Is there anything a librarian likes better than a look in an old card catalog? Maybe dresses with pockets, but it’s close. An Elmira native, and a past library volunteer, it wasn’t until I began working here 7 years ago that I found the old card catalog in the Genealogy & Local History section of the Steele Memorial Library was an index to Elmira newspaper articles from the 1920s to the mid-1990s, when the catalog went online. (Yes, the news index also went online and is searchable in StarCat!)
With the pandemic still in full swing after a year, and the library noticeably more quiet, I find my time is a little bit more free. With zoom fatigue a real thing, programming had to change as well. Instead of hoping to trap people for an hour in a zoom purgatory, I made this article to be read at one’s leisure. I hope you enjoy this dip into the old card catalogs* as we explore a timeline of UFO sightings in the Chemung County area. At the end of the article I will recap the search strategies used in order to compile the information.
All of the incidences reported are from the Elmira Star Gazette unless otherwise noted.
September 18, 1942: “Parachute Reported Near Welles Bridge; Search Proves Futile.” On Welles Bridge on Rte. 17 between Horseheads and Big Flats. At least 7 people report an object falling at the speed of a parachute that looked like a clouded moon with one side cut off falling in the sky. Police were notified and officers from Corning, State police from Watkins Glen and Ithaca, and the FBI searched the area. All off-duty guards at the eclipse Plant were called on duty at 1:45am that evening. Two planes circled in an air search as well. They looked for a parachute that might be caught in a tree or for spots on the ground that might look as if they were burned. Nothing was found.
This seems like a huge response. Could this be the first UFO sighting?
July 7, 1947: “Towanda Woman Sees ‘Saucers.” Mrs. A.C. Smith saw two flying saucers hovering 20 feet off the ground. She described them as ‘saucers of intense light’ of about 6-8 inches in diameter and did not appear to be solid.
July 9, 1947: “Reading Rd. Folk Report Seeing ‘Flying Saucer.'” Mr & Mrs. William F. Isley of Reading Rd, Watkins Glen were on the porch one evening and at first thought they saw a shooting star. “The whirling object was as round as a pie plate and left a shower of sparks in its wake. It was right over Seneca Lake.”
January 8, 1948: “‘Saucers’ Just Applesauce, Final Report of Air Force.” In the first of many published official denials, this article reports that the U.S. Air Force reports ‘not a shred of credible evidence has been produced in two years of investigation.’ The Air Force explains the sightings as 1. Misinterpretation f various conventional objects 2. A mild form of mass hysteria, or 3. Hoaxes.
April 8, 1950: “We Finally get Into the Act: Crude ‘Saucer’ Planted Near Horseheads.” Speaking of hoaxes, a cardboard disc, silvered with aluminum paint, 4 feet in diameter, was fond on the Douglass Farm in Horseheads on Breesport Rd. On the top of the saucer was an American-made radio tube. The FBI was notified.
April 17, 1952: “Seen Any Sights in the Sky? Air Force, CAA Want to Know if You Do.” Now that Sightings have increased nationwide, the Air Force is re-investigating UFO sightings. The night before, April 16 1952, A Pine City woman notified the paper of a red glow appearing in a northerly direction from Elmira appeared red and looked like a big star. Then she said it was south of Elmira and might be over Waverly. The Chemung County Airport said they could not see the glow but that it wasn’t a plane. Captain Robert J. McDougall at the Sampson Air Force Base (on the East Side of Seneca Lake) says that the public is invited to share their reports, and that these reports will be investigated.
July 15, 1952: “Hornell Spies Object in Sky.” Several people in Hornell and Emporium, PA saw something drifting in the sky, saying it looked like “an old-fashioned flying saucer” or “metallic and cone-shaped.” The weather bureau at the Buffalo Airport said it was probably a weather balloon which was put in the air that day.
