The late 1980s transitioning into the early 1990s saw a steady procession of curious UFO enthusiasts into the Gulf Breeze and Pensacola region of northern Florida—much like a traveling influx of Grateful Dead groupies who followed the band in the late 1960s. The white sand beaches of the Emerald Coast were filled with not only trepidation, but also a giddy anticipation of the unknown mysteries of the universe finally being revealed.
And Ed Walters, grand poppa of alien speculation, held his reign at center court.
UFOlogist Bruce Maccabee—an optical physicist, photographer, and primary cheerleader for MUFON’s stance on the whole affair had argued from the start (in subtle, but persistent undertones) that basically Ed Walters was not smart enough to have concocted a hoax on the scale of the Gulf Breeze sightings.
There was a miscalculation in Macccabee’s reasoning; Walters was not the dolt he portrayed him to be.
Sure…Ed could be the smiling, aww-shucks, good old country boy when the occasion was fitting, but he could also be so much more. You see, Walters was a builder. As a building contractor, and seemingly successful at the trade, he was certainly well versed in the fine art of planning and mathematics—calculating angles and trajectories—all elements of a successful home builder. Ignorant dunderheads would not make it in the business…not for very long.
Ed Walters knew how to “build” things.
Ed also apparently knew photography.
It would appear for every one step forward that Walters took he would eventually take two steps back and scramble like a chipmunk at a backyard picnic. It came to light that he knew how to double expose photographs using the Polaroid—long before his initial sighting outside his home in November of 1987. A photograph surfaced he had taken prior to his UFO sighting of a girl at a birthday party with a mass of wavering lights over her right shoulder. It became fondly known as the Ghost Demon Photograph. Living the life of a UFO celebrity was not an easy road to travel, and as always Walters went on the defense when the skeptics came to call. Walters defended his photograph:
“They [the debunkers] spread a rumor that I created a double exposure of a ‘ghost demon’ at a party….Out of dozens of parties at my house and hundreds of party photographs, I’m not surprised that the 17-year old Polaroid might have produced a flaw. It is (as explained by Maccabee) quite easy to inadvertently press the shutter and produce a double exposure or the 4 wall mirrors and sliding glass door in the room could also be responsible for a flash bounce.”
Mighty big of you Ed to offer your own debunking to a photograph that was taken around 1986, but implied by Walters to have been taken much earlier. Just a victim of circumstance?
MUFON was doing its own damage control. International Director Walt Andrus’ assignment of Florida Mufon’s Chief Investigator Gary Watson to procure his own assessment of the situation provided predictable results and sweet music to Andrus’ ears: Tommy Smith was a liar and the model found in Walters’ former home was a plant to discredit him. No surprises there!
UFOlogist Jerry Black had his own recommendation to Walt Andrus and MUFON. While Watson’s report was exactly what Andrus had wanted to hear in the reinvestigation of the Gulf Breeze “discrepancies “, he also wanted something of a more independent nature…and not connected with MUFON. This could possibly satisfy the most vocal skeptics. Black recommended William G. Hyzer, one of the nations top photo interpretationists, to examine the photos. Black felt that Hyzer could “help” MUFON with the situation in Gulf Breeze. Hyzer was familiar with the story of the sightings, but felt somewhat uncomfortable with Bruce Maccabee’s stand, stating:
“…physicist Bruce Maccabee, chairman of The Fund for UFO Research, doesn’t think he has been duped yet by a UFO hoaxer, although he won’t reveal the secret of his self-proclaimed success. My question is this: who is to say if the analyst has been duped or not in dealing with unnatural phenomena as controversial as UFOs? In my opinion, fakery is virtually impossible to prove in a well contrived image. If certain anomalies are detected, the best that any photographic analyst can do is to point them out as possible or probable artifacts of photographic fakery.”
Regardless, Hyzer would give the photos a thorough, unbiased look and report his findings. The matter was muddied from the start when Hyzer was provided with only “copies” of the photos, and several generations later at that! It seemed no one had access to the originals other than Bruce Maccabee, who had by this time formed a tight, unbreakable union with Ed Walters. Walt Andrus was hopeful at the prospect of a “professional” and other independent source validating his own conclusions.
Things don’t always pan out as you would hope.
Hyzer returned his opinion: the photos showed evidence of being manipulated. One of his key observations was that Walters never photographed objects in the daylight, and the images he took in the twilight or dark always seemed to take on the color of the background sky. He stated:
“The images which depict all of these strange and unnatural phenomena are uniquely characteristic of multiple-exposure photography and could have been easily produced by the simple application of this technique.”
Certainly not what Walt Andrus wanted to hear! Again…sitting behind his desk, ripping large tuffs of hair from his head aka Larry Fine of The Three Stooges.
Dr Bruce Maccabee considered Hyzer’s analysis inadequate and verbally said so, but considering the importance of reaching an amicable consensus on the validity of the Gulf Breeze sightings, did not even offer Hyzer with the better quality photos. He continued to snip away at Hyzer’s conclusion in a somewhat safe forum—the MUFON Journal and International UFO Reporter.
