by Charles Lear
One thing that is irrefutable concerning UFOs is that they are a part of history. No matter what they are, who reports seeing them, and whether or not the reports are believed, there are cases that are recorded in news media and literature that will be examined and pondered for generations. There are towns all over America where local UFO history is celebrated, embraced and exploited for its potential to draw tourists. There are museums and monuments to visit, guided tours to take and UFO kitsch aplenty in the gift shops. Quite often the effort put into marking a UFO occurrence is solely a private enterprise started by local enthusiasts but sometimes a town will officially recognize an incident and fund a sign, plaque or statue. The rarest official recognition of a UFO incident is the erection of a roadside historical marker of which, as far as this author knows, there are only four in existence in America.
When a controversial subject is celebrated publicly it should be expected that there would be some public controversy. A town in Massachusetts, Sheffield, recently made national news due to fighting over a monument, its relocation and eventual abduction by town officials. The monument in question is a 5000 pound concrete block with a plague that marks an “off-world incident” experienced by Thomas Reed on Sept. 1, 1969 when he was nine years old. The monument was first located next to a replica of a historic covered bridge in a park created for it called, “UFO Monument Park.” In 1969, Reed, his brother, mother and grandmother were in a car crossing the bridge when they spotted a “self contained glow” which then enveloped the car. Reed next remembers being inside a large hanger-like interior and then being in the back seat of the car two hours later with his mother and grandmother having switched seats. His grandmother contacted the police and later found forty others who witnessed a large, football field sized object in the area around the time of the incident. Some of those witnesses have been supporters of the monument and continue to testify that they saw something unusual that night. What’s special about the monument is its plaque, which contains a citation from Governor Charlie Barker, which reads in part, “I am pleased to confer upon you this governor’s citation in recognition of the off-world incident on September 1st, 1969.” The monument was initially relocated because of complaints by some that it detracted from the importance of the historical bridge. It was moved to the private property nearby of a monument supporter but then found to be on a town right of way easement running through the property and, on June 4, 2019, it was removed by town workers and taken to an undisclosed location. Reed has taken legal action against the town accusing its leaders of theft.
Sometimes a monument is erected by locals, which is then later embraced by town officials as was the case in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. Kecksburg was the location of a Dec. 9, 1965 incident involving an acorn-shaped object with hieroglyphic-like writing on its surface that crashed into a wooded area. Military personnel reportedly arrived in significant numbers and retrieved the object, which was then carried away on a flatbed truck. In 1990, a segment for the television show, “Unsolved Mysteries” was shot in the town utilizing a large prop dubbed the “Space Acorn” that was left behind after the shooting was completed. The prop was bolted to the top of the town truck barn, where it stayed for 15 years. As the 40th anniversary of the “Kecksburg Incident” approached, town leaders realized that there was tourism potential and the acorn was relocated to its own dedicated pole on the top of a hill and fitted out with lighting. In addition, the road leading to it was renamed “Meteor Road” and a UFO store was opened up in back of the fire department’s social club and bar.
The statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia is an example of a monument coming about through cooperation between private supporters and town officials. The person who promoted the Mothman story more than any other was resident Jeff Wamsley, who was a neighbor and friend of principal witness, Linda Scarberry. On the night of November 15, 1966, Scarberry, her husband, Roger and another couple were driving in a desolate area known as the “TNT” (due to its former use as an area used for explosives manufacturing) when they came upon a strange creature with a man’s body, large wings and glowing red eyes which then chased them as they drove away at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. The creature was sighted by numerous witnesses for over a year in the midst of an intense UFO flap and numerous Men in Black encounters, and is thought by many to have been related to those activities. Wamsley became fascinated by the story after picking up “The Mothman Prophecies” by John Keel and, over the years, became more and more of an expert on the subject. After opening up a chain of record stores, he noticed that people passing through the area were asking questions about the case and he had some t-shirts made up to see if they would sell and also created a website with friend, Donnie Sergent. The interest increased and then, in 2001, a year before the movie version of “The Mothman Prophecies” was released, Loren Coleman, the publicity consultant for the film, advised Wamsley and some of the town’s movers and shakers that there should be a festival or a museum to take advantage of the attention the film would generate. Wamsley thought that both were a great idea, gathered people around him and started a movement to make them happen. The first festival was held indoors in 2002 with an attendance of around 2000 people. The next year the festival was held outside and coincided with the unveiling of a 12-foot tall statue of the Mothman created by artist, Bob Roach with a plaque describing the case written by Wamsley. The town changed the name of the park where it stood from Gunn Park to Mothman Park. Wamsley opened the Mothman museum in 2005.
Having a roadside historical marker made and put into place involves local authorities and department of transportation officials. In Lincoln, New Hampshire, there is a marker denoting the location of the Betty and Barney Hill case, which occurred just before midnight Sept. 20, 1961 and was America’s first widely publicized abduction incident. The process is described in an article on New Hampshire Public Radio’s website. First a petition signed by at least 20 people needs to be submitted to the state’s Division of Historical Resources. They ask that copies of research materials be submitted along with the petition so that the facts can be checked and they then work with the petitioners to come up with the appropriate text, which is typically no more than 12 lines. The process then moves on to the Department of Transportation who commission a sign to be made out of cast aluminum at a cost of around $1800 which is then installed by a road crew at the appropriate location agreed upon by all parties involved. There are three other historical markers of this kind in the country. One marks the site of an alleged 1897 crash in Aurora, Texas and there is another in Franklin, Kentucky marking the Jan. 7, 1948Thomas Mantell incident which was an early Project Blue Book case involving the death of a Kentucky Air National Guard pilot (Mantell) who crashed while in pursuit of a UFO. The installation of a marker in Pascagoula, Mississippi made national news in June of this year. This marker denotes the location of the abduction of Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker in 1973, which involved strange silvery creatures floating them through the air into their craft and later returning them.
UFOlogists have been complaining from the beginning about the lack of official recognition of the phenomenon. The recognition some seem to be waiting for is an announcement from the White House on national television. Maybe one just needs to stop along the road in the right place in the right town and take a moment to read a few lines on a plaque or sign to find an officially approved declaration of weirdness.