ELY, NV - Visit Roswell, New Mexico, even Rachel, Nevada, a stop on Nevada's Extraterrestrial Highway,and you'll find both proudly claim a spot in UFO history. You won't find that in Ely, Nevada, but maybe you should.
If you google Ely and UFO you'll immediately find a link to flying saucer legend and lore. It appears in every listing of a supposed crash of an unidentified flying object.
Nearly six decades ago, it is claimed a UFO crashed near Ely. That's nearly the whole story. You'll find a date: August 14, 1952 and 16 bodies recovered.
That's the highest body count claimed for any UFO crash anywhere by the way. Both claims consistent on all listings, but no other details.
We first heard this story in November when we journeyed to Ely chasing the claims of fresh sightings in eastern Nevada. Out of curiousity we started looking for more.
We weren't the first. A few years ago Kent Harper of the Ely Times came across the same reference and asked his readers if any could shed any light on the account. He didn't get a lot of feedback. Years later, he says, he hasn't learned much more.
"I even went down to Rachel and talked with some folks down there," he says, "but it just seems to have been on the internet forever and no one adds to it, no one deletes from it."
Harper wouldn't have found any clues in the files of his own paper.
We checked the microfilm on the Ely Times from August of 1952 in three different libraries with the same result. The issue from August 15th, when any such event would have been reported, is missing.
That's enough to jump start the musings of any conspiracy theorist worth the title, but finally in the White Pine County Library we found perhaps the only remaining copy of the August 15th issue.
On the front page: a baseball tournament, an approaching festival, news from the Korean War, even a planned flyover by Air Force bombers. Nothing that could give rise to a rumor of a UFO crash.
Mention any of this nearly six decades later to anyone on the street here and you'll likely get a puzzled stare and a shrug.
So this incident whatever it was, if it was, does not play a prominent role in local memory, but if you start asking questions stories do emerge.
The stories from the '50's are now third hand, but the most intriguing links the crash story to a spot just west of Ely along Highway 50 called Copper Flat.
Mary Sorenson is a lifelong resident and local historian of White Pine County. Growing up here she heard no stories of UFO crashes, but a few years ago, looking for material for a collection of local ghost stories, she came across the same information we did and mentioned it to a longtime resident, who said he had heard it first hand from a close friend, a respected security guard working for the nearby copper mine.
"He told my friend he witnessed a UFO crash and the government swore him to secrecy, that he was not to divulge to anyone."
A UFO crash, not a plane crash?
"A UFO crash is what he said."
The man, by all accounts, a responsible, respected member of the community took whatever else he might have known including the exact location to the grave.
Ironically years after the reported crash, this location would have a unrelated connection to aerospace. In 1959, NASA located a tracking station on Kimberly Mountain overlooking Copper Flat, part of Project High Range, to track the flights of the X-15 rocket plane. The empty building still stands amidst a collection of communication sites.
As a 12 year old staying with his grandparents in East Ely that same summer of 1952, Claude House says he and others in the neighborhood had their own close encounter. At 4 in the morning, a bright object lit up the sky above the house, letting out a low hum.
Neighbors gathered and watched, joined by a deputy and the sheriff himself.
"I seen what I seen and I know I'm not crazy,":insists House. Over a number of minuites maybe a dozen people witnessed the object, he says.. "And they agreed. It was a UFO."
A few days later he recalls a dinner table conversation, the adults talking about a crash.
"They said a few of their friends from Kennecott went hp there to see what the could, see if any stuff that might be lying around and it was blocked off and it was a light plane crash."
We've been unable to verify any incident involving an aircraft of any type near Ely or anything else that would morph into a reported crash of a UFO.
So, inevitably we are left with a mystery. Where did this story come from? It's a question without an answer and likely to remain that way. The coldest of cold cases in the UFO file.