BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Nearly six decades later, Bob Huntley is still reluctant to talk about the extraterrestrial prank he pulled in 1947 on the people of Black River Falls.
He was just trying to create a little summertime excitement, he explained last week in a telephone interview from his home in Lexington, Va.
It wasn't supposed to turn into a federal case.
But when a remarkably realistic-looking flying saucer landed on a field on the day of a big game, that's just what it became.
The Civil Air Patrol flew in an inspector from Milwaukee.
The FBI showed up.
"That was when I really freaked out,” said Huntley, 76, after initially declining to be interviewed by the La Crosse Tribune.
His cover was blown recently when a cohort sent a letter to the newspaper detailing the events of July 10, 1947.
"Of course it was a hoax, but its perpetrators have remained anonymous for some 57 years,” wrote La Crosse attorney John McDonald. "I thought it best to clear up the mystery, to give credit where credit is due before those who created the saucer all pass into the great beyond from whence the saucer came.”
So though he'd rather let the whole ordeal fade into the oblivion of time, Huntley shared his recollections of the flying saucer story.
He was 17 at the time. He spent the early part of the month working after-hours at his grandfather's woodworking and sign-painting shop in Black River Falls.
The outside of the saucer was made of sign board, and the inside of balsa wood, with an engine made of old motor and engine parts, and a photo-electric bulb from an old motion picture player.
With help from three buddies — Bud Bowler and cousins John and Dan McDonald — Huntley "crash-landed" the saucer in a location that was sure to be noticed. The saucer measured 15.5 inches in diameter, 4 inches in height and weighed a pound and a half.
It was the late Sigurd Hanson, who was Black River Falls' city electrician, who discovered the saucer in the grass at the Jackson County fairgrounds as he, George Dickie and Aleck Gunderson installed lighting on the baseball diamond, according to an old edition of the Tribune.
The night before, Huntley and the group of young men had used shovels to dig up a landing strip for the saucer.
"We had to pick a place where we knew the disc would be found, and we knew there was a ballgame scheduled the next evening," Huntley said.
"Then it turned out Sig Hanson had to do some kind of work (at the park).
"He was a fine gentleman, and I am very sorry for whatever awkwardness I must have created," Huntley added. "A 17-year-old kid doesn't think on those terms."
While the town wondered about the flying saucer, rumors flourished. The Tribune published an Extra edition about the discovery on July 11, 1947, proclaiming, "Flying Saucer Found on Black River Grounds."
McDonald said it was "fear, in capital letters and put it in quotes," that led him to remain quiet about the incident for all these years.
Huntley agreed. "I had no desire to be arrested by the FBI or to be incarcerated by the army or anything."
McDonald said the idea to confess came about when he was cleaning his garage and came across some memorabilia. Among the items was a Sunday, July 13, 1997, edition of the Tribune with a headline that read, "BRF boasts own 50-year ‘mystery.'"
The story told how the saucer was a hoax that no one had owned up to. There was speculation as to who was behind the hoax, and names including Sig Hanson and his son, Jim, who was studying electrical engineering at UCLA and was home for the summer at the time of the flying saucer's discovery, were bantered about.
"I thought (Huntley) should really get credit for it," McDonald said last week.
The reason for the hoax?
"It was just a way to bring excitement into a small town," Huntley said. "I originally thought kids would find it the next day."
Huntley said the saucer was taken to the University of Minnesota, where it was flown in a wind tunnel and proved to have excellent aerodynamic characteristics.
But officials no doubt discovered quickly that it was not from outer space, Huntley said. "You're not going to find an RCA bulb in a spacecraft."
The balsa wood might have also been a clue.
"The last I heard," he said, "it ended up in an Army proving grounds someplace in Nebraska, maybe Omaha. That was the last I heard of it."
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