Recounting Lebanon County’s brief UFO frenzy of the 1960s

6 min read1,340 views and 160 shares Posted April 28, 2020

If you lived in Lebanon County back in the mid-1960s, you might have been among a group of residents who claimed witness to a number of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. Several dozen sightings of UFOs were reported through the years, though 1965 seemed to be an especially eventful year.

The modern idea of the UFO and its connection to aliens is usually traced back to a famous 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico, involving what some declared to be a government coverup. From that point on, UFOs and rumors of extraterrestrials became embedded in the American consciousness, and in the summer of 1965, Lebanon County joined in on the frenzy.

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(Lebanon Daily News, July 13, 1965)

On July 13, the Daily News reported the sighting of a “mainly circular” object miles up in the sky over Lebanon seen a day earlier. A jet from Olmsted Air Force Base approached the object and identified it as an unoccupied plastic balloon in the process of inflation, but some Lebanon residents doubted this report. Days later, the Daily News printed a letter to the editor written by one R. L. Clauser that took issue with the Air Force’s explanation.

“How stupid does the Air Force think the people of Lebanon are?” Clauser wrote. “I have read all the books on UFOs that I could get my hands on and have also have heard and have seen numerous radio and television reports on them[…] Did Lebanon have an interplanetary visitor on [the 12th]? From all evidence available it did.”

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At least one of the UFO sightings of the mid-1960s was later identified as a blimp. This is an N-class blimp manufactured by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation for the US Navy. (Roy Grossnick)

That week in early July was evidently a busy one for extraterrestrials. In August, a Bunker Hill resident named Connie Wolferd spoke with the Daily News about an sighting she claimed to experience on July 9.

The 16-year-old Wolferd described a “huge hulk that hovered above the trees” that “beeped, whirred, and made sounds like loud radio static when it flew away.” It was around 10 feet in diameter, with red lights ringing the rim of the clam-like shape, and was propelled by a “lavender flame” that blazed out from its underside. She estimated the event to have taken place at 10 p.m. on July 9, and Wolferd’s family spoke of electrical disturbances in their home that accompanied it (evidently, only incandescent lights were affected).

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The Daily News reported that other Bunker Hill residents had seen it but feared to speak up, and opined that “it is obvious, however, that Connie and the others saw something more than a celestial or atmospheric disturbance.”

Prior to the publication of Wolferd’s story, reports of UFOs in the news had come in from states including Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska. Wolferd’s account seemed to spark a small local wave of reports from other county residents over the next several months.

Two teenage brothers from North Lebanon reported seeing a UFO on August 23. Frederick Carter was about to go to sleep in the family car at 2 a.m. when he noticed a red “oval ball of flame” overhead, which was “as large as a passenger aircraft.” He woke his brother Robert and the two phoned the Civil Defense headquarters as they nervously watched it approach Jonestown. Later, they discussed the sighting with Connie Wolferd and compared their experiences.

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Giles Brown points out the alleged prints that were made at the time of the sighting. The original Daily News caption notes that “the prints, both seemingly from right hands, appear to have six digits.” (The Daily News, Sept. 22, 1965)

In late September, the northern end of the county reported two other major events. The Brown and Young families of Jonestown reported a UFO sighting that occurred on the evening of September 19. According to Giles Brown, the family witnessed a low-flying “grey hulk” with a bluish ring of lights at the back of their trailer home. Its appearance was accompanied by distortions on the TV and a “loud roaring.” Furthermore, when Brown inspected a freshly delivered pile of sand on his lot, he noticed imprints that were not there previously.

The Youngs reported an object, larger and differently colored than Brown’s description, appearing earlier in the evening. Days later, the Daily News learned that a blimp had passed over the county on the night of the two sightings, which matched the general details described by the two families (whether said blimp was in the right area was called into question, however).

Elmer and Dale Richard at the site of a strange burn at the Fredericksburg Speedway. (The Daily News, Sept. 29, 1965)

A week later, Elmer and Dale Richard, operators of the Fredericksburg Speedway, noticed a strange patch of apparently burnt land that had appeared on the infield overnight. Prior to seeing the patch of land, which was “seven feet in diameter in a perfect circle,” a trucker had seen a red glow on the infield. Other reports from the Annville-Cleona area apparently coincided with the time of the event.

Other scattered reports of sightings came and went in the county, many with a single witness and little detail. But for Pennsylvania’s UFO enthusiasts, 1965 held one more major surprise in store. A incident in Kecksburg, Westmoreland County. It’s alleged that on December 9th, 1965, the unincorporated town saw an acorn-like object crash into the woods. The Air Force conducted an investigation and was accused of carting away the object (covered with some kind of “hieroglyphs,” according to a witness). The town is well-known among enthusiasts as “Pennsylvania’s Roswell” and remains a source of speculation.

A model of the alleged acorn-shaped object that drew much UFO-related attention across the state to Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. (Wikimedia)

In the years following 1965, Lebanon County residents reported several more sightings to the Daily News, including ones over Mt. Gretna and Cornwall. In 1967, a Cedar Crest High School student named Michael Kohl was photographing Jupiter before he caught a series of unknown flashes of light on film. Kohl, a young astronomer, did not speculate on their origin, though he stated that they were not from aircraft.

(The Daily News, April 27, 1967)

At the time of Lebanon’s fascination with UFOs, the US Air Force was taking reports seriously and investigated several notable cases, often spurring accusations of coverups in the process. UFOs and responses to them regularly made national news, and some took the debate to Washington where they made pleas for increased recognition. Project BLUE BOOK, a government record of over 12,000 UFO sightings, was in operation from 1947 to 1969.

Even today, talk of UFOs appears in national news, as in this 2019 New York Times article discussing strange sightings reported by US Navy pilots.

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According to the National UFO Reporting Center website, which claims to be “the web’s most comprehensive and up to date UFO information source,” the latest UFO sighting in Lebanon happened on October 5th, 2019, when an anonymous resident observed “two round bright white objects” floating over their house for 45 minutes in the afternoon.

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Whatever you think about UFOs, one thing is likely: reports of sightings aren’t going away anytime soon. Why Lebanon? If they really are extraterrestrials, as the traditional explanation goes, perhaps they’re simply seeking out a taste of that galaxy-famous Lebanon bologna.

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Chris Coyle contributed to the research of this article.


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