April 18, 1961
Location: Eagle River, Wisconsin, United States
Paul Simonton, a chicken farmer in Eagle River, Wisconsin
saw a disc-shaped craft land vertically on his farm. A
hatch opened, and when he approached he saw three human-looking
men inside. They asked him for some water. They appeared
to be cooking pancakes on a griddle, and in exchange for
the water they gave him four of the pancakes from griddle.
The episode survived a rigorous assessment by the U.S.
Air Force and is carried in their files as "unexplained."
Sketch of the UFO, based on a drawing supplied by Joe
Simonton. (credit: FSR)
Two photographs of Joe Simonton with one of the "alien
pancakes". (source of first photo:
Vilas County News-Review, April 27, 1961)
Another artist's impression of the craft.
Artist's impression of the Eagle River encounter, by Michael
's strangest close encounter of the third kind must surely
be the incident during which Joe Simonton was given three
pancakes by "Italian-looking" aliens.
close encounter of the third kind is an actual meeting
between humans and extraterrestrials, and Simonton's is
easily the state's best known. Despite the unlikely manner
in which the story unfolded, the episode survived a rigorous
assessment by the U.S. Air Force and is carried in their
files as "unexplained."
1961, Joe Simonton was a plumber, auctioneer and Santa
Claus - annually, for the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.
He reported his age as 55 or 60, depending on the interviewer:
At 11 a.m., April 18, Simonton was having a late breakfast
when he heard a sound like that of a jet being throttled
back, something like the sound of "knobby tires
on wet pavement." He went into the yard and saw
a flying saucer drop out of the sky and hover over his
farm. It was silver and "brighter than chrome,"
12 feet in height and 30 feet in diameter. On one edge
were what appeared to be exhaust pipes, 6 or 7 inches
disc landed and a hatch opened. Inside were three dark-skinned
aliens, each about 5 feet tall and weighing about 125
pounds. They appeared to be between 25 and 30 years old
and were dressed in dark blue or black knit uniforms with
turtleneck tops, and helmet-like caps. They were clean-shaven,
Simonton said, and "Italian-looking."
aliens did not speak in his presence, but they had a silvery
jug with two handles, heavier than aluminum but lighter
than steel, about a foot high. It seemed to be made out
of the same material as the craft. Simonton said it was
"a beautiful thing, a Thermos jug-like bottle
quite unlike any jug I have ever seen here [on Earth]."
ESP or something, Simonton got the idea that the aliens
wanted water. He left the visitors, filled the jug from
the water pump in his basement, then returned to the craft
and gave the jug back. To do this, he had to brace himself
against the UFO's hull and stretch up. From the subsequent
Air Force report: "Looking into the [saucer],
he saw a man 'cooking' on some kind of flameless cooking
appliance." The alien was preparing pancakes.
interior of the UFO was dull black, even the three "extremely
beautiful" instrument panels, and had the appearance
of wrought iron. The contrast between the dark interior
and shiny exterior so fascinated Simonton that he later
said that he "would love to have a room painted
in the same way."
return for the water, one of the aliens - the only one
with narrow red trim on his trousers - presented Simonton
with three of the pancakes, hot from the griddle. As he
did so, the alien touched his own forehead, apparently
a salute in thanks to Simonton for his help. Simonton
saluted back. Each of the pancakes was roughly 3 inches
in diameter and perforated with small holes.
head alien then connected a line or belt to a hook in
his clothing and the hatch closed. The saucer rose about
20 feet and took off to the south, at a 45-degree angle.
Its wake left a blast of air that tossed the tops of nearby
pine trees. The craft took only two seconds to disappear
ate one of the pancakes, ostensibly in the interest of
science. "It tasted like cardboard,"
he told the Associated Press. The other two pancakes he
gave to Vilas County Judge Frank Carter, a local UFO enthusiast.
Carter, who called the aliens "saucernauts"
("I prefer Italians"), said he believed
Simonton's story since he could not think of any way in
which the farmer might profit from a hoax. Carter's son,
Colyn, today a lawyer in Eagle River, told me, "I
recall as a youngster that my dad took it very seriously."
