Respected scientists come to different conclusions about the sphere’s behavior and origin. Today, more scientists weigh in with their own theories and questions. Lindsey begins exploring another shocking twist.
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From WJCT public media in Jacksonville, this is Episode 4 of Odd Ball. I’m Lindsey Kilbride.
[clips from previous episodes]
"The ball rolled from the center of the table, all the way to the edge and stopped."
About the best description is that it’s a giant gyroscope.
After a while people will say you’re crazy or this or that, which she is not.
"This definitely seems like the kind of place that could trigger supernatural thoughts."
that’s a common industrial steel and it’s probably not likely to be something that aliens would use
Hynek reached out. He wanted them to come to Chicago and because they were unable to fly with the sphere, she said "no, if you want to see this sphere, you're gonna have to come to us."
I’ve mentioned quite a few times now, the Navy investigated the ball and tried to figure out what it was. Gerri Betz allowed them to take the ball under the condition it’s to be returned in no later than two weeks if it’s not government property. A Navy spokesman initially told reporters, there’s certainly something weird about the ball, but when he ended up returning it to the Betz family, seemed pretty uninterested. He said it was made out of stainless steel and from Earth, although the Navy couldn’t figure out exactly where it came from or what it would have been used for. They wanted to cut the ball open, but Gerri said no.
There’s also Gerri’s claim the Navy tried to take the ball back when returning it to the Betzes’ home...which doesn't really line up with the officer’s nonchalant attitude about the ball to reporters.
But this probe, although the most official — being the government — wasn’t even close to the end of inquiry into the sphere’s origin. So what did others find? And is it possible the Navy was wrong or not truthful?
Early on, Gerri told reporters a UFO research group came to Florida to examine the ball.
"Who have you talked to so far?"
"Well we talked to a group of people called NICAP. ‘NYE-cap’ I think is the way they pronounce the name of the organization."
Gerri is talking about NICAP, an acronym for the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. Jerry Clark, that UFO expert who wrote the encyclopedia,
"Which is kind of considered the definitive reference work on this subject."
He wrote quite a bit about NICAP, a citizen-led UFO research group, whose members ranged from scientists to clergymen. It was founded in the mid-50s, and Clark described the group as a sober and responsible forum for UFO investigation. In other words, members distanced themselves from the more fringe UFO claims like abduction.
[Gerri Betz:] [from an archive tape]
"They came out and examined the ball and they said it was very precision made. It has a magnetic pole on it. One side repels, and the other side attracts. It has a hollow core."
This is kind of hard to understand, but luckily NICAP published its findings in the May ‘74 edition of its monthly newsletter, The UFO Investigator, headlined "Mysterious Steel Sphere Explained."
Many details in this report aren’t new to me because they’d already been reported in newspapers, so very quickly:
The ball was x-rayed at the Cecil Field Navy Station, but the machine used wasn’t powerful enough to penetrate the sphere so it was then taken to another station in Jacksonville for the more powerful x-ray, which was successful.
The sphere was beat up, like it had been rolled on concrete and had a small triangular chip out of the side. The ball was magnetic and perfectly balanced.
The investigation was led by a mechanical engineer, and he ended up agreeing with the popular theory it was probably part of a valve used in machines at the paper plant. The plant’s spokesman had said balls just like the Betzses’ had been discarded by the plant 15 years before, and they could have ended up anywhere, including on the Betzes’ property I guess.
The report concluded the ball’s odd rolling was due to uneven floors at the Betz house, attributing that theory to the Navy’s spokesman.
A lot of the NICAP report credits the Navy’s findings, but with much more detail than what I’ve seen in the news reports. The actual Navy report is nowhere to be found. I submitted numerous public records requests to government agencies and archival departments and they were all unable to find anything. So right now this is the best I’ve got.
Here’s what’s new to me:
In addition to an x-ray taken by a more powerful machine, an emission spectrographic analysis identified the material of the sphere to be stainless steel 431. So now we know the methods they used, but not a lot about how they work.
Luckily Florida State University geochemistry Professor Munir Humayun does.
"My expertise is in the study of extraterrestrial materials, particularly in metals from extraterrestrial materials and our analysis."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]He told me this type of analysis is a way of determining the chemical composition of an object. So for this ball it would have analyzed the exterior and revealed OK, this is stainless steel. I also wanted to know more about these magnetic poles, referenced in articles, which either describe the ball as have 3 or 4 of them.
