Danny Robins Investigates The 1969 Berkshire UFO Incident

June 26, 2024 1:00 AM ‐ PodcastsParanormalRadioLong Reads
Old Covered Bridge, Sheffield
Danny Robins is back with the penultimate episode of the latest season of his hit paranormal podcast 'Uncanny'. This series sees Danny investigate cases from across the US, and in this week's episode entitled 'The Labour Day UFO', available on BBC Sounds now, Danny speaks to multiple witnesses who saw lights in the sky above Massachusetts on September 1, 1969. Some of those witnesses, all of them children at the time, subsequently claim to have been abducted.

The episode features chilling accounts from Tom Reed, Melanie Kirchdorf, and Tom Warner. Tom Reed describes a large white sphere and a football field-sized craft, followed by a disorienting experience where he found himself in a strange hangar. Melanie recounts seeing a massive, brightly lit object over Lake Mansfield and later waking up alone on a beach, miles from her family. Tom Warner shares his terrifying encounter with a mysterious beam of light and the sight of panicked children, including Melanie, during his ordeal. These eerie stories form the backbone of one of the most perplexing UFO mysteries in American history.

Tom Reed's Story

The story begins in the small village of Sheffield, Massachusetts. Tom, who was a child at the time, recounts his eerie experience on that fateful night. Tom explains, "Sheffield isn't even a town it's a village. I mean, we had a gas station, our diner, a market. Basically that was."

Tom and his family were leaving the diner run by his mother on the evening of Labour Day. "It was very hot for that time of year. We had just locked up the diner for the day. My mom wanted to get us to bed as soon as possible," Tom recalls. The car was full, with Tom, his younger brother, his grandmother, and his mother Nancy, who decided to take a shortcut home.

They drove over the old Sheffield covered bridge, a rickety structure with big cracks between the planks. Tom was in the backseat, giving his brother some candy when his grandmother noticed something unusual. "It was a large white sphere. And it was just rising very slowly off the water. Maybe, I don't know 30 yards away from us. It was really close to the car. Maybe two to three storeys high," Tom describes. This white sphere had rods of light shooting into the water from its sides.

Nancy, curious, drove down a dirt road to get a better look at the sphere, but soon the family saw something even stranger. "What we saw, looked like a huge turtle shop type thing. It was just hovering there, pewter with gold colours. It was larger than a football field like you know, 100 yards in length," Tom says.

As they watched in awe, a tapping noise reminiscent of sounds underwater filled the car. Suddenly, there was a flash, and then silence, broken by an eruption of crickets. Tom's next memory is surreal. "I was in a big empty hangar area. It was huge," he remembers. He walked down a corridor into a room resembling an MRI room, where he saw two figures. "It had a thin body maybe four or five feet tall. The heads of gelatine like," Tom describes.

Tom’s recollections are fragmented and nightmarish. "Tables, apparatus came over my body and covered me. I felt a tap or hit on the head. I heard voices, I heard like my mom calling my name." The next thing he knew, he was back in the car, but nothing was as it had been. "My brother's head was on my leg when I came to and my grandmother and mother reversed and the ignition was off," Tom explains. His mother and grandmother had swapped places in the front seats, and his brother was unconscious.

His grandmother, in a fog, got out of the car and went back to town for help. Tom was confused and scared. They had left the diner at 8:45 PM, but by the time they sought help, it was nearly 11 PM. "We lost over two and a half hours," Tom tells Danny.

The following day, the strangeness continued. "We were in a diner and all of a sudden bang it comes over the radio all these local people that had seen it now," Tom says. Over 250 people reported seeing the UFO across five different towns, providing some validation to Tom and his family’s bizarre encounter. "Well, I wasn't alone. We weren't alone in what we saw or what took place there," Tom reflects.

Melanie Kirchdorf's Story

Continuing the investigation into the September 1, 1969, UFO sightings, Danny introduces another key witness in this episode of 'Uncanny': Melanie Kirchdorf. Like Tom Reed, Melanie experienced something inexplicable that night.

Melanie, who was 12 at the time, recalls her evening. "I was 12 years old, my sister was 14, and I was working at the theatre, cleaning." Now in her late 60s, Melanie is a slim and elegant retired art teacher with long blonde hair, living near Great Barrington, about six miles from Sheffield, where Tom had his experience.