Carter sent the pancakes to what was then the country's
top investigative group, the National Investigations Committee
on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). They refused the opportunity
to check it out. That put a damper on Judge Carter's plans;
he had wanted to hold a seminar on the incident.
this time, Simonton said, he was "irked by reporters
making fun of the situation and laughing."
response to all this, the Air Force dispatched its civilian
UFO investigator, J. Allen Hynek. Hynek at the time was
an astronomer at Northwestern University. He later became
convinced that UFOs are real, and founded his own investigative
agency, which took over NICAP's files after that group
folded. Thanks to Hynek, a Northwestern University committee
and the Air Force's Technical Intelligence Center analyzed
one of Simonton's pancakes and found it to be made of
flour, sugar and grease; it was rumored, however, that
the wheat in the pancakes was of an unknown type.
official Air Force assessment of it all: This case is
unexplained. "The only serious flaw in the story
is the disappearance of the craft in 'two seconds.' The
rest of the story did not contain any outrages to physical
concepts," reads the report. Simonton "answered
questions directly, did not contradict himself, insisted
on the facts being exactly as he stated and refused to
accept embellishments or modifications. He stated he was
sure that we wouldn't believe him but that he didn't care
whether he was believed. He stated simply that this happened
and that was that."
private Air Force response was unearthed after a little
detective work. It comes from a UFO handbook for Air Force
personnel, written by Lloyd Mallan and issued in a popular
edition by Science and Mechanics Publishing Co. In the
book, Mallan refers to "J.S., a highly regarded,
much respected citizen of Eagle River, Wis. -- a small
rural community noted for its attractiveness to tourists."
there are more space-pancake recipients in Eagle River
than otherwise reported, we can safely see through Mallan's
clever attempt at disguise and positively identify "J.S."
as Joe Simonton.)
Air Force investigator, according to Mallan, said that
Simonton "appeared quite sincere to me, did not
appear to be the perpetrator of a hoax." But
an Air Force Aeronautical Systems Division psychiatrist
believed that Simonton had suffered a hallucination and
subsequent delusion. The Air Technical Intelligence Center
investigator said, "cases of this type could be
injurious to the mental health of the individual if [he]
became upset due to the experience. ...It was pointed
out that experiences of this type, hallucinations followed
by delusion, are not at all uncommon and especially in
according to Mallan, the Air Force took to heart an unsubstantiated
rumor circulated by, among others, Raymond Palmer, a publisher
of pulp flying-saucer and science-fiction magazines. Palmer
reported to the Air Force his belief that Simonton had
been hypnotized by an Eagle River real estate broker and
was fed the pancake story so that he would repeat it and
appear truthful. The motivation for this was economic,
for the purpose of "a miniature Disneyland that is
or was being built in the area."
understand how incredible the rumor was, it is useful
to look at the credibility of Palmer himself. One of his
favorite theories was that flying saucers came from a
secret hollow-Earth civilization ruled by a race called
Detrimental Robots, which he abbreviated as "Deros."
According to Palmer, the Deros manipulated humanity with
their projected thought rays. Palmer's primary source
-- actually, his only source -- was a Pennsylvania welder
who drew upon "racial memory" for his
accounts. (There apparently is no mention in Air Force
files of the possibility that the Deros' thought-ray had
been turned upon real estate agents, or Palmer, or even
the Air Force, though I believe there is as much evidence
for that as for an Eagle River Disneyland.)
based on such sound "evidence," the Air
Technical Intelligence Center, which headquartered Air
Force UFO investigations, let the matter drop. Publicly,
it was a mystery. The classified reason, revealed to Mallan,
was that the Air Force would not pursue the matter "due
to the possibility of causing [Simonton] embarrassment
which might prove injurious to his health." This
was an uncharacteristic kindness on the part of the Air
Force; they regularly had been dismissing reports from
pilots - even their own - as misidentifications or, worse,
hallucinations. "There are sufficient psychological
explanations for reports not otherwise explainable,"
concluded the Psychology Branch of the Air Force's Aeromedical
Laboratory in 1949. Pilots, police, professors, besides
regular folks -- all nuts. In the 60's, though, for a
brief, shining moment, the Air Force took on a human face
and it its collective tongue, bending over backwards to
carry the case of a part-time Santa and full-time chicken
farmer as unexplained. Some may smell a conspiracy here.
for Simonton himself, in the end, he was left with a bitter
taste in his mouth, and it wasn't from the pancakes. "I
haven't been able to work for three weeks," he
told United Press International. "I'm going to
have to start making some money." He said that
the next time he saw a flying saucer, he would keep it
lied. In 1970, Simonton was visited by Lee Alexander,
a UFO enthusiast active in a Detroit-based investigative
group. Simonton told Alexander that he had had more visits
from the aliens, but he had not told anyone because of
the way his first report had been received.
that is all we know.