Clouds quickly fill the night sky, obscuring a nearly full moon. It’s not a good night to find Whatever’s Out There.
Still, half a dozen people who have parked their cars on the shoulder of a country road in New York’s Hudson Valley crane their necks to scan the sky. This is supposedly a prime area for spotting UFO activity, but the only things visible on this cool autumn evening are airplanes banking into nearby airports.
Peter Gersten waits suspiciously. The silver-bearded lawyer believes 99% of supposed UFO sightings are easily explainable, despite the vanity license plates on his Porsche that read UFOSREAL. He has devoted hundreds of hours to wresting UFO documents from the government in court.
Most UFO watchers are more patient than the federal government. The U.S. Air Force canceled its surveillance program, Project Bluebook, on Dec. 17, 1969, almost five months after the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon. Dr. Edward U. Condon of the University of Colorado recommended that the program come to an end after years of unconvincing research.
Ready to Submit
But UFO searchers persist. Victoria Lacas waits expectantly. She is mad because most people abducted by aliens are unwilling victims, and she would be more than happy to submit herself to experiments.
Linda Doern waits calmly. Linda and her husband, Peter, both real-estate appraisers, admit to being fascinated by psychic and other unexplained phenomena. An evening in Pine Bush, she jokes, “beats watching television.”
Ellen Crystall waits excitedly. The self-described UFO photographer is the guardian of the field, where she claims to have seen aliens and dozens of unexplained lights. She has driven to this field from her New Jersey home hundreds of times since 1981 in the hope of making contact again.
“You missed it, Ellen,” Gersten tells Crystall when her car pulls up half an hour later than expected. “The mother ship was here. There used to be several more of us waiting.”
Crystall dismisses the joke and checks the sky. It doesn’t bode well. The aliens, who she suspects are building an underground base in the Hudson Valley, don’t seem to like clouds or rain, she says.
Whatever the reason, strange sightings seem commonplace in the Hudson Valley. Hundreds of people--not just those who go out looking for them--have seen things in the sky that can’t be explained, says Philip Imbrogno, author of “Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings.”
These sightings caused a sensation in 1983 and 1984 in this area of New York City suburbs and farmland, stretching into western Connecticut. Reports have been less frequent since then, but still steady, Imbrogno says.
Most, if not all, can be easily explained, says Jeff Lehman, spokesman for the nearby Stewart International Airport. He says a group of pilots, whose identities are not known, enjoy fooling UFO fanatics by flying in close formation many evenings. It’s not illegal, but it’s annoying, he says.
“I don’t see scaring people with aircraft as a game,” he says.
Crystall believes. She says she saw something unusual at the cornfield off Searsville Road, 20 miles from Middletown, soon after she was first taken there by a magazine writer.
Gazing over a distant tree line while alone at the field one night, she spotted what appeared to be a craft drifting slowly to the ground. After seeing something flutter, almost like a moth, she shined a spotlight into a wooded area. She says she saw a 3 1/2-foot creature with a beige body and huge yellow eyes staring back at her.
“This thing had a worried look on its face, and it totally threw me off,” Crystall says. “I was panic-stricken. I could not utter a sound.”
The music student claims to have taken 800 photographs of UFOs. She says she holds no grudges against people who don’t share her beliefs, but confides: “I try to avoid them.”
At a restaurant 20 minutes from Searsville Road, Crystall’s friends passed the time waiting for dusk to turn to darkness. Ignoring quizzical looks from a waitress, they discussed landmarks in UFO history with the sort of insider’s lingo that renders the conversation meaningless to anyone else.
Gersten, who has set up a hot-line telephone number for UFO fanatics to keep up on the gossip, says he enjoys the mystery and glamour of UFOs.
‘Prisoners on Planet’
“It seems like we’re prisoners on this planet, and we’ve lost the ability to explore,” says Gersten, who fixes companions with a penetrating stare. Most people accept that UFOs exist, he says, “because we simply can’t be the only people in the universe.”
But he dismisses most reports of unexplained lights in the Hudson Valley. Most sightings are probably conventional airplanes, he says, adding that he has offered a reward for the mysterious group of pilots to come forward and identify themselves.
Gersten belongs in the “government conspiracy” camp of UFO followers, believing that secret military technology is being tested in the skies.
“Imagine a civilization 10,000 years more advanced than us,” says the New York City lawyer. “Do you think they’d come here in spaceships?”
Yes, opines Lacas, because they want to investigate the inhabitants of Earth. The legal assistant and flower-child holdover is fascinated by the current UFO furor over abductions, during which people are supposedly “beamed up” by aliens for a quick examination.
Lacas calls herself an “abduction volunteer.”
“I want to bring trinkets to trade,” she says, fingering some jewelry, “because I want to make friends when I go on board.”
For the Doerns, all aspects of the paranormal are fascinating. There’s a lot more going on in the world than meets the naked eye, Linda says, but she understands why most people look at UFOs and psychic phenomena with abundant skepticism.
Not Easily Deterred
“There are a lot of strange people involved in it,” she says. “I think it discredits it for a lot of people. It turns a lot of people off. I think you have to look beyond them and not let it deter you.”
After the drive to Searsville Road, some participants note the “eerie strangeness” they feel while gazing at the sky. But when it is apparent that most of the lights in the sky are either stars or airplanes, conversations drift to baseball and photography.
A car roars by the parked vehicles about every five minutes. From a nearby house a woman, partially hidden by curtains, peers out at the visitors to her neighborhood.
Crystall and her followers are well known by Chief Daniel McCann and the rest of the Town of Crawford police department, which has jurisdiction over Pine Bush. He says he occasionally gets trespassing complaints, and Crystall has been chased off people’s property once or twice, but she is usually good about telling authorities where she is going to be.
With the airport and a unit of the Air National Guard nearby, Crawford police are used to getting calls about strange things in the sky. Police have never seen any hard evidence of UFOs, but they don’t always have an easy explanation for what people insist they see, McCann says.
On Supernatural Map
The area’s becoming somewhat of a tourist spot among fans of the supernatural, McCann says.
“Ellen does say that she sees these things,” he says. “I’m not going to dispute her. She probably has seen something. Who knows what they are?”
One of Crystall’s companions points the flash of her camera at some shrubbery, hoping that others notice the particles in the air she sees during the brief burst of light. What she claims is “angel dust” looks suspiciously like pollen.
It was the only unusual sighting of the night. As the hour grew late, the search for warmth became paramount, and the evening ended in disappointment.
“It was a crummy night,” Crystall concludes.