Opinion

Lime Jello with cottage cheese -- from the sky?

Monday, July 13, 2009
Elvin Goodson, volunteer at the High Plains Museum, holds a chunk of green glass at the center of a new investigation of a supposed UFO crash near Benkelman in 1884. (Walt Sehnert)

The Museum of the High Plains plays host to a great number of interesting visitors over the year, especially in the summertime. This year we were privileged to visit with one, Robert Golka, who is a consultant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a wide range of scientific subjects, including the Para-Normal. He is very much interested in an artifact that makes up part of the DAR collection at the museum. This is a very heavy piece of molten bright green glass, with bits of white rock interspersed throughout. As one young visitor noted, "That looks like a big dish of lime Jello, with Cottage Cheese, like you get at a church supper." An apt description.

Mr. Golka has spent a good deal of time in Southwestern Nebraska. He believes that the DAR glass piece might be traced to a phenomenon that took place 35 miles northwest of Benkleman in 1884. A smaller piece of green glass, which reportedly came from the Dundy County site, is remarkably similar to the McCook DAR piece, although it lacks any of the white, "Cottage Cheese" flecks. Further scientific tests will have to be made to tell conclusively if the two pieces of glass are indeed the same. In the meantime Mr. Golka has uncovered an article in the June 7, 1884 issue of the Nebraska State Journal, datelined Benkleman, which describes the event and the reactions of some of the people who witnessed the mysterious phenomenon.

The headline in the Journal read, "A Celestial Visitor, A startling and curious story from the ranges of Dundy County. It is evidently a machine of human manufacture."

On June 6. 1884, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon John W. Ellis, a well-known ranchman was going out to his herd with three of his ranch hands and several other cowboys for their annual roundup. While riding near a draw they heard a terrific, rushing, roaring sound overhead. Looking up they saw what appeared to be a blazing meteor of immense size falling at an angle to the earth. A moment later it struck the ground just over the bank where they were riding. Scrambling up the steep hill they saw the object bounding along half a mile away, only to disappear into another draw.

As they galloped at great speed toward the object they were astonished to see fragments of cog-wheels and other pieces of machinery scattered in the path made by the "aerial visitor" (the term UFO was not used in 1884.). The objects glowed with heat so intense as to scorch the grass for a long distance around each fragment. Coming to the edge of the deep ravine into which the strange object had fallen, the heat was so great that the air was fairly ablaze and the object emitted a light so dazzling that the eye could not rest upon it for more than a moment.

One of their party, a cowboy named Alf Williamson, stood with his head incautiously exposed over the bank. Though he was some 200 feet from the object, in less than half a minute he fell senseless. His face was desperately blistered and his hair was singed to a crisp. He was in dangerous condition. A doctor was summoned immediately, and he was taken to be with a brother in Denver, where more medical help was available, but he was not expected to recover his sight.

When it became apparent that it would be impossible to approach "the mysterious visitor", the party turned back on its trail. Where the object first touched down the ground was sandy and bare of grass. Here the sand was fused to an unknown depth over a space about twenty feet wide by eighty feet long, and the molten metal was still bubbling and hissing.

Finding it impossible to do any investigating, Mr. Ellis returned to his house and sent out messengers to neighboring ranches with the news. When night came the light from the "wonderful object" beamed almost like the sun, and the visitors who went out to see the object were entirely powerless to bear the glow.

One of the men who came to witness the phenomenon was E. W. Rawlins, who was a brand inspector, a fellow who was used to recording meticulous details. He provided a detailed description and verification of the particular facts of the event. Smaller pieces of the scattered machinery had cooled somewhat, but were still too hot to be handled. One piece, that looked like the brass blade of a propeller screw, was about 16 inches wide, by 3 inches thick, and about 3 feet long. When it was picked up on a spade by Rawlins, he was amazed that the piece could not have weighed more than 5 pounds, though it appeared as strong and compact as any known metal. A fragment of a wheel, with a milled rim apparently had a diameter of about 7 or 8 feet, was made of the same light metal.

The "aerolite," or whatever it was, seemed to have been about 50 or 60 feet in length, was cylindrical, and about 10 or 12 feet in diameter. As might be expected, there was great excitement in the vicinity over the discovery. The roundup was suspended, while the cowboys waited for their wonderful find to cool enough so that they could make a thorough examination.

Two days later, on June 9, 1884 the State Journal had a follow-up story, with the headline, "The Magical Meteor, It Dissolves Like a Drop of Dew Before the Morning Sun."

The day before, on June 8, a rainstorm had hit the area, "in a regular blizzard style." The rain came down in torrents for a half an hour or more, obscuring any sight of the mysterious object.

The State Journal correspondent reported that he had returned to the sight of the mysterious meteor, along with a dozen or so other witnesses, to see what effect, if any, the rain would have on the "aerolite." When the rain abated the observers rushed into the draw. They were astounded that the queer object had melted, "dissolved by the water like a spoonful of salt." Small, jelly-like pools stood here and there on the ground, but under the eyes of the observers these grew thinner and thinner, till they were but muddy water joining the rills that led to the current of water a few feet away. The air was filled with a faint sweetish smell.

The Journal report concludes, "The whole affair is bewildering in the highest degree, and will no doubt forever remain a mystery ... There has been a continued stream of investigators here for the past two days, among them a number of members of the press. The Denver Tribune representative was among the witnesses to the evidence of the wonderful visitor. There are a thousand theories afloat as to how it came and what it was, but they all now unfortunately incapable of solution."

And so it has been for the past 125 years. Yet one man, Robert Golka, of MIT, is determined to find a solution to this mystery if it is at all possible. Mr. Golka has the backing of the scientific community at MIT and the chemists at the Corning Glass Works in New York to aid him in his examination of the molten "lime Jello" rock, and is willing to use the resources of the Para Normal investigators as well, in his search for answers to the Southwestern Nebraska riddle. We wish him all the best in his quest.

Source: The Nebraska State Journal, issues, June 7, and June 9, 1884

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  • Perchance the rock is the melted sand, caused by the heat from a fuel device of the craft, and cooled into solid, rather than being flash vaporized by the intense heat. The burns on the ranchers face sounds much like burns, and blindness caused by emitted Gama (X-Ray) type radiation. the burns sound much like that type effect.

    The fuel source probably did a 'china-syndrom,' but would have left a hole in the ground, equal to the diameter of the fuel, and would not have been very large even then.

    What I just typed is not intended as a lark, but as a possible scientific possibility, hopefully worth consideration.

    Arley Steinhour

    -- Posted by Navyblue on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 3:46 PM
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