[Munir Humayun:]"It means it's seen a couple of different magnetic fields. It’s been exposed to some magnetic fields, and it's picked up that magnetism. Some of it would have picked up when you melted the sphere and formed it because it would form in the Earth's magnetic field. And so it will carry a little bit of a memory of the Earth's magnetic field. But if it's exposed to anything, this is a real problem for us, when we study magnetic fields and, say, iron meteorites. People who want to check whether they're truly iron attach a magnet to them. And every time somebody puts a magnet on a piece of metal, it acquires a little bit of that magnetic field...it's very weak."
"And so is it odd that the sphere would have these magnetic poles?"
"I bet somebody walked up to it and stuck a magnet on it."
So in other words, multiple magnetic fields means it could have just been touched by magnets.
The report goes on to say the x-ray determined the sphere to be uniformly hollow with three little balls inside. One, an eighth of an inch, and two of them even tinier. Spherical specks really. There was also a small amount of powdered residue inside — possibly sand, the scientist speculates.
Then the Navy took an ultrasonic measurement which Humayun says bounces high-frequency waves into the ball. That would tell scientists the thickness of the ball’s shell — about a half-inch — and the report gives more exact measurements of the ball. The diameter: 7.9 inches, and weight: 21.3 lbs.
It says the ball also had a plug welded into the side a fourth of an inch wide, ground off and polished.
But I have to say some parts of this report just make me question how well the writer or investigator knew the story. On one hand Gerri does characterize NICAP’s work as "an investigation." But the way this report is written, it makes me wonder, did they even touch the ball or just cite the Navy? All the conclusions are based on the Navy’s findings. The first paragraph says the ball was found in the Betzes’ backyard, but it was actually found on property miles from the home. It also spelled Gerri’s name wrong. A lot of articles have these errors, but this person supposedly did an investigation. Seems kind of odd to me.
Then there’s this so-called researcher Carl Williston or Wilson? I’m not sure because it’s spelled differently in various articles, and I can find absolutely no record of him or this Omega Minus One research firm he supposedly worked for. I even ran his name and firm by Jerry Clark.
"Do you know someone by the name of Carl Wilson or Williston from the Omega Minus One Institute out of Baton Rouge? Does that ring a bell of something that existed?"
And he knows a lot of people in the UFO research community. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most. But in early news stories Gerri Betz says this guy Carl came to Florida and examined the ball for six hours.
[Carl Williston reenactor:]
"I found radio waves coming from it and a magnetic field around it."
Some of the scientists are dead now, so we’re gonna hear them played by actors.
[Carl Williston reenactor:]
"I was unable to determine a pattern in the sphere’s movement."
There’s also this 2012 blog write-up online which says Willson suggested:
[Carl Williston reenactor:]
"The metal that made up the shell of the orb contained an unknown element making it slightly different than stainless steel."
But I could not find the source of that anywhere. I also messaged the writer on Twitter. Did not hear back. So, Carl?
[Carl Williston reenactor:]
Sorry, but I have to take your findings with a grain of salt because I don’t know if you’re real. So I’m going to set this one aside for now.
I don’t doubt someone by this name researched the ball, but I can’t really vet this claim if I don't know who made it.
Around this time — remember, all these investigations happen within days or a week of each other in April of 1974 — the ball was taken to New Orleans where the National Enquirer’s five-member blue ribbon UFO panel of scientists investigated the sphere: an astronomer, a civil engineer, philosophy professor, a plant physiologist and psychologist, Leo Sprinkle… Who...remembers nothing.
"It's a beautiful case, I'm sorry that I can't contribute anything to it."
And unfortunately there are very few Betz sphere-related articles published after the panel looked at it. Like, no one big report outlining the panel’s findings or what members did to the ball. The best I’ve got in an Associated Press article published one day after the panel. "Five scientists intently watched a mysterious sphere for several hours Saturday, but it refused to perform." One scientist, James Harder, said they hadn’t been able to establish any unusual movements, and he’d like to cut it open. His colleague Robert Creegan said it may have come from Cape Canaveral. ‘I’m not sure what to make out of this, other than it doesn’t seem like the ball was remarkable.’ But, another colleague, J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer, and eventually —
"The most famous UFO proponent in the world"
The same guy who allegedly slept with the ball in his room, he appeared on a Seattle radio show a day after returning from the New Orleans conference, this is before he allegedly visited the ball at the Betz home. And I have the tape.
[Radio show sound:]
"Professor Hynek returned yesterday from New Orleans after sharing observations with colleagues regarding the so-called ‘mystery sphere.’ That sphere discovered a few weeks past by Terry Matthews, near Jacksonville, Florida. Let me ask you, first, Professor Hynek, about your latest evaluations of the sphere. Do you consider this now extraterrestrial or Earth manufactured?
[J. Allen Hynek:]
No, there's no evidence whatsoever that either I or the other members of the UFO panel can find that would indicate that it is extraterrestrial. That doesn't, of course, absolutely prove it isn't, but there is no obvious evidence. For instance, if it had come in from outer space, it undoubtedly would have had some sort of that ablation or burn marks on it, and it seems like a perfectly normal metal sphere."
"I see. If that is true, then why hasn't someone stepped forward to, to make claim?"
[J. Allen Hynek:]
Well, I wonder that very same thing.
Do you have any theories about that?
[J. Allen Hynek:]
Well, no, I'm very much wondering why it seems to me that if it were perfectly normal and natural, that somebody surely would have said, ‘Well, I've got one like that in my garage,’ or, ‘Our company makes two of those a week’ or something like that.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]We, of course, know now, those exact things did happen. A woman said she had a ball like the Betzes’ in her garage, and the paper plant said the ball was likely part of one of its machines.
[Seattle radio host:]
"Professor Hynek, when I left the story on Saturday, I was told that the sphere was considered solid. However, three balls on the inside, I believe they were called balls, were believed to be there and that they were embedded in the material. Ahat's the latest on that?"
[J. Allen Hynek:]
"Well, the thing is definitely not hollow, at least not largely hollow. There might be some spaces in it because when you shake it, something inside definitely rattled, but the x-ray shows, indicates that there's no sharp line of demarcation between the shell and anything on the inside…"
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Some of that tape is breaking up. But I need to stop here because Hynek is saying, while the ball isn’t solid stainless steel — that would make it way too heavy and dense — he doesn’t think it’s largely hollow. In an article that day, he said the x-ray shows the little pellets inside are possibly suspended in a liquid. But the Navy said it was hollow, aside from the tiny balls inside…And remember Hynek is a real scientist. At this point he’s directing Northwestern University’s Astronomical research center and chairing the astronomy department. So can this really be up for debate, whether the ball is or isn’t hollow? Could the Navy be wrong?
"I think based on this image, you really can’t tell."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Dr. Diane Johnson is a diagnostic radiologist at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville and she spends a lot of time looking at scans, mostly of humans.
"Mammograms, CT scans, ultrasound, plain x rays, and MRI exams."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Hynek’s logic behind questioning whether the Betz sphere is largely hollow, is the way the x-ray looks. So I sent Dr. Johnson a copy. Now, this copy has been published by the Ancient Aliens TV show and the Astonishing Legends podcast. It looks like this: a light grey circle with hazy edges, and the three little balls inside are much darker than their surroundings. Two look like perfect spheres, and one the other looks like it’s been squashed almost. Hynek says since there’s not a clear distinction between the shell and whatever is inside, there must be something in there other than air.
"t's probably a photograph of a copy of an x-ray is my best guess. My first impression is that it clearly looks old, so old, and in such that it's an old picture, but also old in that it looks like it's old technology to obtain that image.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]And she said, it’s true, from this picture alone, you can’t tell if the ball is hollow.
"It's a sphere, so you're taking a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional structure. And that's going to make it a little bit difficult to see the- the outer shell interface with the inner substance, presumably air if it's hollow. And the other factor is the resolution of the image itself. It's just not good enough to be able to see that interface. And if the shell around the outside is very thin, you wouldn't necessarily see it anyway. Basically, with x-rays, we're looking at differences in density. And that’s what allows us to see images. So if you think about the chest x-ray that you always see on medical shows, you see the heart, you see the bones, and you see fat, and air. And so all of those things are different densities on x-ray. And that’s why you can see those different images. If you put a completely fat density object next to another completely fat density object, you wouldn't see anything on the x-ray. You have to have objects next to each other that have differences in density."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]But her best guess?
[Diane Johnson:]"It’s very likely hollow. That would be my opinion."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Because ultrasonic measurements did establish a wall thickness, and when you shake it, you can hear the balls rattling around. As a confusing little twist: Although Hynek said the sphere wasn’t largely hollow, in a later article Hynek does refer to the ball as being hollow, along with one of his colleagues on the UFO panel.
