The Mysterious Betz Sphere of Fort George Island
In 1974, the Betz family of Jacksonville found a metal orb in the woods of Fort George Island. Over the years, the enigmatic “Betz sphere” has generated speculation about what it is and where it came from - and now has inspired its own podcast dedicated to untangling the mystery.
The sphere lives on
The former Betz house on Fort George Island. Image courtesy of Abandoned Florida.
The sphere fell out of the general zeitgeist shortly after, and the Betz family returned to their normal lives. Though out of the media spotlight, they certainly didn’t stay quiet. Gerri was a business owner involved in real estate and trucking, and Antoine was a marine biologist. Gerri continued to be active in the community and was willing to talk about pretty much anything but the sphere.
However, a small core of people - UFO enthusiasts, Jacksonville history buffs, and lovers of crazy stories - have kept its memory alive. Despite the lack of any news about the object or comment from the family for over 40 years, the sphere has continued to show up in books, shows and websites about aliens and unexplained mysteries. In 2017, it got its own episode of Ancient Aliens, the uncritical if amusing History Channel show about, well, ancient aliens. The sphere’s supposed attributes have grown in direct contrast to actual information about it. Today, websites will tell you that it’s made of elements heavier than anything found on Earth, and that were it to be drilled into, it would explode with the power of an atomic bomb.
Skeptical takes have also come about. The podcast Skeptoid covered the Betz sphere in 2012. In 2016, Jacksonville writer Tim Gilmore wrote about the sphere on his website JaxPsychoGeo.com. Following the findings of some of the more skeptical news articles, these offer more prosaic explanations for the sphere’s origins. In particular, the sphere’s specifications fit very closely with the balls in industrial ball check valves, such as those decommissioned at a Northside paper mill 15 years before the Betz sphere was found.
Podcasting the “Odd Ball”
In September 2019, Lindsey Kilbride and WJCT Public Media launched the podcast Odd Ball, which is emerging as the most complete and comprehensive account of the Betz sphere ever made. Kilbride first encountered the story in, of all things, Ancient Aliens. “They don’t go very deep in the episode. They just sort of lay out what’s already on the internet. And they basically say, ‘this is a UFO.’” The story inspired her to do her own digging.
So far Kilbride has combed through newspaper archives and old recorded interviews, interviewed people knowledgeable about the sphere and the Betz family, and answered a number of intriguing questions about the sphere. She has also raised even more. Did the Navy try to keep the ball? Did J. Allen Hynek quietly visit the Betz house and swap out the real sphere for a decoy? And where is the sphere today?
But while Kilbride has uncovered enough new and old information on the orb to put her in the running for the most knowledgeable mystery sphere researcher in history, she is equally interested in human element - the lives of the Betz family and how the clamor surrounding the sphere affected them. “It’s a really good Jacksonville story,” she said.
Odd Ball is produced by WJCT. The podcast is ongoing, and is a must listen for anyone interested in the Betz sphere. Tune in at wjct.org.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.