In our May 2021 issue, writer Erik Ofgang looks at three of the most spectacular UFO incidents from Connecticut's history. However, these are far from the only unexplained aerial sightings to take place with our borders. In this August 1979 article titled "Strangers in the Sky," Elise Vider spoke to several residents of Northern Connecticut who claimed to have had their own close encounters and were profoundly impacted by their experiences. This article is being posted to the web in April 2021.
Strangers in the Sky
For some perfectly reasonable people in northern Connecticut it’s not a question of whether UFOs exist. It’s a question of what they want.
By Elise Vider
It happened on one of those crisp, moonlit January nights when the clear air crackles and the senses are finely tuned. Helen Godard of North Granby was driving along a familiar stretch of road—Route 189, a lonely two-lane country highway that meanders through her hometown and across the border into Massachusetts. She'd traveled that road hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times before.
This trip, however, was unlike any of the others. Helen, her two teenage nieces, Candy and Missy, and an adult friend chanced to see something that night—something inexplicable, awesome, and strangely beautiful—that would forever change their perception of the way things are in this world. It was not more than fifty feet off to the right of the road, hovering low over a field It was as big as a house and blindingly illuminated by a deck of lights as purely white as milk. There was nothing on earth with which to compare it. “It was almost like everything just stood still for a couple of minutes because it just amazed you to see it,” Missy remembers. But the transfixed passengers in the car did not panic; in fact, they got out for a closer look. As they watched, the UFO continued to hover silently. They saw that it was in the shape of a disc, with what appeared to be a dome at the center. Then, after ten minutes or so, it rose and glided purposefully around to the other side of Sodom Mountain. The four initiates got back into the car and gave chase. They lost sight of it for a while and then found it again in Granville, Massachusetts. They watched it some more. Finally, a full half-hour after the initial sighting, the lights around the rim of the big craft dimmed and it slowly moved up and away, over the mountain and into the night.
The North Granby sighting occurred just a few days into 1967, a year that would turn out to be extraordinary for Connecticut UFO lore. Ordinarily stolid residents around the state reported dozens of sightings that year, and nobody knows how many more incidents were tucked away into the recesses of the psyche or held tightly as precious secrets.
UFO sightings have become rarer since those heady days (and certainly incidents like the one in North Granby are rare indeed), but mysterious craft are still reported here from time to time. Between 1948 and 1969, when the U.S. Air Force kept its famous dossier of UFO information, a total of 110 sightings were reported in Connecticut. More recently, there has been no single accounting center for such things, so it’s been hard to keep track of the number of reports. It would not be too far off to say there are eight or ten in an average year.
All along, however, various technological advances on this planet appear to be changing our attitudes toward UFOs, making them seem to be less outrageous. Recent polls show that more than half the American public believes UFOs are real. The president of the United States says he's seen one. UFOIogy is becoming a respectable science. And those who say they've seen something in the sky are beginning to feel vindicated.
Six months after the Godard sighting, something woke Mary Ahern, an elderly retiree in Coventry. It was 4:15 A.M., but her second-floor bedroom was full of pulsating light. From outside the window came a sound, she said, “like some type of heavy engine.” The noise and flashing of lights continued for several minutes. Says Mrs. Ahern, now seventy-five, in a lilting brogue, “I peeked out once but I closed my eyes very fast and went back under the clothes. I wasn’t too fond of looking out at it. I was just hopin’ it’d go. Fast.”
Later, just before she was to leave for church, a stranger knocked on Mrs Ahern's door to say he had been driving towards her house earlier that morning on his way to work an early shift at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in nearby East Hartford. He heard a peculiar popping noise and saw a glowing orange ball over the property. He thought he saw it descend. He called UFO investigators who later were to find something extraordinary on Mary Ahern’s property. About 150 feet from her house, in a section of tall grass, there was a perfect circle of swirled and flattened grass, about ten feet in diameter. “I knew it was something unnatural,” said Mrs Ahern.
Coventry police officer and UFO investigator Larry Fawcett agrees. He look three Polaroid snapshots of the grass and got nothing but a white splotch where the circle should have been. Everything in the background of the photos came out fine. So did all the other pictures he took. Fawcett thinks the photographs were radiation fogged. “My determination in that case, after talking with Mrs Ahern and seeing what I saw in the grass and what I did with the camera after I look photographs in that area, is that something did either touch down or stop there. There was something physical there,” he said.
