The Betz Sphere Mystery

The Sensation Has Died but the Questions Linger On

In the history of paranormal phenomena, the Betz Sphere is without parallel. Even so, Atlantis Rising readers may be unfamiliar with it, if only because little has been said or published about the object over the last forty years. Since then, occasional arguments alternatively crediting or debunking this mystery have confused, rather than clarified, what really happened. Putting all partisan squabbles aside, these are the facts, incredible as they may seem: On the Wednesday afternoon of March 27, 1974, Antoine Betz, a marine engineer, was joined by his wife, Gerri, and son, Terry Mathew—a 21-year-old pre-med student—on Ft. George Island, several miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. They were inspecting the smoldering result of a small brushfire that had just burned itself out across an 88-acre swathe of woodland near some property the family had recently purchased. Well timbered, with moss-draping trees and tropical scrub, Ft. George was an oasis of dry ground amid the Sunshine State’s northeastern marshlands.

As Terry walked through an area missed by the flames, he was surprised to see at his feet a bright, metal globe, about the size of a bowling ball, sitting alone in the unscorched grass. While the scuffed, seamless exterior was not even warm, he wondered if the sphere might have nonetheless been connected with the brushfire somehow. Perhaps it was an artificial satellite or a piece of space junk that heated up in its frictional descent through Earth’s atmosphere before falling on Ft. George Island.

Turning the lightweight orb around in his hands, all he found was an elongated, three-millimeter triangle stamped onto its surface. Antoine and Gerri agreed that the ball resembled something like Sputnik but found no evidence of either a crater or crash in the vicinity, and the object itself gave no indication of having been burned on supposed re-entry or damaged on impact. Although they took no further interest in it, Terry brought his find home as a curiosity piece. For almost the next two weeks, it sat more or less forgotten on a window seat in his bedroom, until, one afternoon, he began playing his electric guitar for a visiting friend, Theresa Fraser. They were astounded to see and hear the metallic ball “vibrating on its own, like a tuning fork,” according to Terry, while emitting a weird, throbbing sound in response to certain notes he struck.

Although never before disturbed by guitar playing, the family dog simultaneously evidenced extreme distress. “When we put our poodle beside the ball,” Gerri told The Palm Beach Post on April 15, “she whimpers and puts her paws over her ears.” Thereafter, the sphere would occasionally, on its own, without the input of electric guitar music, vibrate at a low frequency, as if, Terri said, “a motor were running inside.”

Intrigued by such strange behavior, he, his father, mother, and 12-year-old brother, Wayne, began experimenting with the orb to determine if it possessed additional unusual properties. They were not disappointed. Repeatedly passing over its surface with a hand-held magnetometer, Antoine was baffled to discover that the globe’s surface had but one intensely magnetic spot, about the diameter of a dime. He then used an iron hammer to gently tap the ball, which emitted a bell-like, “ringing” tone. These peculiarities provided no clue about its identity, so he and his family suspended further analysis until morning.

Late that night, however, they were jolted from their sleep by funereal organ music echoing through their cavernous home, known locally for its citadel-like construction. But there was no organ in “Betz castle.” The unearthly chords eventually faded away, only to be replaced by even more startling sounds, as bedroom and bathroom doors began slamming of their own accord. While these disembodied effects would have sent most other families packing, the members of this one, due to Antoine’s and Terry’s scientific backgrounds, were less terrorized than fascinated; and, determined to learn the truth about the object.

For optimum viewing, they placed it on the living-room coffee table and gave the sphere a slight nudge. To everyone’s amazement, the globe rolled straight to the edge of the glass surface and then paused there a moment, then resumed its motion in reverse, stopped again at the opposite edge, and repeated the maneuver. Antoine replaced the sphere on the coffee table, which he thoroughly checked with a bubble level for its straightness, only to go through the same pattern of movement, time and again. Next, he deliberately slanted the table at an upward angle. The globe did not roll off, as expected, but actually began spinning on its axis, up the incline, utilizing its own momentum.

While his experimenting continued, he noticed that the sphere apparently responded to area weather conditions, as though directly affected by solar energy. For example, the ball was especially active on bright, sunny days but sluggish, almost inactive, under overcast skies. With these observations, Antoine confessed his failure to learn anything about its identity or purpose and put the enigma aside, as he left home for an extended period at sea aboard a marine research vessel. But his wife and children could not dismiss the mystery. For now, its existence remained undisclosed outside the family and a few friends trusted for their confidentiality. But perhaps going public would ultimately attract the attention of qualified scientists, who might be able to help unravel the metallic puzzle.