July 31, 1952: “Plane Spotter at Horseheads Sees ‘Saucer.” Mrs. Llewellyn Moss of E. Franklin St, Horseheads, was on duty as a Civil Defense Air Spotter at the Moss Hill Post when she saw a “large silver ball” in the sky. It “traveled from the northwest to northeast and resembled a pancake. It reappeared 20 minutes after first being sighted.” This local sighting came on the tails of a July 20 sighting over Washington by “eight experienced CAA radar operators and technicians manning the air route traffic control center over the National Airport who tracked 7-10 unidentifiable and mysterious objects performing strange gyrations in the skies in a 30 mile radius above Washington.” The objects were confirmed to not be aircraft and the radar was confirmed to be working correctly. The sighting was also confirmed by radar at Andrews Air Force Base. It was described as “a good-sized light, yellow to orange in color. At first it looked like a great big star. Then it began to move in a manner which made you realize it couldn’t be a star.”
For more information about Civilian Air Spotters and the Ground Observer Corps of WWII, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_Observer_Corps
August 1, 1952: “Air Force Sends Jets to Investigate.” A rash of reports of unidentified flying objects occurred around Chemung County. Mrs. Charles Blodgett of Horseheads and her son Charles were on duty as civil air defense spotters at Moss Hill. First they heard a sound that sounded like a jet engine, and then they saw three round silvery objects flying. Mrs. Blodgett said they were “disc-shaped and shiny with a little blister or projection on one side.” She described their movement as that one would appear suddenly, travel across the sky at a great rate of speed while rotating counter-clockwise and then disappear. A truck driver saw the objects and stopped to assist the Blodgetts as they called in their report.
Philo Nichols, a Horseheads farmer at Tompkins Corners said he was working on a barn when he “heard a shrill whistle and saw six strange objects traveling through the sky in pairs. ‘They looked like big bugs and were higher than any plane I ever saw. They appeared to be just under the sun.” They came from Millport, circled for about 10 minutes, and then traveled towards Beaver Dams. The objects stopped dead in the air for two to three minutes. He thought they might be propelled by propellers at the top of the objects. Two objects would ‘jump ahead a short distance and stop again.” Members of his family also saw the objects and agreed with what he said.
Other residents on Ridge Rd in Horseheads saw the objects. They described them as “little stars tumbling about and moving in different directions.”
Mrs. Agnes Houck heard something like thunder and looked up to see “two silver balls with rings around them.”
E.L. Seachrist of Grand Central Avenue saw two objects “like big balls of cotton as big as dinner plates around 12;45pm and that they were being chased by jet planes.”
Most Chemung County residents didn’t want to talk about what they saw until they heard that scores of other people had seen the same things.
August 1, 1952: “Air Force Study of Flying Saucers Represents About Face Since 1950.” On the same day as the many Chemung County Sightings, the Star Gazette ran a story that amended the Air Force’s previous stance that there was nothing to any UFO sightings at all. “No concrete evidence has yet reached us to either prove or disprove the existence of the so-called flaying saucers. However, there remain a number of sightings which have not been satisfactorily explained. As long as this is true the Air Force will continue to investigate flying saucers reports.”
As of August 1952, the Air Force had received 432 reports of flying saucers that year.
August 2, 1952: “Interceptors Busy: Findings Unannounced.” “Headquarters of the Air Force Defense Command admits today to being involved in the flying saucer situation.”
August 28, 1952: “CD Spotter Reports Shiny Sky Object.” Joseph Hackett and his son Leroy of Balsam St., Elmira, were volunteering as Civil Defense Spotters on Christian Hollow Rd. heard motor sounds around 2:15am. he looked up and described what he saw as “The thing was directly overhead, and was very shiny and very high.” He said it was rocket shaped and had streaks of light from its blunt nose and another from the sharper rear end. He described the sound he heard as a loud purring.
December 14, 1952: “‘Flying Saucer’ Images blamed on Wind Eddies.” The Civil aeronautics Administration (CAA) now claims that unidentified objects that showed up on radar were actually wind eddies; dense, swirling sheets of air high in the sky.
