January 1, 2018 Edition

Gulf Breeze UFO story revisited – 30 years later

Ed Walters published a book about the UFO phenomenon but it was later discredited when a model UFO was discovered in the attic of a home he previously owned. 
Photos by Art HuffordSpecial to the ‘News’ Ed Walters published a book about the UFO phenomenon but it was later discredited when a model UFO was discovered in the attic of a home he previously owned. Photos by Art HuffordSpecial to the ‘News’ Thirty years ago, several local residents reported seeing something strange in the skies over Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. The following story about local UFO sightings was published in October 2011 in The City of Gulf Breeze 50th Anniversary special edition. It was written by Pam Brannon. E d Walters saw his first unidentified flying object and snapped five photographs of it over his home in the 600 block of Silverthorn Drive in Gulf Breeze during the evening of Nov. 11, 1987.

Walters, a residential and commercial builder, took the photos straight to the former Gulf Breeze Sentinel newspaper but asked that his name not be attached to any story of the sighting.

Walters had no idea that those five photos would put Gulf Breeze on an international map.

Art Hufford of Pensacola, a retired U.S. Army First Lieutenant and longtime engineer at Monsanto Co., and his wife saw their first UFO while driving home at 4 p.m. a couple of weeks after Walters’ first sighting. They didn’t tell anybody about it until early 1988, and they also asked that their names not be included in any reports. They only talked about it to the newspaper and investigators after they saw the photos of other sightings printed in the Pensacola and Gulf Breeze ‘Sentinels’ special section published in February 1988.

“My wife called me at work one day and said, ‘You are not going to believe what is on the front page of the Pensacola edition of the Sentinel – a photo of the same thing you and I saw a few months ago,” Hufford said.

“We decided to come forward to Duane Cook with our story when we saw a Pensacola News Journal story with some ‘expert’ saying Walters’ photos were not real, even though the guy admitted not even looking at the photos. I knew there was no guy on my windshield doing any double-exposure photography or special effects. Thank goodness my wife was with me at the time of the sighting, so she didn’t think I was crazy.”

Little did the Huffords realize in 1988 that they would someday lead the Gulf Breeze UFO investigation group for 11 years.

Cook, publisher/editor of the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, initially was not sure he wanted to open up the whole UFO issue in Gulf Breeze, even when he received those first photos by Walters in 1987, Hufford said.

“(Cook) always told the story about how he had the pages all laid out with the story and photos and just was not sure he wanted to open his little local-interest newspaper to the UFO phenomenon and all that might bring with it,” Hufford said. “But then, over the weekend, his mother, Doris, and her husband, Charlie Somerby, who actually started the Sentinel, visited the newspaper office.

“Cook showed them the pages and photos and asked what they thought of printing it. His mother said, ‘Charlie, that is what we saw on our walk the other night.’ The night of that walk was Nov. 11, about the same time Walters was shooting the photos. As Cook always said, ‘If you can’t trust your mom, who can you trust?’ So he proceeded to print the story, and I don’t think even he had any idea what that would lead to.”

Duane Cook passed away in 2003 at age 59 after a long illness. But his wife of 14 years, Dari – who is now remarried – still lives in Gulf Breeze. She recalls what a stir those first published photos caused.

These are actual UFO photos taken in the skies over Gulf Breeze in 1987 and 1988. These are actual UFO photos taken in the skies over Gulf Breeze in 1987 and 1988. “We knew it would cause a stir, but we had no idea where it would all lead,” she told Gulf Breeze News recently. “We started getting calls daily from people saying they had seen the same thing, and we started receiving photos from people who had used their Polaroid camera and snapped a photo of a sighting. After a few months, we had to assign one girl in the office just to handle the calls and help follow the leads. We had to publish a community newspaper and cover all the regular community and school events and didn’t want to just do UFO news. But we also didn’t want to ignore what was happening or the story or all these people. We were the only people who would listen to some of these people who wanted to tell someone about their experiences. It kept us all hopping.”

Frequent sky watches drew locals and visitors alike to Gulf Breeze’s Wayside Park, South Shoreline Park and Pensacola Beach in the 1980s. 
Photo by Art HuffordSpecial to the ‘News’ Frequent sky watches drew locals and visitors alike to Gulf Breeze’s Wayside Park, South Shoreline Park and Pensacola Beach in the 1980s. Photo by Art HuffordSpecial to the ‘News’ The first photos by Walters were printed in 1987, but there were people who brought photos to the paper of UFOs they had captured on film in 1986. The Sentinel later printed some of those, too.

Dari and her son, Chip Holston, owner and operator of Chip’s Gym in Gulf Breeze, experienced their first sighting in the autumn of 1989.

“Duane had told Ed, ‘If you ever see anything, call me right away.’ So it was in 1989, the night of the high school football banquet at the old Holiday Inn on Pensacola Beach, that he called,” Holston said. “Ed said to ‘go now’ if we wanted to see the UFO he had been photographing. We jumped in the cars and headed over to the Gulf Breeze Methodist Church. And there was a UFO craft, hovering over the top of us in the night sky. Walters was there with his tripod and special camera. He had been asked by a UFO investigator to start using the tripod and a special camera set up to make sure people trying to debunk him could tell the photos were real.

