High Strangeness in Northern Pennsylvania
by Scott Corrales
Pennsylvania's Northern Tier joins with New York State's Southern Tier to form "one region indivisible": almost fifty thousand square miles of forested mountains, rivers, gorges and small, scattered towns originally devoted to the oil industry and latter to logging and manufacturing. This enormous expanse of wilderness, ringed by some of the major cities of the northeast, tells its own tales of high strangeness and UFOs, many of which have never been published elsewhere.
Saucers in the North Country
According to Robert Lyman Sr.'s Forbidden Land: Strange Events in the Black Forest, the very first report of an unidentified flying object in northern Pennsylvania appeared in the Ceres Mail on April 28, 1897. Curiously enough, the report describes the UFO as an "airship" tying it in the with still-unexplained "phantom airship" scare of the late 19th century, chronicled elsewhere by researchers Lucius Farish and Jerome Clark:
"The wonderful flying machine," begins the editorial in the Ceres Mail, "which has been the subject of so much comment in the newspapers of the country...passed over the city of Erie and out over the harbor....from Sharon comes the story that the flying machine was seen by reputable persons...and they allege that three men were visible on the machine, which was in the shape of a huge cigar and traveled approximately 2,000 feet above the earth."
On February 9, 1913 "a procession of fireballs" crossed the night skies in a formation of nearly twenty bright objects lasting several minutes. The event, which seemed drawn straight from the works of Charles Fort, terrified the local population and was allegedly seen as far north as Canada.
But the bulk of UFO activity waited until the flying saucer explosion of the late 1940's before strange craft graced the skies of northern PA.
Bradford, the turn of the century's oil producing capital of the world, had its first series of UFO sightings less than a month after Kenneth Arnold had his fateful sighting near Mt. Rainier. While on an evening stroll down East Main Street on July 20, 1947, George Zenner was startled to look up into the night sky and notice the evolutions of a flattened, discoidal object which appeared self-luminous. He estimated that the object flew "at the height of two telephone poles" across the street, spinning as it went. The thing flew soundlessly over the Dresser-Rand factory between Fisher and Oxford streets before zooming off westward at considerable speed. A former military spotter during World War II, Zenner's account was considered highly credible. The local Bradford Era ran a banner headline the following morning which read: "Flying saucer passes over East Bradford", detailing similar sightings in New England.
Citing a 1950 account, Robert Lyman's Amazing Indeed discusses the unusual attraction that the oil and gas operations at Hammersley Fork, Potter County, had for UFOs. One H.M. Cranmer explained that the saucers "showed much curiosity" as they hovered "from rig to rig", remaining over them for a while prior to vanishing skyward into the night. Cranmer also witnessed other saucers in October 1954, also flying over the same part of Potter County.
e was not alone: on October 14, 1952, four people enjoying a warm fall afternoon near Sartwell Creek were startled by the sudden appearance of a circular, metallic sphere which gave the impression of being made of brushed aluminum. The witnesses described it as windowless and wingless, moving silently as it vanished on a westward course.
On July 18, 1961, a silver disk was reportedly seen flying westward at an estimated altitude of twelve hundred feet. Visibility on that day was perfect. Startled eyewitnesses reportedly saw the object disappear and reappear shortly after as if encased in a self-generated fog.
Sightings such as these occurred at regular intervals until the 1966 UFO flap came about: Pennsylvania's Elk, McKean and Potter Counties found themselves being the unwilling hosts to a variety of configurations of UFO that hovered low over the treetops and even above county roadways. One of the most memorable cases of the 1966 flap involved an anonymous woman who visiting friends in the town of Colesburg. As was getting ready to cross the New York State line to return home, her car went around a dark bend in the road and almost collided into a UFO which sat squarely in the middle of the two-lane road.