This week will be 45 years since Calvin Parker and Charles Hickson told the world they were immobilized, picked up and examined by a UFO and put back on the banks of the Pascagoula River, just a few blocks from the city’s downtown.
It was a quieter time — no high-rise bridge, no interstate.
I was in high school and remember hearing the story, seeing pictures in the paper of the wrinkly beings that came out of the ship and sensing the massive reaction along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
You could follow it on radio stations at night — people looking for UFOs, people believing they saw them, hundreds of cars jamming an area when it was announced UFOs were expected.
My friends and I visited the site one night on a small road to an abandoned shipyard, but we didn’t get far into the area. Too dark, too creepy.
In town, families were putting aluminum foil in their windows or piling into cars to plow the marsh grass and reeds to check out the site for themselves.
It was scary if you thought about it for long. No one wanted to stay home alone at night. Parents either believed or scoffed and ridiculed.
The national media and talk shows ate it up. Only one of the men, Hickson, 42, made the circuit telling his story.
I remember my mother watching one talk show interview and sighing, embarrassed by his heavy accent, a way of talking that was so unremarkable in Mississippi but so foreign on the national stage.
Within six months, things had died down. I stayed on the fence. I didn’t see any reason to believe them. After all, the bridge tender for the U.S. 90 drawbridge didn’t see anything, and the men had described a ship 8 feet tall, emitting a bright blue light. It was so bright, Parker, 18, thought at first it was the police arriving to make them move off the property.
I didn’t feel the need to defend or deny it happened.
I moved away and went about my life.
In the early 1980s, my father went looking for Charlie Hickson and found him at a home in Gautier. Dad was satisfied that Hickson had met with aliens and was pleased to learn that Hickson, by then, had connected the experience to world peace and the realm of the spirit.
I moved back to the Mississippi Coast, married in 1987 and raised a family.
I hadn’t given the incident much thought until last year, when my 22-year-old son walked into our television room and practically yelled, “Why didn’t you tell me UFOs picked up two guys in Pascagoula?”
A gas station attendant told him about it. He looked it up before confronting us.
“You know the references to ‘probing’ you see in the movies today? That goes back to these two,” my son said.
Aliens moving a mechanical eye over a helpless human, checking them out in different positions started here? No, it wasn’t the first time aliens had picked up someone, I thought.
However, it appears this is when the idea of probing took off. Hickson and Parker’s story, an early abduction tale, grew legs and ran. Literally overnight, it received attention from around the world and aspects have been “embedded in popular culture” ever since.
So is the tale of Roswell, New Mexico, and its “alien” crash. Authorities say the Roswell UFO incident is the most written about, the most widely known and the most debunked. Still, that city has run with its distinction and draws tourists from around the world – alien eyes on the downtown light posts, a museum and alien-themed stores.
There’s not even a marker here.
Pascagoula is, however, thinking about its alien past. The Main Street coordinator is holding a book signing for Parker’s new book on Thursday. Maybe there will be a guided tour of the site next year.
All along, Pascagoula seemed more curious, maybe embarrassed, but it hasn’t really embraced the story. At the time, locals shunned these men.
Oct. 11, 1973, is the anniversary of Hickson and Parker. It’s time to look at one of this area’s deepest mysteries. Here’s what I learned based on interviews with law enforcement, Parker, news reporters, locals and accounts published by Hickson and Parker.
A look at the facts
First, there were two people involved, whose accounts are very similar. And though one began telling his story right away and the other wrote his book 44 years later, the accounts have retained the same basic details.
(Hickson participated in a movie, talk shows and lectures and died in 2011. Parker dropped out of the UFO scene as quickly as he could and returned to Jones County. He pops up only a few times in connection with UFOs. A decade ago, he moved back to the Coast and published his account this year.)
The two men were more connected than was originally presented. Both were from Jones County.
Charlie Hickson was a foreman at F. B Walker and Sons Shipyard and hired Calvin Parker, 18, whose father was Hickson’s long-time friend. Their families shared meals when Parker was growing up.
Parker, a welder, had just come down from Jones County for a job and agreed to rent a room from Hickson and his wife at their apartment in Gautier, making Hickson both his boss and his landlord.
Hickson was a Korean War veteran who had experienced battles and Parker was a reticent teenager who respected his elders but thought for himself. He wanted to make extra money before he married a Jones County girl.
He had been on the job only one day.
Two different reactions
We’ve heard Hickson’s story. He would tell it at church gatherings. But Parker is the young man who walked away from the notoriety and went home to work the oil fields with his new wife in tow. He said every now and then someone would recognize him and he’d leave a job.
He wanted to earn a good living and live a normal life. He said he had money in his pocket when he came to the Coast to work and did well after. Though Hickson tried for years to make a living off the incident, Parker, now 64, says there were times when he paid Hickson’s electric bill to help him make ends meet toward the end of his life.
Parker is the one who looked so sullen and withdrawn in the well-known photo that shows them soon after the incident. He’s a dramatic contrast to Hickson.
He was the one the sheriff’s deputies said was “climbing the walls” when left alone in an interrogation room to talk with Hickson.
It was Parker’s reaction that convinced law officers that something bad had happened. In the background, deputies could hear Parker begging Hickson, “Don’t talk to them Charlie, those people will come back and get us. They don’t want us to talk.”
Now that he looks back, he says he believes he was drugged by a mechanical creature. He described something like the effects of a date-rape drug that left him unable to move. There was a puncture in his left arm where something grasped onto him and he remembers a sound that went with the injection.
Parker was terrified he had been infected by alien beings or was radioactive and could harm people around him.
He was annoyed and astonished, angry and worn out and felt the incident wasn’t thoroughly investigated with attention to detail.
And when he was through with the interviews and interrogations that happened within days of the incident, he threw away the clothes and shoes he was wearing when it happened and bathed in bleach water before he returned to Jones County and home.
Sheriff’s Capt. Glenn Ryder was on duty when the call came in around 11 p.m.
The two men had tried the newspaper and say they called Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi before trying the Sheriff’s Office.
Originally, Parker asked Hickson to keep it quiet. He said, “I felt this case was personal and no one needed to know.”
But Hickson was determined to talk about it. They agreed that they would tell the officials that Parker passed out and didn’t remember anything, leaving Hickson clear to tell the story without contradiction.
More recently, Parker said he let that lie stand because “I wasn’t sure what had happened or who it was, so I didn’t want to go back home and say to people … ‘I took a ride on a spaceship.’”
Besides, he said, “I was supposed to be married in November.”
‘These things held me’
They were both devoted fishermen, but they disagree on where they started fishing that night.
They left work at 5 p.m., retrieved Hickson’s fishing equipment in Gautier and headed to the river.
Hickson said they started at the foot of the grain elevator (a huge landmark) and worked their way down to the pier at the old Shaupeter Shipyard.
Parker said they went straight to the Shaupeter pier, arriving about 6 p.m.
The entry road to the shipyard was rough going with high grass so they parked about 100 yards from the water and pushed their way through walking, Parker said.
They both said they had no way of keeping up with the time.
But between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Parker was fed up with fishing there and wanted to leave.
They were between the U.S. 90 bridge and the CSX railroad bridge when it happened. Both bridges had bridge tenders that did not corroborate the story.
Parker said he turned around, saw “hazy blue lights” and thought police were looking at his car.
It turned out to be a large, oval shaped craft about eight feet tall, Parker said, floating two feet off the ground.
When the door slid open, the light was blinding, like a welding arc, he said, and three gray creatures with wrinkled skin were on them in an instant, also floating two feet off the ground.
Two grabbed Hickson and one got hold of Parker’s left arm.
Both said they were paralyzed except for their eyes and were floated into the open door.
Inside was bright with no real fixtures. Both described being given a thorough going over with an electronic-type “eye” and being told through telepathy not to be afraid.
Hickson described a feeling of helplessness.
“These things held me while the eye scanned my whole body,” he has said.
The beings moved him so they could check him in different positions.
Parker reported a smaller, fourth being with big eyes that looked “more human-like” that he speculated had communicated with him.
They were returned to the river bank. Hickson was on the ground and conscious. Parker was standing and unable to put his arms down.
