CARL HART AND THE LUBBOCK LIGHTS
BY KEVIN D. RANDLE
Photo of Carl Hart, Jr., taken by Special Agents Bossert and Farley in his home on September 20, 1951.
The Lubbock Lights case started with a small group of college professors in the summer of 1951. At about 9:10 p.m. on August 25, W. L. Ducker, A. G. Oberg, and W. I. Robinson spotted what they later called a "string of beads" flying overhead. During the course of the evening they saw more flights and called the local newspaper, hoping that a story would encourage other witnesses to come forth.
The professors discussed the lights and determined what they would do if they reappeared. They wanted to gather solid data that might help identify these peculiar objects. When a second flight passed by, they put their plan into action but learned nothing useful.
Ducker called the Lubbock newspaper, The Avalanche (later The Avalanche-Journaf), but the editor on duty, Jay Harris, was reluctant to run the story. When Ducker insisted, Harris reluctantly went along on the condition that Ducker allow his name to be used. He agreed, and the story appeared.
The story did not attract national attention, however, until Carl Hart, Jr., an incoming college freshman, took a series of photographs of the lights. Hart, who had read the stories in the newspaper about the professors' sightings, was lying in bed on the night of August31 with an eye on the sky.
According to Hart, whom I interviewed recently, "We didn't have central air conditioning. I slept with the windows open, and I liked to sleep with my head stuck out the window-and there they were."
Hart said the lights had been in the news for a week or so, "and they usually showed up in several flights when they would, so. . . I went outside with my camera. . . . I didn't go anywhere without a camera."
Hart took two photographs of the second flight, and when the lights came back a third time, he took three more. The next day he took the film to a friend's photo lab so that he could develop it.
Hams at the Avalanche learned of the pictures when a photographer who did some work for the newspaper called to say that Hart had just been there developing some film. He thought Harris might be interested, and Harris suggested that Hart bring the negatives to the office.
Harris, along with head photographer William Hams, examined the photos, but he feared a hoax. Harris called Hart a couple of times and bluntly asked him more than once whether he had faked the photos. When Hart denied it, Harris told him that if he ever learned the pictures were bogus, he would "raise hell" and see that Hart was run out of town.
Hart replied that he had photographed something flying over Lubbock and if Hams didn't want to use the pictures, Hart didn't care. He didn't care about the payment for them either. Whatever they paid would be fine. He eventually received about $10.
"My advice from a friend and professional journalist at the time was that if [I] copyright them, somebody's going to think [I] faked them and [was] trying to make money out of them," Hart recalled. "I was interested in that part of it [proving the pictures weren't fakes] and didn't do it [copyright them]."
Harris later decided to put the pictures on the wire services, but before he did, he contacted Hart once again. This time he warned him even more fiercely about the consequences of fraud. Once the photos went out on the wire nationwide, Hart's problems would be far worse if he was lying about them. Hart stood by his story and his pictures.
Later Hart said, "I never did hear an official version. I heard some unofficial things that came out later. . . about [how] they thought I had faked them somehow."
Avalanche photographer Hams tried to duplicate the photos. He took a camera to the roof of the newspaper building and watched for the lights. He saw nothing but a flight of birds. They were barely visible in the glow of the sodium vapor lights on the street below. Though he took two pictures of them and the birds flew in a ragged V-formation, they did nothing to explain the Hart pictures.
Hams developed the film, but the image was too weak to be printed. He tried one other time and failed again. The experience convinced him that Hart had not photographed birds.
THE SEARCH FOR AN EXPLANATION
From Carl Hart, Jr. 's back yard, looking north towards where the lights first appeared. The house is now gone, replaced by a Pizza Hut. Photo by Kevin Randle.
Once it learned about the pictures, the military spent a great deal of time trying to come up with an explanation for them. Officers came from Reese Air Force Base just outside Lubbock and from Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio. Lt. (later Capt.) Edward J. Ruppelt even made the trip to Lubbock to investigate the lights and to interview Hart.
In the official report he would write about his trip, Ruppelt mentioned Joe Bryant of Brownfield, Texas. Bryant said he had seen the lights on August 25, the night the professors made the first of their reports. He was in his backyard when he saw the lights pass overhead, flying from north to south. He described them as "kind of a glow, little bigger than a star." A short time later, a second group appeared. Neither group had been in any sort of formation. Bryant characterized them as just a group of lights.
A few minutes later a third flight appeared, but instead of flying over the house, it dropped down and circled. Because the group was lower, Bryant could see the objects quite clearly. They were birds. One of them chirruped, and Bryant recognized it as a plover. When he read the account in the newspaper the next day, he told RuppeIt, he realized he would have been as baffled as the professors if he hadn't identified the lights as a group of plovers.