I asked FSU Professor Humayun the same thing.
[Munir Humayun:]We don't know what else is inside of it. It could be air, but it could be something else, or probably not. Yeah, it could be anything.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Except something like liquid mercury, which would show up on the x-ray. Of course, scientists in 1974 probably had the actual x-rays, not a washed-out photocopy. But we don’t know for sure what’s in the ball. And I want to point in later articles, Hynek changes his opinion and says the ball IS hollow.
This makes figuring out what the ball is so tough. Based on the little science we have, we know so little. We don’t know what’s in it. We have conflicting reports about if it even did, in fact, move oddly. And we have all these theories: it’s part of a valve, it was going to be part of a sculpture. But the Betz ball was never (at least not publicly) side-by-side compared and contrasted with the any of the items.
Back to Hynek.
"Professor Hynek, given that it’s man-made, how do we account here for the orbiting of the sphere?
[J. Allen Hynek:]
Well, I think we have concluded that’s largely of a little bit of wishful thinking. Certainly did not behave that way when my colleagues and I examined it. In fact, I had to keep it from rolling off the table several times."
"I don't understand. In other words, it did move but it did not orbit? Did it move of its own accord?"
[J. Allen Hynek:]
"No, no. It only moved when you moved it yourself. And, of course, one thing it does, is it is fairly heavy as it moves along, it unbalances the table. It presses down a little bit. And if might seem, if a table weren't completely level, it might seem to be moving by itself. But that is not the part that intrigues me.
"Would you tell me what part does?"
[J. Allen Hynek:]
"The fact that several witnesses had said that when the dog was brought near it to be photographed along with, the dog rolled over and put its paws over its ears, as though it heard sounds coming out not audible to our ears but audible to a dog's ears."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]So Hynek doesn’t seem too impressed with the ball and believes it’s from Earth. But he is interested in the claim that the Betzes’ toy poodle would whimper and cover her ears around the sphere. That’s also what the FSU geochemistry professor told me he was most interested in. Hynek goes on to say the ball should be coming to Northwestern, where he works, in about a week. And he had several tests planned.
But the ball never made it up there. The Betz family says Hynek instead came to their house.
"He wanted them to come to Chicago. He said, ‘No, if you want to see this sphere, you're gonna have to come to us.’ So he came."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Reminder, that’s Nan, the magazine editor who recently had a phone call with Gerri. But this is confusing for me because Hynek doesn’t seem to back that up publicly, or at least he didn’t seven months later when interviewed in an Indiana newspaper.
In this story, Gerri Betz is quoted saying the tests run thus far indicate the ball is probably man-made — so she agrees with the Navy on that — but she still wants to know what it is.
Her son Terry, who found the ball, is quoted saying the state of Florida is trying to claim it. First time I’ve heard this, but I think I’m now totally desensitized to a lot of the more outrageous allegations.
Then there’s Hynek’s interview. He said he examined the thing just one time at the New Orleans UFO conference. We just heard his interview about that. Afterward, the family didn’t send the ball to him so he lost all interest in it. He actually seems kind of annoyed in the article.
He said he wasn’t able to spend enough time examining it at the conference but doubled-down: The ball is man-made. He added he would examine the ball if it was sent to him.
The story says the ball hadn’t been cut open because the Betzes want Hynek to examine it first. And I really love this part of the article: Hynek is quoted saying he wants to be there when it happens, when the ball is cut open, saying it could go like this: [dream music]
"Doctor, hand me the cutting torch. Stand back, everybody, because I don’t really know what will happen."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]The ball is open. A little orange man about 6 inches tall steps out, looks around and says, "Goorfie, snall gank splort popsem! Translation: "Smile, you’re on candid camera."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]I’m not kidding. This imaginary scene Hynek dreamt up is printed in the newspaper article.
But while Hynek was joking about an extraterrestrial explanation, another scientist wasn’t...after the break.
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[Lindsey Kilbride:]"All right" [Pouring sound] "Sit with it, sniff it, whatever you do."
"Can I taste it now?"
[Lindsey Kilbride:]"Have a taste."
"It’s good. I like it."
"Are you picking up any specific notes?"
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[Lindsey Kilbride:]Get the Bold Bean blend now at oddballpodcast.com. While you’re at it, you can pick up an Odd Ball insulated coffee mug and tote bag.
