“It was August of 1956. Katie May and I were driving back from the county fair in her father’s De Soto. She had pink ribbons in her hair and a strand of dried cotton candy on the starched collar of her dress. I was about to comment on what a nice evening it was when we first caught sight of it on the horizon. Our lives were never the same after that, but mister, I don’t need to tell you that.”
— Bud Elliot, Newton, Kansas.
“At first it was only folks in Newton that noticed it, but pretty soon people in Salina and Emporia started reporting the same visions and sensations, and the same skittish behavior in their domestic livestock. It spread pretty quickly, as you know, so that before long the whole State was under its influence. Hate to think back to those days, to be honest. Gives me the shudders. Sorta creeps me out, those early days, because you remember what it was like. Before, you know.”
—Elmer Groveseed, former Governor, State of Kansas.
“The whole country was under its influence before you really knew what happened. And I think people were just surprised that something so foreboding could spread its influence so quickly over the freest, most God-fearing nation on earth. But that’s the way it moved: quickly and silently, so that it didn’t seem there was any way to stop it.”
—Harold Smithson, Deputy Under-Secretary, United States Department of the Interior (1963-1967).
“We often thought of doing a story on it, but there were two problems. One was that it was such a pervasive, dark and sinister influence on all of society, and had so quickly established itself among the populace, we just didn’t want to spend any time thinking about it, it was just so horrible. Also, what could you say about it? Everyone was aware of it, and thinking about it just made everyone feel wretched, and so we were never sure what we could contribute to the story.”
—Fred Friendly, former President, CBS News.
“I think it was different for everyone. There were the visions, sure, and the most frightening and personal memories it would drag up from your past and twist in the most sordid and despicable ways. But the worst aspect, I think, is that it was different for everyone, that is everyone experienced it in their own personal way that was uniquely horrible for them individually. This, of course, made it just impossible to share your experiences, for fear of what they might reveal. That was certainly the worst part, the silence that it sort of compelled.”
—Mabel Kendriseck, Afton, Georgia.
“I think the worst part was the way old Jesse’s head kept coming back up through the toilet bowl, damn near every time I went in to use the thing. You ever get that part of it?”
—Harold Caliper, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“No, Harold, I never did.”
—Sam Ashton, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“You saw what, Harold?”
—Jim Cleever, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Nothing, boys. Never mind.”
—Harold Caliper, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I think the worst part was just seeing the abject fear in the eyes of children when you explained it to them. Oh I hated that. Broke my heart.”
—Ethel Cooper, Alberta, Canada.
“I just remember sitting in that pew so many times and silently praying for it to end, and knowing that everyone in there was praying for the same goddamn thing, but no one would dare speak its name or acknowledge it in the slightest way. Ever.”
—Nancy Coopersmith, Albany, New York.
“When we got the reports from people in Newton, of all places, that it seemed to be lifting, I can’t tell you how happy I felt. ‘Finally,’ I thought to myself, ‘dear sweet Jesus, finally.’”
—Harold Smithson, former Deputy Under-Secretary, U.S. Department of Interior, now retired Professor of Agriculture, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
“I would just describe it as a nationwide feeling of shared jubilation and relief. I think many of us didn’t truly appreciate how horrible the whole thing had really been. "
—Acrosta Papandakous, Minot, North Dakota.
“I’ll tell you what it’s like. Have you ever stopped just to stare at the clouds fixed in the afternoon sky? Have you ever noticed how, if you forget what you are doing and just watch, you begin to see the clouds moving against their still and silent background? Slowly at first, but then you definitely see them moving, almost as if they pick up speed a little. And have you noticed, also, if you continue staring, how the azure richness of the sky just draws you in, until you can see shades of it you never noticed and it takes on a depth of field you never knew it had? And by God it is so rich and limitless and absorbing that you simply lose yourself in it, as if you are falling skyward, to the point that you lose complete account of your place in the world. You become one with that sky, as if you could drown in it. And then you notice that the clouds no longer look small, but have become huge, grown to a gigantic scale. And you notice the wind slowly pulling the clouds apart, delicately, as if they were spun from the finest Indian cotton; cotton so pure it shimmers like silk, cotton so light it just melts in the sky. Well, sir, that’s what it’s like. It’s the most awesome and peaceful feeling I know.”
—James Cuthbertson, Iowa City, Iowa.
“I’m gonna go home and grab my little girl, pick her up and spin her around. That’s what I’m gonna do. Tell you what.”
—Earl Connifer, Rock Springs, Wyoming.