Strange lights in the sky
Sixty years ago something crashed at Roswell, New Mexico.
The United States government says it was a top-secret weather balloon. Conspiracy theorists contend it was a flying saucer. Further still, they claim the air force recovered alien bodies from the spacecraft. This week, 35,000 stargazers flocked to this desert town to mark the anniversary and hotly debate the merits of both claims. Roswell, and the alleged cover-up, is truly the genesis of the UFO phenomenon.
So much is in dispute with Roswell. What did farm hand William Brazel find when he came upon that strange wreckage on the Foster ranch in July, 1947? The large debris field, 200 yards long and brightly lit, was composed of an odd metallic substance. Brazel reported what he saw to sheriff George Wilcox who informed the authorities. News of the discovery quickly reached townsfolk, with the Roswell Daily Record proclaiming a spaceship had crash landed. The Roswell Army airfield even issued a press release stating the base's 509th Bomber Group had recovered a "flying disc." Later that same day, the airfield's commanding general denied this, saying it was an experimental weather balloon. The controversy has engrossed ufologists ever since.
Before Roswell, there was always this suspicion we were not alone - that our blue speck in the universe would attract attention. During the Second World War, allied fighter pilots reported intercepting strange lights. Pilots called these celestial intrusions "foo fighters."
However, you don't have to poke around Roswell to uncover UFOs.
There's substantial evidence to suggest the Ottawa Valley has had its share of extraterrestrial visitations.
For instance, could it have been a "foo fighter" that streaked over Pembroke late one evening in November, 1944? J.P. Sammon, the night watchman at the shook mills, was startled by the two balls of light dancing in the sky above him. He said the balls were travelling at a terrific speed and appeared to converge at one point. This was followed by three violent flashes of lightning. Sammon thought he'd seen an aircraft breaking up. Only this thing didn't crash.
In the 1950s, a similar sighting was made by Fred Gates. Driving to work in Deep River with two fellow employees, the Pembroke man was momentarily blinded by a blazing light dropping suddenly out of the sky. Gates lost control of his car and drove off the highway near Brindle Crossing. The unidentified flying object grazed the tree tops before disintegrating in a burst of smoke (an event of Roswellian proportions considering its proximity to Camp Petawawa). The Dominion Observatory in Ottawa deduced it was a large meteor that had struck the Petawawa ranges.
It was an unusual cloud, and not a meteor, that was seen by Jane Chaput on the night of Nov. 3, 1965. Her 11-year-old daughter frantically ran into their Normandy Avenue home screaming she'd been followed home by a "dancing light." It was around 8 p.m., so Jane went outside to investigate. She looked up to see the shimmering egg-shaped white cloud. She couldn't believe her eyes. The object drifted slowly over the Petawawa PMQs before disappearing. The cloud had also been observed by countless witnesses in Arnprior.
"At first I thought it was someone playing with a flashlight," she told reporters. "It was quite high and quite plain. It moved over a wide area near our home."
An equally bizarre apparition jumped across valley skies the following spring. Driving from Chalk River, James Turcotte and his family saw a fireball streak across the car's windshield. It had a green light and discharged a multitude of colours before fading away. He suspected it was a military aircraft, as they were nearing Camp Petawawa.
On the outskirts of Pembroke, Orville Wasmund's wife noticed the object from her kitchen window. She thought it was silver, and promptly alerted her neighbour, John Murack, who described it as a "big ball of light." On Chamberlain Street, Shirley Corrigan saw this spectre, which was shooting particles and emitting a greenish glow. It abruptly disappeared somewhere over the Ottawa River. Scientists observing the same object from Ohio determined it was probably a meteor travelling at an orbit 80 miles above the earth.
Were meteors the answer to all these sightings? Possibly. But then how to explain away what Leo Chaput saw? One night in May, 1969, the 54-year-old mill worker was sitting in his summer kitchen when he saw a white light soaring above the Wabush Line. The "machine," as he called it, landed in the field behind his Chapeau farm house. Chaput investigated the next morning and found three crop circles burned into the grass. The rings were 27 feet in diameter. The needles on a nearby pine tree appeared singed off and there was no indication of carbon deposits. Chaput professed he got a good look at the UFO.
"I was standing near the field and watched this bright object travelling below the tree-line," he explained to a horde of skeptical reporters. "The front of it had two large red eyes. I watched it for about 10 minutes, then it disappeared."
The most serious close encounter occurred weeks later in Petawawa Village. In the early morning hours of July 13, a woman ran into the Arrow Taxi stand with an incredible story. She was in a hysterical state but calmed down long enough to recount what she saw to the on-duty cabbie, John Chesson. She had been driving down Black Bay Road when a huge light swooped down from out of nowhere. It hovered over the car for a couple of minutes, lighting up the roadway. What terrified her was the UFO then followed her for a few miles before bolting from the scene. Chesson stepped out to see for himself. In the far distance, he caught a glimpse of what he described as a "bright star" sailing through the sky.
Meanwhile, panicked phone callers flooded the police switchboard. Others had seen the entity. Provincial constables Jack Mackay and Grant Chaplin were dispatched to investigate. Entering the village, the officers suddenly stopped their squad car. There in the sky was the UFO, moving slowly in a south-easterly direction. The officers were soon joined by a small crowd of 12 other disbelieving motorists who had pulled over to watch the anomaly. Mackay figured the object was cylindrical in shape, hovering some 1,500 feet above the ground. What puzzled Mackay was it had no solid body or form. From the main gate of the base, three military policemen also watched the object in amazement. The UFO moved in a slow, continuous orbit for another 40 minutes before it disappeared west of Pembroke.
While the Petawawa incident garnered national media attention, this incredible night was all but forgotten a week later. Every person on the planet with a television set was watching American astronaut Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon.