The Eagle River Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
July 14, 2019
Last Updated
September 4, 2020
Estimated Reading Time
16 min read
Posted in
Aliens, Encounters

The Eagle River incident of April 1961 in Wisconsin – sometimes referred to as the Space Pancakes or Flapjacks Case – is another UFO encounter that even those in the UFO community have regarded for many years as a hoax. And many still do. However, the case persists with UFO researchers returning periodically to the incident on the off chance that perhaps it was a true encounter.

The fact is, however, while proof of such absolute authenticity remains beyond our reach, there are more reasons to believe the credibility of the incident than not. The witness, chicken farmer, Joe Simonton, has never altered his story since first reporting the incident, and would – much to his credit – preserve a keepsake of his meeting with otherworldly visitors.

Depiction of the encounter blended into a picture of Joe Simonton

Joe Simonton

He was also an upstanding member of his community. As well as running the chicken farm he would act as a plumber and auctioneer in the small Eagle River community, and furthermore, would act as the “Santa Claus” for Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Christmas events. In short, and particularly in such a small community, Simonton would have little to gain but quiet ridicule upon his character by fabricating or manufacturing such an event.

The encounter in Eagle River was one that lasted five minutes at the most. It would, though, leave talking points still discussed, pondered, and indeed still investigated today. Just where does the so-called pancake case rank in terms of importance in UFO and alien encounters? And, as we will examine, where might it reside in terms of historical legends – both factual and mythical?

Indeed, the case will likely prove to be a mundane footnote in the annals of UFO history, or it will prove crucial in the human subconscious yearning to fill in the gaps of our collective history.

A Cosmic Landing In the Middle Of Breakfast

On the morning of 18th April 1961, at around 11 am, Joe Simonton looked on in amazement as he saw a “flying saucer” descend out of the morning sky and land on his farm. He had been enjoying a late breakfast this particular morning when a sudden sound had brought him to his front porch. The object, according to Simonton’s later report, was silver but “brighter than chrome” and stood approximately 12 feet high and around 30 feet in diameter.

The object would land and almost immediately a “hatch” opened in the side of the silver exterior. Inside the craft, three “dark-skinned” humanoid aliens were visible. They appeared to be wearing a uniform of sorts – dark blue or black – that featured “helmet-caps” and a turtleneck collar. Simonton would state that these humanoids were “Italian-looking”.

A clipping from a UFO newsletter regarding the incident

A clipping from a UFO newsletter regarding the incident

Watching the entire scenario unfold, Simonton remained where he was. As the three alien humanoids ventured out of their craft, Simonton noticed that they were carrying “a beautiful thing, a thermos jug-like bottle quite unlike any jug I have ever seen here on Earth”. The jug had two silver handles and Simonton had the impression it was made from the same material as the craft, which appeared, at least to him, to be “heavier than aluminum but lighter than steel”.

Then, he realized these visitors required water. He would tell Franklin Carter, a Wisconsin judge, and UFO researcher that:

…he did not speak. But he motioned by tipping his head backward and making motions as if drinking!

He took the jug from the alien humanoid, who still had not muttered a word, and went inside to fill it up.

Universal Communication In No Language Whatsoever

He returned outside with the jug now filled with water and passed it back to his visitor who looked appreciative. As he reached to pass the jug back, he had to lean his left-hand side and left hand on the side of the craft (he would apparently suffer no ill-effects from doing so such as burns, etc.).

As he did so, he could see inside of the craft further. Inside, he could see the other two occupants more clearly. They were, he would claim “chained or belted” to their workstations (presumably for safety reasons). One was “engaged at a panel” in front of him, while the other was “cooking food on a heating unit of some kind. He would elaborate:

I couldn’t see any heated grill nor flames. Yet he seemed to be cooking or frying cakes. I was interested in them and the man in hatchway noted my interest and walked over and scooped up some of them and gave them to me. They looked somewhat like pancakes!