On the night of the sighting, Melanie was doing her part-time job at a local cinema. "We cleaned the whole theatre and all we wanted to do was after we cleaned even though we were young, we wanted to get out of there and go to Penny Rock which was near our house and go smoke a cigarette," she remembers. However, her plans were thwarted by her parents, who insisted on going for ice cream.

The family ended up at Lake Mansfield. "We were sitting there and all of a sudden we looked up and there was this really bright light. It was about the size of a football field. It was huge. It covered the whole lake and there were these strange lights in the middle going around, these colours I can't even describe, but the whole thing was this amber, bronze colour," Melanie describes. The scene was startling, and she recalls screaming as the commotion in the car grew. Her father wanted to chase the light, but she pleaded with him not to.

As with Tom Reed, Melanie's story takes an even stranger turn. "The next thing I know, I'm being lifted. I'm just being taken out. I can't move. I can't move at all. All I could do was move my eyes." She found herself in a room, separated from her family. "I was on a table. And I can remember there was like a click click click click sound like being in an MRI. And I just can remember there was a whole wall of these glass type bricks."

Melanie also remembers being with other children, ranging from little ones to teenagers. "I was so scared. I was so frightened. I didn't know if I was going to live or die," she recounts. This nightmarish experience abruptly ended when she found herself waking up on the beach of Lake Mansfield. "I woke up on the beach of Lake Mansfield and I had to walk home on the dirt road barefoot," she recalls, vividly remembering her outfit and the sunrise as she walked home around 5:30 in the morning. Melanie believes she was missing for about nine hours.

When she returned home, her parents and sister were bewildered and concerned. Her mother advised her to stay silent. "And then the next morning my mom told me 'don't talk about this. Don't ever talk about this. People think you're crazy,'" Melanie remembers.

For years, Melanie kept her story to herself, much like Tom Reed. It wasn't until a chance meeting with Tom Warner, another local who had a similar experience, that she began to share her memories. "I didn't know Tom well in high school. I'm about three and a half years older than him. But then I ran into him in the supermarket and I knew immediately who he was, our eyes connected," she says. This encounter led to a deeper conversation and a shared understanding of their experiences.

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Tom Warner's Story

Danny continues his investigation into the extraordinary events of September 1, 1969, by introducing the third and final witness, Tom Warner. Tom, a bit younger than the other witnesses, is described as an affable guy with an impressive stash of blond hair, often sporting a baseball cap.

Tom's connection to Melanie Kirchdorf started long before their chance encounter in the grocery store. "So my freshman year in high school. I'm going through a door and Melanie was coming the other way. So I turned around went the other way. And I said to somebody who is it who is that I need to know who it is because I knew those eyes," Tom recalls. This connection traces back to his own experience on the night of the UFO sighting.

On that night in 1969, Tom was hanging out at the house of his next-door neighbours, the Shores, with their daughter Debbie. "We just wanted to listen to some records. And then I went to a window and I hear this voice in my head. It was like, 'you have to go home,'" Tom says. The voice was distinctive and unlike anything he had heard before. "It said 'you have to go home' and I looked at Debbie and said 'I have to go home because.' She goes 'why?' 'I don't know.' I was like panicked."

Overcome with panic, Tom ran out of the house and across the driveway. Suddenly, everything went silent. "Like all of a sudden, I'm not hearing anything. And now, in my mind, I'm thinking I'm just walking home slow because I'm not afraid. Only I wasn't going anywhere. I was running in a beam and I wasn't moving," he explains. The beam was a bluish white light, the brightest thing he had ever seen, and it felt like he was walking in slow motion. Above him, a circular object with lights that produced colours he had never seen before loomed. "And all of a sudden my hands jerked back. I would describe it as like if you were underwater, came up to the top and took a deep breath like that, only it was in reverse. And then it was gone. Just vanished in a split second, just vanish."

Things only got stranger from there. Tom recalls, "And I'm seeing flashing lights that are going around. So you've seen flash flash flash flash. I'm hearing screams and crying and all kinds of frightful noises." He saw two girls screaming and another girl crouched in the corner with a look of sheer terror. "I've never forget her expression. When you see someone that's scared to death, it's something that's etched in your mind. And that's the look that Melanie had on her face," he remembers, though he did not know at the time that it was Melanie.

