Saucers of Secrets
I was 23 when I saw them, like three glass lenses examining the edge of a high cloud. Then something started to fall from them, tiny dark spots fluttering hundreds of feet until I could tell what they were: leaves.
That’s my UFO story in its briefest form. I’ve told it a number of times and would have told it more often if it made any sense. Glass lenses examining a cloud? That’s how I remember it. Leaves? Yep, plain old leaves. They fell close to the place we were — my girlfriend of the time and I — but too far away for us to retrieve any before they settled in the nearby woods.
This was in rural Northwest Florida, by the way, in 1975. Yes, the girlfriend remembers it (sort of). Yes, it was the 1970s with all that might imply. So it was probably a “temperature inversion” or something. Who knows? I’ve just never forgotten it.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this issue that might have inspired my monthly preliminary essay, but I guess I’ve always wanted to “reveal” my big UFO mystery and can’t think of a better time than September (UFO month in New Hampshire) in the year in which the Navy finally admits it’s got a real UFO problem with our floating-city battleships being pestered by what they tactfully describe as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.
I was a childhood “buff” regarding UFOs. I can still remember the pulp smell of the sensational magazines I’d buy at the drugstore filled with grainy photos of glowing hubcaps over farms. Like all childish things, I put my UFO magazines away at a point and got on with my life, adopting a skeptical mindset that whatever was happening to those hapless fishermen or drivers on lonely roads, it was probably happening inside the heads of the viewers more than in the sky.
Then, this year, a 2004 video (yes, grainy) shot by the targeting radar of an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighting jet flown by Cmdr. David Fravor of N.H. was made public and a slumbering hunk my 23-year-old self was reawakened just long enough to go, “Whoa.”
If you somehow haven’t seen it, Google Nimitz Tic Tac and enjoy the ride. Fravor, by the way, is just the latest in a long string of connections that the Granite State has to UFO history. Chances are you’ve heard about the Betty and Barney Hill abduction story and the Incident at Exeter. If not, please enjoy writer J.W. Ocher’s excellent summary starting on page 24 But, for true UFO investigators, the connections run even deeper.
The Hill’s hypnosis-restored memories of their abduction have become the standard blueprint for too-close-for-comfort encounters with aliens. The Exeter “incident” typifies another trope of UFO activity: Flying saucers seem to be attracted to nuclear technology like moths to a porchlight. At the time, nearby Pease Air Force Base was home to the 509th Bombardment Wing, a Strategic Air Command unit originally created just to drop an atom bomb on Japan.
But UFO secrets seem to pop up everywhere you look in New Hampshire and just a little digging in this fertile field tends to turn up new (at least to me) stories.
In October 1967, when a hypnotized Barney Hill was asked to describe his alien abductors, the man who captured it on a sketchpad was the late Jackson poet and artist David Baker — a local character who deserves his own feature (one of these days). Baker knew the Hills because of a shared love of jazz music.
His rough sketches, currently in the possession of the UNH Library, clearly reveal the now-iconic alien features: big heads, huge eyes, small mouths and nose slits. Baker explained that he took Barney’s description and embellished it a bit to add “the known laws of bone structure.”
Baker ran a popular roadside gallery in Jackson and was famous for his “vitreous flux” watercolor technique. His works still sell for thousands of dollars. His alien sketches, once for sale for a few hundred bucks, are now priceless artifacts of our state’s cosmic connections.