July 15, 1953: “Air Force Flare–a ‘Flying Saucer?'” The Air Force announces that a powerful flare used for nighttime photography is responsible for some of the reports of flying saucers.
August 29, 1953: The “Flying Saucers Researchers” of Brooklyn, NY post an announcement in the Star Gazette asking for information on the many reports of flying saucers in the Elmira area in August of 1952.
June 23, 1954: “File Data On ‘Object Sighting.'” Robert Gladke (a licensed commercial pilot) of Carrollton Ave., Elmira reports that he saw an object from his bedroom window. It was traveling southeast about 4 miles from his home at an altitude of 4,000 to 4500 feet. He saw it for about 4 seconds, and estimated it traveled about 3 miles, estimating the speed to be about 2700 miler per hour. It held a straight and level course. it appeared circular in shape, was entirely illuminated, and had no wings.
November 9, 1955: The Elmira Star Gazette published a photo of a flying saucer made by Rene Couzinet, a French Inventor.
November 17, 1957: The Elmira Sunday Telegram published another possible explanation for flying saucer sightings. It is a photo of unusual cloud formations that “have been mistaken by the ready-to-believe saucer cult as visitors from another planet.
The paper reports that sightings happened this week in Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, and Washington D.C. The Air Force assures everyone that they are not flying saucers, but still encourages people to report their sightings.
May 8, 1964: “Did Farmer Meet Spaceman? Yes, Says He-And They Wanted Fertilizer.” Gary Wilcox, a dairy farmer from Newark Valley, NY filed a report with the Sheriff’s office saying that “a spacecraft piloted by man-like creatures who spoke English, landed on his farm about 10 a.m. April 24. The creatures were about four feet tall and robed in a “seamless garment with a full head cover” so as not to reveal their faces. The beings said they were from Mars in their perfect English and that they were “interested in organic materials and were gathering soil and fertilizers.” The farmer offered to get them fertilizer form his barn, but when he turned around, they took off. He said he left the fertilizer in the field and it was gone the next day.
August 1, 1964: “Bright Object Spotted Over Elmira.”13 year-old Mel Gridley of W. Water St., Elmira saw a bright object moving south across the sky at the night of August 1. Some say it may have been a weather balloon, but the Chemung County flight service station did not release weather balloons at night.
August 4, 1964: An Elmira city chamberlain reported that he saw “two objects moving in opposite directions over Elmira.” He asked that his name not be used in the report.
August 18, 1964: “New Area UFO: Red Flare in the…” Sullivanville, Corning, and Painted Post police received several calls about a red flare in the sky around 9:30pm on August 17th. It was about 300-500 feet off the ground, moving southeast over Corning, and appeared to have a small parachute above the light.
April 29, 1965: “Greenish Object in Sky Spotted by Two Policemen.” About 10:30pm on April 28, a glowing greenish yellow object fell from the sky. “It was spotted by Horseheads Patrolman Robert G. Waters and Town of Elmira Patrolman James Pirozzolo around the same time.” It seemed to be between Moss Hill Rd. and Lattabrook Rd.
March 4, 1965: “What is it? They Chase ‘Light In the Sky.'” Groups of people park at the intersection of Hoffman Hollow Rd. and Murphy Rd. in the town of Chemung to look at mysterious objects that had been there for a few nights.
Earlier that week, a minister from Wellsburg, Harold Proper Jr., spotted a mysterious glowing object moving slowly across the night sky. His wife and 15-year-old Larry McCormick, a student at Elmira Free Academy, also saw the object.
Mr. Proper said there wasn’t any sound, the object had very bright lights, like a magnesium light, blinking on where the wings would be on the object.
