Strange Sky Happeings

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Ammons

Photo by Nelly Volkovich on Unsplash

Photo by Nelly Volkovich on Unsplash

I remember seeing what we thought were the “Northern Lights” from Wiggins Creek. They looked like waves of colors going across the sky. At the time we didn’t know that the aurora borealis couldn’t be seen that far south (or so said the teachers in school.) So we assumed we were seeing lights from a city to the north of us. The nearest city in that direction would have been Knoxville. Of course you have Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge now but they were only villages at that time.

I remember seeing these lights in the northern sky several times. It happened only on clear, cold, moonless, winter nights. Brother Harold speculated that the lights were coming from experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory which was in the same general direction. This was during the height of the Cold War and we were sure that the Russians were bound to blow up Fontana Dam and Oak Ridge at any time.

Further study reveals that the Northern Lights are visible at times as far south as the 35th parallel.

You’ll have to stay up until around midnight to get the best chance of seeing the lights. February and March are the best months according to NOAA.

One other incident I remember was when I saw one cloud around midnight in an otherwise cloudless, moonless sky. It was roughly the shape of a football but had no definite borders. In other words it appeared fuzzy. Ordinarily you can’t see clouds under those conditions, but this one appeared to have a glow. A pinkish glow! Kinda like the red clouds at sunset but the sun had been down for hours. Like pink cotton candy. The cloud first appeared in the northeastern sky and drifted slowly southeast over the course of about 30 minutes until it disappeared over the ridge toward Licklog. Once again I got Harold up to watch. Once again we attributed it to an accidental release of radioactive gas from Oak Ridge. This manifestation only happened once to my knowledge and has never had a viable explanation.

My mother talked about seeing a ball of fire with a long tail moving across the sky when she was a child. She was born in 1924 so I assume she was talking about the late 1920s or early 1930s. I asked her if it flashed across the sky like a meteor or lasted for days like a comet. She said it was neither. It moved slowly across the sky and looked like it was something on fire. It was visible for quite a while and other people in the community saw it as well. She said it didn’t look like an airplane on fire and was still burning when it went out of sight. According to her some observers speculated that it was a sign of the end of time. I never asked but I assume this object was visible in the daytime. I also don’t remember asking her where she was when she saw it but it was probably over in the Long Branch area because that is where she was born and lived when she was little.
I hope you enjoyed Ed’s memories as much as I did! On Monday a whole lot of folks made themselves some memories. During the total solar eclipse The Deer Hunter told the girls “This will be something you’ll always remember seeing. And you can remember seeing it with your Momma and Daddy.”

If you have any strange sky happenings I hope you’ll share them with me.



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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 23, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    If David Templeton liked it, I’m happy! That’s all I’ve got to say!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    August 23, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    It’s always a pleasure to read from Ed Ammons. He talks casually, like you were sitting on the front porch with him; relaxed and at once articulate. Thank you, Ed,, and thank you, Tipper, for showing his story.

  • Reply
    August 23, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    It’s exciting to read about the borealis being seen so far south; these are amazing accounts.
    I did grow up a bit more paranoid during the Cold war years than the average child,being a native Oak Ridger. Can’t imagine why.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Back in the 1950s and early 60s we often saw strange things in the sky during daylight hours. One which we often saw were airplanes flying over that would produce a puff of “smoke” and then fly away “like a rocket.” After the plane was completely gone from sight there would be an explosive noise that seemed to shake the earth. Just as with the lights in the sky and being the inquisitive young boys we were, we supposed that this was some form of atomic energy in use. We kept our eyes and ears focused toward the skies hoping to see repeats of this phenomenon which we often did.
    It turns out that the smoke was a vapor cloud produced when the airplane broke the sound barrier and the explosion was the shock wave that followed. Airplane manufacturers were testing new jet fighters. They chose to test them above us because the area was sparsely populated and in case of a crash only a few dumb hillbillies would get killed.
    Well as far as I know, no dumb hillbillies got killed but that doesn’t mean there was no loss of life. There was quite a few chicken farmers in the area. Chickens are stupid. When frightened they all run in the same direction. If there are a thousand chickens in a building they will all run to one end and pile up. The ones on outside of the pile will survive. Those underneath will suffocate. If you started with 1000 you might end up with 200, If you’re lucky. Like a pileup on a football field multiplied by 100.
    The chickens hear the boom and start to run in all directions at first but then settle on one direction. If you are in the building, you could sometimes break up the pile by wading in and throwing chickens in the other direction. Sometimes though, they would suddenly have a change of heart (chickens don’t have a brain, not one it uses anyway) and go pile up in the other end of building you so run down there and wade in again.
    Eventually the testing lessened and the farmers learned to stretch nets across their buildings so that the chickens couldn’t all pile up together. I think some of the chicken farmers (or is it ranchers) did get reimbursed monetarily for some of their losses but my family didn’t see a dime.
    I think it is chicken rancher. So I didn’t grow up on a family farm in Appalachia after all. I grew up on a ranch in the high country!