The federal government's official UFO investigation at the time, the so-called Condon Committee, had a different interpretation. Taking into account all the aspects of the case, including the heavy rains that had occurred that night (but before the sighting, Mrs Ahern says), and the hour-long power failure that had followed the event, the official explanation was that Mrs. Ahern and the motorist had seen a rare meteorological phenomenon called ball lightning. Neither Fawcett nor Mrs. Ahem buys it. For one thing, it doesn't explain the circle of matted grass. And, says Mrs. Ahern, “I never saw any lightning like that and I've seen plenty of lightning in my time."
The Godard sighting in North Granby, according to the Condon Committee, could not be explained.
Like most witnesses of what are considered highly credible UFO sightings, the Godard family and Mrs. Ahern are not anxious to bend your ear about their experiences. They don’t seek publicity and don't want a UFO sighting to be their claim to fame Indeed, fearing disbelief or ridicule, most avoid talking about their sightings. But challenge their stories, doubt their memories, and you'll see an inner well of resistance rise up. They arc sure of what they saw.
Mary Ahern went home to Ireland, where the papers were full of European sightings, shortly after her experience. “I didn't tell anybody,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell anybody. They'd say, ‘Oh, the damn fool has been drinking.’ People don’t believe that stuff. So I went to Ireland and I decided I was not going to say anything to anybody.”
Nor did she discuss it with neighbors. “People put it down to imagination. Or the fact that maybe you're a little bit old. Or the fact that I came here from New York. They might say, ‘Why the hell didn't she stay back in New York and not be botherin’ us with this nonsense.’ You never know what people say,” she said. “I don't doubt I saw. I saw. And I heard. But it doesn't bother me what it was. I can't tell. I'm no expert in that field. But I know I saw and heard.”
“If someone is sincere and wants to talk about it, okay, I'll talk about it," said Helen Godard. “But I don't make a practice—I never did—of talking about it." She added, “I really saw it. And I know I saw it. And it was, I think, a great thing that we did see. I mean, probably never again in my life will I ever see anything like that. But I did see it and no one can change my mind about what I saw at all.”
Some of the veterans of the 1967 sightings just want to put it all behind them. Doris Rowe of North Woodstock is polite but adamant in refusing to discuss her family’s encounter. “Everything's already been said so many times,” she said.
Barbara Kimball of East Hartford is one of Connecticut's more recent UFO initiates. She becomes extremely excited when she discusses her sighting. “I don’t even talk about it because I get myself worked up to an emotional frenzy,” she says without pausing for breath. She is still reverberating from the sight that she and her boyfriend saw in March.
It was about 7 P.M.—just barely dark—when her friend, Stephen Jaworski of East Hartford, arrived at her house looking pale and shaken. He had just seen a saucer-shaped object hovering in the sky, he said. The couple got into Jaworski's truck to see if they could find the object again. It didn't lake long.
The UFO was flying lower than an airplane and moving slowly, Kimball said. It sported white, red, and green lights. They trailed the object in the truck, following until they saw it slop and hover high above the Hockanum School in East Hartford. Pulling into the school's parking lot, they flashed the truck's high beams on and off.
Kimball's words start speeding up now. The UFO moved to the left, she recalled, stopped, and seemed to point its lights down towards them. Then with a sudden swoop, “It dropped down to just about the treetops. It iust stood there. It was flat, like a saucer, and we couldn't really make out any shape because it was flat. We'd seen the three lights and then, all of a sudden, it just pivoted and showed us its bottom. Now we could actually see it was round. It had no appendages—no nothing. No wings, nothing sticking out of it at all. It was completely saucerlike. When it was up in the sky the lights on it seemed very, very bright. That's all you could actually see when it was up in the sky. But when it got down lower, the lights were very small in comparison to its body but the lights were very, very bright.”
For five minutes the craft—an estimated 35 feet in diameter, about 150 to 200 feet in the air, and only about 75 feet away from the truck—“put on a little show for us" with its maneuvers, Kimball said. "I really thought the thing was communicating with us.” And then it was gone. Jaworski thinks it moved downward, Kimball thinks it rose. It is their only point of contention.
To recuperate, the couple went for ice cream at a nearby Friendly’s. They were waiting on line in front of the store’s big picture window when a woman on the line nudged her husband to point out a “funny looking airplane.” Way out in the distance and high in the sky, Kimball thinks she saw the UFO one last time.
Safely at home, Kimball says she was too stunned at first to tell even her family of the experience. “I felt like I was totally under a spell. I was completely wiped out,” she said.
