Steeped in folklore and as misrepresented as they are misunderstood, The Appalachian Mountains have always been a hotbed for some of America’s best-kept mysteries. Reports of strange creatures, ghostly activity, and secretive cults have fought their way out of the mountains for hundreds of years, but there’s one incredible story that has, surprisingly, been largely forgotten. It’s a tale of strange lights in the night sky, hidden entrances to secret bases, and the mysterious disappearance of an alarming artifact collected during an alien abduction: an extraterrestrial mummy.
The action-packed tale of alien intrigue begins in the shadow of North Carolina’s legendary Brown Mountain. Long before white settlers ever barged in and laid claim to the area, the Native Americans were reporting that something had taken up residence inside their sacred mountain. On cool, fall nights, they would gather at a nearby vantage point and watch in awe as large, glowing orbs of light floated up and out of the rock face and hovered in the sky, lighting up the forest floor as they darted through the treetops.
The Cherokee people, who’d been watching the fantastic display since at 1200 A.D., believed that they were gazing upon the spirits of ghostly maidens who’d lost their husbands in a great battle with the Catawba tribe. As the early frontiersman moved to the area, they too witnessed the etherial lights, believing them to be the torches carried by Native American warrior spirits. By the ’40s, the various legends behind the Brown Mountain Lights had morphed into campfire stories about wandering phantoms with ghostly lanterns, but the phenomena itself remained unchanged. Whatever the lights were, they were real.
The phenomena had even left skeptical scientists scratching their heads. The book The Brown Mountain Lights describes early attempts to solve the mystery, each of them in vain:
From Wiseman’s View on Linville Mountain the lights can be seen well. They first appear like a large star coming over the mountain. Sometimes they have a reddish of blue-ish cast. On dark nights they pop up so thick and fast that it is impossible to count them.
The U.S. Geological Survey has conducted two investigations on the lights. The first was in 1913, when the conclusion was reached that the lights were locomotives’ headlights from the Catawba Valley south of Brown Mountain. However, three years later in 1916 the great flood swept through the Catawba valley knocking out the railroad bridges and keeping locomotives out of the valley for weeks. Roads were also washed out and the power lines were down. But the lights continued to appear as usual, making it appear that they could not be reflections from locomotives or automobile headlights.
In 1947, reports of a strange craft crashing in the New Mexican desert began to flood the news wires, and as flying saucer fever swept the nation, North Carolina’s anomalous lights were seen from an entirely new perspective. From that point on, the stories of ghostly warriors and phantom lantern men were a thing of the past. Suddenly it was clear: the Brown Mountain Lights were from outer space.
By the ’60s, UFO sightings in America had reached a fever pitch, and Brown Mountain’s glowing orbs weren’t nearly as fantastic as the strange cases popping up all over the country. Betty and Barney Hill had been abducted by aliens from their car in New Hampshire, six states had witnessed a flaming object from outer space crash land in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, and police officers from Ohio were chasing flying saucers across state lines. While all of these spectacular eyewitness reports were making national news, one particularly strange account managed to fly under the radar. Someone had been abducted by the Brown Mountain lights, and he’d even returned with evidence of his ordeal: a mummified alien body.
For most of his life, Ralph Lael was an unassuming furniture salesman in Hickory, North Carolina, whose most thrilling adventure was a run for Congress in 1948. Then, in 1961, he heard talk of the mysterious mountain lights in the Linnville Gorge and decided to investigate the reports for himself. After several expeditions into the mountains, he, like frontiersman before him and the Native Americans before them, witnessed the glowing orbs traversing the forest.
“I’m frightened, don’t know what to do,” he wrote about his sighting. “One light moves forward. It is now about ten feet from me and it is glowing. I could read a newspaper by the shining of it.”
Lael goes on to describe the light in great detail.
It is ten to twelve feet across. Almost a perfect circle. It has a brown center that does not look solid. The shape of the brown center is like a tumble bug but without a head standing on its back end. Not touching the ground but suspended in the center of the glowing ball. It seems to have three hands or feelers protruding out from each side.
