Decades Later, The Gulf Breeze UFO Incident Remains An Unsolved Mystery

Are we surrounded, or are we alone in the universe? For centuries, many a mind has been perplexed by this question. While some believe we've been seeing extra-terrestrial spacecraft since Biblical times, there has been an increase in UFOs reports in recent years (per Politico). Even our governments are admitting that they have observed UFOs that they cannot explain (via Scientific American), and that's just what they want people to know! Yet, a series of infamous UFO sightings across Florida's Gulf Breeze between 1987-1988 has sparked intense speculation and debate for decades.

Ed Walters, a local contractor and family man, was the first to declare that he witnessed a UFO one unassuming night on November 17, 1987. Walters adamantly attested to his community — and eventually the world — that he spotted a blue disk hovering 200 feet above the trees outside his house. He even managed to snap five Polaroid photos of the phenomenon (via ”The Gulf Breeze Sightings"). Not content to keep such a celestial secret to himself, Walters anonymously posted the Polaroids to a local newspaper under the pseudonym of ”Mr. X”. Remarkably, Walters wasn't alone in these strange sightings of spacecraft, as multiple eyewitness accounts flourished from November until May of the following year.

Witnesses swore that they saw parades of light and floating disks darting across the skies at tremendous speeds (per Pensacola News Journal). However, what is the truth behind such claims? Were Walters and the citizens of Gulf Breeze really magnets for otherworldly Martians? Or did this small-town curiosity blow out of proportion after being passed around the local gossip mill?

The Case For

For argument's sake, let's keep an open mind. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Ed Walters' encounter was neither the first nor final UFO sighting in Gulf Breeze — residents have claimed to observe visitors in the night sky since the 1950s. In this case, once Walters — or "Mr. X," or "Jim" — had his images published in the local newspaper, the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, the number of reported incidents skyrocketed, attracting the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) to Gulf Breeze. MUFON, the largest UFO-monitoring organization in the U.S., is well-versed in dealing with hoaxes. After receiving scores of Gulf Breeze sighting reports, MUFON member Gary Watson believed the "good substantial people" who witnessed them (per Pensacola News Journal).

Indeed, many of these witnesses occupied positions of trust in their communities, making it difficult to fathom why they felt compelled to lie in the first place. According to another Pensacola News Journal report, one local councilwoman observed an orange object zip across the sky before disappearing into thin air. Another witness, who was a doctor, verified stories of a noiseless, "disc-shaped object" "shining its light down on [the] pier" as he headed off on his morning jog (via Pensacola News Journal).

In the instance of Ed Walters, though, his testimonies are unwavering. In his book, Ed claims to have passed two lie detector tests, eight hours of psychological examinations, and eight hours of hypnotic regression treatment to prove the naysayers wrong. Despite the emotional stigma and harassment that he claimed to have at the hands of his "debunkers," Walters stuck to his guns. But how reliable is Walters' testimony?

The Case Against Ed

At the heart of every famous UFO encounter lies a colorful character. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Ed Walters had a past felony record for forgery and was known in the neighborhood as a jokester. In addition, he earned a $200,000 advance for the rights to his book about the incident. This, without a doubt, skews the credibility of his evidence.

Skeptics of Walters' early images speculate that he used a double exposure on his Polaroid camera. Double exposures are when two separate photographs are stacked onto a single image. While Walters asserted that double exposures were impossible on his Polaroid, another section of his book implies that they were achievable on his old camera. Secondly, Walters made some bizarre claims in his accounts — losing periods of memory, being suspended and immobilized by bright blue beams, and aliens communicating with him telepathically in Spanish and showing him images of dogs.

Yet, the most damning evidence of all is that after Walters moved out, the owner of his home discovered a paper plate and cardboard replica model of the spaceship in Walters' pictures. Walters' reaction? That it had been "planted" to discredit him (via Tampa Bay Times). Classic!

What About Everyone Else?

Yet, even if Ed Walters was a charlatan, what about the other residents of Gulf Breeze? Was it some kind of bizarre mass hallucination? Or were they lying too? A more sober hypothesis by a later Gulf Breeze mayor acknowledged that there are five military airfields and a regional airport near Gulf Breeze. Perhaps these witnesses just saw newly developing aircraft. After all, this is a classic trope in many famous UFO sightings across the United States (via The Baltimore Sun).

While this theory may be boring, it's possible that Gulf Breeze residents just wanted to have some part in this exciting new narrative. After all, these UFO sightings essentially put Gulf Breeze on the map and attracted tourism and UFO hunters in droves, which not only boosted the economy but made Gulf Breeze world-famous like Roswell (via Naples Daily News). Furthermore, the intense debate over the validity of Walters' images even caused schisms amongst members of MUFON, who couldn't quite agree on the issue (via Pensacola News Journal). While we may never know for sure, speculation on the Gulf Breeze sightings shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

So, in the immortal words of Agent Mulder, the truth is out there. Keep those eyes on the skies!