Reporting a UFO is a risky thing. You never know whether you’ll be treated like a responsible citizen or a nut. Ted Thoben of Barkhamsted, an art director by day and UFOIogist by night, estimates that fewer than one- third of all sightings are reported. “People just don't want to get involved,” he said. “It takes a strong constitution and people with a great deal of self-confidence to make a report.”
Mary Ahem says she never would have reported her sighting if the passing motorist hadn't taken the lead. Barbara Kimball said it took her several hours before she decided, “Hell, I'll call. I don't really care at this point. I know what I saw and I'm gonna call. If they think I'm a quack, fine." The police, she said, didn't bother to take any details or her name. It wasn’t until she reported the case to Larry Fawcett that she had the satisfaction of telling the story to someone who took it seriously.
It is public-spiritedness that often prompts UFO witnesses to come forward. Gladys Godard, Candy’s and Missy's mother, encouraged her family to report their experience. “If [science] can get just one little thing that helps mankind out of what they had seen, even if it is only a visual reporting—they had nothing physical to show—if they could give them some idea of what this might be, how do we know what's in it? It could be something wonderful for mankind," she said.
There are obviously a lot of weirdos who report UFOs, much to the chagrin of serious UFO investigators. Researching UFOs, one hears the wild reports about crash-landed aliens who were frozen for preservation, of children born out of interplanetary wedlock, of CIA infiltration and all manner of conspiracy. It's hard to know where the plausible ends and the ridiculous takes over. Serious UFOIogists spend much of their time trying to determine the credibility of the reports they receive. A good case depends on a lot. Some investigators, like Thoben, don’t bother with single-witness cases, no matter how spectacular the claim, unless it comes from a trained observer, like a police officer or an air traffic controller. A woman contacted Thoben once to say she’d seen a UFO at close range in broad daylight while traveling on Route 8 from Winsted to Torrington. A number of other motorists saw it and pulled over, she told Thoben, but she was the only one who made a report. Reluctantly, Thoben dismissed the case because of lack of corroboration.
“It's a shame because human beings make the worst witnesses. They tend to interpret things into what they see and quite often it's so misleading, it renders the sighting worthless,” he said. “It's the human factor. When they see something of an unusual nature, they get so excited, terrified in some cases, and a lot of times this can create a mental block and a can cloud certain details that otherwise a trained observer would note.”
Even a crowd of witnesses does not necessarily insure a good case. One of Connecticut's most notorious multiple-witness UFO sightings occurred in 1976 when thirteen teen-age campers and their counselor, from Camp Delaware in Winsted, reported a metallic, silver saucer, fifteen to twenty-five feet in diameter, over the summit of Blueberry Mountain. The group was hiking in broad daylight when, they said, they heard a high-pitched whine, like feedback from a loudspeaker. The object flew in at a steep angle, hovered in place, then rose straight up so fast that some of the campers said they couldn't tell how it vanished. The whole incident took less than a minute.
Given the nature of kids at summer camp, the case was widely speculated to be a hoax. “They seemed at the time to be very positive about it. But kids have a tendency to exaggerate," said Ruth Wainstock, the camp’s owner. Ira Leifer, the counselor, stuck with his story. “I don't mind if people tell me I'm a liar because I know what I saw,” he said at the time. The widely respected Center for UFO Studies, a civilian group, concluded the probability was fifty-fifty that it was a genuine UFO sighting. The probability of a hoax, the center said, was 30 percent.
Physical evidence of UFOs is rare and has occurred in only a handful of Connecticut cases, including the Ahern sighting. Photographs are even rarer. One case that had it all was the Rowe case, which occurred in 1967 in North Woodstock.
The story, as described in the files of the Maryland- based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), goes like this: Four members of the Rowe family saw a large triangular object, with bright white lights at each corner, hovering silently about a thousand feel over their house. After a few minutes, it moved away with a low rumble to a nearby field and hovered there a bit longer before rocketing off to the west. The lights but not the shape of the object showed up in several photographs taken by William Rowe, who was fifteen at the time.
The biggest surprise, however, came later when Mrs Rowe went inside to start dinner. The contents of two refrigerators—one in the pantry and one in the kitchen—had frozen solid. Meat, vegetables, and milk were all solid chunks of ice. A color television had transmitted only black and white while the object was overhead but color came back as soon as it was gone. NICAP’s evaluation was that there was no proof the UFO had caused the appliances' quirks but that the occurrence of an electromagnetic field could cause interference in TV reception.
