Classic Mysteries—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, August 2021
The Flying Saucer Pancake Caper of Joe Simonton
by: Brent Raynes, with Richard W. Heiden
It was 11 a.m., April 18, 1961. Joe Simonton, a 54-year-old plumber and auctioneer on a farm some four miles outside of Eagle River, Wisconsin, was eating lunch when, his story went, he heard a sound outside that resembled the noise of a jet plane flying by. As such sounds were fairly familiar to him in that location, he failed to think much of it, and continued with his lunch. Then afterwards, as he was taking dishes and such to the kitchen sink, he would claim that out the window there he observed a craft landing in his driveway. He described it as resembling two saucers, placed lip-to-lip, windowless and of a bright chromium color. Reported it was about 12 feet high and 30 feet in diameter.
Curious but not frightened he stepped outside for a better look. He claimed that the notion that it was a flying saucer had not occurred to him and that he had had no previous interest in the subject. In fact, it was reported that people who knew Mr. Simonton would confirm that they had not heard him ever express any interest in the subject.
As he approached the craft outside the situation quickly took a dramatic shift into high-strangeness. He claimed that a hatchway popped open, similar to the way a car trunk would open, and there standing before him was a short looking man-like figure holding what resembled a water jug. Though Simonton claimed that this figure didn’t say anything, he did make gestures, one that suggested to him that the man wanted a drink. And so Simonton carried the jug down into his basement, filled it with water, and then returned it. In doing so he had to stand tip-toed and used one hand on the side of the craft for support while raising the jug of water up to the short figure. It was at that point that Simonton claimed that he got a view of the inside of the craft, a “sort of a dull black” and dimly lit interior. Nonetheless, he explained how there were three “control boards” approximately two feet high and four feet in length. He noticed one man sitting at a panel and another man at a flameless grill cooking pancakes!
He described the men as looking to be about 5 foot tall, maybe around 120 pounds, looking rather Italian like, and dressed in two-piece black suits, wearing a jacket with like a turtle neck. He further claimed that they were well built, looked to be maybe 25 to 30 years of age, with a “complexion much finer than any woman” he’d ever seen, adding: “When they looked in your eyes, well, you just couldn’t stand to look at them for long. They seemed to do something to you.” The being who had initially provided Simonton with the jug had a narrow white stripe down his trousers, which caused the witness to suppose that he was the one in charge perhaps. He even claimed that this man, who he called an “officer,” gave him a kind of salute like with the back of his hand, at which point Simonton in turn gave him a conventional military salute back.
Wanting to engage this figure in a conversation, Simonton began to gesture to him and pointed to the cook, at which point the “officer” gathered up four of the pancakes and handed them to Simonton. Next the hatch closed and with a sound resembling a “large generator or electric motor,” the saucer rose up from the ground an estimated 20 feet, then tilted upward at a 45-degree angle and shot off into the sky, disappearing from sight in a mere two or three seconds. Simonton estimated that his encounter lasted no more than five minutes and that, after reportedly finding no evidence of any ground disturbance, he speculated that it may have hovered just barely over the driveway rather than actually touching down on it.
Afterwards, the story soon became a national sensation. A Vilas County judge named Frank W. Carter, 42, and a member of NICAP [National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena] submitted one of the pancakes to them for analysis, which was a request no doubt that organization wasn’t comfortable with because of its well-known anti-contactee position. Soon Dr. J. Allen Hynek ventured up to Wisconsin to investigate the case for the Air Force. Hynek would later state: “He answered questions directly, did not contradict himself, insisted on the facts being exactly as he stated and he refused to accept embellishments or modifications.” Local Sheriff Joe Schroeder was quoted saying: “Joe really believes everything he says, and he isn’t a drinking man. He talks sensibly.” I [Brent Raynes] had always been under the impression that Mr. Simonton lived alone, but Richard proved to me that he had a wife named Mary Adamski [how’s that for a last name?] who was working as a nurse in Chicago at the time of his alleged encounter. Richard had learned this from Jean Deditz, who had worked for years at the Vilas County News-Review as copy editor and lead typesetter, admitting that the Simonton incident was one of her favorite stories. In fact, she and her husband purchased the home from Mary in 1989. She left the paper in November 2011. Deditz used to periodically mention the Simonton case in her feature Backward Glances. Below you will see a copy of this column that even mentions Simonton and a neighbor seeing a second UFO later.
Joe Simonton passed away back on August 21, 1972.
Thanks to Richard Heiden again, I learned that a few weeks after his April 1961 encounter Simonton told UPI, “I haven’t been able to work for three weeks. I’m going to have to start making some money.” He added that if he saw another UFO he’d keep it to himself. However, a ufologist named Lee Alexander from a Detroit UFO group in 1970 claimed he visited Simonton who told him that he’d had more alien visits, but had chosen to keep quiet about them.
Richard also came upon an email back on September 23, 2011, written by one William McNeff claiming: “I remember a second sighting described in a newspaper article some time after his April 1961 experience. August sounds about right. The article said they landed and this time they allegedly talked to him and told him they had his brain waves recorded and they could locate him any time they wanted to. I looked for this in one file and didn’t find it.”
What did analysis of the pancakes reveal? Hynek reported the following from a Food and Drug Administration analysis: “Microscopic analysis shows the presence of fat, starch, buckwheat hulls, wheat bran, and soybean hulls. The material appears to be a portion of an ordinary pancake made predominantly of buckwheat. Bacteriological examination and measurement of radioactivity gave results which are consistent with the view that the article is an ordinary pancake of terrestrial origin.” Reference: The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Volume 1:A-K, by Jerome Clark. 2nd Edition. Omnigraphics, Inc. 1998.
Additional background material on the Joe Simonton story supplied by researcher Richard W. Heiden
From the local Vilas County News-Review in 2011 one Mary “Bwana” Elliott was quoted: “I was one of the Vilas County officers that responded to Joe Simonton’s incident in 1961, along with Sgt. Adolph Mussatti. We talked to Joe, (he) showed us a circular depression in his grassy yard where he claimed this UFO landed? It was near where he kept his goat tied up to a stake..so you draw your own conclusions. Also we were shown two funny looking pancakes…black with big holes in them. Later, I heard that the grease from them was ‘beaver’? Joe was somewhat of a trapper and lived close to Joe Pekarek, who was a big time trapper. Was interesting story? Who knows?”