After this nightmarish experience, Tom found himself in a different reality, not in the Shores' yard but closer to his own home. "I just hold ass back into the house as fast as my legs could carry me," he says. The next morning, a radio station reported multiple UFO sightings over the South Berkshires. The Shores' grandmother even called Tom's mother to discuss what had happened, but his mother refused. "My mother was like, 'No, we're not going to talk about it.'"

Reflecting on the impact of this event, Tom says, "I kept to myself. I just didn't want to be around anybody. And no one really wanted to be around me either. I would call it traumatised." Like Tom and Melanie, Tom's experience left a profound and lasting impression, contributing to the enduring mystery of the Labour Day UFO sightings.

What The Experts Think

Danny's investigation into the enduring mystery of the September 1, 1969 UFO sighting concludes with insights from two experts: Nick Pope, a journalist who investigated UFO reports for the British Ministry of Defence, and Ben Radford, deputy editor of The Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Nick Pope acknowledges the scale of the incident, stating, "If that figure of 250 is accurate, it would certainly put this case right up there in terms of multiple witnesses." This significant number of eyewitnesses adds weight to the case, though he notes that there are other instances with large groups of witnesses, albeit spread over more time.

Ben Radford, however, urges caution, reminding listeners that "when you have multiple eyewitnesses like this, that would seem to be the Holy Grail... But in fact, if you look historically, there are times when there are a great number of people who are mistaken at the same time." He cites the Mandela Effect as an example of collective false memories.

Danny highlights the consistent descriptions among witnesses, particularly the detail of conical rods of light. Nick Pope connects this to other well-documented cases like the Rendlesham Forest incident, where witnesses described similar beams of light. "Colonel Holt and the five or six other people with him in the forest on the final night, describe this narrow beam of light coming down," Pope explains, noting that this theme appears in many credible UFO reports.

Ben Radford suggests that some phenomena might have psychological explanations. He describes how sensory experiences, like Tom Reed’s feeling that sounds disappeared, can be cognitive illusions similar to those experienced during car accidents where time seems to slow. "It’s basically a cognitive illusion. And you see the same thing, for example, if you're in a car accident."

Nick Pope agrees that while psychological factors might explain reactions, the initial stimulus requires explanation. "Even if you're skeptical about the reaction... what is that extraordinary situation?" he asks, emphasising the need to consider what triggered these experiences.

The discussion then turns to the size of the object witnesses described. Nick Pope notes that descriptions of a "flying football field" are not uncommon and typically suggest something beyond ordinary explanation. "It does sort of make you think, well, okay, whatever this might be in conventional terms, it's not, say a weather balloon or a satellite."

Ben Radford addresses the intense personal experiences of the witnesses, pointing out that the broader cultural context, like the stranger danger panic of the 70s and 80s, could influence such accounts. He believes these detailed recollections might be dream-like states where familiar elements are integrated into perceived experiences.

Nick Pope suggests dividing the accounts into two categories: shared sightings of objects in the sky and personal abduction experiences. "With UFOs it's easy. You can say, satellites, meteors, weather balloon launches... Alien abduction, it's a bit more difficult," he states, highlighting the complexity of verifying abduction claims.

Danny asks Nick Pope if he believes aliens could exist. Pope reflects on humanity's long history of interacting with the "other," suggesting that modern labels like aliens might be contemporary interpretations of ancient phenomena. "Maybe these are just modern labels that we put on something that's been with us with humanity always."
"Humanity has always interacted with the other. Sometimes these are gods and devils, Angels and Demons, ghosts and spirits, dwarves and elves. Now it's aliens and maybe these are just modern labels that we put on something that's been with us with humanity always, but that we perceive in ways that change according to our belief, and our culture."
Nick Pope
Ben Radford is skeptical about the lack of contemporaneous evidence, like photographs, despite the large number of alleged witnesses. "Where are they?" he questions, pointing out the absence of police reports or visual documentation from the event.

Despite the skepticism, Nick Pope emphasises the sincerity of the witnesses. "You can hear the emotion in their voice. We traditionally don't believe kids when they say something that doesn't align with our own experiences or belief systems," he says, suggesting that we should listen more attentively to such accounts.

Ben Radford concurs but cautions that these are now adults recalling events from their childhood. "There's an important difference there," he concludes, highlighting the challenge of verifying decades-old memories.

You can listen to this episode in full plus the full 'Uncanny' archive on BBC Sounds now.

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