Odd Ball comes from WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida, where I, Jessica Palombo, am the news director. If you haven’t checked out WJCT News lately, I invite you to download the WJCT App for the latest local stories, or if you prefer listening over reading, you can do that too, by downloading the NPR One app. It’s a stream of national and local stories that learns your preferences — and it’s pretty cool. Or, come poke around WJCT.org. OK, now let’s get back to Odd Ball.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]If you’ve been listening to this and at any point Googled "Betz sphere," you’ve probably read about the ball’s amazing properties. Most of them come from James Harder, a civil and hydraulic engineer from Berkeley. He was also a member of the National Enquirer’s blue ribbon UFO panel, along with Hynek and Sprinkle, which investigated the ball.
[James Harder reenactor:]
"The ball seems to have some remarkable properties."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Again, this is an actor saying Harder’s paraphrased and actual quotes about the ball.
More than a year and a half after the panel he was a part of examined the Betz ball, Harder was quoted in an article headlined "Experts Disagree on Florida Sphere Origin."
While Hynek said publicly the ball wasn’t remarkable, his colleague Harder said:
[James Harder reenactor:]
"I found the thing to be in perfect balance in a way I would not have expected it to be. The results of the x-rays taken on the thing were not what you’d expect them to be."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Will you elaborate on that?
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Huh, OK.
[James Harder reenactor:]
"I don’t see how Dr. Hynek could be sure whether it is man-made or not without running further tests. There hasn't been enough research done on the thing to declare it to be man-made or otherwise. And I can’t understand why Dr. Hynek’s so interested in the thing if he thinks it isn’t UFO-related." Mrs. Betz told me that Dr. Hynek noticed the dead trees around the area where the sphere was found but i think it would be interesting to discover if he is about about admit to those trees."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]OK, so Harder is saying there were dead trees in the area where the ball was found, which was not in any other articles I read about the sphere and Gerri did not mention that in her interview with Ron the radio host.
But Hynek addressed this in the article, saying he did see the dead trees (so I’m going to go with it’s true) but he doesn't think it’s possible to relate dead trees to the finding of the ball.
This article was published a year and half after Harder studied it along with Hynek and other colleagues in New Orleans, And now Gerri Betz is saying she wants Harder to examine it again, because he has more experience in the field of engineering than Hynek and she wants to make an agreement to have a member of her family present at the research sessions.
It seems like she now doesn’t trust anyone else to be alone with it.
But here’s where things get weirder. Harder’s alleged comments get printed in this giant book I ordered, the Encyclopedia of UFOs — different than Clark’s multi-volume UFO Encyclopedia). This book is by a guy named Ronald Story, and there’s a section on the Betz sphere and even a photo of Terry, Gerri’s son who found the sphere, holding the ball with a National Enquirer Blue Ribbon Panel banner behind him. He’s 21, a kid with a plaid shirt, wavy long hair, big wire-frame glasses and a mustache. Basically a hipster today.
The book, published in 1980, says Harder found the ball exhibits four magnetic poles, which lines up with most news reports, that the ball either had three or four of them. And that’s not that weird according to FSU Professor Humayun.
But the book says Harder claims the x-ray shows those little balls inside the sphere are more dense than the shell. So in other words not just pieces of the shell that fell inside during manufacturing, something else, a different material.
[James Harder reenactor:]
"Thus a substantial portion of the weight is in the internal material and the shell could be much thinner than a half-inch."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Can the shell’s thickness be debatable? According to the NICAP report, which looks like it mostly just copies the Navy’s report, ultrasonic measurements established the wall thickness to be a half-inch with a tiny margin of error, within a hundredth of an inch. But, if that were true, the ball would actually be about 3 lbs heavier.
"It really depends on, how valid are all these measurements?"
[Lindsey Kilbride:]That’s a mechanical engineer who I happen to know really well. He’s my brother Sean. I called him to ask, how big of a deal is this shell thickness discrepancy?
"We’re saying it’s exactly a half an inch, but we don’t know if anyone is rounding there. The thickness is really important because whenever you’re doing a volume calculation, the formula for volume is the radius to the third power. If they’re rounding anywhere there, that error get propagated throughout that equation, and it could be off by a larger amount. So if anyone is off by any of their measurements, then that could totally mess up our estimation."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Also, the report said an emission spectrographic analysis was used to determine the outside of the ball was stainless steel.