Preaching to the faithful!
Apparently William Hyzer was not to become a chartered member of the MUFON “inner Ed Walters circle” and consequently took the heat. It would seem that impartial analysis was out of the question.
Hyzer published his final say in the July 1992 issue of the MUFON Journal in an article entitled The Gulf Breeze photographs: Bona fide or bogus? It is a wonder that Andrus would even allow its inclusion.
“…in all photographs analyzed are either slightly lighter or no darker that their proximate scenic backgrounds, indicating that the objects are either—self luminous; internally illuminated; or externally illuminated from the general direction of the camera position to luminance levels equal to or slightly greater than their proximate backgrounds; or misrepresented through image manipulation.”
“It is this author’s professional opinion that the results of this study are conclusive: if the UFO-like object in photograph 19 (the photos were assigned numbers) had been real, reflections of luminous sources associated with the object, and most certainly the crescent-shaped illuminated dome and dome light at the top of the object, would have to be visible in the truck’s hood: but they are not.” (Hyzer is referring to Walters’ infamous road shot taken on his street with the front end of his truck in the picture)
“The missing reflections in the hood of the truck and the abnormal road luminance in photograph number 19 provide the answers to the question of its authenticity. It is the author’s professional opinion that there is only one logical explanation for all of the optical anomalies described in this report: photograph number 19 is a fake produced by multiple-exposure photography.”
Dr. Bruce Maccabee was irate, as was Walt Andrus, who quickly pulled in another photo “expert”, and one of their own—MUFON’s Jeff Sainio. And incredibly, given access to the original photos! Talk about a tag team on a damage control mission….
Sainio, who was not even in Hyzer’s league…but felt he was, produced a thirty-plus page rebuttal of back-pedaling and gibberish in an attempt to trash all of Hyzer’s findings. Ultimately he only made himself look silly to the masses, but he was a good soldier—solidifying Walt Andrus and MUFON’s stand on the Gulf Breeze UFO incident. Good soldiers always obey their commanders.
Hyzer bowed out. It was time to move onto better things. You can only be beaten like a red-headed step child for so long.
“Several UFO investigators have asked me if I intend to continue any further with this investigation. The answer is no; my future scientific pursuits carry me to much higher ground.”
With Hyzer out of the picture, and apparently not caring a whole heck of a lot about furthering any rationale thinking directed toward the Gulf Breeze sightings any longer, there were no more challenges to the photographs. Andrus, Sainio, and Maccabee could say what they wanted to say, and were guaranteed to always find someone willing to believe. But there had developed a stigma about the whole affair. There was cover-up in the air. And these stigmas take on a damaging life of their own in the long haul.
Ed Walters continued along his journey, holding the hand of Dr. Maccabee, into 1994. Surprisingly, Ed began capturing startling UFO images in the daylight using video. He also became quite paranoid—claiming the government was monitoring (and attempting home heists) his new evidence for the existence of extraterrestrials.
And that is where we end up. All suddenly quieted down and seemingly disappeared. It would appear that the aliens moved on down the road and the Gulf Breeze sightings came to an end. The activity over the Emerald Coast of Florida ground to a standstill! Some still claim the occasional oddities in the skies, but it is nothing on the level of the late 1980s and early years of the 90s.
And Ed Walters…perhaps he is still out there--no longer building houses--but still with camera in hand as UFOs continues to encircle him like a glowing ring of fireflies.
Even though the internet claims that MUFON withdrew their support in 1990, I see no evidence that they did in that year. They were right alongside the continued Gulf Breeze sightings as late as 1994. However, presently MUFON is essentially inactive in the area.
Walt Andrus, International Director for MUFON, retired from his position on July 16, 2000. Perhaps he is living the good life in his condo in Cozumel?
Dennis Stacy—former editor of the MUFON Journal:
“In my own case, no analysis was necessary by anyone. The pictures looked hokey to begin with, and they still do to this day. Go back and look at them again. Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows….”
Jerome Clark—Editor of the International UFO Reporter:
“I am perfectly prepared to believe that the Gulf Breeze photographs and stories associated with Walters are bogus. In fact, I have long believed they are exactly that.”
James Moseley—Editor of Saucer Smear:
“‘Mr. Ed’, like Dr. Maccabee, is a nice guy; but investigations by your ‘Smear’ editor and several others come very close to proving Ed Walters’ sightings, photos, etc. are nothing more than sophisticated hoaxes. Thus Bruce Maccabee is either very gullible indeed, or else he is deliberately spreading disinformation, to further confuse the already hopelessly confused UFO scene.”
Bob Girard—book reviewer of The Gulf Breeze Sightings (Ed Walters’ book).
“It means that either the aliens themselves had chosen an absolutely insensitive clod upon which to shower their favors…or that this book’s shocking shallowness could only be accounted for if it had been prepared for and written by someone whose over-riding motive was either greed, attention or the satisfaction of putting a big fat one over a bunch of foolish human beings.”