This is where Lael’s experience takes a different turn than most others who’ve come face to face with the lights. As he watches the object hover nearby, he begins to feel a strange, numbing sensation wash over his body, a feeling that he described as “being scanned”. Shortly thereafter, the glowing orb goes back about its business, slowly drifting off into the trees. Rather than turning and running to safety, Lael wrote that he felt compelled to follow the anomaly into the forest.
After chasing the radiant light through the valley, Lael watches it dart into a cave emerging from the base of Brown Mountain. As he crept inside, he watched a boulder slide open, allowing the light to pass through. Before the strange doorway closed, Ralph slipped through and found himself inside a labyrinth of shimmering, crystalline tunnels that had been carved with laser accuracy. In the distance, he could see the glow of a bright light.
Upon reaching the light source, he found himself in a massive chamber where he heard a voice address him. It appeared to be coming from the orb he’d followed into the cave.
“Do not fear, there is no danger here.”
Ralph sat down in a seat that had been provided and the voice proceeded to introduce itself as gas-based life form from the planet Venus. It shared with him the secret of mankind: that humans had not developed on Earth, but instead we’d come from the planet “Pewam”, which was destroyed in a terrible accident that involved splitting the electron. The booming voice warned Lael that humanity was nearing a point in their evolution where they might make the same mistake again. It was up to Lael to warn humanity of the danger they were in, and if he failed, the Venusians would have no choice but to destroy man for the good of the planet.
Lael was then told to go on his way, though if he could keep his mouth shut about the secret cave entrance, he would be allowed to return and be rewarded with even more secrets of the universe.
Several weeks later, Ralph made a second trip to the cave, where he was again met by the mysterious glowing light. The familiar numbing sensation washed over when he approached the cave, and the booming voice again greeted him.
By keeping the location of the cave a secret, Ralph had passed the voice’s test, and it offered him the opportunity of a lifetime in return. If he wished, the Venusians would allow him to enter one of the crafts they stored inside the mountain, where, safely inside the ship, he could be transported to their home planet of Venus. Lael agreed to the trip without hesitation, and with the floating orb as his companion, he climbed into the machine and was fired off to the stars at light speed.
When vessel reached its destination, Ralph was greeted by a group of friendly Venusians. They looked a bit like humans did, but more beautiful in every way. As the aliens crowded around their visitor, eager to study their new friend from Planet Earth, Lael noticed they were all male. As he scanned the crowd, his eyes caught a glimpse of a voluptuous figure in the distance. There, watching the commotion, was one of the most beautiful women that he had ever laid eyes on. She was hypnotizing.
Once the native men had finished poking and prodding him, Ralph rushed to the gorgeous alien woman and showered her with compliments. He had some poking and prodding on mind as well, and as it would happen, she took him up on the offer. As the crowd looked on, the woman led Ralph to a quiet room where the two of them engaged in some hot man-on-extraterrestial action.
When the dirty deed was done, the Venusians gave Lael a tour of their society, taught him about their culture, and revealed that there were many more beings among the stars. Then, they revoked his intergalactic passport, stuffed him back into the space craft, and shipped him back to Earth.
When he returned from his space adventure, he was reminded to spread the word about the dangers of electron-splitting and ushered back through the mountain caves. Along the way, he discovered the mummified body a small, humanoid creature. It was only a few feet tall, had a large round head, and its lanky arms were nearly the length of its body. When Ralph inquired about the dead being, the glowing orb replied that he was free to remove it, as it would serve as proof of his journey.
The entire trip had taken Ralph only eight hours, and soon, he found himself back in the forest at the base of Brown Mountain. With the body of an alien mummy in his arms, he rushed home to write down the details of his discovery. A few years later, he published The Brown Mountain Lights, a book that documented the whole of his incredible story. From his field research on the mountain, to the discovery of an alien cave base, to his sexcapades with hot Venusian babes, every detail was accounted for.