[Sean Kilbride:]"The other thing we don’t know is how close the steel is to the specifications. So basically if that steel is exactly grade 431 steel, we know what the density should be, but if the mixture is off a little bit or if there’s anything that’s been done to it to change the chemical composition, then it might not be the same as the density that’s published. We don’t know how close it is to your ideal steel of that type."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Remember, this report is from a nonprofit UFO research group. It happens to cite more details from the Navy than I’d seen anywhere else. But it’s not the official Navy report and we don’t have the details from that metal analysis, so we can’t say this is 100% accurate.
[Sean Kilbride:]Whenever you do the calculation, it’s about 15 percent off from what it should be. We don’t know exactly how accurate those measurements are, so it’s not something I’d be super concerned with."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]So maybe Harder has something, or maybe there was just some rounding in the report, but Harder is also quoted saying the little balls inside the sphere are more dense than the shell. They do look much darker than the rest of the ball. Does the x-ray actually prove that? Radiologist Diane Johnson again:
"It's difficult because it's a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional structure. But it does look like those are separate and potentially higher in density. Although you can't really say that for sure because they could be thicker, made of the same material. You know, for example, they could be a solid stainless steel little metal ball versus a stainless steel shell. It's hard to say just based on that one image."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]I asked FSU professor Humayun the same question:
[Lindsey Kilbride:]"Would it be wrong for people to assume that just in making the sphere that little pieces of the shell just, you know, while making it they just kind of fell down?"
[Munir Humayun:]"Yeah, those don't look like, they look like little spheres. They look quite deliberate within there. They don't look like broken fragments of the shell."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Wow, so this makes me entertain Harder’s comments much more than I had previously.
I think we can safely say the ball is hollow and the shell is stainless steel 431, but the inside, it’s kind of a mystery.
However, that’s not all this book said Harder found. It says he spoke before the International UFO Congress in 1977 (Basically a convention for UFO people). That’s about three years after the sphere was found. ‘Dr Harder presented his truly astounding recent findings on the sphere.’ (So this is essentially confirming he did reexamine the ball, like he said he wanted to in the article a year and a half before.) He asserted, based on his x-rays, that the two internal spheres
[James Harder reenactor:]
"Are made of elements far heavier than anything known to science. The Betz sphere contains elements having atomic numbers higher than 140. The heaviest element yet produced in any atomic reactor here on Earth has an atomic number of 105. If one were to drill into the sphere perhaps one of the masses would go critical and explode like an atomic bomb."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]While Hynek says the ball is nothing special, Harder is apparently here saying this is like nothing we’ve seen on Earth. So while I think Hynek could be onto something with the densities, I don’t know how seriously to take this book. Here’s why: This book seems to be the source for these claims, like I can’t find another article or book where he’s making such extreme declarations. Every modern write-up about the ball quotes this book. So I did a little more digging and actually found a book titled Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress 1977, same year. Harder is in this book a lot. He gave a talk on the hard evidence for UFOs, no mention of the Betz ball. He’s part of a panel discussion along with Leo Sprinkle, who you heard earlier, and Hynek, about if people who have more than one UFO experience should be taken seriously. But there’s no mention of this speech about the sphere that the UFO encyclopedia excerpt says he gave at the conference. Granted, this book is just the best-of lectures. One of the editors of the book was Jerry Clark, the UFO expert. He attended the conference.
I have no memory of hearing anything like that. You know I was involved in the organization of it. When that conference was going on, I was running around a lot, but I did participate in some of the sub-conferences where people who were speaking there got together and batted around ideas and.. now, it's possible, you know, that that he said something, but I just, you know, I just don't remember. This whole episode came and went without making much of an impression on anybody because I don't see it in the literature.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]There’s no mention of the Betz sphere in his giant encyclopedia.
"And I spent an enormous amount of time reading UFO literature, including official documents and old UFO publications from the 50s and 60s, and as many books as I could get my hands on. Now, if it had really been with Harder says it was, it certainly would have made an impression, and it would be something like proof of some kind of, you know, otherworldly visitations. That clearly wasn't that, whatever it was."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]"I kind of just want to get a feel for, you know, who Harder was and sort of how different he was from Hynek."
