Born and based in Memphis, Tennessee, Haint Blues is a bi-weekly podcast from veteran journalist Toby Sells. The show marries two of his lifelong loves, strange stories and the American South.

The President & The Honeymooner

Two famous friends light out on a southern Florida road trip for evidence of UFOs & aliens.



UPDATE ON PASCAGOLA ABDUCTION


Before we get started with the main part of the show today, I have an update on a story you’ve heard here previously. 


Good thing it was a nice, clear night. It was October and that hot humid, Mississippi summer weather was finally on its way out. It seemed to blow right over Pascagoula and off into the Gulf somewhere. 


And that was a good thing because all she could do was sit there and wait. She’d driven her husband down to the dock. There, he’d meet the captain and the boat that would take him offshore to work. But at the moment, her husband was snoring softly in the passenger’s seat.


It was 1973 and the woman didn’t have a phone to look at. And with her husband sleeping, she probably didn’t want to turn on the radio. 


So, the woman just sat and looked down over at the Pascagoula River, maybe listening to the water and the low, industrial hum coming from the nearby shipyards. Then, she looked up at the black sky, scanning through all of those beautiful stars until she found the Big Dipper. 


That’s when she saw it. A blue light was rising over the river. Now, lights in the sky weren’t unusual. But a blue light? It caught her attention. At first, she thought it was a plane or a helicopter.


With little else to do, the woman watched the light. It was moving, slowly, slightly but never made a sound. She woke her husband and they watched together. The craft moved around silently for about 30 minutes, she said. Then, it went quickly out of sight.


But the man was leaving and leaving for a long time. So, the couple had other, more terrestrial matters on their minds. They collected the man’s clothes from the trunk and walked them down the pier and put them on the boat. Then, something else caught their attention. 


"We heard this loud, thumping splash in the river," the woman told a newspaper reporter in March. "I looked over the side of the pier, and that's when I thought I saw a person in the river.


"I was looking right down on it. It looked like a person (she said maybe in some sort of diving gear), but there was something different about it. It only came to the surface of the water. As soon as I saw it, it just went back down in the water."


Some of this will sound familiar if you’ve listened to the Pascagoula UFO Abduction episode of this show. If you haven’t (you should) but for now just know that in 1973 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, two men went fishing by the Pascagoula River after work. They saw a blue light in the sky and watched it for awhile. Then, they said, a strange aircraft landed behind them. Strange creatures emerged from the vessel, grabbed the men, forced them onboard, and tested the men’s bodies with strange machines.


It’s one of the most fascinating and well-known UFO abduction cases in America. One of the men, Charlie Hickson, passed away in 2011. The other, Calvin Parker, ran from the story most of his life but he’s just now published a book about his experience. 


The experience seemed isolated to Calvin and Charlie and their story lives on in Mississippi lore. But in early March, three new witnesses came forth to say they’d seen that same blue light and more on the night Calvin and Charlie were taken. 


Maria and Jerry Blair told the Clarion Ledger newspaper that on that night they were waiting in their 1969 Pontiac GTO in the parking lot of Graham’s Seafood. They were right across the river from were Calvin and Charlie were fishing. That’s where the Blair saw that blue light in the night sky. 


Jerry got on the boat and went on to work that night. Maria returned home. In the days that followed, Maria heard news reports of Calvin and Charlie’s experience. The aliens they described seemed to match what she had seen in the water. 


“I thought it was a person,” Maria said later. “But now I think it was an alien.”  


Another woman, Judy Branning, told the newspaper that on that night, four people — her, her roommate, and their dates — were waiting at a red light. That’s when the four of them saw something they thought was an airplane. 


But as it got closer, they knew they were wrong. This thing didn’t make any noise and it had bright, bright lights, she said.


“It got closer and it was hovering,” she told the paper. “It was kind of a saucer shape or disc shape with a rounded top. 


The radio started sounding like it was running through all the stations and the car went dead. We were freaking out."


