There is a handful of UFO Mecca’s that to this day still elicit a reaction and stir the imagination, but at the same time remain a hot topic of debate between those that stand fast on the original conclusions and others who take a more objective look. There are, after all, good stories to be had, and a fine UFO story can very much stand the test of years. Roswell, New Mexico was and remains the watershed moment of alien speculation; Gulf Breeze, Florida could easily follow a close second.
What really embellishes a good tale is when a relatively new organization—MUFON (Mutual UFO Network)—against all evidence to the contrary, continues a persistent path of endorsement of “genuine” UFO activity along the white sand beaches of Florida’s panhandle. (MUFON originally had been known as the Midwest UFO Network, established in Illinois in May of 1969.) It became a fight with debunkers, struggling to get to the front of the line with fluffy towels to wipe the egg off of MUFON’s face.
This was MUFON’s shining hour to validate the existence of extraterrestrial visitations, and come hell or high water, they were not about to budge; at least those who were calling the shots!
People want to be a part of something “sensational.” It’s human nature and a base component of mob-mentality that has been witnessed throughout the ages. And it’s only natural that MUFON, an organization wanting to make a name for itself, would too jump on the bandwagon…putting their stamp of authenticity, thus validating their purpose and reason for existence.
Fox Mulder of the X-Files…”I want to believe!”
The Gulf Breeze sightings of the late 1980s and continuing into the early years of the 1990s had all of the ingredients of a most excellent UFO experience: the personal encounters of a reputable local building contractor that seemed, for whatever mysterious reason, to be targeting him exclusively. However, the coup de grace was that he had photos from his seemingly ever present Polaroid instamatic camera to prove his claims. And the photos kept coming!
Gulf Breeze, a suburb of Pensacola, lies surrounded by water on three sides on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s Panhandle. Beginning on November 11, 1987 builder Ed Walters experienced and documented a series of UFO sightings over a three week period. The photographs, for the time, were considered astounding and the clearest evidence yet that space travelers were out and about in the Sunshine State, and apparently zeroing in on hapless, working-Joe Ed. Suddenly there was UFO excitement in Gulf Breeze, Florida and it was contagious!
Internet reports on the claims of Ed Walters and the Gulf Breeze sightings are much more detailed than what space will allow in this article. I would encourage the reader to follow through on his or her own research, but an interesting note—prior to the Walters sightings and the subsequent media frenzy that followed, there were no prior UFO sightings in the Gulf Breeze area…at least any that were reported.
MUFON quickly jumped on the UFO choo-choo, citing Ed’s photos as the most “startling” evidence yet for the existence of alien visitors. Many, including those in the MUFON organization, were scratching their heads over the account of Ed Walters. Something was not quite right about it all. Some openly stated that the Polaroid photos were the hokiest things they had ever seen; but for MUFON it was bonified proof, and they were not about to budge. No sir…. They held onto their stance, even when later things went in the opposite direction.
As in any UFO scenario, there are opposite camps: those enthusiastically for…those adamantly against. Gulf Breeze was no exception, and still isn’t to this day. But back then, things got interesting real quick.
One should question those initial sightings by a confused Ed Walters…whether in his own neighborhood or nearby Shoreline Park. Ed lived in a sub-division neighborhood of tight-knit houses—yet, no one else witnessed the events of late 1987. A man screaming, yelling, standing in the middle of the street and popping off a barrage of Polaroid photos in the dusk of a November evening might just draw some attention from neighbors: it did not! Neighbors as close as next door to his house reported no unusual activity on the night in question. It was twilight, yet no one else saw a thing. In Shoreline Park Ed always managed to be in the right place at the right time, camera in hand, yet there was not another soul to witness the dramatic craft in the sky.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Ed Walters began his own journey into the Twilight Zone, as did the residents of Gulf Breeze and UFO enthusiasts across the country.
From the onset Dr. Willy Smith, an independent photo analogist and member of the MUFON board of directors, was skeptical. He presented a paper titled “The Gulf Breeze Saga” at the yearly national UFO convention and authored a somewhat negative viewpoint in the official MUFON Journal. Together with prominent UFOlogist Richard Hall they would come to the conclusion:
“…if the Gulf Breeze events are genuine, then the entire character of the UFO phenomenon has suddenly changed. (Not impossible, but if so, we should begin seeing other confirmatory signs elsewhere in the country and around the world.) No precedent exists in the literature for a 6 month siege of one individual by UFOs, or the taking of dozens of photographs – almost at will – by one individual (other than Billy Meier, whom MUFON rates as a hoaxer).
Numerous veteran UFOlogists have commented from the onset that the photographs look “hokey.” This is not a trivial remark, and cannot be answered as Maccabee (Bruce) has tried to do by observing that we don’t really know what alien craft are supposed to look like. In fact, we thought we did know, based on a very long record of UFO sightings, including sketches and photographs. To the best of our knowledge, there is no precedent for the UFO type (or roughly similar types) said to be haunting Gulf Breeze.
…Most “hokey” pictures in fact did prove to be hoaxes, or very probably so. Obviously, intuitive impressions of UFO photographs do not, alone, constitute science; objective analysis must be done. Nevertheless, experience does count for something, and the established record of photographic UFO images generally considered to be valid records of UFOs does not contain support for the Gulf Breeze UFO(s).
In addition to “hokey,” intuition suggests that several of the pictures appear “stagey.”…”
Most of the sightings were reported in the Gulf Breeze Sentinel newspaper, which obviously knew a good story and ran with it. The same MUFON investigators assigned to the initial investigation continued their unwavering support of the Ed Walters story. Witnesses emerged from the woodwork, yet their details were sketchy at best. Smith and Hall had some concerns:
“Despite the fact that hordes of investigators, newsmen, and townspeople were staked out in Gulf Breeze at the height of Ed’s reported encounters, not one ever witnessed Ed taking a photograph or separately witnessed a UFO that coincided with one of Ed’s reports, while he took some 40 pictures over a six month period. Only a few independent witnesses to UFO activity in Gulf Breeze report anything like Ed claims to have observed. The more than 130 other cases claimed are – as of this writing – either weak and not supportive of Ed’s sightings or not yet even investigated.”
All of their findings and conclusions were printed in the MUFON Journal. Shortly thereafter Dr. Willy Smith was “mysteriously” removed from his duties on the MUFON board of directors. It would seem that the face of MUFON--Walt Andrus--had arrived at his own conclusions regarding the sightings of UFO craft in Gulf Breeze, and he wanted those conclusions to remain intact!
But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves….
Next in Part Two: Strange days and nights with Ed Walters and company; media frenzy ignites a fire; cheapjack MUFON politics comes into full swing; skeptics stage their own parade…and it’s not pretty.
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