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    August 23, 2017 at 11:49 am

    My Granny grew up in Young Cane, a section in Union County and I’ve heard her talk several times about seeing “mineral lights”. She described them just as balls of light. I was telling my daddy in law about it one time, he grew up in Owl Town which is not too far from Young Cane and he said they had saw something like that one time and his mother said it was mineral lights. He said they told them it was something to do with gases and the mineral veins running in the ground.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    August 23, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I have never seen the heavens brighter than from a darkened war ship at night. I spent many hours looking into the Pacific sky hoping to see a UFO or some other phenomenon. Never saw anything but the stars and that was more than enough.

  • Reply
    August 23, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I enjoyed reading Ed’s memories from the Past, he’s very knowledgeable, and from the mountains close-by. My girls will forever be Thankful for the things he done for them. I ain’t never seen anything in the skies and I look up often. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 23, 2017 at 8:58 am

    My ex-husband and a friend went to eastern Kentucky for a few days of grouse hunting sometime during the mid eighties. He was supposed to be back at a certain time for some special occasion, maybe a birthday celebration. When he didn’t show up, I wasn’t surprised. As the day turned into night, I can’t remember if I was worried or just mad. Well, in walked his friend with the tallest tale I had ever heard! They had been stopped in traffic for hours as a “spaceship” hovered in the sky over a busy freeway. My husband didn’t say a word because he knew he had told so many unbelievable stories in the past and I wasn’t buying it. The next day, the newspaper and the local news channels covered the story of the UFO spotted and photographed by hundreds of folks as they came to a stand still on the expressway. That was the first time either of the “hunters” had ever told the truth!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 23, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Thanks to Ed for the guest post today.
    It was very interesting to say the least. Goodness, I’ve about heard of everything being blamed on Oak Ridge. I never thunk of the idee that folks wuz thinkin’ of radioactive gas frum here when they seen pink glowing colored lights in the mountains! Hummm, I have heard of “brown bubbles” and “neon green water” backin’ up and flowin’ backards’ up the mountain streams into creeks. Only then to come back down makin’ certain cricks n’ brooks visible in the dark!…I have a feeling that was the curse of bad “stump water” from copper kettles, however it could’ve been “will-of-the wisp n’ fox fire”! Oh well!
    Even though I am a true born Tar Heel from Western NC…our Dad migrated to East Tennessee when the thousands of jobs opened up here in the forties. Good thing too, we like to eat and Dad was plum wore out of farming tobacco. He said that after going to college, he come back home hoping to never have to pick off another ‘backer worm, and he didn’t! ha So here we were, located in the “Secret City”!
    So, I looked many a cold night, as a kid, for the aurora borealis or Northern lights as I stated on the previous days comments….to no avail! I had to be satisfied listening to the tales of the Brown Mountain lights, Grandmothers sightings of streamer tailed fire balls, rolling lightning balls coming thru windows and bouncing around the house and other nighttime strange light sightings….Flashes of light when people walked by the graveyards at midnight…Glowing figures rising up from new and old grave plots…Never did I ever get to see the Northern lights….Closest thing to it that I remember was coming down the curvy road when I woke up in the back of the car on a very foggy night…Right there down the way was a pinkish yeller glow, I couldn’t speak when I saw it! Dad busted my thoughts with a laugh, when he said to my Mother…”There’s the two lights of Marshall a glowin’ in the fog…help me watch for the turnoff road to your Mothers’….
    Thanks Tipper and Ed

  • Reply
    eva m. wike
    August 23, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Well we just finished a long day yesterday, waiting for the GREAT solar event! I’ll bet Ed was out there also, to see that exciting event!. We waited up in Wartburg, with thousands of people Just waiting for the MOON to ease over the SUN. Finally we just got weary with waiting and came back home on up in the afternoon.
    FINALLY IT HAPPENED, RIGHT THERE IN OUR BACK YARD! With field glasses it was amazing!
    So guess that was the biggest event for the whole year! WHAT FUN!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 23, 2017 at 8:40 am

    The strangest sky happening I ever saw was a pink rainbow. It was early one morning over at Jasper, GA. There had been a shower just before daylight and as the sun came up it was shining into the water vapor. And at least where I was, the rainbow made was pink.
    The next most strange sky happening was the Big Flash. It was in the fall, about 4:10 PM. I was driving south on US 411 in Murray County, GA and had just passed Fairy Valley Baptist Church when POW there was a blinding flash of light from the top of Grassy Mountain lasting only a fraction of a second. It was the reflection of the sun from the glass windows of the cab of the Grassy Mountain Firetower. It was a once-in-a-lifetime happening. I have wished many times I might have a picture of it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 23, 2017 at 8:01 am

    It must be an invasion from another world, or the end of the world. Those are the two alternatives I learned to think of when I saw strange things in the night sky as a child. Orson Wells ‘ War of the Worlds’, was a little before my time but still talked about as I was a child. We always jumped to the fearful conclusions. Then there was the Roswell NM UFO thing that scared everyone.
    Now we understand that, at least some, of the night sightings are natural phenomena!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 23, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Sounds like a comet that your mother saw. The lights are beautiful well worth staying up late to see.
    As a child that learned to shelter under a desk for protection from a bomb, I see why they were scary.

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