They decided to follow the object in the car. They picked up Larry’s friend, Donald Hatch, who was familiar with the area. They followed it down Norway Rd, where it disappeared behind the hills. They then saw a glow against the hillside, and spotted it halfway down a hillside, west of Hoffman Hollow Rd. The lights grew brighter and then dimmed to a bluish cast.
May 1, 1965: “Object Seen in Sky.” Teenagers Anthony Haskins and Robert Walker, both of Horseheads, reported seeing a blue and white object streaking over the sky above East Hill.
August 20, 1965: “Reports Probed.” Lucinda Mosher of Beaver dams reported that around 10:30pm on August 17, “something that sounded like aircraft appeared to pass very low over her house.” She said she didn’t see a plane but that the area was brilliantly lighted and she heard the sound of an engine. Raymond Cody walked into the woods where the object might have gone, and found a huge footprint. The police officer investigating the case thought that the large footprint was an impression of a large rock that was overturned.
April 3, 1966: “Likeness in UFOs: Local, Michigan Sketches Similar.” Frank Mannor, a Michigan farmer, sees an object that looks very much like Larry McCormick’s drawing of the object spotted in Chemung, NY.
This story is also linked to reports a year and a half earlier of Gary Wilcox, a farmer from Newark Valley, NY. He said that he also saw a similar craft, but that it landed on his property and he talked and joked with the visitors. He said they spoke “smooth English and expressed an interest in fertilizers.” When he turned to get them a bag of fertilizer that they requested, the ship “lifted off the ground and was out of sight in seconds.” Gary Wilcox is described by those who know him as a serious farmer who has no time for publicity and no interest in practical jokes.
May 1, 1966: “Seen Any UFOs Lately?” A new organization is formed in Hornell. ELCHEPHI (Electronics-Chemistry-Physics-Scientific-Research-Organization) is formed among 6 high school students to investigate sightings of UFOs using the scientific method. James Baker, club president, said that “ten out of fifteen sightings made in the Hornell area since last August seem to have been bona fide visitors from outer space.”
November 23, 1966: “Bogus, but ‘UFO’ is Intriguing.” Reports come into the police of a UFO in a field in Webb Mills, NY. Most of the group of onlookers who gathered stayed on the side of the road, but one person in a Jeep rode over the field to get a closer look. When the Jeep left, the object disappeared. The object was then sighted in the Rt. 328 mall opposite of Pine City, NY. This time, onlookers surrounded it. It was determined to be built of two discarded furnace domes. mounted on three wooden legs, and painted green. The lights were small flashlight bulbs and the colors of the lights were created by colored plastic. Officer O’Dell loaded the UFO into his patrol car. It was determined that some youths from Webb Mills had built another, smaller UFO a few months earlier and had planted it in the same field.
December 12, 1966: “‘Space Express’ Bypassing Earth?” A report from a talk given by Dr. Dan Q. Posin at Alfred University states that many scientists believe that “interplanetary flights are taking place within our galaxy but they seriously doubt that any such flights are being made to the planet Earth.”
November 23, 1967: “Reports Show Twin Tiers Not Immune to UFO Sightings.” The Star Gazette reports that “in the last few years, there have been more than 250 witnesses to nearly 50 UFO sightings reported. Of these 50 UFO sightings, one has been reported as a weather balloon, and two others are assumed to have been meteors.” UFO sightings were “consistent throughout the summer and fall in Newfield. Dozens of residents have described various objects – stationary red lights, flashing green lights, white glows and lights in triangular pattern.”
This article mentioned many local UFO sightings, many of which I have found and included in the timeline. I could not find mentions beyond this article of the following occurrences:
- April 30, 1965: a 2am sighting in Westfield.
- August 21, 1965: a sighting by 3 Hornell men.
- August 28, 1965: a sighting in Horseheads and Elmira.
- April 22, 1966: Sightings all along the eastern United States, including Elmira. Plattsburgh, NY had the most.
- June 27, 1967: Sighting in Blossburg.
- September 3, 1967: a local Elmira sighting.
