Area UFO expert Dr. Harley Rutledge, 80, dies
June 5, 2006
In 1980 he published "Project Identification," which took a scientific approach to cataloguing UFO activity.
Dr. Harley Rutledge, 80, former chairman of the physics department at Southeast Missouri State University and UFO expert, died Monday at the Missouri Veterans Home.
Rutledge first joined the physics department at the university in 1963. He was department chairman there from 1964 to 1982. He retired from teaching in 1992.
Rutledge first gained national notoriety through an organization he launched in 1973 called "Project Identification." The project was a response to a flurry of UFO sightings near Piedmont, Mo. Over the next six years, Rutledge and crews of students, scientists and amateur enthusiasts spent 150 nights scanning the skies in Franklin County with cameras, audio recorders, telescopes and tools measuring electromagnetic field disturbances. The efforts were funded in part by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
In 1980 he published a book also called "Project Identification," which took a scientific approach to cataloguing the UFO activity. He tracked the velocity, distance and size of the objects he caught on video and said he was careful not to let his own hypotheses get in the way of the data.
"I don't want to scare anyone and the one way not to do that is by trying to explain these phenomena," said Rutledge in 1979.
"I treat reports of UFOs like bottles of medicine without labels. I can't use the medicine without the label, but I can put it on the shelf until I get a label for it."
In 1989, Rutledge claimed to have seen 164 UFOs during his life. At the end of this research he claimed to have 700 photographs of UFOs either taken by him personally or by associates.
His fame as a passionate investigator of the unexplained led him to be a featured expert on CNN and quoted in a Time-Life book on UFOs and an astrology textbook. He was also a lively interview subject featured on the radio talkshow circuit.
His unfulfilled dream, though, was to come face to face with an extraterrestrial.
"I've seen just about everything there is to see, but I haven't seen one of those little creatures," he said in an interview in 1988.
Dr. Art Soellner, a friend and colleague in the physics department, remembered Rutledge's ability to simplify complex science.
"What I remember most was that he was a very good teacher," said Soellner. "He had a way of working with the students that stood out. I had an office behind his classroom, and he was teaching a physical science general education course, which usually means a lot of students aren't too interested. But he got them involved and I could often hear he got good chuckles out of them."
Soellner also recalled that Rutledge was integral in building up the physics department at the university from a faculty of four when he was first hired to nine when he left.
During the past three years Rutledge had been suffering from Alzheimers. He is survived by his wife, Ruth. They were married for 52 years and have five children.