All the while no verbal communication ensued “to me nor to each other in any kind of language whatsoever”.

Artist's impression of the silver space craft

Artist’s impression of the silver space craft

Simonton would comment, however, on a gesture by the humanoid upon receiving the water where he “placed the tips of his right hand to his forehead and immediately withdrew it”. This to most would appear to be a salute or gesture of thankful respect. This would certainly appear to be the impression Simonton got as he responded with a “military salute” which the visitor appeared to understand as “you’re welcome”, as intended.

Then, the hatch shut tight again. Instantly, there was no longer even an indication that the hatchway had even been there. No “seams, hinges, or telltale marks” of an opening. Just seamless, smooth, metallic silver.

A Sudden Take-off And Departure!

The ship began to rise from the ground several moments after the hatch sealed shut. It would rise and tip slightly before shooting forward and away into the sky. Simonton would state witnessing a pine tree being bent completely back at the same time by some kind of “backwash” from the power of the craft as it left. However, despite moving back and forth several times, when it came to a stop the tree was undamaged.

Simonton’s description of the ship is also interesting in terms of other, very similar descriptions of the era, and indeed similar sightings and encounters going back to the late-1940s. He would recall in his report that it looked “like two plates or bowls” which were “inverted over the top” of each other.

Line drawing of the craft

Line drawing of the craft

Furthermore, upon reflection, he realized that the ship was, in fact, hovering ever so slightly above the ground as opposed to actually “touching down”. This would perhaps explain why many such sightings leave no markings of their presence.

We should also bear in mind too, the extremely powerful, although apparently non-destructive propulsion system of the craft. The pine tree, for example, was undamaged although subject to some responsive force from the crafts “take-off”. Also, there were no attempts to have Simonton stand away from the craft when it left who, incidentally, was unharmed from the close encounter.

Partly out of curiosity, Simonton ate one of the pancakes the visitors had gifted him. He would later recall to the press how it “tasted like cardboard”. The rest, however, he would keep. A decision that would be one of the best decisions he would make.

The Cosmic Space Pancakes

When speaking of the encounter to Carter, Simonton would produce one of the pancakes from his pocket. The small round “cakes” had the perforated appearance of scotch pancakes but were “rubbery or elastic” and able to be bent and rolled and not break apart. Furthermore, they had an aroma similar to “goose grease”.

Simonton would gladly allow two of the cakes to leave his possession for testing. Carter would send them for testing with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). However, they would refuse involvement with the incident. This was perhaps the first blow to the credibility of the account.

J. Allen Hyneck

J. Allen Hyneck

Perhaps bizarrely, and with a little sense of irony, it would be J. Allen Hyneck (pictured above) who would take interest in the case as part of the Project Blue Book files. When the NICAP group in question ceased to exist, it was Hyneck who would take charge of their files. Incidentally, we will come back to NICAP’s involvement, or not, in this case, a little later.

While it remains a shame that two sides who essentially wanted the same thing – the truth – could not work together to do so, it appears the reasons were not as clear cut as Carter would initially put across.

It was through Hyneck’s connections at Northwestern University that the pancakes would eventually be tested and analyzed. The United States Air Force – at the time as part of Project Blue Book – would authorize and fund the tests. The results, as we might expect, were fascinating, to say the least.

The “No Salt” Issue

The results of the analysis carried out on the cakes to be very much like a normal, everyday pancake. They were made from wheat, flour, sugar, and grease (remember the goose grease aroma). However, interestingly, the pancakes contain absolutely no traces of salt – not even natural salt – whatsoever. Every last salt crystal had been removed somehow.

This, as trivial as it sounds, is a major part of the case. And certainly one of the most intriguing. It would appear, for example, that the salt was missing from each of the individual ingredients. If Simonton had concocted the whole episode, how had he managed to achieve this himself? And more to the point, why would he go to such lengths.

A depiction of a UFO over a field

Just who or what did Joe Simonton encounter that afternoon?

