The Berkshire County UFO
It had all the trappings of any popular UFO story you might see on television: soldiers searching the forest for debris, mysterious men in black cautioning witnesses to remain silent, an entire town left in fear from their harrowing visitation. Today we're going to dissect the reality of one such case to see just how far apart the facts are from what the television reported, and as many such cases often do, this one all came down to a single imaginative young man.
Today's story comes from The Berkshires, a hilly region of western Massachusetts known for its arts communities, its food scene, and its beautiful fall foliage. But much more recently, it's come to be known for something else, thanks to the Netflix TV series Unsolved Mysteries which portrayed it as the setting for a famous UFO event witnessed by people across the whole county, way back a half century ago. But oddly, if you're a fan of UFOlogy, it's very likely a story you'd never heard before. How can a story be at once notable enough to attract the attention of a major TV network, and at the same time be so virtually unknown that it's slipped through the cracks of most of the UFO literature? Today we're going dig in, and find out — if not what happened on that night — where the story came from.
The story may be hard to find, but it's not completely unknown. Ancient Aliens once devoted a few minutes to it (there's a feather in its cap), and it has a page or two in a few obscure UFO books from the recent decade or so. Like so many UFO events claimed to be strongly evidenced by the huge number of reliable eyewitnesses, this one turns out — upon closer examination — to actually have very few, and most of them know each other.
A lack of any physical evidence is the rule, not the exception, for UFO stories; but the Berkshire County UFO takes this absence of evidence a step further. Generally, whenever there's a mass UFO sighting, the local press (at the very least) runs a few columns about it; and the local police blotter will show a few panicked phone calls. However, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Berkshire County UFO story was highlighted by the Netflix episode of Unsolved Mysteries. They asked the local police to look up their blotter for that day — it was Labor Day, September 1, 1969 — and they found no mention of anything unusual at all; just a single call about beer cans found on someone's lawn. A local historian went to the archives of the Berkshire Eagle, the county's newspaper, and searched the news for the next morning plus a full month afterwards. He found not a single printed word about any UFO story. This extraordinary thing happened, supposedly, and not a single police officer or news reporter caught the faintest whiff.
Indeed, the Berkshire County UFO's main bolstering credibility comes from the Great Barrington Historical Society's 2015 recognition of it as an actual historical fact (Great Barrington was the town central to where the event is said to have happened). However what's rarely reported is that six of the nine-member historical society board agreed recognition would be good for tourism, while the outvoted minority of three board members strong opposed recognition on the grounds of there being no reason to think anything actually happened.
So let's have a look at what divided that board and excited Netflix. On the night of September 1, 1969, the end of the long Labor Day weekend, the story goes that people up and down The Berkshires reported some variation of seeing a large brilliantly lit flying object, next being transported into a large room with other people, and finally returned to the ground with a few hours of missing time. Unsolved Mysteries featured the stories of a half dozen eyewitnesses, all mutual acquaintances, most of whom had been young children in 1969.
But this show was not the first. Ancient Aliens also featured one of the eyewitnesses, and he was also interviewed by at least one UFO author, Kathleen Marden. In fact, so far as I could find, this one eyewitness is the only person involved to have spoken about the event before Unsolved Mysteries. He is Thom Reed, and when it comes to this story, all roads lead back to him.
Thom's own story is that at about 9pm, he was riding home in the family car. They were going through a covered bridge when a bright light outside began shining in through cracks in the bridge structure, and when they emerged they saw a great turtle-shell shaped craft some 100 yards across hovering over the river, with a cone of light beams beneath it. It paced alongside them, and suddenly Thom found himself having been transported somewhere else. He was pushed into a room then found himself on an exam table. He was frightened at the sight of tall insect-like creatures. The next thing he knew, he and his family were all back in their car, only his mother and grandmother had changed places: mother was in the passenger seat and grandmother, who never drove, was in the driver's seat.
As far as what other people experienced? Here's what Thom said when Ancient Aliens asked him that:
And indeed, while about half the accounts given include being transported aboard the alien ship, the rest don't. One driver saw bright lights, like construction lights, so pulled over. Another was riding with her parents who thought the light in the sky was simply a shooting star. Another heard a telepathic voice in his head telling him what to do and where to go, then was struck by a light beam only too reminiscent of the famous Travis Walton Fire in the Sky movie poster.
