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Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, September 2017

Oh, what a night!

by: Brent Raynes

The front page of the Daily Kennebec Journal [October 5, 1967] out of Augusta, Maine, claimed that the time was around 7:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, when it happened. It was the evening of October 4, 1967, that myself and neighbors gathered on the hilltop where I then lived with my parents on Perkins Lane in Hallowell, Maine. The “it” consisted of various large bright luminous lights/clouds of different colors mysteriously appearing in the southern sky. A few years later, I would read (1) how on that very same night, about 8 p.m., noted UFO writer John Keel was driving along the Long Island Expressway and seemed to find himself being followed by a "large brilliant sphere" and how when he got to the community of Huntington there were cars parked along the road and citizens and police officers out in a field looking up at strange lights. At that point, four others had joined the one that Keel had felt had been following him.

Colored Clouds.pdf

Barium Clouds

However, that night a rocket had been launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, to conduct high atmospheric barium plasma experiments. It seems likely to me that Keel, like myself and many others up and down the East Coast, witnessed this same NASA missile test. In fact, in his own small circulation journal Anomaly (#7), published in the Fall of 1971, Keel wrote a well-researched report of such launches and how often they have been mistaken for UFOs. I found it odd that he would seemingly not have mentioned his Long Island sighting that October night within that context, since he had been doing all of that research and had hired newspaper services back in those days, along with having numerous contacts.

“Early on the morning of October 5, 1970, a gigantic greenish sphere cast an eerie glow over the entire northeast,” Keel wrote in his Anomaly. “At 6:10 a.m., radar operators at the Canadian Armed Forces Radar Base near Sheerwater, Nova Scotia studied their scopes in bewilderment. 'We made contact with a solid, stationary unidentified object,' Base Air Traffic Control Officer, Captain R. G. H. McKendry said. 'The object was motionless and stayed that way for about 10 minutes. That's pretty unusual.' He estimated the hovering whatzit was at an altitude of 2,500 feet, about seven miles north of the base.”

Keel continued in his report on how some 45 miles northeast of the radar installation, a 16-year-old in Truro just left his home in a car when he saw a multicolored object “as big as a bungalow, trailing white smoke and emitting a high-pitched whine.” His mother had looked outside and seen it also, saying it made a sound “like a kitten being killed.” Meanwhile, some railroad workers in Kentucky described seeing a bright greenish disc bobbing in the sky; a Vermont woman reported “a beautiful red saucer with a green band around it” which he was sure “landed on a nearby mountaintop”; while in Tice, Florida, another woman saw an orange object with a tail which she estimated came within 1,000 feet of the ground, and then just disappeared.

Keel claimed that he personally had heard from twenty-two witnesses to that event. However, as you must have already guessed, the NASA installation at Wallops Island was responsible. “Strangely, many of these reports were accompanied by the same bizarre details often found in unexplained UFO sightings...weird sounds, odd manuevers, and even radar 'angels' and aberrations,” Keel noted. “These were highly subjective impressions translated into reality by the witnesses' minds.” Even the radar at the military base in Nova Scotia was “apparently befuddled” by the barium cloud experiment. Keel pointed out that the Wallops Island tests show us too that “most witnesses, even trained observers like pilots, military men and police officers, can greatly misjudge distance, size and speed when they don't know any of the characteristics of the object they are watching.”

Keel described how the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics out of Munich, Germany, had begun such experiments back in 1966. He wrote that a German team, headed by one Dr. Reimar Luest, had been working with the NASA folks at Wallops Island, using Javelin and NIKE rockets to launch payloads of barium, sodium and other chemicals some 300 to 600 miles above the earth. Keel added that the German scientists had at that time “quietly spent the past five years lighting up the skies from Scandinavia to Australia with a long series of experiments designed to study the earth's erratic magnetic fields.”

Keel described how the Air Force had been doing similar experiments, pointing out how they had done a barium cloud launch from Florida's Elgin Air Force Base back in Janury 1967, which resulted in “a massive wave of UFO sightings.” He even wrote that other Air Force launches had been done in Alaska and South America, and how back in the 1960s there was once a special base on Easter Island that was conducting “atmospheric tests,” of which any information was not known about at the time.

