by Charles Lear
The Phoenix Lights is a classic case among UFOlogists and one of those where you quote the date (March 13, 1997) when mentioning it if you want to impress upon your fellows that you know your subject. It involves a night of sightings by thousands of Arizona residents, including Governor Fife Symington, of a huge V-shaped craft that was defined by lights on it edges and blocked out stars as it passed. It made national news and became the subject of the 2009 television movie, “I know What I Saw.” The case was explained away as being a misidentified military flare drop, which happened two hours after the sightings reports. The flare drop was localized, while the reported craft was said to travel across the entire state and, despite the incongruity, enough of the public accepted the explanation that the case was able to fade into history.
Similar sightings of huge V-shaped craft by thousands of witnesses along the Hudson River Valley occurred in the early 1980’s. This was not just over a single night but over a period of years and should have overshadowed the Phoenix Lights in UFOlogical circles, but many don’t even know where the Hudson Valley is let alone that there was a fascinating series of sightings there which are being investigated to this day. Even now there is still activity in the small area town of Pine Bush that holds a yearly UFO fair. To give you an idea where the HRV is located, the Hudson River meets the ocean just past New York City. The valley runs north up to Albany with New York State to the west.
On March 26, 1983, the Westchester-Rockland Daily Item ran a front-page story by E.B. Walzer with the headline, “Hundreds Claim To Have Seen UFO.” The story described sightings that occurred two nights before of football field sized craft with lights in a “boomerang pattern” that floated noiselessly, low enough to hit with a baseball, hovered and turned on a central axis as if on a wheel. Witnesses included many reputable citizens including police officers. The article caught the attention of local Center for UFO Studies investigators, Philip J. Imbrogno and Bob Pratt. Pratt was also a reporter for the National Enquirer who had changed from being a skeptic to a believer in the course of his work there. Imbrogno and Pratt put out the word that they were looking for witnesses and quickly received over 300 calls. They and other CUFOS members did their best to track down the callers and conducted many interviews and sight surveys. They learned in the course of their investigation that on March 24, between 8:20 and 9:30 P.M. the local Yorktown Police Department was flooded with so many calls about flying objects that anyone with an actual emergency would have had trouble getting through. Similar situations were experienced by police stations in at least fifteen other communities.
The information coming from the witnesses was so impressive that it caused founder, J. Allen Hynek, to fly in from CUFOS’ home base, Evanston Illinois and help with the investigation himself. The three were co-authors (Hynek died before publication) of a 1998 book on the case, “Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings” and it describes incredible events such as traffic coming to a stop on major area roads, including I-84 and the Taconic Parkway, as hundreds of people got out of their cars to observe objects as big as an aircraft carrier and even a “flying city.” There are excerpts from many witness testimonies along with their names and the authors conclude that over 7000 people saw the objects during this particular wave and that sightings in the area went back at least 30 years before. A unique aspect that comes up repeatedly is that the objects seemed to respond to thought and approach witnesses who wished they could get a better look and that there was a feeling of personal connection.
This case would have shaken the public consciousness had it not been for an effective campaign by the New York State Police to discredit it. Concerned about the floods of calls that were creating communication problems, they recommended to local police that reports be downplayed using prosaic explanations. Interestingly it was a similar concern that prompted the CIA’s Robertson Panel to make the same recommendation in 1953. The explanation presented itself when private pilots from Stormville New York began flying light planes in formation either just as an exercise or in order to purposely perpetrate a hoax depending on the source. The light planes became Ultralights in some explanations, which are basically hang gliders with engines and illegal to fly at night. Witnesses who saw the actual planes flying in formation and who had also seen the mysterious craft reported they were completely dissimilar in appearance and that the planes made noise whereas the craft were silent. This didn’t stop the media from going along with the plane explanation and the story just went away for a lot of people.
While Hynek and his team were investigating a very broad area, Ellen Crystal, author of the 1991 book, “Silent Invasion: The Shocking Discoveries of a UFO Researcher,” was busy getting witness testimony and making first hand observations of craft and phenomena in the small town of Pine Bush. In addition to the large craft, there were reports of creature sightings, strobe lights in the woods, and ground vibration with associated machinery noise coming from beneath the earth. Crystal’s book is full of admitted speculation regarding the construction of alien bases and she was of the firm opinion that what was being experienced was physical in nature from beings to craft. Crystal also reports that she and other witnesses experienced a personal connection with the objects and that they would respond to thought. The books forward was written by Imbrogno and in it he states that he was initially skeptical of many of the accounts therein but was won over by Crystal’s earnestness. Other readers might not be so kind.
Pine Bush became such a hot spot that hundreds of cars would be parked along the roads, particularly West Searsville Road, where people would spend the night sky watching and socializing. This continued into the late 90’s and many more investigators gathered many more stories of odd occurrences. The end of the party came when a developer bought the land adjacent to the road and convinced the town to pass a law against sky watching. The law has since been repealed and the town embraces its UFO history with the country’s second largest UFO fair every May.
Helping to keep all this history alive is researcher Linda Zimmermann who has written a series of books on the subject beginning with the 2014 publication, “Hudson Valley UFOs.” She is a former research chemist who found she could make a living writing books on local ghost stories after the lab where she worked closed. While giving lectures in support of her books, people from the audience would come up to her and tell her their UFO stories which initially baffled her as she felt UFOs had nothing to do with ghosts. Eventually she looked into the subject and became intrigued enough to devote herself to it enough to write one book. Her background in research served her well and she found newspaper reports of sightings going back to 1908, which were similar to the airship sightings of the 1890’s. Along with her archival research she also interviewed many witnesses with more and more coming forward as time went by. After publishing her book, people were still coming to her with stories and at least one insisted she write another book. She actually wrote two more and continues to write and champion what she believes is the country’s, and possibly the world’s, number one UFO hot spot. She is an engaging, passionate speaker who has been a guest on Martin’s show and hosts her own podcast, “UFO Headquarters.”
When one reads the accounts and listens to Zimmermann speak, one wonders how all this could have settled so far into the background. That a flimsy explanation could make this all go away seems to say much about human nature. A flimsy explanation is, perhaps, easier to accept than the premise that we are being visited by otherworldly beings or that there is some extraordinary intelligent phenomena beyond scientific understanding interacting with us. Even if such premises are accepted, people gotta eat and bills gotta be paid. Life goes on. But for you UFOlogists out there, March 24, 1983 is a date you should put to memory.