December 1, 1968: “UFOs Seen Again, Latest Sighted in Caton-Lindley Area.” John Thomas of Caton Center, his wife Myrtle, and their landlady Mrs. Clara Conklin saw a bright object in the sky. It hovered for about half-an-hour. Mr. Thomas saw something similar earlier in the week. he “said it changed shapes, first appearing as oblong and then becoming long and narrow…it was huge, had a bright steady red light in front and emitted a streaked bluish exhaust.”
Mr. Thomas also said that earlier in 1968, he “was driving home from Corning on Rt. 225 when he spotted an aerial object approaching him with three oblong lights…A few minutes later, something bumped the roof of his car, his ignition went dead and the car lights dimmed. He said that he heard a humming noise and saw a long, wing-shaped tan object.”
When he got home he noticed there were black marks on his car roof, and that he was suffering a terrible headache.
January 9, 1969: “UFO Sightings Reported.” Late on Jan 8th, many telephone calls came into the Star gazette offices reporting a UFO sighting. The Chemung County Airport thought it was an approaching plane from Binghamton that kept its landing lights on.
Larry Burbage of Horseheads said the “plane had already come in for its landing…from looking at the lights the object exhibited it appeared ‘sort of circular.’ He said it appeared suddenly like ‘turning a light on.'” It shone with instense red, light orange, and blue colors.
Mrs. Joseph Pierce, of Church St, and her child were at the Fairgrounds. Henry Doane, also of Church St, saw it and remarked on its red light and that it “dropped a parachute type object over East Hill.” The object moved very fast, and “up and out of sight” to the Southeast.
April 6, 1970: “Finger Lakes UFOs – Comets or Jets?” Sightings reported of UFOs along the Finger Lakes were dismissed as sightings of Bennett’s Comet.
October 19, 1973: “UFO Bug Strikes Tiers With Sighting Count at 2.”
Mrs. George Reynolds of Athens PA saw a white object with a long tail streaking across the sky at dusk. She had previously seen strange objects in the sky in Sacramento, California, and recognized this object as similar to what she saw then.
Linc Howe, a farmworker in Owego, NY saw a “large, circular, spinning, noiseless, and flashing red and green marker lights” right over the barn, like it had landed on top. Tioga County Sheriff’s Deputy Edward R. White investigated the incident, and came upon two beagles in a nearby field “‘barking their minds out’ at nothing he could see.” Howe also found that after the incident, 5 cows were missing, thought they did turn up a little later.
October 19, 1973: “Expert in Corning Shoots Down New UFO Reports.” The former head of the Project Blue Book Study of the US Air Force now resides in Corning, NY. Project Blue Book was cancelled in 1969 after the Air Force ruled that UFOs didn’t pose a threat. The Project investigated 12,000 sightings since 1947. He said “Ten percent of the sightings between 1947-1969 were never explained…but this was chiefly due to vague descriptions and reports that made investigations impossible.”
April 21, 1983: “UFOs: It’s that time.” News reports say to expect an increase in UFO sightings, which happens every 19 months as Venus draws closer to Earth.
January 28, 1987: “More UFOs and a sighting of three Giants.” Harley Marlatt of Knoxville, Tioga County, PA (about an hour west of Elmira) says “I saw this strange looking thing coming slowly over the steep hill in front of my home…I could see very plain the outline of the plane and could hear the engines. it was all decked out with colored light all around the wings and fuselage.”
Others also reported seeing a strange object but didn’t hear the engines.
(The Giants were three members of the Giants football team the day before they won the Superbowl. Elmiran Marty Chalk took a picture with them while he was in California to see the big game.)
May 23, 1988: WBNG Action news investigates to see if UFOs are in the Twin Tiers.
June 16, 1989: “Reports of UFOs raise ruckus around Cornell University.” On May 20, 1989, a cloudy, rainy Ithaca night obscuring the full moon, several Cornell students saw something “weird.”