Kevin Randle—UFO author and Roswell researcher:
“We could go on, over the evidence against the Gulf Breeze sightings and photographs once again, but is it necessary? It is clear what happened here. Ed Walters, playing a somewhat admitted practical joke, found himself the center of attention, and he loved it. The fact that there was nothing to the sightings meant nothing to him. He grabbed the spotlight as quickly as he could and has done everything possible to stay in it. But his story, from the very beginning, was a hoax.”
Craig Myers, the reporter for the Pensacola News Journal who broke the news of the discovery of the “model” later became the editor of the Mobile (Alabama) Register. He too wrote a book on the Gulf Breeze sightings—War of the Words—sharing the same sentiments as author Kevin Randle, feeling Walters started it out as a prank and then it got too big, too fast, to turn back. His only option was to improve the quality of his sightings.
Does MUFON do a good job in the present day? Absolutely! It has become a credible organization with talented folks who are dedicated to the cause. Of course there are minor hiccups that happen amongst leadership in individual chapters across the states, but these are all parts of growing pains, and eventually will be worked through. However, the Gulf Breeze incident was not a shining moment for MUFON in building a solid base of credibility, and a prime example of “weasel” management.
Walt Andrus got caught with his pants down, and instead of admitting that he was wrong in his initial assessment, chose the route of perpetuating the myth at all costs. When scores of skeptics--and even dedicated UFOlogists--considered the constant wave of UFO sightings to be nothing more than a hoax and not solid proof of alien visitation, Andrus should have taken notice and did the right thing. Instead he chose to cover his tracks…as did Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who, on a similar level, was caught up in a tall tale that either man would back out of. Andrus was all about promoting this great accomplishment in gathering the facts and making MUFON viable, even holding its 1990 symposium in Gulf Breeze to capitalize on the excitement. Maccabee was always of the opinion that a man such as Ed Walters could never fool a man as brilliant as he. Ego check in order….
To this day I doubt they would ever admit they were wrong…at least publicly.
Common modus operandi in any investigation of a paranormal nature is—when in doubt, throw it out! If one point is questionable, then it all becomes questionable. Andrus and Maccabee had simple ambitions—keep the story alive (very good for the credibility of MUFON) and reinforce the claims of Ed Walters. Of that, they worked tirelessly!
Many felt the “Bubba” sightings over Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach in the early 1990s could easily have been balloons attached by tethers to boats, since a high percentage of the sightings were over water. Maccabee, as a matter of habit, quickly downplayed any balloon speculation. This I will admit is possibly even more of an elaborate ruse than Ed Walters could have pulled off. Many however questioned—why not use planes or helicopters to investigate? It did happen on a rather consistent and predictable basis. It seemed to be an easy fix. Maccabee had no comment on this solution.
Which leads to the next point—Gulf Breeze’s intimate proximity to multiple military bases and commercial airports….
Was the military behind the Gulf Breeze sightings? Let’s go to school…is the military going to share with the general public when it initiates projects that are covert in nature? Face the cold, hard facts—they are not going to declare what they are up to, nor do they feel the need to; never have, never will! Author Dr. Greg Little has a theory that the military—and consequently the government—might just be behind many of such sightings, performing mass psychological experiments…or for a more comforting term—“sociological experiments”--to gauge civilian reaction to the prospect of UFOs. He feels that the Phoenix Lights in 1997 were one such example. The Gulf Breeze Lights were another.
It’s food for thought, and probably not too far from the truth.
I do believe there are “others” in the universe that pay the occasional, curious visit to the planet Earth. I don’t however get overly excited or analytical about bright stars and luminescent planets; approaching and descending aircraft; Chinese lanterns, balloons or flares; folks that want so desperately to be a part of something bigger that they actually trick their mind into believing they have had an otherworldly experience. Or the shenanigans perpetuated in Gulf Breeze, Florida so many years ago.
My personal belief is that alien visitors are of a more evasive nature: no bright, flashing Fourth of July style sky display to befuddle and intrigue its human observers. If you ponder upon the technology possessed to be able to wing throughout the universe under a cloak of obscurity—they don’t need lights, people! When they choose to no longer be evasive…well, that will be another story. But that time is not now.
Gulf Breeze is a good tale. There are a lot of them out there….
A heartfelt thanks goes out to Tim Printy and his exhaustive research on the legend of the Gulf Breeze sightings. For a more thorough understanding of what transpired, dive a little deeper into his blow by blow breakdown. It’s a great, eye opening read!
The first three parts of the Gulf Breeze series were posted on MUFON's Facebook sites--Indiana MUFON and Indiana Field Investigators. It drew a large assortment of interested folks...some curious over the matters of UFOs, and several Indiana field investigators. Suddenly I have been blocked from posting any future articles, including the conclusion to this series. Apparently the Indiana State Director is feeling a tad uncomfortable. Hmmm....
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