PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — Charles Hickson never regretted the notoriety that came his way after he told authorities he encountered an unidentified flying object and its occupants 40 years ago on the banks of the Pascagoula River. Until his death in 2011, Hickson told his story to anyone who would listen.
But Calvin Parker Jr., the other man present for one of the most high-profile UFO cases in American history, has never come to terms with what he still says was a visit with gray, crab-clawed creatures from somewhere else. He says the encounter on Oct. 11, 1973, turned his life upside down.
"This is something I really didn't want to happen," Parker told The Associated Press as the 40th anniversary of the encounter approached.
Parker was unnerved by initial crush of unwelcome attention, with newsmen and UFO enthusiasts overrunning Walker Shipyard, where he and Hickson worked. He tried to dodge the spotlight for decades, moving frequently before returning to Mississippi's Gulf Coast in recent years.
The incident made headlines, sparked a wave of UFO sightings nationwide and became one of the most widely examined cases on record. Skeptics ranged from the deputies who first interviewed the men to an author who sought to poke holes in the story, and Parker himself has had conflicting thoughts about whether he was visited by aliens or demons.
Parker, now 58, was 18 when he went fishing with Hickson on a tranquil Thursday night after work.
As they dangled their lines without much luck, the two said a UFO with blue lights swooped down. They told of a zipping noise made by the object.
Hickson, then 42, said three creatures with leathery gray skin and crab-like claws — he thought they were robots — took them by the forearms and levitated them aboard the craft. He said something that looked like a large floating eye appeared to examine him.
Parker says he was conscious but paralyzed.
"They gave a thorough, I mean a thorough, examination to me just like any doctor would," he said.
And then they were back on the shore, where it all began. The UFO was gone and Parker said they tried to collect themselves. Hickson needed three shots of liquor from a bottle in his car to calm his nerves before deciding to report what happened.
'They were fearful'
At the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, deputies initially suspected both men were drunk. Then-Capt. Glenn Ryder, who still works for the sheriff's office, said he laughed at the report, but met with the men. Parker and Hickson stuck to their story.
After the formal interview, deputies left Hickson and Parker together in a room with a hidden tape recorder, hoping to catch them in a lie.
"Me and the other investigator got up and left to let them talk, to see if they were going to say, 'Well, we got them fooled,' but they didn't," Ryder said. "They were really concerned."
On the tape, Hickson tells Parker, "It scared me to death too, son. You can't get over it in a lifetime. Jesus Christ have mercy."
"I don't know what happened to them," Ryder said. "I wasn't there with them, but I know you don't fake fear, and they were fearful. They were fearful."
The next afternoon, the story was splashed across the front pages of newspapers in Pascagoula and Gulfport. Overnight, Pascagoula became a magnet for news reporters and UFO investigators.
Widespread interest in UFOs began in the 1940s with an incident at Roswell N.M., in which UFO enthusiasts believe the government got its hands on a crashed UFO and alien bodies. The government spent decades denying it.
In the 1960s, interest flared anew with a series of reports, including the purported alien abduction of New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill in 1961. The widespread attention to the Pascagoula encounter set off a new round of reports.
In south Mississippi, hundreds of reports overwhelmed authorities in the two weeks after the Hickson-Parker encounter.
There were hoaxes and humor, too. A Long Beach, Miss., taxi driver told police a being with pincers tapped on his window, a story he admitted days later was fake.
A Mobile, Ala., television station said it would record a UFO appearance predicted by a psychic between Mobile and nearby Pascagoula. Roughly 1,000 cars converged on the spot, where nothing happened.
An Ocean Springs alderman proposed an ordinance making it illegal to operate a UFO at more than twice the speed of light on U.S. 90, the coast's main drag. Mayor Tom Stennis voted against the ordinance, joking he didn't want to discourage tourism.
UFO skeptic Philip Klass believed Hickson and Parker's report was a hoax. In his book "UFOs Explained," he noted Hickson changed some details of his story and claimed a polygraph operator whose test Hickson passed wasn't up to the task. Parker later passed a lie detector test himself.
Hickson would go on to appear on talk shows, give lectures and interviews, and self-publish a book in 1983 titled "UFO Contact at Pascagoula." He reported three more encounters in 1974, and said the aliens communicated to him that they were peaceful.
"The only thing he wanted to do was let everybody know we were not alone," said Eddie Hickson, his son. "He didn't care if you believed him or not. If you wanted to listen, by gum, he'd tell you."
"He could never understand why he was chosen," the younger Hickson added. "But he never once told me that he wished it had never happened. Never."
Parker said the intrusions by curiosity seekers have become less frequent over the years, but have never really let up. "You don't never have no privacy," he said.
Parker married later in 1973 and eventually took oil industry and out-of-state construction jobs to escape the attention.
"By the time you get somewhere and they figure out who you were, I'd just go," he said. "I'd just go find another job somewhere."
Parker attended some UFO conventions, and was once hypnotized by Budd Hopkins, a noted UFO investigator. He briefly tried to capitalize on his story in 1993 by starting a Louisiana company called UFO Investigations where he and partners would produce television segments on the subject.
Parker moved to Moss Point in 2006 and in 2010 suffered a stroke that limited him physically. He's on disability aid now, but sometimes boats by the site of the encounter when he goes fishing. He said that just recently he met a woman at a gas station who already knew who he was.
"I'm always recognized," he said.
There's no historical marker on the river bank noting the encounter, and stores don't sell UFO souvenirs. But local people remember — though often with skepticism and jokes.
For his part, Parker said he's had conflicting thoughts over the years about that night in 1973. At one point, he wasn't even sure the creatures were aliens. They might have been demons, he said.
"I'm a firm believer in God and where there's good, there's bad," Parker said.