Hickson thought he might be in shock, like a man frozen in battle.
“The craft just went straight up and disappeared out of sight.”
‘I believe them’
The Pascagoula newspaper picked it up the next day from the morning sheriff’s reports, published it by mid-morning and the Associated Press sent it out nationally. But calls were already coming in to the Sheriff’s Office from media, so there’s a belief the incident was leaked.
The men were interviewed and scrutinized by UFO investigators within two days of reporting their story (one of them a professor of astronomy at Northwestern University who had been a consultant with the Air Force unit investigating UFOs called Blue Book). Keesler Air Force Base checked them for radiation and found none.
What makes this one special?
Their story was clear, reported quickly and believed.
The sheriff said he believed them. Later, Sheriff Fred Diamond modified his statement to say he believed Charles Hickson believed the story he was telling. That’s different from saying he believed two men were picked up by a space craft. But in one of his first press conferences on radio, he said. “I believe them.”
Diamond ordered a 2 ½ hour polygraph test, given by a New Orleans firm less than three weeks after the incident (Oct. 30, 1973).
The agent administering the test signed a statement that said, “It is my opinion that Charles Hickson told the truth” about the following things: He believes he saw a space ship, he believes he was taken into the space ship and he believes he saw three space creatures.
Hickson and Parker were probed, and before 1973, not too many people made that claim.
They were brought in, examined against their will and moved around so an electronic eye could check them out.
They each had a small puncture wound on one arm.
They were pioneers in UFO abduction.
There was another early story on the East Coast. In 1961, Betty and Barney Hill claimed they were abducted, but it took years to sort out their case and for it to become mainstream. They now have a historical marker. Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones played them in a 1970s TV movie.
Hickson and Parker told their story, and it blew up overnight. Within weeks, Hickson was on Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett late night talk shows. The Los Angeles Times and The Rolling Stone sent reporters. Papers around the world carried articles. Within seven days, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department logged more than 2,000 calls from the curious and the afraid and were approached for an interview by Tom Snyder’s talk show, “Tomorrow.”
At the time, pranks didn’t help matters. Men wrapped in aluminum foil strolled Beach Boulevard, someone launched shiny balloons in downtown and others rigged floating pranks in neighborhoods. The sheriff asked for help from federal agencies, but got little response.
The whole thing died down within six months and resurfaces on certain anniversaries, when the Associated Press or the Sun Herald would look for Calvin Parker and re-interview Charles Hickson.
Did it happen or not?
Others in town saw weird things around that same time.
Capt. Ryder said there were three sightings of an unexplained flash of light reported the night it happened, but he did not include those in the official police report.
He said the report was simple. He interviewed Hickson and Parker, checked out the site and found nothing.
Ryder said he later learned there had been sightings of unexplained lights all along the Coast in the nights before Hickson and Parker.
The Sun Herald found a retired professional from a local industry, who described in detail something she still can’t explain under the condition that she remain anonymous.
It was before Christmas 1973, about two months after Hickson and Parker.
She was standing outside her car at a gas station near Market Street and Ingalls Avenue in Pascagoula, when she and others saw a flaming object fly along the river.
“I was putting gas in my car and there were two or three others out of their cars. It was about 8 p.m., good and dark.
“For some reason, I was facing north and what I saw was on my left. We all looked … I don’t always remember things, but boy, I remember this.
“It started out up-river, at about the (U.S. 90) bridge and it came down to the beach, always over the river.”
She said it was just above the tree line and disappeared when it reached the beach. It lasted 3-4 seconds. But in that time, the object traveled more than a mile.
It flew over the spot where Hickson and Parker said they were abducted.
The image is so vivid that 45 years later, she can draw it — the shape of a hat with a stubby brim. It had flames all over it moving clockwise, not like a reentry trail. The object moved parallel to the river.
“We just looked at each other, put our eyes down and kept doing what we were doing,” she said. “We were all embarrassed for some reason.
“And to this day, I think why would we be embarrassed?” she said. “It was like somebody walked up and flashed you, and you’re like, ‘No, we didn’t see that.’”