Indeed, one of the reasons the aforementioned Carter looked so favorably on Simonton’s account was a complete lack of motive for him to put himself in such a public situation by manufacturing the incident. After all, what would, and did, he have to gain? Very little, at least in Carter’s opinion.

Furthermore, and of more interest to us here, the issue of salt, or lack thereof, might be an indication of the crossing over from one field of interest into another. From the realms of UFOs to the supernatural and ultimately, mythical legends of folklore.

It is perhaps this unlikely combination that might provide a remarkable angle from which to view the Eagle River incident from. And from there, plenty of other similar incidents across the ages. We start our look at this intriguing connection, though, with the work of one of the loudest voices on the matter.

Links To Legends Of Old Folklore

Perhaps one of the most intriguing connections of the case was that originally made by Jacques Vallee in his book Passport to Magonia, who would compare old legends of fairies and mythical creatures and their apparent disliking, indeed complete aversion to salt.

Throughout his pages devoted to the Eagle River landing, Vallee quotes and offers the insight of Wentz, an American writer who collected many tales of these strange, supernatural beings, who in Celtic legends were known as the Gentry. Not only did they “not eat anything salt” but they also only “drink pure water”. Coincidentally or not, that was the request of the strange visitors to Simonton.

A picture of a mythical dragon with an alien's face over the top

Many legends of folklore contain similar details to alien encounters

There are some truly intriguing descriptions on offer regarding the Gentry that we could, albeit at times with a bit of a stretch, apply to other aspects of the UFO and alien question. For example, according to the information gathered by Wentz and, in turn, passed on by Vallee in our (relatively) modern era, the Gentry were a “military-aristocratic class, tall and noble-appearing” and are a “race between our (human) race and that of the spirits”.

Furthermore, they are tremendously powerful and could “cut off half the human race, but would not, for we are expecting salvation”. What that salvation is and it what form it will take is not mentioned. Perhaps most intriguing about the Gentry, they can “take on many forms”. As one legend claims, a four-foot being appeared to a bemused man and claimed, “I am bigger than I appear to you now”. Furthermore, these Gentry never die but take on different forms, even marrying and having children with “good and pure mortals”.

All of these traits and details appear similar to one of the most mysterious and head-scratching aspects of the UFO and alien question.

The Persistent Legends Of An “Unseen” Extraterrestrial Influence

If we read the above again, many if not all of the descriptions of the Gentry and their typical behavior has remarkable similarities to the many claimed traits of Reptilian entities, or as some researchers will argue is the case in mythical histories such as ancient Greece or Egypt, the Gods.

Even more intriguing, for example, when we take this last notion on board for a moment, they have a “great interest in the affairs of men”, even fighting among themselves about the fate of such.

Like all walks of life, there are “good” and “bad” branches of these Gentry families. And much is said likewise about the apparent royal/reptilian/extraterrestrial bloodlines that, admittedly according to some of the most outlandish conspiracies, reside all around the planet even today.

Might, as truly bizarre as it sounds, this be a small interaction between these races?

If for sake of argument we accept this is even remotely possible for a moment, is the encounter of Joe Simonton one with this “unseen” race of beings? The ones between our realm of existence and the spirit’s (Gods’?) realm? Might they have appeared to him as he would have best responded for their needs as opposed to their true form, whatever that form might be?

We will stick with the work of Vallee for a little while longer as it just might provide the overlooked but vital clues to not only the Eagle River incident, but the idea of intervention, whether from extraterrestrial or a hidden terrestrial influence, long throughout history.

Before we move on, check out the short video below which looks further at some of these entities from Celtic folklore.

Obscure But Intriguingly Significant Links?

Vallee states that according to the military analysis carried out on the pancakes the wheat used was buckwheat. Given the comparisons we have made with the Celtic legends, around Brittany specifically, it is interesting that Vallee notes one of the legends of that era involves a deal involving “buckwheat cakes”.