"You know, there's a certain kind of person you run into if you're around this field and you meet people. You know, people who have impressive professional educational credentials. You're glad that they decided to look into this question because we certainly need that kind of expertise. We’re trying to understand what's going on. But sometimes, you find that people who in their ordinary lives are capable scientists and professionals, kind of throw that all out the window when they look at UFOs. This is like they have some kind of metaphysical itch they want to scratch with UFOs and then they just get in and they’re just other crazy people. And there's no shortage of them as it is. And that was my — don't quote me because this is just based upon things that picked up over the years — but I was never impressed with Harder."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]So Clark thought Harder wasn’t skeptical enough, but also admits he didn’t know him personally.
Leo Sprinkle, the member of the blue ribbon panel we talked to earlier, he knew Harder a bit better.
Dr. Jim Harder, he was interested in the physical evidence. Some cases that had even photographs of flying saucers or whatever it is."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]Sprinkle himself studied more of the fringe UFO claims, the stuff organizations like NICAP distanced themselves from, including people who claimed to have had contact with extraterrestrials. Remember he is a psychologist and really interested in people.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]"How did you perceive Harder as a scientist looking into these claims?"
You know, I perceived him as very bright, very capable, emphasizing the physical science aspect, more than that social science aspect. Whereas I think Hynek was very interested in both. But I appreciate Jim Harder’s approach because he was careful in trying to determine what is called normal, physically tired, what is unusual, physical aspects of flying saucers and people.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]So, two totally different opinions.
Now I want to play a part of Hynek’s radio interview that stuck out to me. The host asks him about the death of a man who used to write about UFOs, and he immediately seems to shoot down a rumor.
"I want to ask you, what do you think of is it Frank Edwards? Does he hold weight, in your opinion?
[J. Allen Hynek:]
He's been deceased.
[Radio host:]I understand that, under mysterious circumstances,
[J. Allen Hynek:]
No, heart attack.
[Radio host:]Oh, someone told me otherwise.
[J. Allen Hynek:]
No, I don't think so.
[Lindsey Kilbride:]To me, Hynek sounds like someone who doesn't buy into conspiracies, even as someone who spent his later life looking into UFOs.
But something else stood out to me when I was researching all this. I mentioned to Leo Sprinkle, Hynek’s former colleague on the National Enquirer panel, that Hynek said this about the ball’s odd movements:
[J. Allen Hynek:]
"Well, I think we have concluded it largely is a little bit of wishful thinking."
[Lindsey Kilbride:]And that's totally opposite of what the family says happened at the conference. So I'm just sort of trying to sort through those two sides.
[Leo Sprinkle:]"Strange because I usually perceived Allen Hynek as being not only sympathetic but willing to discuss with the witness or the families what they're experiencing. And that makes it sound like he was covering...like there was something he didn't want to talk about.
I found Sprinkle’s comment about Hynek really eerie…I think something happened either with Harder or Hynek...Maybe it was that Harder believed the ball was something more remarkable than what everyone else had told Gerri Betz and she started believing it too, but maybe it was something else. Here’s my case.
Gerri is quoted about half a year after her son found the sphere, saying tests show it’s most likely man-made, but that she still wants to know what it is...But then there’s the later article in which Harder is arguing there’s no proof it’s man-made… and Gerri is quoted saying this: "I believe there’s evidence we have something from a UFO on our hands. There are circumstances surrounding the object that made me feel it has some properties that our scientists aren’t familiar with." She was of the opinion the Navy was hiding something from the public for security reasons. "They know more than they’re saying," she said.
So what happened? In that same later article Gerri says Hynek came to Florida and spent the day with her family the year before, and Hynek pleaded to take it with him but she refused. Hynek doesn’t confirm in the article if he actually did go to the family’s home.
Nan, the magazine editor, had a little more insight. This is what Gerri told her happened around that period of time.
[Nan Kavanaugh:]"The sphere was never the same. And Gerri thinks that he swapped it out with a dummy."
"You know, I recently read an article with Hynek's son because he because there's a new TV show called Blue Book based on Hynek's work and these UFO sightings. So Hynek's son is an advisor on the show. At the very last sentence of the article, he said, you know, he was talking about how they had all this stuff in their house, like a library of artifacts or whatever. And he's like, ‘Yeah, we had this metal ball in our house that I found out later on was from some Florida UFO case.’"
"Are you insinuating, Lindsey, that my father is some kind of UFO kleptomaniac?"
This is Odd Ball, a production made possible by supporters of WJCT, and produced by me, Lindsey Kilbride, with help from intern Al Pete. This episode was edited by Jessica Palombo. The music is by Matthew Wardell and Al Pete. And a special thanks to Catt Davis, Jessica Palombo and David Luckin for playing scientists.