On April 12, Gerri contacted the editor-in-chief of one of Florida’s most respected newspapers, The Jacksonville Journal. That same day, he dispatched a photographer, Lou Egner, to the Betz home. Expecting the worst, he was surprised by Gerri, who met him at the front door, for her intelligent congeniality and obvious sincerity. “I’m leery of this kind of thing,” he confessed. “When I got there, Mrs. Betz said, ‘you won’t believe this, if you don’t see it.’” As a lead-in, she assured him no one in her family was interested in profit or fame. All she wanted was to learn the truth about it, then handed the shiny orb to Enger, told him to place it on the hardwood floor, and give it a gentle push.

“It rolled a ways, then stopped. So what?,” he asked. “She said, ‘Just wait a minute.’ It 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 my feet.” Astounded, he intently scrutinized the steel ball but could find nothing that might explain such odd behavior.

Gerri told him that she and the rest of her family repeatedly observed how the sphere, when nudged, stopped after rolling about ten feet, vibrated for a moment, then changed direction—often more than once—and invariably returned to the person who set it in motion. On one occasion, it rolled around their livingroom for twelve minutes without a single pause.

The photographer was additionally impressed with son Terry, who took time out from his medical-school studies to straightforwardly tell Enger everything he knew about the sphere, minus any speculation about its possible extraterrestrial provenance. That would be taken up later by the sensationalist news media coverage that soon exploded around the world. Until then, general consensus in the Betz family tentatively associated the object with either NASA or military technology. Acting on the latter supposition, Gerri brought the orb to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. After relating her story to its commanding officer, she told him that the Betz family would donate their metallic globe to the U.S. Navy, or to any one of America’s armed forces, if his scientists could determine its military origin. Instead, if it was not government property, she requested its undamaged return, plus any information they might discover regarding the object. Accordingly, it was placed in charge of a senior non-commissioned officer, Chief Petty Officer Christopher Berninger. “Our first X-ray attempts got us nowhere,” he reported. “We’re going to use a more powerful machine on it, and also run spectrographic tests to determine what metal it’s made of. There’s certainly something odd about it.”

While the replacement x-ray instrument was being readied, he and his team of investigators took precise measurements of the sphere, which they found was 202.2 millimeters (7.96 inches) in diameter and weighed 9.68 kilograms (21.34 pounds). Soundings revealed it was hollow, with a 13-millimeter-thick (about one-half-inch) shell capable of withstanding pressures of 120,000 pounds per square inch. Metallurgical testing demonstrated it was composed of high-grade, stainless steel; specifically, magnetic ferrous alloy #431, a magnetic, nickel-bearing metal used for heat treatment to the highest mechanical properties and corrosion resistance, making it ideal for marine and aircraft applications under very high physical stress.

The Navy examiners were taken aback, however, as their magnetometer tests showed that the sphere was not only “intensely magnetic,” but possessed four, different, nonconcentric, magnetic poles, two positive and two negative, a geophysical impossibility. The ball, moreover, appeared influenced by sunlight, as the Betz family members noticed, suggesting it might actually have been solar-powered in some manner, although it registered no obvious changes when exposed to direct heat or infrared light. Nor did it show any signs of radioactivity.

When a replacement X-ray machine was switched on, the more powerful 300 KV detected two, smaller, spheroid shapes inside the larger globe, each surrounded by an inexplicable “halo”, and made of some unknown material measuring unusually high density. Berninger requested permission to cut into the orb for closer study, but, according to the April 15 edition of The Palm Beach Post, Mrs. Betz refused. The object was then returned to her after a two-week inquiry, which affirmed that the sphere—its origins, identity, and purpose unknown—never belonged to the U.S. Navy, nor to any other American armed forces.

The U.S. Marine Corps was not so sure and sent three of their weapons experts to investigate the metal ball at its Florida home. One of the marines spoke for the science trio on statewide television, when he seriously admitted that the object had behaved, in their presence, against the laws of physics and confessed his inability to identify it. In an official press release issued shortly following their visit, the USMC publicly stated that the sphere was not property of the United States Government.

This announcement ignited an international firestorm of publicity. Reporters from the Tampa Bay Times and Chicago Sun-Times to the New York Times and London Times besieged Betz Castle. But even the most skeptical among them came away impressed and baffled by the peripatetic orb, which was additionally showcased in worldwide telecasts.

“We came to Fort George Island to get away to a serene atmosphere,” Mrs. Betz told The Palm Beach Post on April 14. “Now, I can’t get away from the telephone. It means nothing to people in the West that it’s midnight here. And when they quit calling, those on the East wake up and start.” But the focus of such publicity was more important than any inconvenience it provoked. “If you shake the ball vigorously and then place it on the ground,” she explained to Lodi, California’s News Sentinel, two days later, “it feels just like a huge Mexican jumping bean, which is trying to get away from you.”

Increasingly, she and her children could not escape the feeling that some form of consciousness inside it intelligently controlled their sphere, and they worried that the object might escape, if given half the chance. So, each night, before bedtime, they placed the orb in a sealed duffle bag.

