The young patrolman took a drag from his cigarette, trying in vain to steady his nerves.
Sitting in the small police station, mostly empty in the early morning hours, 22-year-old Herbert Schirmer felt feverish and disoriented. As he later recounted, his body felt completely drained, his head buzzed and his thoughts raced.
“Did this really happen to me?”
As an officer with the Ashland Police Department, Schirmer said, he had been trained to make notes of incidents in his log, whatever they might be. So, there, in the early morning quiet, he grabbed a pen and scrawled a short message in his notebook summarizing the night’s bizarre events:
“At 2:30 a.m. December 3, 1967, I saw a UFO at the junction of (U.S. Highway) 6 and (Nebraska Highway) 63. Believe it or not.”
Schirmer’s gripping story of an alleged alien encounter would ignite a firestorm of news coverage. Schirmer would become a legend among UFO enthusiasts, and his tale of the spacecraft and its inhabitants would become ingrained in American folklore for decades.
Last week, Broken Bow’s Kinkaider Brewing Co. released a new beer inspired by Schirmer’s story. The Star Snake Dank IPA became available statewide on Monday, and the brewery has been hosting UFO-themed events in Lincoln, Grand Island and Broken Bow.
“It’s crazy,” Cody Schmick, co-owner of Kinkaider, said of the Schirmer case. “We’ve surprised a lot of people with this story.”
Kinkaider has invited a Los Angeles-based illustrator, Mike Jasorka, to Nebraska to discuss his self-published graphic novel, “December 3rd 1967: An Alien Encounter,” which chronicles Schirmer’s account.
Jasorka first heard of the story after stumbling onto an audio recording of Schirmer describing the night’s events to an audience at a UFO conference some time later. It was the patrolman’s matter-of-fact delivery, Jasorka said, that captured his imagination.
“He had such a sincere voice and tone to his recollection,” Jasorka said. “I believed in his story, and it was every bit of the way he spoke about it.”
Jasorka’s graphic novel, originally released in 2011 through his company Bombshell Comics, uses Schirmer’s words to drive the narrative. The book was originally sold with a CD of the original recording, which the reader could listen to while following along with the comic.
Schirmer begins his story by telling the audience a bit about himself: A Nebraska native, he joined the Navy when he was 17 and served in Vietnam, although he didn’t support the war. When he returned home, he sought a career in law enforcement and was soon hired by the Ashland Police Department.
At 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1967, after checking on two gas stations in the area, Schirmer was driving his police cruiser along U.S. Highway 6 toward Nebraska 63. As he approached the intersection, he noticed “an object with lights that appeared to be a truck ... hovering partly above Highway 63 and partly above the shoulder,” The World-Herald reported on Dec. 5.
Schirmer drove toward the object, stopping about 40 feet away. Illuminated by the high beams of his cruiser, Schirmer could see the object was sleek and metallic. “Very shiny,” he later said, “like if you polished the bumper on a car.”
It was an oblong disk, about 20 feet wide and 15 feet tall, Schirmer later told the newspaper. Through exterior portholes, the patrolman could see red lights flashing inside the craft.
As he later said in an interview, the football-shaped spacecraft began to rise until it was about 50 feet off the ground. It then began to emit “a loud beep which became faster, louder and shriller.” Suddenly, Schirmer said, the spacecraft shot an orange-red beam toward the ground and quickly vanished.”
Schirmer’s initial account of the encounter ends here, with the officer approaching the craft, only to see it rise and disappear. When he returned to the station, he later said, the clock read 3 a.m., and Schirmer felt he had lost about 20 minutes between the moment he first saw the spacecraft and arrived at the station.
Schirmer made the note in his log and began to tell his fellow officers what he’d seen. As the story spread, he volunteered to take a lie detector test, which he eventually passed, as Ashland Police Chief William Wlaschin reported to The World-Herald at the time.
Even so, once the press got wind of the story, the ridicule began, Schirmer said. He’d answer the phone to prank callers claiming to be from Mars. Once, an owner of a local tire shop flagged him down in public to say, “Herb, if you ever see another flying saucer, and it lands, you tell them (aliens) I want to sell ’em a set of tires.”
