By Stephen D. Bowling
Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot, could not tell what it was he saw in the sky near Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. He told newspaper reporters that afternoon that he saw nine “saucer-like” objects flying in a formation. The following day, newspapers across the nation reported on Arnold’s strange experience. A crashed “weather balloon” in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 also helped spur the belief that we were not alone. After 1947, the term flying saucer entered the American lexicon and has remained in the spotlight since.
Recent Congressional hearings discussed the evidence and the lack thereof concerning unidentified flying objects. Evidence has been presented and debated for nearly 75 years, but there is no definitive answer to the question of what people were seeing.
For many years, the residents of Jackson could only read about the strange and unexplained celestial sighting. The first mention of a flying saucer came in the May 1, 1952 edition of The Jackson Times. A community news writer mentioned a man who claimed to have built a UFO. The second mentioning of these curious ships came October 2, 1952 when a Lee County man claimed to have seen one in the sky near Beattyville.
The first sighting in Breathitt County came from a very reliable but unlikely source. The news shocked the town when The Jackson Times announced on its front page on July 22, 1965 that one had been spotted in Jackson. The witness to the early morning event was a well-loved and respected member of the business and religious community who had been in Jackson for more than 10 years.
Dr. Franklin J. Torok first hung out this chiropractic shingle in Jackson in January 1955. Fresh out of the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, he received his first patient on February 7, 1955 at the office on College Avenue. He treated patients in Jackson for the next several decades. Armed with the latest in x-ray and chiropractic technology, Torok became a much loved and trusted medical professional in the Breathitt County area. He was a frequent speaker and teacher at the Guerrant Presbyterian Church on Main Street. Torok was very active in city politics including several campaigns for Jackson City Council and was the leader of the “dry forces” in several local option votes.
To most, he was a very unlikely candidate to be Jackson’s first eyewitness to an unidentified flying object. The July 22, 1965 edition of The Jackson Times ran the following article telling Dr. Torok’s account of what he saw:
Flying Saucer Spotted Over Panbowl Lake Reported sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have appeared in newspapers and magazines the world over, but until a few days ago, the skies over Breathitt County had been relatively free of these unique visitors. Dr. F. J. Torok, Jackson chiropractor and religious leader, asserted yesterday that he had indeed sighted a "flying saucer" in the skies over Panbowl Lake as recently as the past weekend. The UFO-spotter said he first observed the strange phenomenon at the break of dawn, just as he was preparing to engage in a bit of fishing at the new lake. He instantly thought the shining UFO to be a star, then after observing movement, decided that it must be one of the many satellites now hurtling about in space. Dr. Torok saw the strange craft make a complete circle around Panbowl Lake and disappear in the distance, then decided it must be one of those highly publicized flying saucers.
The editors of The Jackson Times apparently had a little fun with Dr. Torok and to promote the good fishing in Panbowl when they added this statement to the bottom of their article:
(Ed. Note): While we don't wish to dash cold water on the sighting of Breathitt County's first flying saucer, it is our opinion that the craft mentioned above was merely a spy ship sent to Panbowl Lake by the West Coast fishing industry.
Dr. Franklin J. Torok never got an answer or any form explanation as to what he actually saw in the sky, but he would not be the last. He did not waver in his description but noted as he did in 1965 that it might have been one of the many satellites that were in orbit. Regardless, it was an unidentified flying object. So, what was it?
Jackson’s beloved Dr. F. J. Torok died on Friday, January 20, 2006 after a long illness at the age of 86. He is buried in the Jackson Cemetery, Inc. on Highway 15.
Several prominent Jackson citizens recorded strange and unexplained sightings through the years that followed. I will share more of them in the coming months, including a pair of sisters from South Fork who testified that they had “close encounters” of a different kind with several creatures from space.
Until then, Live Long and Prosper.
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling