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  • Strange Americana: Is the Betz Sphere Really a UFO?

    By Kate BoveLast Updated Dec 4, 2020 2:55:59 PM ET
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    Photo Courtesy: The Akron Beacon Journal via OddBall Podcast/WJCT Public Media

    It was either late March or early April of 1974 when Terry Matthew Betz (pictured) went on a life-changing walk on his family’s property in the Fort George Island area of Jacksonville, Florida. He and his parents, Antoine and Gerri Betz, strayed from their 88-acre expanse of coastal marshlands, inspecting the damage a recent brushfire had caused. In the woods, amid the tropical shrubs and moss-laden trees, Terry discovered something unexpected: A seamless, metallic sphere, roughly the size of a bowling ball, gleamed on the ground.

    Intrigued, Terry brought the sphere back to his parents’ house, where the family speculated that, given the area’s history, it might be an old cannonball — something interesting, but unremarkable. The heavy sphere measured under eight inches in diameter. Despite having no seams or other blemishes, the surface of the ball was stamped with a triangular shape.

    Gerri recalled that, several days after Terry brought the ball inside, the sphere began vibrating. Reportedly, the sphere’s vibration initially happened while Terry played guitar — so, okay, it could be written off as some kind of strange sound-related resonance. When Gerri shook it, she could hear a kind of ringing inside. Odd Ball, a 2019 podcast out of WJCT News, is dedicated to solving the mystery of the Betz Sphere once and for all. The host, Lindsey Kilbride, notes in episode one that the ringing sound Gerri described echoed that of a shaken "defunct light bulb."

    Even the family’s dog wasn’t a huge fan of the sphere: "There must be some high-frequency waves [coming] from it," Gerri told the Palm Beach Post. "When we put our poodle beside the ball, she whimpers and puts her paws over her ears." But the oddities didn’t stop there.

    An Out-of-This-World Explanation?

    The Betz family placed the sphere on their table and watched, dumbfounded, as it circled the edges of the table without rolling off — and then rested right in the table’s center. To further test the ball’s properties, the Betzes rolled it to one another, noticing that the sphere veered off its path, or, in the strangest instances, rolled back toward the person who pushed it. And then — it vibrated. Soon after, the Betz family went public with their story in the hopes of finding answers.

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    Photo Courtesy: Ron Kivette via OddBall Podcast/WJCT Public Media

    Local photographer Lou Egner was called to investigate the so-called Betz Sphere. Egner recalled that after someone rolled the ball, it stopped. Gerri told him to wait a moment and then "[the ball] turned by itself and rolled to the right about four feet. It stopped. Then it turned again and rolled to the left about eight feet, made a big arc and came right back to [Egner’s] feet."

    The headline in the St. Petersburg Times read "Mystery Sphere: A Bugging Device From Outer Space?" Just a few years earlier, a similar object — later dubbed the Kera UFO — turned up in Japan and went unresolved. So, maybe an out-of-this-world explanation wasn’t too far-fetched? Holistic expert Carl Wilson ended up visiting the family, and, upon inspecting the sphere, claimed it had a "powerful magnetic field" and the ability to "[transmit] a radio signal."

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    Soon enough, members of the scientific and military communities were eager to examine the Betz Sphere. The U.S. Marine Corps and NASA both sent representatives to inspect the sphere — even UFO investigators from the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) turned up. Perplexed by the ball, one of the once-skeptic U.S. Marine reps admitted he didn’t know the sphere’s origin — but he did confirm it wasn’t the U.S. government’s property. Northwestern University’s renowned ufologist and astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek asked the family to send the sphere to him in Chicago, but Gerri refused, fearing the sphere would sustain damage in transit. Or, worse, someone would steal the media-worthy object.

    And then…things took yet another unexpected turn. A huge turn — right into Poltergeist (1982) territory. Strange organ-like music drifted through the Betz home. Doors slammed — even if the windows were shut tight. Convinced the sphere was the cause of these anomalies, Gerri reached out to the U.S. Navy for help.

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    Call in the Navy

    Unfortunately, Navy-grade X-ray machines weren’t able to penetrate the orb, leading scientists to turn to "a more powerful machine and…spectograph tests." After some serious testing, researchers determined that the orb’s outer shell was about a half-inch thick and able to withstand 120,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. They also found the Betz Sphere was made of stainless steel — specifically, a magnetic alloy meant to withstand heat and corrosion — and that there were at least two objects within it.

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    Photo Courtesy: Florida Times-Union Archive via OddBall Podcast/WJCT Public Media

    Eager to slice into the sphere, scientists asked Gerri’s permission, but she refused. After determining the orb wasn’t a threat, the Navy returned the non-explosive object to the Betz family. "If no other explanation can be found…who could say what’s on another planet," Gerri said in reference to the theory that the ball was, in fact, extraterrestrial technology. "The Navy says what it isn’t… So we still want to know what it is."

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    The Omega Minus One Institute examined the sphere next. Baffled by the object’s defiance of the laws of physics, the Institute even posited it could be an alien probe. At the time, the National Enquirer held a yearly panel — full of leading scientists — to investigate the validity of possible UFO sightings. Although the folks on the panel were stumped by the Betz Sphere, they didn’t deem it UFO-official.

    Afterward, the theories continued: sculptor James Durling-Jones claimed to have lost one of his many orbs (stolen industrial valve spheres) while driving through Jacksonville; Dr. James Albert Harder of the University of California, Berkeley claimed it was an alien doomsday device; and others thought it might still be a Navy-made sea-bottom marker, a downed space satellite or a fallen WW2 "foo fighter."

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    And then, as things do, the media frenzy surrounding the Betz Sphere died down. While its origins are still the biggest mystery, another conundrum has cropped up: No one is sure where the sphere is, or if the Betz family still has it. And Gerri, the orb’s unofficial spokesperson? For a long time, she’s stopped talking about the sphere at all.

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