Though some Ashland residents also reported seeing lights in the sky on Dec. 3, the story had its share of skeptics. At least one local historian who lived near the site of the alleged encounter, Mrs. Donald Graham, as The World-Herald referred to her at the time, said the lights Schirmer saw were likely caused by a natural phenomenon.
Springs in the low meadow near the intersection had been known to produce fog, Graham told the newspaper. The headlights of passing trucks, shining into the layers of fog, would sometimes create the illusion of round platters of light that moved and dipped with the trucks traveling along the highway.
The area had a history of strange sightings, Graham said. One Native American legend held that it was plagued by spirits.
But the skeptics didn’t deter Schirmer, who stuck to his story. In fact, he had much more to say.
Months later, in early 1968, the young officer began interviewing with the Condon Committee, a University of Colorado project, funded by the U.S. Air Force, that studied reports of UFO encounters. In a four-hour session, Schirmer was hypnotized and asked about his sighting.
Under hypnosis, he told a much longer story: He had not just seen the spacecraft, he had met with the beings inside it.
Chief Wlaschin, who accompanied Schirmer to the session, took notes that he later provided to The World-Herald: “Herb stated the (alien) form was white and fuzzy but stated it was shaped like a man. ... This subject was not hostile and stated they meant no harm.”
In the recorded interview from the UFO conference, Schirmer said the humanoid exited the spacecraft and approached him in his police cruiser. It prodded the policeman with some kind of instrument, then spoke.
“Are you the watchman of this town?” Schirmer recalled the alien asking.
“And my response was ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said ‘Come with me, watchman,’ ” Schirmer said.
The being then took him aboard for a tour of the spacecraft, which was at least two levels and was filled with lights, switches, cables and other instruments. At times, Schirmer recalled, the being appeared to communicate with him telepathically, with words Schirmer didn’t understand.
The being explained the spacecraft had come to Ashland to harvest electricity, Schirmer said. At one point, another being aboard the craft pushed a few buttons, and an antenna on the vessel began absorbing electricity from nearby power lines.
Schirmer appears to have said the same under hypnosis to the Condon Committee: “Herb went on to say that what electricity was used was returned,” Wlaschin’s notes read.
In his account to the Condon Committee, Schirmer said before departing, the alien beings told him they would be in touch with him within the year.
The committee investigated Schirmer’s account, and later included its findings on the case in its published report. Researchers found no material traces of the spacecraft, discounting a small scrap of metal that Wlaschin found at the site the next morning. The intersection also tested negative for traces of radioactivity.
Though a psychologist examining Schirmer concluded the patrolman sincerely believed in the events he described, the investigators finally declared they had “no confidence that the trooper’s reported UFO experience was physically real.”
The Condon Committee would later apply the same logic to UFO sightings in general, concluding in 1968 that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.”
Some in Ashland continued to harass Schirmer. At one point, a group strung up a life-sized dummy in the local cemetery, painted Schirmer’s name on it, shot holes through it and called in local emergency crews to respond to the scene.
“They thought they scared me, but they didn’t, you see,” Schirmer recalled. “Because I thought it was kind of funny, and I laughed about it when I read it in the paper.”
Schirmer eventually left Ashland, living for a time in the Pacific Northwest. He continued to make headlines in Omaha throughout the ’70s, when The World-Herald noted his appearances in TV specials and books about UFOs. He died in 2017.
But before he died, Schirmer contacted Jasorka after learning about the graphic novel. The two spoke a few times, and Schirmer told Jasorka that, over the years, he had come to view his experience from a religious perspective.
“He was really a genuine person,” Jasorka said. “I think (the encounter) was still in his consciousness.”
Jasorka’s book is dedicated to Schirmer, and the artist said he believes the story.
Such a sentiment might have been comforting to Schirmer in the volatile period after the story spread. In those days and weeks, he sought counsel from friends and family.
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In the recording, Schirmer says he once asked his father, an Air Force veteran, whether he believed in UFOs.
“My father never said no, and he never said yes. He just said ‘Son, if you’re telling the truth, stick with it,’ ” Schirmer said. “And so I stuck with it.”