Ball of fire seen in Augusta skies in 1948 remains a mystery

Now comes the mystery.

– Henry Ward Beecher

 

More than half a century ago, Johnny Battle, legendary city editor of The Augusta Chronicle, looked out our newsroom’s second floor window and saw something quite remarkable.

It was variously described as a ball of fire. A streak of light.

A rocket ship.

Battle wasn’t alone. In fact, most of Georgia saw something overhead the night of July 26, 1948.

The U.S. Weather Service in Atlanta saw it but also admitted there was nothing going on in the atmosphere that would explain it.

Descriptions popped up all over Georgia and they were colorful:

“A big light bulb with a red tail.”

“A reddish white ball about the size of a cantaloupe.”

“Green light with a short tail.”

“Bluish stream of light.”

In The Augusta Chronicle, the “wingless mystery plane” was described as a “double fuselage, one on top of the other, with flame shooting out the rear.”

As in Atlanta, the Augusta weather bureau also saw something in the night sky, but offered no meteorological opinion.

L.S. Nesmith, of 812 Russell St., an employee of the Civil Aeronautics Administration stationed at Daniel Field, said that he saw a large, giant object in the northern sky. Nesmith was “trained in observation work,” The Chronicle said, but he didn’t know what it was either.

The control tower at Daniel Field officially guessed. They dutifully recorded it at 10:30 p.m. as a meteor flash.

Who else saw it?

Everybody.

Reports came into The Chronicle newsroom from Milledgeville Road in Augusta and from Grant Avenue in North Augusta.

From Kennedy Drive, from Albion Acres, from Silcox Street. From Bath, S.C., and from Monte Sano Avenue.

A witness on Kissingbower Road said it was too large to be a plane.

Down at 1014 Ellis St., Myrtle Skinner saw it and said it looked like a ball of fire with a tail. She said it was traveling very fast.

And the next night, it came back.

It was seen over Atlanta on July 27 where the description followed Augusta’s from the night before – a “jet dirigible” emitting flames from its tail. They also saw it in Macon, that night, too, with its flame described as (name your color) red, white, blue and silver.

So what was it?

Six-plus decades later, we know it only as a flying mystery.

This newspaper and its staff reported it. They saw it, and they tried to explain it this way:

The Chronicle newsmen, and a member of the composing room actually observed what appeared to be a huge ball of fire traveling across the skies.

“Just what these objects were no one knows. They could have been meteors or shooting stars, but one thing is certain.

Their appearance resulted in considerable confusion throughout the city and this section and caused the night staff in The Chronicle city room to grab ringing telephones for the better part of an hour. The newsmen are still wondering about the ball of fire floating in the air to the south of the city. They can understand the meteor part, but the ball of fire in the air is something else.”

Sixty-five years later, it still is.

From the Archives: Article from the July 27, 1948 edition of The Augusta Chronicle (.pdf)

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