The craft passed right over the car and shot straight up in the air at an incredible speed.


The four agreed not to ever tell anyone else. But Branning said she did tell a few people over the years. But now, she said, she’s 74 years old and doesn’t care if people believe her or not.


“The story is very true,” she told the Clarion Ledger. “That's what has bothered me for 45 years. It's been on my mind for 45 years."


My heart sung when I read this story. My first thought went out to Calvin. He’s lived with this story most of his entire adult life. And, with Charlie gone, he had to feel mighty alone with it. But now, with other witnesses coming along, maybe he can find a little peace about it all. 


Another positive development in this story: later this month, officials in Pascagoula plan to put up a historical marker near the site where Calvin and Charlie said they were taken. 


Alright, right here I have to give a special shout out to my buddy Christian Flohr. When he’s not off somewhere being awesome in the United States Navy, he’s making sure I have the latest on Southern UFO abductions. Thanks, buddy.


Alright now, on we go. 


HONEYMOONER OPEN


It was the middle of the night — midnight, as the story goes. 


It was February but the air on Key Biscayne, Florida was warm, around 70 degrees. 


The man was in bed and he was tired. He’d played golf and glad-handed and drank and ate all day at a charity event he’d hosted. Among those featured golfers was his friend, a man he’d referred to largely as just his “golfing buddy.” And they’d played 18 holes together that day. 


The man was in a deep sleep when there was a knock on his door. He rose, confused. Maybe he pulled on a robe and tied it across his immense and trademark belly. When he opened the door, he found his friend standing there. 


The man himself  — the one in the night robe — was an international star. But his friend was easily one of the most recognizable men on the planet. It surprised the man that his friend was there at all and at that late hour. But what struck him the most was that he was all alone.


When the two played the 15th hole earlier that day, the conversation turned to UFOs, a subject both had immense interest. But they’d left the topic on the golf course. 


Standing in his doorway, the man’s friend beckoned him to get dressed and get in his car. He had something — something only that friend among all others in the entire country — could show him.    


HAINT BLUES INTRO


Some might argue that Florida ain’t Southern. Try telling that to Lynyrd Skyrnyrd fans. Also, go grab a beer at the Flora-Bama and then tell me Florida ain’t Southern. 


But, yeah, you’ll argue that’s northern Florida and the panhandle. Head south and Florida’s its own deal. I get that.   


But southern Florida is so wild and so beautiful and so diverse that someone has to claim it. So, I — here and now, by he power vested in me by Mystery, the Haint Blues mule  — formally claim Florida for the South. Done and done. 


Even so, Key Biscayne (or any kind of Key in general) will sound like an exotic place to the average fan of the Charlie Daniels Band. And from what I’ve heard in Jimmy Buffett songs, the Florida Keys are whole other worlds, separate from mainland USA. 


But Key Biscayne is only the starting point in our story today. The characters in our story are men you know, with catchphrases almost as famous as they are. 


The two of them light out from the Keys and end up in another world entirely. And a glimpse into that world, leaves one man shaken, and the other with tears in his eyes, if you believe the stories. 


And that brings me to an important show note. The stories on Haint Blues are real. That doesn’t make them true. These stories live in newspapers, books, interviews, oral traditions, and memories. 


The tales on this show exist somewhere out there, I don’t make them up. But that doesn’t mean I can prove them to be true. I’m not trying to and I don’t want to. Telling these stories is important because they are a part of Southern culture, of who we are.


To me, the Gray Man and the Bell Witch are just as relevant to Southern culture as bluegrass and biscuits and gravy. (Man, this guy sure does talk about biscuits and gravy a whole lot, doesn’t he?)


I like to go out to the fringe, find these stories, and explore them. And I love to come back to Haint Blues and report them back to you. 


Skeptics and even paranormal researchers scoff at the story I’m about to tell you today, but I think you should still hear it. It’s never been proven but it’s never been disproven either. Even Snopes.com has a big, old question mark on it.