One of the only other Connecticut cases with photographic evidence also had a bevy of reliable witnesses to corroborate the story—about ten Danbury police officers and dozens of civilians from Danbury to Meriden reported a UFO the night of August 30, 1976. Danbury patrolman Peter Winter took a number of time exposures that showed something unusual in the air but it's impossible to see exactly what it was. The UFO was later explained by a scientist as water vapor refractions, but Winter isn’t satisfied by that. “It moved like something mechanical. It seemed to have a definite direction and it changed direction,” he said.
Although UFOs have been seen in every size, shape, and description—saucers are ever popular but cigar shapes, triangles, rectangles, and even a flying boomerang have been reported—there are some definite patterns and similarities to UFO sightings. Blinding light; the ability to hover (fixed-wing aircraft as we know them require some constant forward movement); the ability to make right- angle turns, stop on a dime, and reverse direction instantly; forty-five-degree tilts; whirling motions; and dropping down like falling leaves are reported time and again. UFOs seem to have a definite propensity for power lines, perhaps, it is theorized, to regenerate their own power. One Granby man awoke during the night to see a glowing object moving up and down some high-power lines near his home.
UFO investigator Fawcett never believed in flying saucers until one day in 1965 when he says he saw a gigantic craft hovering over a Manchester power substation. Suddenly, he says, a rod emerged from the UFO and electricity appeared to shoot back and forth between the craft and the substation. The rod retracted and the UFO took off along the power lines, Fawcett said. The Godard, Ahern, and numerous other Connecticut sightings were near power lines. UFOs have also been reported hovering near power plants, including the Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Station at Haddam Neck.
Human beings are supposed to fear the unknown but, in a number of Connecticut cases, witnesses describe their UFO experiences as spellbinding, hypnotic, awesome, but rarely terrifying. They often say they feel lucky, that seeing a UFO satisfied some innermost curiosity about the cosmos. “It opened my eyes 100 percent. I’m not so close-minded,” said Kimball. “This particular issue covers so many things. You start talking about origins of life and things like that from what you're taught in school and what you're taught in the Bible. You think about these things and it really makes you wonder where you’re headed for, where we’re all headed for. It’s a deep thing.”
“I wasn’t frightened,” recalls Missy Nolan of Enfield who was with her aunt Helen Godard that night in 1967. “I wasn't afraid of it. It just didn't appear to me that it would hurt you. It was more just fascination. You couldn’t believe you were actually seeing what you were seeing. It was amazing. The whole thing was amazing. To this day it is.
“They had the perfect opportunity to harm us,” she added. ”We were out on a road. We followed the object. If they were going to harm anybody for seeing them flying around or anything, they would have done it. It was almost like we were a curiosity to them and they were a curiosity to us. I have the feeling that they sat there and watched us because we were watching them. We got out of the car and stood there and just looked at them. We didn't see anybody. We just saw the ship but it was like they were seeing what we were doing and we were trying to see what [they were doing]. It was weird.”
Her Aunt Helen remembered, “What we saw, it held you spellbound to it. You had to look at it. The lights drew you to it. You were held. There wasn't any way you were going to just turn and leave it because it was a fascinating thing. Those lights—the glow of those lights. I’ll never forget that. People have said to me 'Weren't you afraid?' And I wasn’t afraid. And the girls weren't afraid You’re inquisitive. You want to see it and it was something that you didn’t want to run and leave because the lights were fascinating. They really were. There was something about the glow of those lights that, well, you just wouldn't want to leave. You had to see what it was.”
Not everyone, however, perceives UFOs as visitors from friendly climes. In the annals of Connecticut UFOdom, there are a few sightings that seem hostile and scared the dickens out of witnesses.
In 1974, a nineteen-year-old North Haven woman reported that she was stalked by a brightly lit UFO that stalled her car. “I was afraid that maybe this spacecraft was coming after me,” she wrote to NICAP. “My car stopped dead for no reason. I started to cry . . . . As I stepped out I felt like I was moving in slow motion. When I tried to run, my feet wouldn't move at first. (These reactions were not likely from fear) . . . I never looked back because I was afraid of seeing the object directly in back or above me.
“I used to say to myself that I wished I could see a UFO because I believe in them and life on some other planet, galaxy, or wherever, but now I'm not sure I really wanted that proof."
A New Haven man reported to police in August, 1976, that he was buzzed by a “round, silver, dish-shaped object” while driving on Route 63 between New Haven and Bethany. As the UFO passed over, he said, his car stalled, the door wouldn't budge, and he felt tingly, then temporarily paralyzed. He said he thought his picture was taken.
During the 1967 sightings glut, three Coventry teenagers said a UFO nearly ran them off the road. “The thing looked as though it would ram us. All we could see was one round rim in a blinding white light,” one of them told the press.