As they initially hoped, burgeoning media attention finally attracted the interest of qualified scientists. The first among them was Dr. Carl Williston, a physicist from the Omega Minus One Institution, a research firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While testing the sphere for more than six hours, and unaware of Christopher Berninger’s earlier determinations, he independently confirmed the Navy CPO’s discovery of multiple, magnetic poles within the object, exclaiming that this phenomenon was a “mind bender,” according to Ottawa’s The Citizen, “because the flux density of the field fluctuated in potency, based on an as yet unidentified pattern, thereby defying the known laws of physics.” He “was unable to determine a pattern in the movement,” reported the Canadian newspaper, “or explain how that was even possible.”

Dr. Williston also detected “radio waves coming from the globe, and a magnetic field around it.” Its metal, he stated, containing traces of an unknown element, making it slightly different from stainless steel. He would not, however, even speculate about the ball’s provenance or purpose, unlike a bevy of renowned scholars meeting in New Orleans later that year to publicly discuss possibilities for extraterrestrial contact.

Among the assembled Blue Ribbon Panel of experts in various fields were Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, a prominent University of Wyoming psychologist; renowned biologist Frank B. Salisbury; State University of New York philosophy professor, Dr. Robert F. Creegan; a former Supreme Court Justice; a former Attorney General of the United States; a former New York Court of Appeals Judge; and, most famously, an astronomer from Northwestern University, near Chicago, Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

Terry Betz and his sister drove out from Florida to lay their metallic riddle in person before this esteemed body of professional pundits, in the hope they might be able to identify it. After thoroughly examining the orb, their consensus of opinion could come to no definite conclusion. “None will go so far as to say it’s extraterrestrial,” he said in an interview yesterday,” The St. Petersburg Independent quoted Dr. Hynek as saying, “They would be putting their scientific reputations on the line.” But their evasion did not sit well with at least one man among them. Dr. James Albert Harder was a civil and hydraulic engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he acted as director of research from 1969 to1982. July 29, 1968, he was among six scientists testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics about the inescapable reality of UFOs. But during his examination of the Betz orb, he was alarmed by an awful discovery.

“In an announcement made at the International UFO Congress, in Chicago, on June 24, 1977,” according to Ronald D. Story’s authoritative Encyclopedia of UFOs (CA: Times Mirror Press, 1985), “Dr. Harder presented his truly astonishing, and utterly terrifying, findings regarding the Betz sphere. He asserted, based on his X-ray studies, that the two internal spheres are made of elements far heavier than anything known to science. While the heaviest element yet produced in any atomic reactor here on Earth has an atomic number of 105, and the heaviest element occurring naturally on Earth is uranium, with an atomic number of 92, Harder claims to have determined that the Betz sphere has atomic numbers higher than 140. If one were to drill into the sphere, he asserted, ‘perhaps the masses would go critical’ and explode like an atomic bomb. Because of this danger, and because the object is still presumably under surveillance by its supposed alien makers, Harder warned the audience against any attempt to go to Florida to investigate the Betz Sphere.”

His statements triggered the greatest media frenzy ever accorded the controversial object. Reporters from around the world sought out Betz family members for their reaction to Dr. Harder’s characterization of their curious possession as a potential atomic bomb. But Antoine, Gerri, and their children were not to be found, not even in their Florida “castle,” which they abandoned. Strangely, at the height of public fascination in the object, it vanished from the news almost as quickly and completely as the missing family. Ever since, journalists, investigators, and researchers have sought in vain to find the merest trace of the pre-med student who discovered the sphere, his parents, or siblings. Were they shocked into hiding for the rest of their lives by the publicity avalanche that overwhelmed them? Or did they disappear due to some darker cause?

And what became of the metal globe associated with their name? Skeptics who never saw the orb dismissed it as a ball valve, possibly from the bladder tank of some aborted NASA spacecraft, a sea-bottom marker, or an accidentally discarded piece of modern sculpture. While the object in question may superficially resemble these items, none of them contain internal spheroids with their own energy halo; execute complex rolling maneuvers at the slightest touch; play organ music; resonate by themselves or in harmony with an electronic guitar; are stamped with three-millimeter triangles; feature four, different, magnetic poles; emit radio waves; or are composed of an element heavier than the heaviest element on Earth. In any case, the formerly famous ball has since disappeared no less utterly than the family that used to truss it up in a dufflebag.

Having studied this historical puzzle to its finite limits, I hypothesize that 1974’s Ft. George, Florida brushfire that brought it to light was the result of a crashed, off-world vehicle, from which only its navigation device survived intact and became subsequently known as the Betz Sphere. As for the fate of the family into whose hands it passed, ask those in power for whom such an object is too dangerous for anyone but themselves to possess and no action is too extreme in the name of “national security.”

By Frank Joseph