Either way, the story is a ton of fun, a Southern road trip with two famous buddies heading out — just the two of them — in the middle of the night to parts unknown. 


Alright, my name’s Toby Sells Let’s load up with the President and the Honeymooner and head out to southern Florida. We’re looking for real-world evidence of UFOs and aliens, today on Haint Blues.   


BEVERLY’S PART


They were still married but they were separated. Things had settled down and things were looking up. But that’s when she gave an interview with Esquire magazine. 


She was writing a book about her life, about living with her famous husband. And Beverly McKittrick was looking to gin up some press about it. In doing so, she maybe said more than she should have.


She told the magazine writer that her husband had come home late one night and she was worried. When he got home, he looked haggard. After some questions, her husband told her he’d been to what was then called Homestead Air Force Base, about an hour away. 


His friend, he said, had taken him there to show him the bodies of aliens. He said they were “only about two feet tall, with bald heads and disproportionately large ears.”


The man couldn’t get many answers about the outing from his friend. And that friend surely did have or could get the answers. But the man suspected a spacecraft must’ve crashed somewhere nearby. 


Whatever it was and whatever he saw that night, Beverly said her husband, Jackie Gleason, went on to talk about the events of that night all the next day. 


WHO IS JACKIE GLEASON?


Jackie Gleason was a funnyman. He was a comedian, actor, and writer. His best known character was Ralph Kramden, the brash New York City bus driver, in the 1950s television hit comedy called The Honeymooners.


Gleason went on to host his own variety show, the aptly named Jackie Gleason Show, through the 50s and 70s. The filming of that show moved at some point from New York to Miami, which helps explain how Gleason got that home in Key Biscayne. 


But after Ralph Kramden, most people know Gleason from his role as Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit films. Justice was that foul-mouthed Texas Sheriff from Montague County, chasing the Bandit all over the South.


Now, Bandit and the Snowman were trying to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta. But Sheriff Justice really wanted them mainly because Bandit had absconded with his son Junior’s fiancee. And, as films go, it don’t get much more Southern than Smokey and the Bandit.  

 

But Gleason — in real life — was particularly interested in the paranormal, particularly UFOs and aliens. 


For proof, look to the house Gleason built in Peekskill, New York. It sat on six acres CBS gave him in addition to his salary and royalties. He called it Round Rock Hill. It was recently on the market. Here’s how Parade magazine described it:


“The unique, round structure has no right angles, and along with the guest house there are five bedrooms, six baths, a library, an entertainment space, a curved kitchen and more.


“An incredible curved marble stairway leads to the upper level, and huge windows give the entire home a light, airy feel.”


That “round structure” looks just like a UFO. Consider that he called the main house the “Mother Ship” and the rounded guest house the “Scout Ship.”


Further proof of Gleason’s interest in the paranormal is plain. When he passed, he left his collection of books to the University of Miami.


According to the school, the collection includes “1,700 volumes of books, journals, proceedings, pamphlets, and publications” all mainly about the paranormal. 


“It includes materials on such topics as: witchcraft, folklore, extrasensory perception (ESP), unidentified flying objects (UFOs), reincarnation, mysticism, spiritualism, mental telepathy, the occult, ghosts, clairvoyance, cosmology, demons, hypnosis, life after death, mediums, psychical research, voodooism, and others.”


GLEASON AND NIXON


Gleason apparently chided his then-wife Beverly McKittrick for disclosing his UFO night out with his friend that night back in 1974. The interview she gave soured their relationship, she said, and ended in their divorce. She never wrote that book she was working on.   


"I just made that one statement about the UFOs and it appeared in Esquire and I guess a few other places and he didn't like that and I thought, I just can't go through with this,” McKittrick said. “Let him live his life. So, I never wrote the book."


No book but she did give an interview with UFO researcher Kenny Young much later on. In it, she gave him the highlights of Gleason’s midnight road trip.