As for the body of the dead creature, Ralph placed it in a glass case and draped a blanket over its lower body, leaving its large head with a row of tiny teeth clearly visible, and displayed it in his store. Before long, his bizarre specimen began to attract the attention of ufologists who would come from all over the country to study the mummy themselves. When questioned about its authenticity, Ralph stuck by his story, swearing that his tale, however unbelievable, was true.
Obviously, a discovery like this was bound to catch the attention of the powers that be, and before long, Ralph claimed that he was being harassed by government agents who were investigating the Brown Mountain area. These agents were even approaching visiting UFO investigators who had come to the area to do their own research. Some believed they were none other than the notorious Men in Black. Allen Greenfield, a veteran researcher of UFO phenomena, shared with me the following story from his Brown Mountain investigations in the ’70s:
On one of my visits [to Brown Mountain]- frankly I don’t remember which one – this nicely dressed local guy (supposedly) came to my motel room for no apparent reason other than to ‘warn’ me that Lael was ‘a local moonshiner’. At the time it seemed very normal if a bit unexpected. He identified himself, but his name disappeared from my memory. It was probably my poking around in a rural area that brought him to me, to uphold local pride or whatever – but who knows? Maybe he was a “man in black” — a thought that didn’t strike me until years later. He knew where I was, what I was there for and wanted to in some fashion discredit the local contactee. The primary phenomenon – the Brown Mountain Lights – is real, whatever that may mean.
These kinds of reports became commonplace among local investigators, particularly ones who’d started talking with Ralph Lael and showing interest in his extraterrestrial mummy. As ufologists were harassed by the Men in Black, Ralph’s reputation was publicly dragged through the mud, and on a regular basis,”well-dressed” men would allegedly come into Lael’s shop and declare that the mummy was nothing more than a sideshow gaffe before quietly offering ridiculous sums of money to purchase the body. Ralph refused their offers.
On June 30, 1978, in Catawba, North Carolina, Ralph Lael died at the age of 69. Shortly after his death, his shop was bulldozed to the ground, and his tale of Venusians and alien cave bases was all but forgotten… and so was the body of the dead alien he’d kept locked in his shop for a decade. To this day, no one knows what happened the extraterrestrial mummy. The body simply disappeared.
In the final years of his life, Ralph offered up a highly entertaining tale of extraterrestrial adventures, complete with “proof”, but how much of his story could possibly be true? You might be surprised.
While Lael’s story might be hard to swallow for even the most open-minded believers, which is no doubt a big part of why it remains largely untold, there are some very curious details contained in the narrative that deserve a second a look. As it turns out, you more you dig in, the less crazy the account might actually be.
For one, we know the Brown Mountain Lights are a genuine phenomena that have, to this day, remained unexplained despite a number of official government investigations. For years, skeptics have proposed explanations for the lights that have ranged from campfires, to cars, to ridiculous things like people throwing flashlights in the air, but dozens of studies, both amateur and professional, have ruled out most of the mundane. In 2010 the National Geographic documentary Paranatural even captured some of the best footage of the phenomena to date, further mystifying researchers as to their source.
Government research aside, I know the mysterious lights are real, because I witnessed them on my own investigation into the phenomena in 2012. I wasn’t alone either – three others witnessed them as well. While none of us got anywhere near as close to the lights as Ralph Lael claimed he had, there was no doubting what we were seeing as the glowing wisps floated up through the treetops and danced around Brown Mountain.
The lights might not be the only thing true about Lael’s crazy story. The whole reason I’d gone to Brown Mountain in 2012 was to research its history of alien abductions, including a recent rumor that a psychic had envisioned the location of something very odd near the base of the mountain: a secret entrance to “an alien cave base”. The tip was given to us by local fortean researcher Micah Hanks, who offered to lead us off the beaten path in search of the alleged cave.The trek was a tough one, and we nearly lost a member of our team to a treacherous fall, but we soon found the cave between two stone pillars, exactly as it had been predicted. The inside of the cave was fairly unremarkable aside from two strange details. While it was obvious that the cave stretched further into the mountain, we were stopped by a large slab of rock that appeared to have been conveniently (or in our case, not-so-conveniently) placed in the path, though how or by whom, I couldn’t tell you. It was huge. Near the sides of the boulder and along the ground were what looked like deep drag marks, as if the slab had been recently moved. Still, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t going any further.
