When you hear about aliens, what do you see? Is it little green men? If so, you're not alone. This widespread depiction of aliens as green humanoid creatures, possibly with big, bulging eyes, has been present in popular culture for decades. So where did the idea of green aliens come from? It started as a mistaken news report in the 1950s and extended into comic books, cartoons, television shows, and beyond.
The Original Green Aliens of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter
One Kentucky night in August 1955, just outside of Hopkinsville, a family of 11 were terrorized by aliens. Reports of the incident include descriptions of "little green men," which it turns out wasn't quite accurate. The Sutton family never described the creatures that attacked them in their home as green. In fact, they described the small vicious beings as grey.
On August 21, 1955, the Sutton family lived on a farm in rural Kelly, Kentucky. The home lacked any modern necessities, such as a telephone or running water. The family didn't own any books, a television or a radio that might have stimulated their imaginations. None of the adults had been drinking and declared alcohol was forbidden in the house.
That hot August night, eight adults and three children were at home when the strangest and most terrifying event of their life began. A flying craft landed in their field, and small beings emerged and attacked the Suttons. The attack lasted for several hours. The Suttons shot at the creatures, but they proved to be wily opponents. With every shot, the creatures did back flips and ran away, apparently unharmed by the bullets.
As if all of this wasn't peculiar enough, the Suttons' description of their attackers was almost unbelievable. They described little 3.5-feet-tall men with no necks and round, bald heads. The creatures didn't appear to have noses, and their mouths were small slits. Their ears were oversized and elongated in a swept back angle. The eyes glowed yellow. They had muscular torsos with sticklike legs. Their arms extended nearly to the ground with 2-inch to 3-inch talons. The fingers were webbed around the knuckles. The body seemed to shimmer in the light, reminding the witnesses of silver metal.
The family escaped the farm around 11 pm and raced to the Hopkinsville police department. The children and women were hysterical, and an investigator reported one of the men's pulse was 140 beats per minute. Police Chief Russel Greenwell said the Suttons weren't the type of people to appear at a police station, but instead would settle matters with their guns.
The press picked up on the story, and the news reports erroneously mentioned that the attackers were "green men." Thus appeared the first mention of green aliens.
Little Green Men in the Press
The phrase, little green men, usually conjures up an image of small humanoid aliens with green skin. Cartoons often depict these beings as having antennae positioned on each side of their roundish hairless heads.
It's likely that the press coined the term little green men. History Channel credits a mix of one headline "Little Men" from the Suttons' encounter and another alien encounter a couple of years later where small aliens and a tall alien dressed in green were reported. Somehow these two descriptions became entwined and the mythology of little green men was born as a common description for aliens. It was sensational and definitely creepy. The media loved with it and ran with it.
Leprechauns Were the OG Little Green Men
Even before the modern media had a field day with little green men of the alien type, other little green men held the role. Leprechauns may, in fact, be the original little green men, and their stories have been told in Celtic legends and lore since the 13th century. Naturally, there has been some (not much, but a little) speculation that leprechauns may actually be alien creatures, which relies on all sorts of suppositions and almost zero evidence.
Green Aliens' History and Depictions in Stories
There are several depictions of green aliens that are benign and even friendly, such as The Great Gazoo from The Flintstones. Other depictions are edgier or even downright terrifying. And while depicting green aliens is a common media stereotype, it's not necessarily an accurate description of what people report when they have an alien encounter.