What Vallee also draws attention to is the notion that up until around the mid-to-late-1800s, interaction with humans and these Gentry were relatively regular. However, certainly as the twentieth progressed, sightings and interactions with them became less and less. Did these Gentry suddenly die out? Or did they retreat even further into the shadows?

An image of a troll-like being

Do ancient legends actually speak of aliens?

And perhaps more specifically to our article here, are they responsible for at least some of the UFO sightings from the mid-twentieth century onwards? Are many of the UFOs and more specifically their occupants, the latest “form” which the Gentry have decided to take? One that is fitting for the modern age.

While that is, of course, pure, rampant speculation, it is certainly a possibility. As Vallee says, people in the modern age are “so busy rationalizing the dreams of other people that they themselves do not dream anymore. Nor do they read fairy tales”.

Indeed, although many of us will not think of it now, food, and more specifically the giving and sharing of food is a key part of the ritual that has “often been held to symbolize, if not to constitute, a union of a very sacred kind”.

Perhaps another example of this and how it ties into the incident of Joe Simonton is the account of Lot and the two “angels” in the Bible. Lot must prepare “unleavened bread” (bread using no raising agent, including, salt) for them to eat.

Clues To Be Found In The Airship Sightings Of 1897?

Before we return to the latter half of the twentieth century and the early years of the 1960s, we should look at the famous airship sightings that fascinated much of the United States throughout 1897. We have examined these sightings before, and while we will not go over them again here, it is interesting, especially in light of what we know of the Eagle River incident and Vallee’s comparisons to the Gentry of Celtic folklore, there we a few points of interest in the accounts to highlight here.

Several of the close contact encounters would involve a request for tools for repairs, as well as water. For example, the encounter of Frank Nichols is particularly interesting. Telling of the incident in the Houston Post he would speak of the landing of the “airship” in a field on his land. Furthermore, several “short and dark” humans approached with a strange bucket asking if they might “draw water from his well”.

He would further state that he went aboard the craft which the occupants claimed was powered by “highly condensed electricity” which would “soon be given to the public”. Perhaps, as a side-note to think about, if there is any truth in Nichols’ account, this might be the real conspiracy – the fact that such technology has not yet arrived in the public arena. At least not as many suspect could be available.

Another incident of the airship sightings worth mentioning here is that of Deputy Sheriff McLemore from Hot Springs in Arkansas. He claimed to have met the occupants of one of the airships caught in the sightings. He also claimed that the strange occupants were “filling sacks full of water” before they politely went on their way.

The video below looks at the airship sightings in a little more detail.

Partial Explanations And Discreet Omissions

Of course, back in April 1961, with the Air Force, interestingly or not, being one of the only organizations to show any interest in the case, would determine that while Simonton had not manufactured the incident, he had essentially, imagined the affair at some point while eating breakfast. Interestingly, they didn’t explain just how this apparent lucid dream-like state came from or indeed what snapped him out of it.

Perhaps even more intriguing, they also didn’t offer an explanation of where the pancakes appeared from if the encounter occurred only in Simonton’s mind.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Simonton didn’t share the Air Force’s findings. He would state in the middle of the interest in his encounter that if he could do things over, he wouldn’t report the incident to anybody at all.

A depiction of a UFO over a farmer's field

Does the military know more than they say?

There were, however, several other factors at work. Not least the musings coming from Raymond Palmer that almost, at least now in retrospect, appear more preposterous than the claims from Simonton. He would claim that a real estate broker had hypnotized Simonton. And then implanted the story of the landing and the pancakes in his mind. He would further claim that the reasons for this were economic due to a “miniature Disneyland” that was apparently planned for the area.

There seems to be no evidence for this, or for a planned Disneyland, miniature or otherwise. Furthermore, it wouldn’t explain the origin of the pancakes in Simonton’s possession.

There was a corroborating sighting, at least to the object itself. According to Savino Borgo, who was driving nearby at the same time. He would see a saucer-shaped craft rising into the air at great speed.

Genuine Reasons Among The Many Egos!

Following the local newspaper running a story of the account, including the photograph most associated with the case on its front cover, Simonton became “swamped” with requests from journalists or looking for a quote or UFO researchers wanting to know more details of the case. In short, Simonton hated the reaction. Both the hostility and the waves with the which it came.

Part of the ill-feeling, however, went from Carter who was examining the case for Simonton following his approach, and one of the major UFO researchers of the time, Major Donald Keyhoe and NICAP. Carter commented on the irony of Keyhoe’s “silent response” to his inquiries following his own years of complaining of such a response from the military.

A depiction of a silver UFO over the mountains

Why do may UFO witnesses report the exact same details?

In his defense, Keyhoe would state that his response or lack thereof was mainly down to Carter sending the pancake for analysis without first notifying NICAP of his intention to do so. Perhaps more importantly, though, was his speaking of the incident to the press before speaking to NICAP.

He would also state that such mundane things as costs for tests to be carried out (most of which were in excess of $100 which in 1961 was a substantial amount) also added to such delays.

Whichever “side” is closer to the truth on this matter, it is a demonstration of a lost opportunity. One to analyze the substance independently. And without the involvement (and possible influence) of the United States Air Force.

However, rather than peg Carter a “maverick” for his handling of the Eagle River case, the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) would show a much more favorable attitude. According to APRO, the case deserved a thorough investigation.

An Indigenous “Alien” Race Or Humans Throughout The Universe?

Perhaps above all else, what was the purpose of the meeting? Was it literally a need for water? What would they have done had Simonton not had any water to give? Perhaps, and again assuming for a moment the undoubted authenticity of the incident, the fact that the occupants seemingly knew that water would be on Simonton’s property is also a telling clue.

Although he was talking about the aforementioned Airship sightings of the late nineteenth century, Jacques Vallee would make an interesting point about such incidents in his book Dimensions. He would state that it should not be overlooked how the “aliens” actually spoke perfect English. And while there was no verbal communication between the occupants of the Eagle River incident and Simonton, there were the gestures made to him by the visitors of a “drinking motion”.

A depiction of a landed UFO

Might there be humans throughout the universe?

It is perhaps perfectly reasonable that such a gesture might be universal among humanoids. No matter where they reside in the universe, it is an interesting notion. And very similar to the point made by Vallee regarding the airship sightings. That the “aliens” didn’t just appear human, but they were human?

And as an afterthought, if these humanoids were from a far-off planet, it would appear that “humans” are not exclusive to Earth. What might that mean from a human origins story? Or a lost advanced civilization theory? Might it be, as unlikely and unapologetically speculative as it is, a lost civilization from “pre-history” did traverse the stars and perhaps colonized a planet elsewhere in the Universe? Or might the reverse be true, and those humans from elsewhere came here and colonized the Earth?

More And More Intriguing And Unlikely Connections!

Ok, we took ourselves off the track for a moment there. That, though, is perhaps one of the fascinating aspects of this and many other incidents that come up in UFO circles. We must remind ourselves that we are for the most part in speculation territory. Potential paths do stretch in all directions, across fields of interest and time itself.

The incident that unfolded in Eagle River, Wisconsin could well have been the result of the imagination of Joe Simonton. Of that, there is no doubt and it is a possibility that we must keep on the backburner. However, we should also keep in the same place the number of people who knew Joe Simonton and went on record stating his credibility and authenticity.

It could also, however, be yet another example of contact between another intelligent race of entities. Ones that are perhaps even human or extremely close to humans.

Joe Simonton holding the "alien" pancake

Joe Simonton holding the “alien” pancake

Furthermore, there are several such alien encounters that feature similar dark or olive-skinned humanoids. Or humanoids with specific or typical facial features. For example, in this instance, Simonton would state how the aliens appeared “Italian”.

