction of America’s biggest rivers. But, decades of economic decline, corruption, crime, and incessant flooding has decimated this once prosperous place – leaving behind some beautiful architecture amidst the numerous abandoned and boarded-up buildings. It feels like a ghost town at times – a locale where one might film an episode of the Walking Dead.
     During it’s hey-day in the 1950s, Cairo was the model American small town. Almost cliche, it reveled in it’s Americana: family, community, civic duty, church, patriotism, small-town values, a healthy dose of Cold War paranoia. The men bowled and attended Lodges, ladies tended to their households, children rode their bikes about the the neighborhood with little fear. Post War America. Baby boom.
     The culture of Cairo was led by it’s times, and in the post-War world of 1950, the times told tale of Buck Rogers and Flying Saucers flown by Weird Creatures from Outer Space Worlds. The influence also came from REAL stories being told – through the media and local grapevine – of recent encounters with strange discs in the sky. FLYING SAUCERS OVER AMERICA! The nation was a-buzzed by aliens psychologically and in reality. Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, the Mantell Crash – these were new flying saucer stories from recent years – all ablazed the pages of many-a-town’s newspapers and were sensationalized in the dominant media of radio. Sci-fi pulp magazines, no doubt, also contributed greatly to this climate. The May/June issue of Life Magazine, sure to be found on every coffee table and in the local barber shop, carried the now-famous McMinnville saucer photos by Paul Trent. Saucer talk was everywhere.
     But they knew it all was a joke, right? There are no Martians, right? And yes, to many it was all a joke and something to be made fun of, or something just for fun. A goof. But, those Commies were out there and maybe THEY were up to something…so we should keep watching the skies! Or maybe it’s a secret aircraft we have in secret – like those nukes and rockets we have, you know. Or maybe, just maybe – and especially to the young that would begin to mature in the coming decade – those Flying Saucers Are Real!
     On July 26, 1950, the news spread quickly through the streets of Cairo: a FLYING SAUCER with Little Green Men inside had landed or CRASHED down by the Post Office Building and it was being GUARDED by the Army! Folks headed down in droves and beheld what the rumors conveyed: a silvery disc on the Post Office lawn with four uniformed military personnel standing nearby, keeping the growing crowd from approaching too closely! No one (except maybe a few) knew what was really going on or what was happening at this curious scene. But, a carnival-like excitement was in the air and it was growing with each minute. Someone notified the Press…and calls started flooding into local police and military switchboards. What the heck is going on in Cairo? Have aliens landed? Are creatures from Another World invading Southern Illinois? 
     Okay, so…in actuality, those that did go down to “see the flying saucer” – and got close enough for a decent look – knew what was up after closer examination: the so-called “saucer” proved to be a man-made affair constructed out of maybe plywood, or perhaps sheet metal, and probably brushed with some shiny silver paint! The “craft” wasn’t a large vehicle by any means, it could provide maybe just enough room for a kid or two! It had a wire antenna coming out of the top…that looked like it was maybe just a stretched-out metal hangar! And the military cordon? Well, those fellas guarding the spaceship didn’t look like stiff-and-proper Army soldiers: their uniforms didn’t match, they didn’t have correct insignias and patches, their khakis seemed not to fit, and “hey, wait a minute, I think I bowl with that guy…or, isn’t that Mary’s boy? I didn’t know he was in the Army…I thought that kid was still in High School!”
     So it was a bunch of baloney. But what was up with all of this? Who was behind all of this and are they gonna get in trouble? WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT? This was entertainment gold for folks living in a small American town in 1950…there wasn’t much else to do. So they waited. Meanwhile, word still spread to other towns – by passersby traveling through Cairo – that there was a flying saucer in the town.
     After a few hours, when the time arrived (or maybe after being pressed to wrap it up by Authorities who had begun to think that maybe things were getting just a bit out of hand), there was finally some movement. A khaki-ed young guard broke ranks and walked towards the alien craft and proceeded to open the cardboard hatch which led into the saucer’s interior. Perhaps in a startled fashion, the soldier moved back away from the craft just as a small, green “Martian” leaped out – or slithered out – of the craft carrying a sign marked with a greeting of some kind! Moving towards the crowd, the “alien” – who was obviously just someone’s face-painted kid dressed in a jumpsuit adorned at the top with the short end of a couple of car antennas – held up the sign for all to read in plain-old American English: I FLEW DOWN FROM MARS JUST TO SEE THE JAYCEES MINSTREL SHOW!
     Yes, it was all a prank. A publicity stunt. But, within a day or two, the dust-up that this event caused for the region was made apparent. Word and rumors spread so quickly that the Army itself had to respond – and they were not happy with the prank. They suffered a deluge of inquiries and concerns, “thousands of phone calls,” many critical of the military for being involved in such a stunt (which they weren’t). A number of local papers wrote pieces detailing the whole affair…all unclear if any one was ultimately held responsible for this distracting “scare.” Eventually things went on as normal…the Jaycees held their show (at which I’m sure many chuckled, getting a big kick out of the whole ruckus that was caused) and the story faded into the past – becoming a handed-down tale, becoming an urban legend, becoming altogether forgotten.
     Looking back through the veil of history, perhaps we missed something, though. Maybe we overlooked the five men and women who, perhaps, watched the saucer prank unfold that day from across the street and who didn’t think that the affair was funny at all. You see these folks, just a few weeks before on June 28th, witnessed two shiny chrome discs fly across the skies of Cairo – hover for a time – and then speed off to the southwest towards the Missouri Bootheel. At least that is what was officially reported.
     But who knows for sure? Maybe they were actually in on the stunt and were laying the groundwork for the Jaycee event and all were in cahoots? Guesswork. Alas, such is the way with the past: long-dead stories, from long-dead people and all that is left now are old newspaper clippings that are but pieces of the puzzle… our re-tellings becoming stunts in their own right. The mystery forever remains, only occasionally to be dusted off and given a fresh coat of paint…maybe silver, like on Cairo’s home-made saucer from long ago. 