Ruppelt and the investigators from Reese AFB, including Lt. John Farley and Special Agent Howard N. Bossert, interviewed Hart half a dozen times. Armed with the insights from Bryant, they thought they had the answer. They wanted to see if they could match the bird identification to Hart's sighting.
On September 20, 1951, Bossert and Farley interviewed Hart at his home and asked for the negatives. Hart could find only four of the five. He turned these over to the military for analysis.
Bossert's initial report, dated October 8, went to Headquarters, OSI, in Washington, D.C. Copies were also sent to the commanding general of the Air Materiel Command, and to the commanding officer at Reese AFB.
Between November 6 and 9 another investigation of the Lubbock Lights was conducted. Ruppelt and Bossert interviewed Hart at his home and were told exactly the same story as before. "Hart's story could not be 'picked apart' because it was entirely logical," the official report states. "He was questioned on why he did certain things and his answers were all logical, concise, and without hesitation."
A technical report, dated November 29, 1951, and based on an analysis conducted by the physics laboratory at the Air Technical Intelligence Center (A TIC) at Wright Patterson, revealed nothing about the sightings other than that the lights photographed by Hart were individual lights and not part of a larger, dark object. The lights moved in relation to one another in the formation. The Air Force physicists did estimate that if the lights had been attached to an object one mile from the camera, it would have a diameter of310feet. If closer, it would be smaller, and if farther away, it would be larger. The negatives were returned to Hart once the Air Force investigation was completed. .
Ruppelt's was not the last interview by the military. On December 2 he was questioned again. According to the OSI report, Hart was interviewed in private and asked for a written statement. Evidently the military hoped to break his story, which was a continuing obstacle to the bird explanation. If a professional photographer could not get a picture of birds at night, how had an amateur done it? The obvious answer was that Hart had not photographed birds. If so, that meant the objects he had photographed were unidentified flying objects.
Hart rather enjoyed the attention he was receiving. The professors, he would remark, "felt like 1 had stolen their glory."
After December 2 the military investigation began to wind down. The officers involved had spoken with all the witnesses more than once; concentrating on H_ (they returned his negatives in March 1952). After speaking with Bryant, the man who had seen the plovers, and another West Texan, T. E. Snider, who reported that he had seen the lights and identified them as ducks, the officers decided that the Lubbock Lights could safely be explained as birds.
Their report concluded that:
. . . birds, with street lights reflecting from them, were the probable cause of these sightings. The angular velocity of 30 degrees per second seems rather high for birds during migratory flights. It is probable that the angular velocity was less. In all instances the witnesses were located in an area where their eyes were dark-adapted, thus making the objects appear brighter.
The kind of birds responsible for this sighting is not known, but it is highly probable that they were ducks or plover. Since plovers do not usually fly in formations of more than six or seven, ducks seem more probable.
There are, however, no migratory birds in the Lubbock area at that time of year. According to Loren Smith of Texas Tech, ducks fly in V -formations in the area in late August. The glossy ibis, for example, visits the area, but it has no white with which to reflect the streetlights. Therefore the bird explanation does not work.
In fact, the photographs taken by Hart refute this theory, but that made no difference. And it made no difference that a professional photographer, when he attempted to photograph a flight of ducks at night, could not do so. Project Blue Book lists the case as solved by the birds.
That was not the last of it. In June 1952, in a Look article, Harvard University astronomer and UFO debunker Donald H. Menzel claimed that the Lubbock Lights were not birds but reflections of the city's lights-"mirages caused by an atmospheric condition known as temperature inversion,"
The campus of Texas Tech, where the professors who first reported the lights taught.
Menzel was able to reproduce chemically, to his own satisfaction in his laboratory, what he insisted were the Lubbock Lights. But the photo he produced did not look like those taken by Hart. The latter were more diffuse, and Menzel compared his to one of Hart's with streaks on it. He did not use the classic photo of the round lights.
Apparently Menzel did not like that explanation either. In his 1977 book The UFO Enigma (written with Ernest H. Taves) he devotes less than a paragraph to the Lubbock Lights. "We believe that some of the Lubbock photographs may have been hoaxes," he and Taves wrote. Left with no convincing alternative explanation, Menzel, who emotionally could not accept the idea that anyone could photograph a genuine UFO, simply called Hart a liar.
Hart continues to deny that the pictures were faked. No one has ever presented any evidence to support the accusation, nor has anyone explained how they could have been faked,
Hart himself has no explanation. Asked if he believes in flying saucers, he said, "I don't particularly disbelieve. I think I'm kind of open-minded on that. If one would show up some place else here, I think I'd accept it." When asked if he knew what the lights were, he told me, "I really don't.”...