The three-week period that began on June 24, 1947 was a curious time in the history of our country. On the 24th, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine disk-shaped objects flying across the sky near Mt. Rainier, Washington. At least twenty other persons across the Pacific Northwest reported seeing the same that day, but it was Arnold’s soberly told account and detailed description that drew the most attention, launching the term ‘flying saucer’ into its place in the American lexicon.
Over the following days, as the media spread a discussion of Arnold’s story, other witnesses began coming forward all over the country, saying that they too had spotted similar objects. The trickle became a deluge on July 4, as many of the millions of people celebrating Independence Day outside looked up toward the sky and saw something they couldn’t account for.
Some Berkshire area residents spotted what they believed to be examples of the bizarre objects for the first time that day. A group of four Pittsfield residents, while watching the parade (described as the longest and best to date at that time) observed a disk overhead around 10:45. One of the witnesses, Mrs. Sidney Smith of Pomeroy Avenue, described it as “round, colorless, luminous object with a peculiar rolling motion.” The saucer sped off south, gaining altitude as it went.
Reaction among residents who had not seen anything was mixed, as far as can be judged by a random survey of people on North Street on July 7. “I certainly don’t think it’s imagination, not with so many people seeing them,” said a Pittsfield photographer, “It’s either what some foreign government is sending over, or an experiment of our own army.” John Foley of Foley’s Restaurant had a simpler explanation: “Somebody’s got the DT’s.”
By that time, “saucer fever” was reaching fever pitch across the country, with sightings having been reported in 38 states and parts of Canada. By the 8th, similar reports were coming in from Europe, Australia and Africa. That same day also saw national reporting of an Air Force official’s announcement that a crashed saucer had been recovered by the military near Roswell, New Mexico. Though retracted the following day, this press release had already given birth to a controversy that would continue to be stoked 3 quarters of a century later.
Sightings continued in Berkshire County as well. Mrs. Fairfield Osborne spotted one while staying as a guest at the Stockbridge home of Margaret Cresson, the daughter of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French. Mrs. Osborne said that prior to this she had never heard of the flying saucer phenomenon, but after viewing the strange aerial shape she consulted some recent newspapers and found that the descriptions there matched what she had seen exactly. She told reporters that what she had seen had been a brilliantly illuminated round object “like an automobile headlight in the sky.” The bright object appeared to hover around the top of Mount Everett, about 25 miles away. A few seconds later, it vanished entirely from view. Two similar bright objects were seen by architect Charles Masterson of Crane Avenue in Pittsfield, though Masterson admitted they may have been planes.
Over the following days the wave of interest in the new saucer phenomenon lessened in intensity as reports of sightings began to drop off. But the world’s interest in unidentified objects in the sky had been ignited, and while it has ebbed and flowed in popularity, the topic has never gone away.
Three summers later, a local newspaper headline declared: “The flying saucers are back again,” with 6 more witnesses reporting sightings of saucers around Bennington in late May, and sightings coming in from Pittsfield and Lee in August.
In November 1951, Mr and Mrs Fenton of North Adams were among a number of people throughout western Massachusetts to report seeing “green fireballs” whizzing across the sky. Though some contended this was meteor activity, the Fentons didn’t think so.
Alien “First Contact” in the Berkshires happened at a Becket farmhouse on N. Washington State Road, according to the 1960s magazine Flying Saucers International.
In 1960 young UFO hunter working out of an X-files-style garage (on Route 8, about a mile from Oct Mt forest) had already been contacted by a race of extra-terrestrials. This and many subsequent contacts he allegedly had with beings from the planet of Korendor were documented in the now-defunct magazine Flying Saucers International, in numerous articles from 1961 to 1969.
In addition to going on board the Korendian spacecraft, this G.E. electrical engineer also claimed to have been taken off world and to hidden flying saucer bases underneath the Berkshire hills.
The mid to late 1960s were another peak time of UFO sightings, locally and worldwide.
On Oct. 1, 1965, four witnesses reported seeing a bright sphere hovering over Charlemont and the surrounding area. At one point, they said, it hovered within 100 feet of them, but began climbing as it moved toward Thunder Mountain, then made an abrupt right-angle turn and vanished.
On September 25, 1966, three reports came in to Pittsfield police about a strange object seen over the city that evening. Donald Nelligan of Allengate Avenue said the circular object hovered over the Coltsville area for about five minutes before heading off at a high rate of speed toward the southwest.
In early 1967, an unidentified object first sighted over the Walter J. Koladza airport plagued the western part of Great Barrington throughout the second week of March. Described as a round, glowing white object, very large in size, it was reported flying at about horizon level by several GB residents. On April 14, two North Adams youths , William Konopka and John Gaudreau, reported a brightly lit, low flying object moving toward Williamstown at a speed they estimated at near twice that of a jet aircraft.
On November 20, another mysterious round object was seen at various points throughout western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. It was dismissed by some as a meteor, but Mrs. Gigliotti of North Adams described something quite different: a circular mass of bright lights which came directly at her car, “swooping up” just in time to miss her. It then hovered directly above a tree she estimated to be between 50 and 70 feet tall, before taking off, leaving a glowing trail in its wake. Other witnesses in North Adams, and in Stamford, Vermont offered similar accounts, and police in Bellows Falls, Greenfield, and Springfield also received calls about a mystery object that night.
By this time, UFO sightings in general were much more frequently documented, perhaps there were so many clubs, organizations and emerging Ufologists- professional and amateur- making the effort to document. Still, there were periodic spikes in reports- 1975, when glowing spheres were reported several times in the Bennington area; and increasing mentions of cylindrical-shaped unidentified objects in the late 70s and early 80s, called by some “the flying silo.”
More of these cylindrical objects would be reported in the late 90s-early 2000s, such as a ” brightly iridescent, green cigar-shaped object” described by a driver on the westernmost end of the Massachusetts turnpike in November 2005.
There was more talk in the media of a wave of UFO activity in the summer of 2011. WAMC public radio reported on a spate of sightings concentrated in the first week of August and primarily in south county, and I covered more sightings as they continued to emerge for several days after.
In the winter of early 2013, online reports to the primary three databases of UFO sightings in the Berkshires were approximately double their average level. Speaking by phone with two MUFON investigators in different areas of New England, there seemed to be a general consensus that sighting reports had been running high in western Massachusetts, though certain high profile videos from the Amherst area that from January were considered dubious.
In the summer of 2015, I reported on an even more substantial wave of sightings, perhaps the highest concentration of reports in one “wave” since the 60s-70s. This included some curious photos submitted by readers.
In recent years, UFOs have become even more closely tied to the Berkshires in the broader cultural conversation with the many televised segments about the Reed family’s alleged encounters in Sheffield, Mass. in the 1960s, most notably a 2020 Unsolved Mysteries episode. In a series of experiences, Thom and Matthew Reed claimed they were taken on board extraterrestrial craft repeatedly between 1966-1969. Though considered highly dubious by some, thanks to Thom Reed’s relentless marketing and monetizing of his personal account, the “Berkshire UFO sighting(s)” have become a household name, with their own park , merchandise line, and now even themed weddings cashing in on the tale.
Yet another “Berkshire UFO”was in the mainstream news just last summer, when Real Housewives of New York’s Dorinda Medley posted video of something unclear in the sky near her Berkshire County estate.
Do you believe we’ve had visitors from beyond the Earth? Have you seen something strange in the sky? Share your thoughts in the comments.