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Web Extra: The Original Lubbock Lights

Written by Nola McKey.

One of several photographs taken by Texas Tech freshman Carl Hart Jr. of the mysterious “Lubbock Lights” on the night of August 30, 1951. Courtesy Southwest Collection, TTU (Original photo by Carl Hart Jr.)

Lubbock made the national news in late August and early September 1951, when numerous area residents reported seeing a series of mysterious light formations racing across the sky over a period of a couple of weeks. The sightings gained early credibility because some of the first viewers to come forward were three Texas Tech science professors. The men were sitting together in a backyard south of campus when they witnessed the phenomenon around 9 p.m. on August 25. They were baffled by what they had seen—a semicircular formation of spots of light flying at a high rate of speed—and discounted the possibility that the lights were meteors.

Other South Plains residents from farmers and ranchers to teenagers at a drive-in movie reported similar sightings, usually describing the lights in a U- or V-shaped formation. A Texas Tech freshman shot photographs of the mysterious lights on August 30 and took them to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, which printed them. The photos eventually ran in newspapers across the nation, as well as in Life magazine.

A passage about Lubbock from the Texas Plains Trail Region website (www.texasplainstrail.com) gives the upshot: “Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force’s official study of the UFO mystery, did an extensive investigation of the Lubbock Lights. They concluded that the photographs were not a hoax and showed genuine objects. However, they did dismiss the UFOs themselves as being either ‘night-flying moths’ or a type of bird called a plover. The Air Force argued that the underside of the plovers or moths was reflected in the glow of Lubbock's new streetlights at night. However, other researchers have disputed these explanations, and for many, the ‘Lubbock Lights’ remain a mystery.”

Dr. Monte L. Monroe, Southwest Collection Archivist at Texas Tech University, concurs. “The Lubbock Lights incident persists in the memory of many older citizens, and to this day captivates researchers from across the country,” he says. “Mention the event, and everyone has an opinion. Some believe the bright, semicircular, so-called ‘string of beads’ crossed the sky at great speed, high in the stratosphere. Few agree with the streetlight-illuminated, migratory duck-bellies theory ventured at the time by skeptics or in the Air Force report. Eventually, the three professors and the young student who photographed the objects tired of crank calls and the negative publicity surrounding the event. By the 1970s, they refused interviews.”

Monroe adds that UFO buffs query Southwest Collection staff several times a year about the incidents. The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library features a small collection called “Lubbock Lights Papers, 1951-1995,” which includes oral histories from several witnesses, letters, numerous news articles, photocopies of photographs, and a copy of the U.S. Air Force report relating to the phenomenon. To find out more, contact the Southwest Collection’s reference department at 806/742-3749 or www.swco.ttu.edu.

See related: Lubbock Lights

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