There are few reported cases in Connecticut in which witnesses claimed to have seen the occupants of UFOs— UFOnauts as they’re known in the trade. And there are no reported kidnappings by strange entities aboard UFOs. One of the rare Connecticut UFOnaut cases occurred in Old Saybrook back in December, 1957, when a woman reported being awakened in the middle of the night by bright lights. Through her window, she said she saw an object about ten feet from her house. It was about twenty feet long, she said, colored a gray or black, and had brilliantly lit portholes. As it hovered about five feet off the ground, the woman saw three beings through the craft's portholes. From her description, they sounded like gruesome little creatures. They were about four feel tall, with squarish heads that were a red-orange color and had a red bulb of some sort sticking out the middle. She saw arms but hands and feet were not visible.
A more widely reported case in 1967 was dubbed "The Winsted Creature Report” by the press. Two young girls reported seeing three little humanoids—about as tall as rural mailboxes—milling around their barn. They were scared away by a car and, minutes later, the girls said, a UFO rose from a nearby hillside. The case is widely dismissed as a hoax except for one intriguing detail. Ted Thoben, who investigated the case for NICAP, said that one neighbor did happen to independently report the presence of an unexplainable object in the sky that night.
It is in the hilly sections of rural northern Connecticut where most of the state’s UFO sightings are made. They tantalize and tease, terrify or awe their viewers, appearing out of nowhere on hilltops, rising suddenly out of gullies and gorges, hovering silently over reservoirs, lakes, and open fields.
The conventional wisdom is that UFOs also appear over the more congested southern part of the state but that they’re easier to spot up north where there are clearer skies and fewer distractions. But there’s another theory to explain the especially frequent sightings in the Winsted- Barkhamsted area.
Thoben believes that UFOs are visitors from another dimension, not another planet. The Winsted area, he says, is a kind of Grand Central Station between the dimensions. "There is a very strong theory—it sounds like Buck Rogers—but they say that there are certain window areas,” Thoben explained. “One of the windows is described as being in the Winsted area. Windows mean a magnetic deviation in the topography, in the terrain, where these things slip through."
Other dimensions, Thoben believes, “coincide with us like layers of an onion but they exist at a different vibratory rate or a different frequency rate so that we cannot perceive them. They inhabit the same space that we do."
The extraterrestrial theory just doesn’t fit, Thoben feels. “For one thing, the planet Earth is in the boondocks of the Milky Way galaxy," he said. “Now, people say very glibly, 'These things are from outer space.' They just don’t have any concept of space and the fantastic distances that these things must travel to come here. I can't see that after two thousand years some distant planet still finds us so intriguing that regardless of whatever monetary system they have, they could allot so much money and effort to come to this crummy little planet way out in nowhere when there are so many other planets. Why spend all that time on this barbaric, insignificant planet?”
Others who have pondered UFOs at close range are reluctant to speculate about their origins. If you ask Helen Godard where that mysterious object she watched on that cold night twelve years ago came from, shell shake her head and frown. "That I don't know. I know it was something different than we have around here. But I had never seen anything like it before.”
“Look, Up There in the Sky!”
You’ll know one when you see one.
If you do see a UFO—a light in the sky, an actual spacecraft, or even some of the proverbial little green men—here's what to do.
Try to get as many other witnesses as possible. Corroboration is the name of the game in the UFO biz. Take photographs if possible. Take careful note of the UFO's appearance, its motion, the direction in which it moves, and the duration of the sighting. Make a note of the exact time, weather, and light conditions. Try to compare the UFO to a fixed object so that its distance can later be calculated. By holding up a coin at arm’s length and comparing it to the size of the UFO, investigators can tell a lot about its size and altitude. Write everything down as soon as you can.
The Air Force no longer collects UFO reports but there are several active civilian groups that have volunteer investigators in Connecticut. And many of the state's local police departments have a toll-free number that connects law enforcement agencies to the Center for UFO Studies in Illinois.
You can write directly to the center at 1609 Sherman Avenue, Suite 207, Evanston, Illinois 60201, or call them at (312) 491-6666.
Or you can contact these Connecticut UFOIogists. Ted Thoben, affiliated with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, business hours at 677-6000; Larry Fawcett, with the Center for UFO Studies, at the Coventry Police Department or at 742-7988. Attorney Robert Bletchman of Manchester, an independent investigator, 643-2433; or Herbert Foy, NICAP, at the Enfield Police Department.
[Note: As of April 2021 the Center for UFO Studies may be contacted through their website at cufos.org]