Bill Everhart: The unsolved mystery and local history of 'Berkshire UFOs'
DALTON — "Something weird happened here. And we were a part of it."
So said Melanie Kirchdorfer, of Great Barrington, who, at the age of 12, on Sept. 1, 1969, was one of several Berkshire residents who did indeed experience "something weird" on that hot summer night. The events of that night have become a prominent part of UFO lore in the United States, still significant enough that a TV crew recently came to South County to talk to Kirchdorfer and others about what they encountered a half-century ago.
"Berkshire UFOs" is one of six segments of the rebooted "Unsolved Mysteries" program currently available on Netflix, and internet buzz proclaims it the most haunting of the segments. Director Marcus A. Clarke eschews Spielbergian special effects, relying instead on the compelling testimony and vivid recollections of those who went through a life-altering experience.
There are no tin hat-wearing crackpots here. They are our neighbors, who encountered something extraordinary and spent years coming to grips with it.
Jane Green, of Great Barrington, whose family founded the first Rexall drug store in the Northeast, was riding with her family south from Stockbridge to Great Barrington when bright lights on the horizon forced them to pull the car over. She watched as a large object rose silently into the air and darted over the mountains. She'll never forget it, she told her interviewer, "even if I get Alzheimer's."
Artist Tom Warner, of Great Barrington, remembers being suddenly compelled to run when a beam froze him in his tracks. A family friend saw the young boy disappear.
A few miles away, a terrified Melanie Kirchdorfer cowered in the back seat of the family car while her father chased a flying object that fit the description of the one seen by Jane Green. She then recalls being in a room with other children, as did Tom, who remembers seeing Melanie before the children began disappearing.
Tom's experience ended with him lying on the grass and watching the flying object speed away. Melanie found herself near Lake Mansfield and walked home. Tom's drawing of a spaceship casting a beam of light down on him is the program's spookiest "special effect."
Ten-year-old Thom Reed, of Sheffield, recalls a disc-like object roughly 100 yards long rising noiselessly from the Housatonic River near the Sheffield covered bridge. He experienced a three-hour gap in his memory, similar to the timeframe that encompassed the experience of the others.
WSBS radio in Great Barrington received phone calls from Pittsfield to Canaan, Conn., describing the strange lights soaring across the night sky. Unfortunately, those tapes were erased as was the custom — the eyewitness accounts lost to history.
With the exception of family members, the witnesses to these events didn't know one another at the time. Sadly, when they began relating their remarkably similar accounts they were bullied, harassed and ridiculed into silence. Thom's mother Nancy, who moved the family from New York City to Sheffield, where she opened a diner, so she could give her family what Thom described as a "Rockwellian" life, was so distraught by the harassment that she sold the diner and moved the family out of the Berkshires.
Mocking those who deviate from the norm is regrettably human nature. Still, it is disturbing that these sincere people were hounded and belittled by some of their Berkshire neighbors. (On the brighter side, the program features many beautiful aerial shots of South County, perhaps most notably one of Lake Mansfield nestled in the surrounding forest.)
An unsolved mystery that the program does not address is the fate of the 5,000-pound monument to the events of 9/1/69 placed near the Sheffield covered bridge in 2015, largely through the efforts of Thom Reed. The tasteful monument features a citation from Gov. Charlie Baker recognizing the "off world incident of Sept. 1, 1969." The office later disavowed the citation, asserting it was not properly authorized.
The town elders had the monument removed in 2019, claiming it was on town property, which Thom Reed disputes. So what if it was? If town officials were embarrassed by its presence, they need not have been. In 2015, the Great Barrington Historical Society recognized the events of that night as historically significant because of their importance to the people of Berkshire County.
As the 50th anniversary of the events of Sept. 1, 1969, approached, those who saw and experienced whatever happened that night shed whatever concerns they still had about the petty reactions of others and began relating their accounts once more. They don't pretend to know exactly what happened, only that something otherworldly did.
They share a common bond, and the consistency of their recollections and the fortitude they have shown in the face of skepticism over the decades commands respect. An appropriate way to show that respect would be for Sheffield officials to remove the monument from whatever warehouse dark corner they have stuck it in and put it back where it belongs alongside the Sheffield covered bridge, where it will stand as a permanent tribute to an extraordinary night in Berkshire history.
Bill Everhart is an occasional Eagle contributor.
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