sky

What secrets does the night sky hold?

Last week I wrote about strange aerial phenomena that some of our citizens saw between 1913 and 1941. Today's column continues with reports of Unidentified Flying Objects, UFOs, seen over Iredell County in 1966.

Unknown flying objects, of course, have been reported through the centuries. Unidentified flying lights were sighted over Germany during World War II. Some of these were experimental prototypes of Nazi interceptors, but others were not of German manufacture. Allied pilots referred to these inexplicable lights following their aircraft as "Foo Fighters." Soon after the war ended, people began seeing odd things in the skies over the United States.

The sighting made by Kenneth Arnold (1915-1984) on June 24, 1947, near Mount Rainier in Washington State seems to have been opening day for flying saucers in modern-day America. A business man and pilot with over 9,000 hours in the cockpit, Arnold described what he saw from his light plane as "nine saucer-like objects” flying in formation at incredible speed.

It was also in the summer of 1947 that a saucer or something apparently crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Alien bodies were said to have been recovered and alien technology harvested from the site. Authorities soon claimed that what had been found was a weather balloon.

Newspapers picked up the term “flying saucer” and it became a synonym for “UFO.” The year 1952, particularly that summer, was a busy one for sightings of odd objects in the sky, but 1966 proved to be a banner year for saucer sightings.

In the last week of March of 1966, according to the United Press International, a lady from La Salle, Illinois, stated that a triangular object with red, orange and white lights had chased her car for more than an hour. About the same time, a man in Des Moines, Iowa, claimed he saw an “object with a pinkish glow and a white center” hovering about 200 feet over a drive-in near his home. Other similar reports came from the Midwest, stories from Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Southern Michigan sightings were dismissed by a civilian investigator hired by the Air Force who said the glowing objects were probably were caused by swamp gas. Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astrophysicist from Northwestern University, commented that, “A dismal swamp is a most unlikely place for a visit from outer space.”

Soon reports came from closer to home. On March 22, several women saw a fireball near Reidsville, near the North Carolina-Virginia line. Mrs. J. C. Harrellson said, “…the unidentified object appeared to the left of the highway like a ball of fire and traveled very low at jet speeds.”

"The fireball that was seen around western North Carolina early Monday [March 28] as reported yesterday,” wrote the Record & Landmark, “was also seen Down in Iredell. Mrs. Chase Morrison of Stony Point called Monday to report that she had seen a 'blue light' around 2 a.m. and that it lit up her room like a streak of lightning. Mrs. Morrison reported that the object did not make any noise and that it was nothing similar to a falling star."

Newton policeman Melvin Barlowe, one of six law officers in three nearby towns who saw the object, said it looked like a “big blue bolt of fire with fire arcing off the edges” and added that "No swamp gas or nothing like that could move that fast." Policemen in Valdese stated that they saw it silently explode over their town, but saw no fragments fall.  

The rash of sightings prompted a major TV network to do some investigative journalism. On Tuesday, May 10, WBTV Channel 3 in Charlotte broadcast “CBS Reports: UFO-Friend, Foe or Fantasy.” In a blurb in the R&L several days before the 10 p.m. broadcast, potential viewers were told, “The program hopes to clarify some of the ‘fantasy’ surrounding the phenomena.”

Later that month the R&L had a small article reading in part, "Several persons have reported that they saw an unidentified flying object Friday night around 11 o'clock. Callers reported today from Troutman and the Interstate 40 areas. A group of boys fishing on route 2, Statesville, said they saw the object. They said it was a greenish light when flashed over tree tops for about two seconds."

Five sightings of a pair of UFOs were made by police in Asheboro, Greensboro, High Point, Ramseur and Winston-Salem between 2 and 4 a.m. on July 27. They were described as “almost like stars,” but were traveling too fast and changing colors.  

Iredell would again be visited at the end of July, 1966, when the R&L told its readers, "The unidentified flying objects that have appeared at various locations throughout the nation made their appearance in the Iredell County area last night and again this morning according to eyewitness reports. According to witnesses, the objects changed from blue to green to red. At times the entire outside was blue, while the inner section was red. A bright object, considerably smaller, appeared to shoot from the larger object and then went out. The three families watched the unidentified object until 3:45 a.m., a total of over two hours."

So many reports came in from reputable persons such as law officers that in October Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown ordered an 18-month “in-depth study” of UFO’s by the University of Colorado under the direction of physics professor Dr. Edward Condon. The study was expected to cost some $300,000, which, in 1966 dollars, was a serious piece of research into what one professor had dismissed as “swamp gas.”

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UFO sightings have continued over the years, but so far, no saucers have landed on the White House lawn, that we know of.

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