A UFO sketch by the founder of the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, Charlie Somerby. A UFO sketch by the founder of the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, Charlie Somerby. “You could see this faint object floating above us, with no sound. But Ed told me to look through his huge lens on his tripod so I could get a better look, and you could see all the portals of the aircraft,” Holston continued. “I immediately, just instinctively, snapped a shot of the thing with the camera. A couple more people came by, and we all talked about it and studied it for about 10 minutes. Then it suddenly went black. Not like it moved or anything – just lights out.

“So, on the way to the football banquet, I went by my girlfriend’s house to pick her up right around the corner, and we could see four or five military helicopters circling above, so we circled back by the church parking lot. But we didn’t see anything.

“A couple of days later, Ed brought the undeveloped film to the newspaper and asked Cook to develop it in his own darkroom so no one could say Ed did anything to the photos. When it was developed, there it was – the shot I took that night just like I saw it, portals and all,” Holston said.

Dari said that was a very exciting night for them. But they were not the only ones sighting UFOs, since she recalls their office receiving calls from all over the world – from UFO investigators, to media, to individuals interested in finding out more about the evening sky watches.

Hufford, who eventually became the local Pensacola/ Gulf Breeze MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) branch president, said night sky watches began in early 1990 and continued for about 20 months.

“We had so many people wanting to see a UFO that we started holding sky watches,” he said. “We ended up with a couple hundred people joining us most nights, hoping for a sighting. And we had a number of sightings – usually eight to 10 a month – at those sky watches. We also had eight TV crews come out, investigators and people from all over the globe. We even had TV shows like ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and ‘Current Affair,’ as well as Life Magazine come to do stories,” he said. “But the most interesting was Life Magazine, I think.

“Life decided to have a well-known UFO writer do a story for the May 1998 issue on UFO hot spots around the country and, of course, Gulf Breeze was on the list,” Hufford said. “So the writer and a photographer came to stay in The Dunes motel on

Pensacola Beach and got a group of us from the local

MUFON group together for a posed photo. We didn’t usually do sky watches out on the beach, but the photographer thought it was a good setting, so he told us where to point our binoculars. We took one uneventful shot in the daylight, went to have some supper, then came back to get the same posed shot at dusk. But this time just as we were posing, the ‘redlight UFO’ we had photographed before came into sight, hovering for a long time over The Dunes motel. I snapped a shot, and the writer went back and rewrote his story.

“But when he submitted it to his editors, they canned the entire project. They did not want to publish that he had actually seen a UFO. They had just wanted the ‘human interest’ story on all of us searching for UFO’s.

There was much ridicule of some involved in the UFO sightings, especially of Walters.

“But the Sentinel had played a very pivotal role in getting the story out and having people be able to share their stories without feeling like someone was going to think they were crazy,” Hufford said. “By summer of 1988, the Sentinel had heard from over 500 witnesses of sightings. And with all the investigators and experts who tried to discredit Ed’s photos, the witnesses coming forward who didn’t carry a camera but gave detailed accounts that were just as good as some photos. (There were) reliable, trustworthy, respectable people seeing sightings. But all of that started dwindling when Duane and Dari sold the Sentinel to Gannett newspapers in 1991.”

Hufford said Cook spoke to him more than once about why he believed Gannett wanted to buy the Sentinel.

“Duane told me that he and Dari were not interested in selling their hometown paper, but they were given an unbelievable offer and just could not turn it down,” Hufford said. “Duane said he knew the little paper was not worth what was being offered but, when he asked, he was told, ‘We have been told by our main office to buy it at any cost.’ So they sold – and the UFO stories came to a halt in the newspaper.

“People had no outlet to find out about sky watches or anything. That made the sky watches dwindle in numbers, until we finally ended them. And the local MUFON group lost membership and eventually turned into Unlimited Horizons, covering a lot more than just UFO sightings, with new leadership.”

Dari agreed that it was an offer the couple could not refuse.

“We were having a ball running the Sentinel,” she recalled. “We did not have it up for sale. So Duane said we should ask for so much included in the deal that there was no way Gannett would want to go through with the purchase. But everything we asked for, like doing travel pieces after we sold, they said, ‘Yes.’ The people who approached us said they were told by the Washington, D.C., office to buy us out. We wondered if it was because of the UFO stories that had made us so popular, or because someone wanted to stop the stories. We never really knew.”

The Islander newspaper on Pensacola Beach printed an updated special section in 1992 of Gulf Breeze UFO sightings. That 12-page section included a personal account of a sighting by Islander publisher Jane Waters on March 14, 1992.

“What amazes me is how the community has changed so much in Gulf Breeze,” Hufford said. “I spoke recently at an Unlimited Horizons meeting at the Gulf Breeze Recreation Center and was so surprised that most of the people attending that meeting had never heard about the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings.”

2018-01-01 / Features

Return to top

View Normal Site