While some of these half dozen or so people were family or neighbors, a few only learned about the story in later years when they happened to meet:
Some, in fact, never even realized that other people in town had had an experience until the Unsolved Mysteries producers began telling them. To one, Jane Green, whatever experiences she and her family may have had were so unremarkable that they'd never even happened to mention it:
Were these experiences totally unrelated, perhaps happening to different people over a span of many years, and only vaguely remembered once the suggestion was made later? Or, did something extraordinary actually happen on that one night? According to Unsolved Mysteries, the local radio DJ for WSBS Radio received so many calls about the UFO over his HAM radio that he called the police. However this is hard to reconcile with the empty police blotter and the lack of any mention in the local paper. WSBS did not record their programs and nobody who worked there in 1969 was still alive by the time of the Unsolved Mysteries shoot, so there's no evidence that this ever happened — nothing except an anecdote from Thom Reed.
But I've no desire to throw mud at Thom Reed; he's obviously a sincere guy and there's no reason to think he's being in the least bit deceptive. But understanding more about the Reed family history starts to bring the Berkshire County UFO into sharper focus. UFO author Kathleen Marden devoted part of a chapter to the Reed family in her 2013 book The Alien Abduction Files. The Reed family consider themselves multigenerational alien contactees. It began in 1954 when Thom's mother Nancy was a teenager and had what we'd describe today as a classic episode of sleep paralysis. She awoke paralyzed and unable to speak, surrounded by "short, pudgy figures" that she believed were unearthly. Only at daybreak was she able to move and fully wake up. The family always believed it was their first alien visitation.
Raised with this knowledge, young Thom and his brother Matthew reported a series of episodes in their bedroom beginning when Thom was six years old and Matthew was four. Once they were visited by strange hovering orbs of light. Another time ghostly figures appeared to them, and took them outside onto their horse ranch and into a turtle-shell shaped spacecraft — evidently the same one that would surprise them at the covered bridge in 1969. Inside, a group of figures generally matching today's "grey aliens" showed them projected images, then returned them mysteriously to their bedroom. Another time, exploding balls of light and rattling doors woke the boys and they tried to run to their mother's room, but were surrounded by the same insect-like aliens, again just like those he later reported in the 1969 case. They were transported back aboard the same spacecraft, then again to different locations on their property. Their stories sound very much like what we'd characterize today as hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations. It was soon after this last case that their 1969 experience in the family car took place.
Thom's own experiences have continued and he believes they extend to his own son as well. He described to Kathleen Marden how he and his son both had strange hallucinogenic experiences one night, and that they believe both were the result of alien visitation.
I'll close this episode by giving my own personal theory of the Berkshire County UFO. As always, when I give my own theory, I want to emphasize that I wasn't there and have no first-hand knowledge of this event, so I am absolutely getting some things wrong. My theory is based on the study of countless such cases, and the many consistencies they share, and the thoroughly proven ways in which our brains make mistakes when trying to understand things. And, of course, a more likely possibility that doesn't require us to break our knowledge of the universe.
In 1969, Thom Reed was a very young boy who had been raised with the belief that his was a multigenerational alien contactee family. He told his stories of his many alien visitation experiences to everyone who would listen, even into his teenage years and then into adulthood. Most who heard his stories laughed them off or ignored them, just as he told Unsolved Mysteries. Meanwhile, decades passed for the people of Berkshire County, a length of time in which most people will have some seemingly strange experience, as most of us have. And over those years, a few people trying to make sense of their own memorable events recalled Thom's stories, and their pattern-seeking brains made a match. In personal conversation, Thom confirmed their recollections for them, and even provided not just the year, but the exact date and any other missing details. This kind of thing happens so frequently that behavioral psychologists have a name for it: the bandwagon effect. When we perceive that members of our group have a shared belief, we tend to embrace that same belief — particularly in a case like this where the members were seeking an explanation for a memory, and the charismatic and passionate Thom Reed was right there with all the ready-made details. The inevitable result was what we see today: a small group of people who believe they experienced an extraordinary abduction on the night of September 1, 1969 — despite an absence of expected evidence so glaring that it flirts with being evidence of absence.
It is absolutely possible that my theory is 100% wrong, and Thom Reed's version is right: that these few different people had various experiences all on the same night, September 1, 1969 — and despite their inconsistencies, all were caused by the same alien presence, though nobody felt compelled to report it; and it's a pure coincidence that principal family involved happened to have had a lifetime of reporting substantially identical alien visitations.
To the skeptical mind, the story of the Berkshire County UFO has too many red flags to be taken very seriously. First, there are exactly zero contemporary reports of anything happening, which tells us that the story did not really exist until later years. Second, it's promoted by one person with no corroborating evidence. And third, it has attracted zero scientific or academic attention, garnering only mentions in fringe literature and TV shows about fabrications and wild yarns. Red flags do not, of course, prove anything; but they do tell us one thing: when you hear a story like this one that bears so many, you should always be skeptical.
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