Some of the most exciting UFO encounters on record have to do with large numbers of people seeing the same thing at the same time. These mass sightings always tend to evoke intrigue and curiosity, as they involve so many non-related people, and often very reliable witnesses simultaneously, creating a case that truly serves to inspire wonder. Such mass sightings are relatively rare within the UFO world, but they always serve to give even the skeptics pause, and are some of the more interesting accounts out there. One such case originates in the U.S. state of New Jersey, and it involves many reliable witnesses, a strange, otherworldly craft, and a possible insidious government cover-up.

One of the most intriguing mass UFO sighting flaps in U.S. history started as a normal day like any other in the small suburban town of Wanaque, New Jersey, but as the day came to a close a bizarre series of events would begin to play out. On the crisp and clear evening of January 11, 1966, at around 6:30 PM, calls began to come in from all over the area describing what seemed to be an extremely bright glowing light out over the nearby Wanaque Reservoir. Dozens of calls were coming in from panicked residents and workers at the reservoir describing more or less the same thing, with most reports saying it was a very bright light, larger and brighter than a star, mostly white but sometimes changing to colors such as red, blue and green. The mystery object was described as hovering over the frozen lake surface and roving about in what seemed to be a deliberate pattern at an altitude of between 250 and 1,000 feet, sometimes performing seemingly physics-defying maneuvers and sudden vertical drops and rises. Even weirder were the reports of the object projecting some sort of beam downwards to the reservoir, which was powerful enough to melt holes in the ice.

Wanaque reservoir

Before long, the police who were getting these calls were seeing the strange object for themselves, and one of these was police patrolman Joseph Cisco, who just happened to be near the reservoir when the reports began flooding in. He would then drive out there to investigate and look out over the water to see something very strange for himself, of which he said:

There was a light that looked bigger than any of the stars, about the size of a softball or volleyball. It was a pulsating, white, stationary light changing to red. It stayed in the air; there was no noise. I was trying to figure out what it was.

The object would then swoop in low and begin shooting a beam to the lake surface, and Cisco soon got a call from another officer on the radio saying in a panic, “Something landed in front of the dam. Something’s burning a hole in the ice! Something with a bright light on it, going up and down!” Another policeman who saw the thing was Sgt. Ben Thompson, who said it actually caused the water to rise below it and sucked together treetops, and yet another Officer George Dyckman would say “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” Several other police officers being called to the area also saw the otherworldly object, including Patrolmen Edward Nestor and Jack Wardlaw, a Sgt. Bobby Gordon, Reservoir Police and Personnel George Destito, Charles Theodora, Fred Steines, and even Chief of Police Floyd Elson. Chief John Casazza of the Wanaque Reservoir Police would say of his own sighting:

It was a bright white light. As I said: just like on a locomotive. It was funnel-shaped. It seemed to come out of some object, like a funnel. In other words, it spread out as if it were focused through a telescope. It was narrow at one end in the sky and spread out into a very wide beam as it approached our upper gatehouse at the dam. The strangest part of it was that there was no noise attached to this object. None whatsoever. It was absolutely silent. A silent light.

News crews who started to trickle in also reported seeing the strange sight, with one reporter Howard Ball, with the Paterson News, saying:

I was near the junction of Colfax Road and Hamburg Turnpike… I saw a very extremely bright light… The thing that really brought my attention was, as I traveled along, a white starlight seems to come at me… then it stopped and it made a transverse movement to the west. No color, but if I’d give it a color I’d say brilliant blue-white, similar to the ignition of a magnesium and pure oxygen… really bright light.

One of the more prominent witnesses to the outlandish event was the town Mayor Harry T. Wolfe, who had made his way out to the reservoir along with Councilmen Warren Hagstrom and Arthur Barton and the Mayor’s 14-year-old son Billy out of sheer curiosity when the reports kept coming in a deluge. They would witness a light that was “a brilliance, a little brighter than a star” that seemed to emit a reddish or pale green light or yellowish light and which was moving “oddly” over the lake. Closer inspection showed that it was some sort of oval shaped object around 9 feet in diameter, coming in low over the water to shoot down a beam that put a hole in the ice as they looked on in astonishment. Councilman Hagstrom would say of what they saw on that night:

There was something up there that was awful bright. We don’t know what it was. We thought it was a helicopter, but we didn’t hear a motor. It looked like a helicopter with big landing lights on. We got goose bumps all over when we saw where the hole was.

Before long there were throngs of people gathered at the reservoir watching this thing go about its inscrutable business, and the mysterious object would do its strange act over the water for over an hour before finally speeding off into the night at great speed and without warning. Moments later it would be reported as hovering over Lakeland Regional High School and stopping at several other locations in the area before vanishing to leave residents in a state of shock. So many people had seen it, including many policemen and even city officials, and all of them agreed it was no normal aircraft or celestial phenomenon, but rather something truly unexplainable and baffling. To make it all even weirder still is that it would seem as if the strangeness was quite over yet. The object would make another brief appearance over the reservoir the following evening as well before seeming to go away for good, but it would make yet another appearance later that year.

In October of 1966, just as people were starting to try and put the whole bizarre incident at Wanaque reservoir out of their minds, a new spate of sightings emanated from the lake. At 9PM on October 10, the object was seen by several witnesses, including an off-duty police officer by the name of Robert Gordon, who saw it with his wife, Betty, who described it as a bright white light that moved with “a definite pattern” towards the reservoir. This sighting was soon joined by that of a policeman Sgt. Ben Thompson, who had quite a harrowing experience when the UFO allegedly flew right at him. He would say of this:

I saw the object coming at me. There was an extremely bright light. It was a bright white light, bright like when a light bulb is about to blow. It was very low. It appeared to be about 75 feet over the mountain. That would be Windbeam Mountain. It was traveling very quickly and in a definite pattern; first right, then up and down, then repeating the pattern. Distances are deceiving, but it might have covered an area of a half a mile. It went straight over my head, stopped in mid-air and backed right up. It then started zig-zagging from left to right. It was doing tricks. Making acute angular turns instead of gradual curved ones. It looked as big as a parachute. I got out of my car and continued to watch it for almost five minutes. It was about 200 to 250 yards away. It was the shape of a basketball with the center scooped out and a football thrust through it. Sometimes the football appeared to be perpendicular to the basketball and sometimes standing up on end. There were two different gadgets. It didn’t make much noise, but as it was moving, it raised the water beneath it. I watched it maneuver, stirring up brush and water in the reservoir, it was about 150 feet up…I had difficulty seeing because the light was so bright it blinded me.

Once again the police were flooded with dozens of calls of terrified residents seeing the object in the vicinity of the reservoir and it would be seen again on October 15 before finally disappearing again, this time apparently for good. In the wake of the UFO flap over Wanaque reservoir there would be some strange and sometimes ominous stories coming out of the area. It was reported that unknown men posing as military officials from the Air Force were doing the rounds in the area intimidating residents and discouraging people from talking about what they had seen, and some people even claimed that these mysterious men had confiscated photographs taken of the phenomena. The military would deny that these people were with them, or that they had had anyone in the area to investigate at all, and one Air Force Colonel Freeman would state, “We have checked a number of these cases and these men are not connected with the Air Force in any way.” Other witnesses would also insist that they had seen military helicopters and even jets in the area shortly after the initial sightings and in the months after, but the Air Force denied this as well, while at the same time making efforts to explain away the UFO sightings as misidentified aircraft or a weather balloon. What happened here, and did the military have any connection to these events or not? Were they trying to hide something or cover it up? No one knows.

The claims of mysterious officials confiscating photographic evidence is cited as being one of the reasons there is so little such documentation of the incident. Indeed, although the UFO was witnessed by so many people, including police and high-ranking officials, there is oddly only a handful of photographs of the alleged craft known to exist, most of which were later sent in anonymously to make it hard to ascertain who took them in the first place or whether they are real or hoaxes. One photo in particular, showing the object shooting a beam of light downwards, has become intensely debated and analyzed in the years since, with no real conclusion. Since we don’t know who took these photos and have no negatives, it is hard to say. What we do know is that the incident did happen, and so this odd lack of photographic evidence from such a well-documented mass sighting has been seen as proof that someone has tried to suppress the event.

Today there have been many proposed explanations, including helicopters with spotlights, atmospheric phenomena, Venus, weather balloons, or even ball lightning, but there are problems with these explanations in that so many reliable witnesses saw them and insist that what they witnessed was none of these things. One unidentified witness has said of this to researcher Anthony Bragalia, of UFO Explorations, as follows:

I remember the thing very well. I still do not know what it was. I think about it from time to time, but it’s no use because it doesn’t bring me any closer to knowing what it was. Maybe things that aren’t from here aren’t meant to be understood by us here. Ask anyone who will tell you, it was not a helicopter or something astronomical. It was…not…from our military or something we misidentified. It was a UFO, from somewhere else. The beams or ray thing that came out from the bottom of the globe was the thing that got to me. It made the light cut the ice out. It frightened us kids. And I’m sure the adults. Because we don’t have anything like that even today. The adults didn’t really speak much about it after the initial thing that I could tell. I’d talk about it with my friends some time later and one of them told me that people came around to not say anything.

Amazingly, there has apparently been very little follow-up investigation done into the case. It seems that no one ever went back to examine those holes in the ice, nor were there any water or radiation measurements taken, and the proper authorities don’t seem to have ever made any real efforts to interview witnesses. Most of what we know is from independent UFO researchers who pieced together what happened from newspaper articles of the time. We are left to wonder just what happened out over that expanse of frigid ice all of those decades ago and what it all means. Was this all the result of mundane phenomena and misidentification, or something else? Has there been some sort of cover-up put into effect that has managed to keep such a spectacular incident largely buried in history? If this was really an alien craft then what was it doing at that reservoir and what did it want? These are questions that linger, and which may never be satisfactorily answered, and the UFO wave of New Jersey’s Wanaque reservoir remains a very compelling case of a mass UFO sighting that has been largely forgotten.

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