Was this the hidden entrance to the mountain that Ralph Lael claimed to discover in 1961? Since Lael isn’t around to tell us, we’ll never know, but the coincidental details of his experiences on Brown Mountain don’t stop there.
While investigating the area, I’d booked a room at the Parkview Lodge, just a few miles from Wiseman’s View. It was a regular stop for investigators tracking down the lights and had come highly recommended. During my stay, I’d struck up a conversation with Cindy, who owned and operated the establishment with her husband. When I told her why I’d come to the Linville Gorge, her eyes widened, and she proceeded share dozens of fascinating stories of her own Brown Mountain Lights sightings.
Her stories were a hoot, but what caught my attention were her recollections of the steely “government men” she’d regularly encountered. Not only did they take a particular interest in the researchers who were spending their nights at the Parkview Lodge, but they had a strange habit of covertly taking photographs. Earlier in the day, Micah himself told me that even he’d had a run in with these men while visiting Brown Mountain. They, too, rolled up in a government vehicle, and without saying a word, snapped dozens of photographs of Micah and the group he was with before driving off.
When I inquired about the possibility of a government presence in the area, Cindi told me that for years the military had been staging secretive operations in the relatively untouched forests near the mountain. They claimed the operations were special ops training missions, but she wasn’t convinced.
During my time in North Carolina, I wasn’t yet aware of how Brown Mountain would soon play a part in one of the strangest investigations to ever fall into my lap: The Return of the Kentucky Goblins.
In 2013, a man from Eastern Kentucky contacted me about his frightening encounters with a group of four-foot-tall creatures emerging from mine shafts and terrorizing his family. I quickly began to make plans to visit his home, document the disturbances, and hopefully capture evidence of the creatures. I’d never make it that far, because after just a handful of emails, the man mysteriously ceased contact, but not before sending along photographs of the creatures and the strange, three-toed footprints they left behind.
The circumstances surround his encounters with the “little men”, as well as his descriptions of the creatures as four-foot-tall beings with large round heads and long lanky arms, bore striking similarities to a case that occurred on the other side of the state in 1955. It was commonly referred to the “Hopkinsville Goblin” incident.
I’d not yet made the connection to Ralph Lael’s mummy until my research into the new goblin case presented a clear link to Brown Mountain.
In his emails, the man from Kentucky mentioned that a “mutual friend” by the name of Terry Wrist had given him my contact information. As I had no idea who this person was, I started digging, and could pull up only one source for the name Terry R. Wriste: a pseudonym used by an ex-military occultist interviewed in two rather obscure books printed in the mid-nineties. Titled The Secret Cipher of the Ufonauts and The Secret Rituals of the Men In Black, these particular books are about as fringe as you can get when it comes to ufology, with instructions on contacting “ultraterrestrials” via occult rituals supposedly deciphered by Aleister Crowley himself. But here’s the strange part: the interviews dealt heavily with secret cave bases and the special forces sent to maintain them.
Wriste claimed that he had been a member of one of these teams, formed of grizzled Vietnam veterans, that was tasked with kicking extraterrestrial ass in an alien cave base located at the base of, you guessed it, Brown Mountain.
The coincidental connections to dozens of other strange cases just kept piling up, and the more I looked, the more it appeared that people throughout the area had been reporting run-ins with the same creatures for years. Tommyknockers, gobsows, pukwudgies, Kentucky Goblins? All different names for the same thing.
Could the “extraterrestrial mummy” of Brown Mountain have been the body of these cave-dwelling creatures?
While we can clearly make a pretty strong case for finding at least some truth in Ralph Lael’s over-the-top alien adventure, the hardest part of his tale to reconcile is the idea that an advanced race from Venus was dying to do the dirty with a furniture salesman from the Appalachian Mountains. I can’t even type the words without laughing, but, believe it or not, there may be a reasonable explanation: most of Lael’s experience happened in his own head, and I’m not talking about a deliberate work of fiction.
