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Examiner
  • Jason Offutt: A mystery from half a century ago

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  • Long Prairie, Minnesota, is an innocuous little town. With a Coborn’s grocery store, a Dairy Queen, and bowling alley, it’s probably like most other hamlets in the state.
    I didn’t think much of it as I drove through, but I’m glad I did. Long Prairie has a piece of history that shows you never know what kind of excitement a little town has had unless you ask.
    James “Jerry” F. Townsend piloted his car over the gently sloping hills of Minnesota State Highway 27 between Little Falls to Long Prairie around 7:15 p.m. on Oct. 23, 1965. Townsend, a budding radio host on the local 1,000-watt AM station KEYL, rounded a curve about four miles outside of Long Prairie and suddenly faced something that shook his Christian upbringing.
    According to the Mutual UFO Network report, Townsend saw a sliver rocket about 40 feet tall standing tall in the road on three tail fins. As Townsend’s mind tried to make some sense of the object, his car engine stalled, its electrical system dead. Townsend shoved his feet onto the brake pedal, sending the car to a screeching halt about 20 feet from the rocket and, surprisingly, didn’t wet his pants.
    His first thought was to try and push the rocket over with his car, but the car wouldn’t start. Townsend stepped out of his dead vehicle and suddenly realized he was not alone.
    Three metal entities, about the size and shape of beer cans, walked awkwardly on two legs from beneath the rocket and stood between it and Townsend. The entities put down a third leg that acted as a tripod and sat there, staring at Townsend who, again, remained amazingly dry.
    After about three minutes, the Beer Can Men walked into a light that shone from beneath the craft and went back inside. Seconds later, a loud humming broke the silence Townsend hadn’t realized surrounded him during the encounter. The rocket rose into the night’s sky and disappeared. At this point, Townsend’s car started, the headlights shone on the spot where the craft had been, and music on the radio blared.
    I hate to bring it up, but if this had happened to me, I’d be in a fetal position on the highway crying for my mother.
    When the ship disappeared into the night, Townsend drove to the Todd County Sheriff’s Department and reported his encounter. Although deputies only discovered an unexplained oil slick at the landing site, there were a number of reports by farmers, hunters and the sheriff of a neighboring county corroborating Townsend’s claim of a silver rocket flying through the sky of central Minnesota that night.
    Page 2 of 2 - The United States Air Force’s Project Blue Book, and famous UFO investigators John Keel, Jacques Vallee, and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, all investigated Townsend’s case. But since we don’t have a flying saucer hanging from the ceiling of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Townsend’s case is like every other UFO report – unexplained.
    This encounter could have happened to me during my trip through Todd County near Long Prairie, but Jerry Townsend, I’m glad it happened to you. I may have tried to drink the Beer Can Men, and that probably wouldn’t have ended well.
    Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at amazon.com.

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