Beverly Gaede saw a “semi-circle of white lights.” The driver in front of her did as well as slowed way down. She pulled over and watched it for about 10 minutes.
75 callers to local police reported seeing “a large low flying object or objects – perhaps eight aircraft flying in formation.”
But the Tompkins County airport said that no aircraft were cruising through the local airspace, and there was no military activity.
John Orak and his wife Stephanie saw it. John compared it to a blimp, saying “it turned so gracefully. If it was a formation, what could turn that slow?”
Other callers said they saw “five to eight white lights and an oval or oblong shape.”
It was compared to a shield. Some said it had red and green lights. Other heard some humming.
November 30, 1996: “UFO Network looks at local sightings.” There were several sightings in the night sky along the east coast the night of November 16, 1996. The Mutual UFO Network compiled all the reports and added likely sightings into a database.
Someone in the Waverly area called authorities to report seeing a “a greenish light falling from the sky” near the Lowman Crossover.
A resident of Burdett saw something “with a white and blue light with a tail running through the sky.”
An Elmira man saw a “ball of red light and later a white light.
The sightings on November 16 could have been due to the annual Leonid meteor shower.
December 15, 2013: “Corning native finds career in UFOs.” Cheryl Costa, of Corning NY, began a blog about UFO sightings in New York State for the Syracuse Times. In this article, she shares her experience as a girl of 12 or 13: “We were in Savona visiting relatives and coming down a hill in that area, and it was a bright August afternoon. I was looking to the west and there was a bright ball in the sky, and it wasn’t the evening star at 3pm. It sat and hovered for 20 minutes.”
Visit her column here: https://www.syracusenewtimes.com/category/blogs/new-york-skies-ufo-blog/
April 28, 2020: (New York Times) “The Pentagon Released U.F.O. Videos.”
“The Department of Defense confirmed what seekers of extraterrestrial life have long hoped to be true: They’re real.
At least, these three videos are. What the videos show? The government isn’t so sure there.”
Link to full article:
*Research in this article started with the old card catalog, but it didn’t end there.
After that, I searched the newspaper database located within the library catalog Starcat. Local History news articles began to be entered into StarCat in 1995 and 1996. Many local obituaries are also located here.
To search the newspaper database, enter “Include – newspapers” under “Material Type” on the left hand side of the screen.
I also made use of the subscription site of the Star Gazette Archives. Even if you don’t pay for a membership, you can still search the database and write down the citations to look up later on library microfilm. But newspapers.com, which has many US newspapers digitized, and the Star Gazette archives, which includes the Star Gazette and Advertiser, are a treasure trove of information and an invaluable tool for any genealogy or local history researcher.
The library also has a newspaper database under its Resources tab. The path to find the newspaper databases is as follows:
Search terms are an important consideration when searching newspapers. The term UFO didn’t show up until about the 1960s in the newspapers. Earlier reports all used the term flying saucer. Other articles referenced neither UFO or flying saucer, but instead used terms like “light in the sky,” “meteor,” “weather balloon,” or “object.” Even though I had found many articles searching for “Flying saucers” and “UFOs,” there were still some that didn’t show up with those terms, and I am sure there are more articles out there that I missed.
Additionally, the Steele Memorial Library has two reference text resources for people interested in UFOs:
UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015. According to this book, Chemung County had 31 UFO sightings between 2001-2015, with 11 in 2009 alone. This book gives county by county breakdown for each state of UFO sightings, as well as a list of the top ten counties in each state, and the shapes of UFOs reported.
The UFO Encyclopedia. The UFO Encyclopedia provides everything you many want to know about UFOS, with an in-depth definition of terms. For example, did you know that the term “Foo Fighters” refers to mysterious lights and objects, aka unconventional aerial phenomena, seen in the air in World War II? Pilots thought it was strange new secret weapons employed by the Axis powers. But, it wasn’t!