"He and Nixon were in contact quite a bit and I'm not sure how that was arranged, but it seems that their meetings were set up by an associate of Nixon’s,” she told Young. “After he got back, he was very pleased he had an opportunity to see the dead little men in cases. He explained to me what they looked like and he was still talking about it the next day."


GLEASON’S TALE


Jackie Gleason was a supporter of the Republican Party and through that support he had developed a relationship with President Richard Nixon. Google around and it’s easy to find pictures of the two of them on the golf course. 


It’s said that Nixon was privately fascinated with the idea of UFOs. There is also a well-known conspiracy theory that Nixon wrote a letter disclosing the entire alien/human relationship and hid it somewhere in the White House. As the conspiracy theory goes, that letter is to be revealed at a time prescribed by Nixon and it is to be read aloud to senior advisors and the press. 


As far as the Gleason/Nixon road trip, I’ll rely on an alleged transcript from an alleged interview. It’s apparently the story Gleason told to UFO researcher Larry Warren. Warren was a witness to the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident. (If that doesn’t sound familiar, Rendlesham Forest is considered Britain’s Roswell. If Roswell doesn’t sound familiar, invite me over for biscuits and gravy and I’ll tell you all about it.) 


According to Warren’s story, Gleason invited him to his UFO house in New York. And, after several drinks, Gleason told him this story:


“I want to tell you something, which in any case will come out one day. We have got them (which meant extraterrestrial beings). 

“It was back when Nixon was in office that something truly amazing happened to me. We were close golfing buddies and had been out on the golf course all day when somewhere around the 15th hole, the subject of UFOs came up.

Not many people know this but the President shares my interests in this matter and has a large collection of books in his home on UFOs just like I do. 

For some reason, however, he never really took me into confidence about what he personally knows to be true. …one of the reasons being that he was usually surrounded by so many aides and advisors. 

“Later that night, matters changed radically. Richard Nixon showed up at my house around midnight. He was all alone for a change. There were no secret agents with him or anyone else. I said Mr. President, what are you doing here? And he said he wanted take me someplace  and show me something. 

I got into the President’s private car and we sped off into the darkness. Our destination, I found on arrival was Homestead Air Force Base. 

I remember we got to the gate and this young MP came up to the car to look to see inside and his jaw seemed to drop a foot when he saw who wa behind the wheel. He just sort of pointed and we headed off. 

We drove to the very far end of the base in a segregated area, finally stopped near a well-guarded building. The security police saw us coming and just sort of moved back as we passed them and entered the structure. 

There were a number of labs we passed through first before we entered a section where Nixon pointed our what he said was the wreckage from a flying saucer, enclosed in several large cases. 

Next we went into an inner chamber and there were six or eight of what looked like glass-topped Coke freezers. Inside them were the mangled remains of what I took to be children. Then, upon close examination, I saw some of the other figures looked quite old. Most of them were terribly mangled as if they had been in an accident. 

All in all it was a very pathetic sight. At one point, the President had tears in his eyes and, finally, I realized that this was not his way of trying ot be humorous.”

HAINT BLUES OUTRO

Now, Gleason denied this story every time he was asked about it. He passed away in 1987 and he never, ever admitted to seeing alien bodies in a Coke cooler with Richard Nixon. 

The best evidence paranormal researchers can point to for any veracity in the tale is the fact that Nixon often did try to skirt his Secret Service detail. The truth of the rest of the story lies with Beverly McKittrick. 

After she told it to Esquire, she wondered about the story, too. Only because Gleason got so mad about her telling it. She wondered if he got mad because she was spreading some story he’d made up, maybe a cover for staying out late. (I wonder how far, as a husband, I could get away with something telling my wife that I was out late because the president was showing me some alien bodies?)

No matter what you think of the story, the two men are passed and the truth is no longer out there. But the story remains and it will anytime anyone Googles any combination of Jackie Gleason, Richard Nixon, and UFOs. 

Alright. My name’s Toby Sells. Thank y’all for loading up and heading out with me today. Holler at back me here in two weeks for more Haint Blues.    

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