July 02, 2020

Fireworks, UFOs and Anxiety: Weird Stories from The 1960s and Today

People across the United States have been reporting increased use of fireworks this spring and summer. The local, homegrown fireworks displays have started earlier in neighborhoods around the country and reportedly feature more intense explosives than in past years. A few different theories are floating around about why this might be. Personally I think it's because people are cooped up at home (and because Americans like to blow things up), but there have also been some conspiracy theories put forth to explain the increase in fireworks. As humans we like to find secret patterns in events. 

I won't repeat any conspiracy theories, but I will suggest something really bizarre: maybe extraterrestrials are behind this year's loud and extended fireworks display. They want you to be distracted by the noise and explosions so you won't see the UFOs hovering above us.

I'm just joking (mostly), but Satellite Internet has once again released its annual ranking of the states with the most UFO sightings. Based on data from the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut were all in the top ten last year. Way to go New England! Rhode Island was 14th in the ranking, while sadly Massachusetts was all the way down at number 39. We need to do better.

Overall, Americans saw nearly twice as many UFOs in 2019 as they did in 2018. I am currently reading George Hanson's book The Trickster and the Paranormal, and Hanson points out that people tend to experience more paranormal phenomena (including UFOs) when they are stressed, anxious, or experiencing chaos. 

Huh. I think that is a pretty good description of how life has been in the U.S. for the last few years. Things have only gotten even more stressful in 2020 with the pandemic and political events, and according to NUFORC's data UFO sightings increased by 112% over 2019 in just the first three months of this year. I can only assume even more people will see UFOs as things get more and more stressful. Let's hope the number of UFO sightings (and our stress levels) start to go down at some point. 

July 2 is often celebrated as World UFO Day to commemorate the alleged saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico. Here in New England, the UFOs sometimes arrive a few days later, usually just in time for Independence Day and fireworks. For example, in 1960 a Massachusetts woman wrote to the United States Air Force inquiring about a UFO she and her boyfriend had seen over Revere Beach on July 4 of that year:

Could you please tell me whether anyone reported this sighting and whether it has been explained or not? Approximately 1,000 people might have been watching the same Fourth of July fireworks display and seen the same thing... 
My boyfriend... and myself were parked along the beach waiting for the fireworks to begin at about 10:00 pm. About 9:45 pm I noticed an orange disk in the sky a little right of center of (the) car. ... We watched it for about another 20 minutes before it moved swiftly down closer to the ocean where we were startled to see a reflection in the water of the orange disk above. It was hard to tell how low to the water it was or how big because is was out some distance. 

Eventually two more disks joined the first one, and then all three zoomed away "like lightning." The fireworks display began 20 minutes later. I don't know if the Air Force responded to the letter writer.

Strange objects returned to the Massachusetts skies in July of 1963. According to the July 9 issue of the Quincy Patriot-Ledger, two Air Force veterans saw a UFO over Dedham, Massachusetts on July 3. At least eleven other people had previously reported seeing something similar, mostly flying over towns on the South Shore. The object had a white light on top and an orange light on its bottom, which sounds a little like the orange UFOs seen in 1960 at Revere Beach. 

A few days later, on July 6, the Patriot-Ledger published an article by one of its reporters. In late June he had set up a camera in his Quincy back yard to photograph the motion of the stars. When he developed the film he saw patterns of lights on the photos as if objects had flown into view, hovered, and then left:

About two weeks ago I took a photograph that makes me wonder what is flying in our skies.  
The original purpose of the shot was to photograph the tracks left by stars passing overhead as the earth revolved.... 
This week I had the film developed. On the slide I immediately saw something which shouldn't have been there - a clear pattern of lights which moved into the camera's view, hovered in at least seven spots, then left the camera's view once more. 

The lights were orange, white and silver. A local UFO investigator claimed they were similar to lights seen by two teenage girls in West Quincy in mid-June. 

On July 11, the Patriot-Ledger reported that even more people had seen mysterious flying objects, which were often (but not always) described as having orange lights on the bottom and white lights on top. A total of 21 people reported seeing UFOs near the South Shore in June and early July of 1963. Gerald S. Hawkins, director of the Boston University Observatory and staff astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Harvard College Observatory, said the photos taken by the Patriot Ledger reporter came "very close to scientific evidence about UFOs."

Very close, but not conclusive. There weren't any more reports from the South Shore after July 11, and no one proposed a definitive explanation for what had been seen. As in so many paranormal events, the different accounts and data seem like they are pointing towards something - but it's never clear exactly what. Everything appears to be coalescing into a coherent narrative, but never does. 

Were the objects seen in 1963 the same ones reported in 1960? They sound similar, but not identical, and not everyone in 1963 saw UFOs with orange lights. In both 1960 and 1963, the UFOs were seen in coastal areas near Boston, but not exclusively - the two Air Force vets saw one in an inland town west of Boston. 

In both years the UFOs were seen around early July. Perhaps that's just because more people were outside in the warmer weather and looking at the sky, possibly for fireworks. Maybe there's some other reason these things were sighted in the same season three years apart. I don't think we'll ever know.  

Humans like nice tidy stories to explain why anomalous things happen, whether it's an increase in fireworks or a rash of UFO sightings near Boston in the 1960s. The universe doesn't always provide us with easy answers though, even if they would make us feel less anxious. 


I found the information about the 1960 and 1963 UFO sightings on Loren Goss's amazing UFO history site. It's definitely worth a visit. 

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