What is perhaps also interesting are many of the old creator Gods from various ancient writings. Ones from the orient region and the Indus Valley areas, speaking of “blue-skinned entities”. And while we accept blue is not green, it is an interesting observation of apparent “mythical creature”. Especially in light of the many contemporary accounts we will examine next.

Many Examples In Contemporary And Historic Accounts

For example, Lynda Jones would state how she witnessed humanoid figures with “oriental features” during one of her alien abduction encounters. Perhaps interestingly, Rex Ball, in his account of an alleged encounter in a secret United States government facility somewhere under Illinois in the early-1940s would tell of seeing several pilots who specifically had “oriental features”.

During a time in America in the run-up to the Second World War, this is a remarkable detail. And rather than imagine someone of oriental ancestry, might it be more accurate to imagine that the conspiracies about an “alien-government” secret alliance or project? One that could have more authenticity than even the most ardent UFO enthusiast would likely admit?

A depiction of a UFO over a lonely highway

UFO encounters have gone on for decades

Perhaps closer to Simonton’s description of “Italian features” are the description given by Delores Martinez Briones who would describe the occupants of a UFO as “dark-haired and olive-skinned”.

The 1978 Jan Wolski is also interesting as he also described oriental features on the apparent alien occupants. However, he would state the skin color to be a distinct green. While this sounds quite bizarre at first, there are many cases throughout history of similarly colored “aliens”. After all, the phrase, while largely a tongue-in-cheek insult, “little green men” instantly comes to mind.

There are also examples such as the Woolpit Children whose sudden appearance even appears in the English official records. Official records of George Washington also speaks of “green-skinned warriors”. These would assist him during his campaign at Valley Forge against the British in 1777.

A Truly Baffling And Dividing Case

What should we make of the Eagle River Incident? Should we, like many, dismiss the sighting as nothing more than a hallucination in the mind of the witness only? Or, as bizarre as the whole case seems, it is perhaps that bizarreness that gives it its credibility?

Simonton himself appears to have suffered from the experience. Although at the hands of society as opposed to a reaction from the sighting. He would claim he had struggled to find work following knowledge of his encounter becoming public. And would repeat that he would not tell anybody if he did have another experience.

However, according to a UFO investigator from the Detroit region, Lee Alexander, he would speak with Simonton in 1970. He would claim that he had indeed had more visits from “the aliens” since the Eagle River encounter. However, he would mention any more of the incident. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, he never did elaborate on these subsequent incidents.

In short, the Eagle River incident still divides opinion in the UFO community. And, barring some leaking or declassifying of information, it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.

If we assume that the incident was genuine, was it an encounter with extraterrestrial entities? Or were these strange beings another, unknown of Earth’s indigenous races? If any aspect of this most fascinating incident is true, it would give reason for us to review the blurred line between myth and history. And do so with a lot less myopia and a little more open-mindedness.

Regardless of whether this might be the incident to trigger that response, such a response is desperately required. Then, and only then, will we move collectively closer to an understanding of human existence. And where it fits into the cosmos.

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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  • John Norton says:

    Well done, a detailed article covering the details of the story with no hyperbole or ridicule. And the inclusion of the fairly lore overlap is great. I stumbled across this site quite by accident and am very glad of it! Thanks for a job well done.

  • Richard says:

    “Coincidence” that this was the date of the “Bay of Pigs Invasion”?

  • Soodha says:

    thank you very much. very interesting and fascinating

  • steven anthony karakai says:

    Excellent coverage and facts and views on this particular case. Also very informative non new legends and beliefs ie the Gentry”wow it is all really spectacular. Thanks

  • Artemis Rand says:

    This is a good website. Lots of good, in depth info for serious ufo study. Unlike many other sites that spread a lot of really weird and sensationalist garbage that embarrasses the field.

  • NLove says:

    Thank you for what you do.

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