Just another bogus flying saucer “publicity stunt!”



Major General Harry L. Bolen, 44th National Guard: “I got thousands of phone calls…” – AP article



The 1973 Grand Tower UFO Sightings

by Michael Huntington 

The Mississippi River town of Grand Tower, Illinois has a reputation for being a strange and unusual place. Time Magazine, no less, once dubbed it “The Unluckiest Town in America” due to constant flooding disasters and economic hardships common to living in a flood plain. But, it is also known as a regional “Twilight Zone” because of it’s long history with all shades of paranormal wierdness. You name it, they have a story about it: ghosts, haunted houses, Bigfoot, unexplained sounds, bizarre electronic phenomena, cursed lands, two-legged dogs (I know it, because I saw it), creepy ritual activity, etc. In fact, the weirdness goes far back beyond even the town’s founding – back to when the local natives viewed the giant rock feature that jutted out of the Mississippi (The Grand Tower) as an off-limits sacred/mystical place, to when the Conquistadors erected a cross atop the rock to mark their explorations (and to ward off evil?), to the numerous massacres of settlers and natives, to when the coves around Grand Tower were occupied by river pirates that camped along the ridges of the Devil’s Backbone and attacked shipping from the top of the Devil’s Bake Oven. There is a tree that looks like the Grim Reaper that sits atop this “Devil’s Kitchen,” right next to the giant gas pipeline that comes out of the Bake Oven to span the Mississippi, right next to the ruins of a house haunted by the spirit of a girl named Esmerelda. There is a hint of sulfur in the air. Weirdness, indeed.

Today, however, we mark the weirdness that was alleged to have taken place on March 22nd and April 16th, 1973 when a large, doughnut-shaped UFO was observed hovering above Grand Tower’s Central Illinois Power Plant, possibly siphoning off some power before being chased off by American military jets. While not a major story unto it’s self, the Grand Tower Incidents are considered to be part of the large wave of UFO activity that was taking place about 60 miles southwest – around Piedmont, Missouri – known as the Brushy Creek Wave of 1973.

Here is the story according to a National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) report:

730322 9:15 PM. GRAND TOWER, IL. Cl.
Oscar Wills, 57, was an operating engineer at the Central Illinois Public Service Company’s power generating station on the Mississippi River at Grand Tower, Illinois. He was on duty when another employee, Willis Hughes, a turbine operator, telephoned from his home in Grand Tower to ask Wills to check on something that was hovering over or near the station’s 66,000-volt transformer yard. Wills went out the north door of the power generating station and immediately saw an object approximately 1,500′ high over the yard. He estimated the object’s size at 25′ in diameter (250 yards away). He described the object as a ring of lighted panels or windows with definite spacing between windows, each emitting pulsating light varying from a dark red-to-orange-to-white sequenced in a clockwise rotation like a theater marquee. The pulsations gave the impression the object was spinning clockwise, but the window separators remained stationary. Wills said the object was doughnut-shaped, or more like a wedding band, since only the lighted panels were visible. Wills walked to within 150 yards of the transformer bank, viewing the object with great curiosity. Then he became a little apprehensive and decided to return to the Power Plant and ask two other employees on duty to come out to witness the phenomenon. As he retraced his steps, the object which had been hovering directly over the transformer bank, started moving directly toward him, and passed over his head. As the object darted noiselessly past the northwest corner of the building, he lost sight of it for a moment as the Plant building obstructed his viewing area. He walked rapidly around to the west side of the Plant, facing the Mississippi River, and noted the object was now hovering directly over the middle (No. 2) of the three water pumping station buildings. He walked up to the ramp to the pump station house and on to the sea wall protecting the Plant from the river. He was now again directly under the object. Wills said it would take a circular object 5′ in diameter at arm’s length to cover it at this point. After watching for 7 to 8 minutes, the PA system called Wills back to the telephone within the Plant. It was Willis Hughes, who wanted to know what Oscar could see from his vantage point. Willis cut the conversation short so he and the other two men could go out to view the object. The object was gone. In 25-30 minutes 3-4 jets made 8-10 sweeps of the area about 2-3 minutes apart. The nearest base is is Scott at Belleville.

(Source: SL-66,7)




An excerpt from the May, 1974 FATE Magazine article “The Brushy Creek UFO Scare” by Jerome Clark recounting the Grand Tower Encounters:

Grand Tower, Ill., the Illinois-Missouri border, is almost 60 miles northeast of Piedmont but the UFO Oscar Wills sighted the evening of March 22 sounds very much like those from Brushy Creek. Wills, an operating engineer at the Central Illinois Public Service Company’s power generating station on the Mississippi one and a half miles from Grand Tower, first saw the object when fellow-employee, Willis Hughes called from his home to say something was hovering over the transformer yard. 
“I went out by myself to take a look,” Wills recounted in an interview with FATE, “and there it was, hovering about 1500 feet in the air and about 200 yards from me. It was a round saucer-shaped object about 25 to 30 feet in diameter. It looked like a high-intensity red light with a lot of lights coming out of what seemed to be portholes. The lights were flashing and causing a spinning effect. I couldn’t see any image of its bottom, which may have been concave, I’m not sure. I kept walking and got to within 100 yards of it. I looked at it for two or three minutes until it darted behind the power plant almost like a blur. I went north of the power plant to see where it had gone and found it hovering over a water intake pump on the other side of the station. I stood there for a couple of minutes and watched it.” Wills’ vigil was interrupted by a phone call from another employee (not Hughes) who wanted to know what was going on. By the time Wills got off the phone and enlisted two other men to go outside with him the UFO was gone. 
Wills then called Hughes who informed him the object had flown across the river and disappeared into the Missouri hills. Within minutes, however, Wills and his crew saw four jet planes making passes over the plant area as if searching. “The most amazing part,” Wills says, “is the way this object moved rapidly with no effort and perfectly silently. I just can’t get over that. I don’t know what it was but I know this much: we don’t have anything like this.” Wills claimed that a nearly identical object appeared over Grand Tower nearly a month later, on the evening of April 16.


The Green Futuro of Livingston, Illinois


Green Futuro – Livingston, Illinois. Photo by Michael Huntington – 2014.


Okay, maybe not THAT green. But I think this looks cool! The Green Futuro – “Flying Saucer House” – on the grounds of the Pink Elephant Antique Mall, just off Route 66 near Livingston, Illinois.
Inside of the Mall, which is an old dance hall possibly haunted by Al Capone’s ghost, tons of cool collectibles can be found (one could spend all day here exploring). Outside – on the grounds – there are a number of classic roadside attractions: a giant Pink Elephant, Michelin giants, giant chairs and bicycles, an old Twistee Treat stand, various cannons, and a few flying saucers – one being the Green Futuro.
The Futuro in a modern/futurist flying saucer-shaped ski chalet designed by the late Finnish architect Matti Suuronen. Only about a hundred were manufactured during the 60s and 70s. Less than 20 of these plastic pre-fabs survive in the US – in various states of disrepair – some with residents living in them (the Livingston Futuro is an unoccupied shell). They could be shipped in pieces and assembled, or pre-assembled and delivered by truck or helicopter. Artists and architects are rediscovering these historical gems and have, in recent years, began refurbishing old and building new Futuros for museums and art centers. Collectors value complete shells at around fifty grand.
Livingston’s Green Futuro was our first to explore. The following year, we were able to check out the White Futuro in Gulf Breeze, Florida on Pensacola Beach. We plan on seeing three more during travels this summer, with more to check off the list in the years ahead!
 Photos by Michael Huntington – 2014.


Find out more about the Futuro House at