By Len Wells
Courier & Press correspondent
Norman Massie died last Tuesday at the hospital in Carmi, Ill. He was 91.
The Mount Erie native had taught school in Wayne County for 37 years and once served as principal of the Geff Grade School.
Many Wayne County residents remembered him simply as "Coach Massie." For years, he taught basketball skills to grade schoolers at Center Street School in Fairfield.
Even more residents around Southern Illinois remember Norman as a sales representative for World Book Encyclopedia, a job he held for more than 20 years until computers and the Internet came along, reducing an entire set of books to a few mouse clicks or a couple of CDs.
While the folks in Southern Illinois will remember Coach Massie for his many years in education, perhaps the world will remember him for what he witnessed 81 years ago - when he was just 10 years old.
It was a warm day in June 1923 when Norman led a team of horses into a pasture near his Mount Erie home, looked up and saw what he was convinced until his last days was a spaceship.
In a 1998 interview with Norman, he told me, "I opened the gate to let the horses into the pasture. I let them through, and as I was closing the gate, I looked back down the field and there was an object with lights all around it," Massie said. "I kept walking closer to the object until I got about 50 feet away. I stood there and watched the five men who were on board."
I've heard Norman tell this story many times, and it was always the same - never embellished from one time to the next. "The machine was metallic and stood on three legs. The top was a dome with holes in it. The best way I could describe the top was it looked like melted glass," Massie said.
"I got close enough that I could hear them talk. One guy sat in a chair and the others called him the commander. Four others made trips back and forth in the ship. I didn't know what was going on until the end. Then, one of the crew members told the commander that the repairs had been made."
Massie said the whole experience lasted about five minutes. In a matter of minutes, he said, it came to a hovering position; the tripod legs telescoped up into the belly of the thing, went straight up about 200 feet and whizzed off to the west like a bullet.
Norman's mom and dad tried to convince him that he really hadn't seen anything - that he had made the whole thing up. Then, in 1990, he got up the nerve and told his son who served as a colonel in the Air Force about the incident. "He told me there was nothing wrong with me. He said the Air Force files are full of pictures of UFOs. He accepted my story as the truth."
Norman Massie was never afraid that people might think he was a crazy old man for what he had seen. "In my own mind and my own heart, it existed and I saw it with my own two eyes."
Norman is gone now. He leaves his wife, four children, seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and a remarkable story from his childhood. His story has traveled around the globe, and is still shared by those who remain convinced we've received visitors from other planets. © 2004 The E.W. Scripps Co.