"Skeptically Speaking" Column #10 -- July 1992

By Gary P. Posner


UFO

The Gulf Breeze "UFOs"

UFO


A tiny town in the Florida panhandle may rightfully lay claim to being, at least at this moment in history, the "UFO Capital of the World." Groups of locals and tourists congregate in Gulf Breeze on clear evenings (occasionally a TV camera crew will show up as well, as did Ch. 13's on May 18-20), hoping to witness what many believe to be extraterrestrial vehicles buzzing their skies. And often they are not disappointed, though balloon-borne road flares could easily account for the current crop of red lights that drift into view (emitting telltale sparks) and turn to white briefly before extinguishing. (Yawn.)

The original Gulf Breeze "UFO" was a work of art -- huge, with a superstructure and substructure, portholes, internal illumination, a paralyzing "blue beam," the whole nine yards -- now there  was a UFO worthy of tourist-trap status! One minor problem: only one person, local homebuilder Ed Walters, seemed to be around when the UFO and its occupants made their appearances, and only he was able to capture the craft on film, night after night.

Walters' color Polaroids were first published in the town's weekly newspaper, the Sentinel,  in November 1987. Though the mayor and Chief of Police scoffed, and the ordinarily credulous Center for UFO Studies published a Special Bulletin  (April 1988) declaring the case an apparent "hoax," the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) embraced Walters, and continues to endorse the case as one of the most important in the history of UFOlogy.

At least MUFON's leadership  endorses the case. Some of its investigators have been excommunicated from this bastion of scientific inquiry for having detected on their own telltale signs of double-exposure trickery (Walters' old Polaroid requires manual pulling out of the exposed film, making it ideal for creating such mischief). One, Dr. Willy Smith, a pro-UFO physicist, published a 26-page report in September 1988 detailing the evidence of deception. One of his findings was that the model being used for the double-exposure prints was slightly asymmetrical. Apparently the aliens read his critique, and Walters' later photos were of a more symmetrical craft!

The National Enquirer  inquired, but before committing to purchase Walters' photos, it sent them to NASA's Dr. Robert Nathan for analysis. Nathan was unable to certify them as genuine, and the Enquirer  passed. (Gasp!) Enter William Morrow & Co., publisher of Whitley Strieber's Communion  and Transformation  (see last column). Morrow reportedly advanced Walters $200,000 for a book, originally to be titled UFOs: Proof Positive.  When Morrow had the photos analyzed, only to receive a similarly sobering report, the title (but not the "non-fiction" categorization) was changed to The Gulf Breeze Sightings: The Most Astounding Multiple Sightings of UFOs in U.S. History,  and the book was published in March 1990. Walters reportedly paid 10% of his advance to Dr. Bruce Maccabee, a Navy physicist and long-time pro-UFO researcher, to write his chapter endorsing the photographs as genuine. And ABC-TV has reportedly paid Walters $400,000 for the miniseries rights.

Front page Remember my "work of art" metaphor? No metaphor! In a front-page, banner-headline story accompanied by photographs (see right), the Pensacola News Journal  announced on June 10, 1990, that a UFO model had been discovered under insulation in the attic of Ed Walters' former home. Constructed from foam dinner plates and drafting paper, the model was turned over to reporter Craig Myers, and used by a News Journal  photographer to, as the caption states and the results attest, "nearly duplicate some of Ed Walters' UFO pictures." Walters claimed that the model must have been planted by debunkers, and that his drawings (on the inside surface of the drafting paper, visible through the craft's bottom) were of a home that he had designed in late 1989, long after his UFO photos were taken. But UFO researcher Philip Klass has since determined that the plans were of a brick home that Walters built in early 1987.

Nine days after the News Journal  bombshell, UPI reported on a news conference held, under oath, by Gulf Breeze attorney Tom Smith. Smith told the press that his son had been told by Walters more than two years earlier of his intention to profit from a UFO hoax. Addressing the claims of other local residents to having seen "UFOs" as well, Smith said, "We don't know what anyone else has seen, but we do know that what Ed disclosed early on was a fabrication." Tommy Jr. later personally confessed on camera to having been a participant with Ed in faking some of the original double-exposure photographs.

Attempting to salvage his organization's credibility by finding authentication for the now nearly universally rejected Walters photographs, MUFON's International Director Walt Andrus selected Rex and Carol Salisberry, honored the previous year by MUFON for their "unsurpassed investigative skill," to conduct a fresh investigation. Their conclusion was that the photographs are double-exposure hoaxes. And even more recently, nationally recognized forensic photo expert William G. Hyzer has informed Andrus of the results of his own investigation: hoax. (R.I.P.)

Postscript: ABC-TV has reportedly cancelled its plans for a miniseries based on Ed Walters' "Gulf Breeze Sightings" book.


The following message was received from a Gulf Breeze proponent:

Subj:  Please!
Date:  9/7/01 2:05:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From:  oregonuforeview@home.com (Eric Byler at Oregon UFO Review)
To:  Garypos@aol.com

How long are you going to keep those old Gulf Breeze stories from the early 1990s on your site? Come on Gary. The good skeptics don't even try to touch the Gulf Breeze stuff any more because of the huge amount of evidence involved. If you have any respect for the facts as documented and want to stay out of the debunker corner, you would cover...as Paul Harvey says...the rest of the story.

Let me help you. Have a seat.

http://www.skiesare.demon.co.uk/t-smith.html


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Read my interview of Philip Klass

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