Those who’ve followed UFO reports for long enough, and cases of alien abduction in particular, are all familiar with the false memory phenomena has a habit of rearing its ugly head into contactee reports. To crudely summarize a vast and varied topic for the sake of this article, the gist of the phenomena is this: in many cases when abductees report experiences that seem just a bit too far-fetched, they may be suffering from a screen memory intended to cover the truth of what really occurred during a traumatic event. Usually the memories can be traced to familiar patterns that appear in abduction cases over a particular timeline or geographical area, which is why Lael experienced beautiful Venusians (which just so happened to be a hot topic in the science fiction tales of the time), while other abductees would encounter giant space-bugs, “Tall Whites”, or the ever-popular gray aliens.
Fun fact: The twenty-first episode of the sixth season of The X-Files, titled “Field Trip”, actually takes place on Brown Mountain, where agents Mulder and Scully are given false memories by a strange fungus.
If you want to go even deeper down the false memory rabbit hole, you could even argue that Ralph was simply experiencing the phenomena as it chose to present itself at the time, much like eminent paranormal researchers John Keel and Jaques Vallee believed that early reports of elves, fairies, demons, and now extraterrestrials were all manifestations of the same trickster beings, changing their masks to stay one step ahead of humanity.
A few visits to a certified hypnotherapist and the false memories are peeled back from the minds of contactees to reveal a truth that’s a lot less fun than sex with Venusian babes. Probes, man. Lots of probes. In fact, “banging beautiful alien women” is such a common theme in alien abduction cases that a majority of researchers have come to the conclusion that it’s just a memory implanted to make the surgical extraction of body fluids seem like it was a fun experience and not a horrifying science experiment performed by unfeeling extraterrestrial intelligences.
If a knowledgable researcher were to take time to look more closely at the case of Ralph Lael and the Brown Mountain Lights, they might surmise that everything Lael experienced after coming face-to-face with the strange light in the forest never actually happened, at least not the way he remembered it did. The “strange sensations” he reported as the orb “scanned” him certainly sound a lot like the “warm feelings” experienced by those slipping into a hypnotic trance.
A side effect of these false memories is that if the contactee dares share them with the world, they’ll instantly look like a complete nut, publicly discrediting themselves in the process. The scientific community wouldn’t dare touch the case with the ten foot pole, and for that matter, neither would most UFO researchers. By implanting a bat-shit insane memory, not only have you concealed the truth, but you’ve tainted the evidence. It’s a win/win for “them”, whoever “they” might be.
Did Ralph Lael encounter the source of the Brown Mountain Lights in 1961? Did he truly possess the corpse of a strange alien creature? Was he discredited by shadowy government figures who whisked away the only proof of his adventures and attempted to erase his story from history? We can speculate all day about what really happened to Ralph Lael on Brown Mountain, but the truth is that we’ll never know for certain.
While we no longer have the opportunity to sit Lael down with a regression hypnotherapist, strap him into a lie detector, or just compare notes with him, there is one thing that we can do: we can keep one of the weirdest tales of alien abduction from falling through the cracks.
As we continue to seek out the strange and unexplained in a world that’s becoming less and less tolerant of “crazy campfire stories”, the tale of the furniture salesman who went to space might seem far-fetched at first glance, but for those who take the time to look a bit closer, it’s plain to see that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. If nothing else, Ralph Lael’s tale is a great reminder that there’s often valuable truth to be found in even the most far-fetched accounts, if we only allow ourselves the chance to look for it.
Now, if anyone comes across an alien mummy, give me a ring.
What do you think? Was there truth to Ralph Lael’s “tall tale”? Is the body of an extraterrestrial creature still floating around out there? Have you seen the Brown Mountain lights for yourself? I want to hear from you! Find me on twitter @nuekerk, friend me on Facebook, or start a conversation in the comments below!