The Bizarre Origin Of 'Little Green Men'

On a hot August night in 1955, two cars screeched to a halt outside a rural police station in southwestern Kentucky. Eight members of the Sutton family poured into the station and reportedly (thank you, Skeptoid) uttered words that would, in decades since, inspire a deluge of delightfully corny B-grade science-fiction classics: "We need help. We've been fighting them for nearly four hours."

Humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about non-humans. Sometimes it's inspired by a morbid fear of rampant inappropriate probings way up in the ionosphere. Other times our questions come more from a genuine curiosity about what another highly intelligent species might be like, and why we haven't found any. Whatever brand of inquiry you favor, though, one odd characteristic comes up again and again — your classic alien is munchkin-sized, kinda gangly lookin', and a refreshing shade of Kermit green.

Why? It all gets back to the Sutton family, and their amazing tale of one terrifying night of prolonged harassment by a small but nasty posse of creepy green aliens. Let's dig deeper into the strange goings-on of August 21, 1955, on a small rural farm in the heart of Kentucky. It's seven PM. The evening is hot and muggy, and the Sutton family are chilling out together doing typical rural Kentucky family things. There may have been a harmonica. A family friend, Billy Ray Taylor, sauntered out to fetch some water from the backyard well when the sky briefly flashed.

Here's how it went down

A silvery object crossed the sky. According to History, Taylor described the object as "real bright, with an exhaust all the colors of the rainbow." Being of sensible stock, the Suttons laughed at their friend's whimsical ways and went about their business. But an hour later, the family dog began to bark. You can probably see where this is going.

A few brave men of the family peered through the back door and saw something that would change science-fiction history. A small creature emerged from the gloom. His head was large and round. His arms were long and gangly, his tendrily space-fingers almost grazing the earth. And its eyes glowed ... with a piercing yellow light — which as movie history teaches us is never a good thing.

Accounts vary wildly about what happened next, but it basically boils down to a terrifying two-hour siege. Armed with a righteous 20-gauge shotgun and a valiant .22, the Sutton would fire shot after shot into the dark, long space-fingers would reach for them in the night, and eventually, the family fled to their cars and high-tailed it to the police station. The Sutton family were visibly terrified at the station, the History article reports — sweating, pale and with racing heartbeats — as they gave their account to baffled and bemused law enforcement. Investigators found a ton of shotgun casings and some weird green goo around the Sutton property fence line.

Why was the encounter so memorable?

So yeah, to give the Sutton family their due, that there is one heck of a powerful alien story. The descriptions they gave were awesome in powerfully descriptive simplicity. As the History article reports, one of the family members described the ectoplasmic intergalactic visitors as "like a five-gallon gasoline can with a head on top and small legs." It's so repeatable! And so easy to recreate, especially if you have a five-gallon gasoline can, bright green paint, and a few old TV aerials lying about. The first reason this story stuck like rice to a saucepan is just that it's that good. It's a sticky story.

Not surprisingly, in the following weeks, gawkers, reporters, and people who just dug space-finger stories descended on the farmhouse. The Sutton family charged admission. Fifty cents would get you in their front door. A dollar would buy you information. And so the story grew. Over time, the Suttons' account would acquire new details. The number of little green men enlarged to a good dozen or so planet-traversing creepsters, a bona fide flying saucer would enter the script, and the whole encounter became soaked in extra feats of 20-gauge heroics. Years passed. The story expanded, and eventually morphed in with an Eastern Kentucky account of an encounter with an inexplicably green chap. So it was that the little green man trope was born.

So what was it, then?

The second reason, then, really just boils down to folklore. Details naturally grow on a story like this, because that's what we do. We exaggerate.

It's probably responsible to add a bit of cold water to the story and offer a few possible explanations (beyond, you know, the Suttons telling a few fibs here and there). Early descriptions the Suttons gave of these creatures bear a remarkably close resemblance to the Great Horned Owl, right down to the scratchy feathers (AKA space-fingers) and aggressive nesting behavior. The National Audubon Society has yet to weigh on little green men, but their graphic description of the prodigious meanness of these nocturnal porcupine-crunching avians of destruction sounds pretty legit.

Oh, and the weird green goo investigators found around the scene? It was probably Foxfire, Skeptoid posits — a bioluminescent fungus common on decaying wood in those parts. It's less exciting than alien gizzards, granted, but still, a scientifically intriguing tidbit.

Green men. Why? It probably all gets back to the simple fact that we like stories about weird funny-looking aliens. We can't get enough of them. Even when they are bad, they're good.