Nova Scotia's Shag Harbor lights!

Meanwhile, back to October 4, 1967. The famous UFO "crash" off the coast of Nova Scotia's Shag Harbor, was also reported on the very same night myself and Keel and many others were watching funny lights and colored “clouds” in the skies. It was certainly a night filled with reports of a lot of odd lights, from many different and diverse locations - some that may be explained by the barium rocket experiment, though some directions and times in those reports that eventually led up to a mysterious “dark object” [as it became known in many government documents], estimated at 60 foot in length, crashing into the ocean near Shag Harbor close to 11:25 p.m. Atlantic Daylight Time (which would be 10:25 p.m. EST) don't fit that scenario. Unless there were other launches and/or details we're unaware of. But whatever the “dark object” was that came down onto the ocean water and floated on the surface for a time, it certainly wasn't distant barium cloud displays. When local fishermen got to the scene, prepared to rescue possible airplane passengers, there remained only a mysterious yellow foam, described as “a glittery, shiny foam,” nothing like regular sea foam, on the surface of the water. Reportedly six or seven navy vessels, both Canadian and American, came to position themselves over the submerged object for seven days afterwards, until they were deverted by news of a Russian submarine that was closing in and threatening to penetrate the 12-mile limit off of Shelburne. Divers from the ships had been going down to take photographs of the object, plus another unknown object that had joined the first one. The initial submerged object had headed northeast after first drifting out to sea, going up along the coast, went around Cape Sable Island, and came to rest over, of all things, a magnetic anomaly detection grid feed [at the mouth of Shelburne Harbor] to a very secret submarine detection base at Shelburne.

Government secrets?

Chris Styles talked in person with an ex-navy diver, a very experienced diver, who had been involved in the underwater survey of the Shag Harbor anomaly but who was very reluctant to talk, saying he didn't want any trouble. He did share that the divers had brought up from the bottom large chunks of a foam like material, some that was decomposing as they were bringing it to the surface. Styles was surprised by this, as he had only been aware of the fishermen and Mounties reporting a yellow foam floating on the surface of the water after the “dark object,” with a pale yellow light, had gone under. Styles followed up afterwards with a phone call and tried several different approaches with the man, hoping to shake loose any additional detials, but all failed, and he was only making the ex-navy diver more and more angry with his questions, until finally the man angrily declared, “I don't know what it was that was down there and I don't know where it came from. But it didn't come from this planet, I can tell you that! Now don't call back!” At that point the man slammed the phone down.

Obviously the Shag Harbor story has a few extra anomalous wrinkles in it that makes this story more complicated and mysterious then just the one single barium-bearing rocket launch from Wallops Island that night.

“Dark Object” (2001), written by Don Ledger and Chris Styles, is a detailed description of this intriguing case. However, I could find no reference in it of a barium cloud launch. I recently contacted Brock Zinck of the Shag Harbour UFO Incident Society in Nova Scotia (you can find them on Facebook) and this was his first time of hearing about the barium cloud rocket launch that night. He seemed interested in knowing more, and so I forwarded my documentation on this so he might reflect on it further and see if it might provide any helpful insights with any of their data on their end.

Near the beginning of the book (Dark Object), the story of Capt. Pierre Guy Charbonneau and his co-pilot and first officer, Robert Ralph, flying a Douglas DC-8 [Air Canada Flight 305] at about 12,000 feet above southeastern Quebec, makes me think of the barium cloud launch. What they saw was to the south. It appeared to be a large rectangular orange colored object with a string of smaller lights trailing behind it. Suddenly, at about 7:19 p.m., Atlantic Daylight Time, which would have been about 6:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, there was like an explosion near the object, at first a big white ball-shaped “cloud” that soon turned red, then violet, and then blue. Two minutes later, bigger and higher up in the sky, there was a second explosion, a kind of orange colored pear-shaped “cloud” which also faded to a blue. Around this time the smaller lights mentioned earlier broke free of the rectangular object and seemed to dance around the clouds like fireflies. In the declassified report from the Ballistic Research Laboratories, Report No. 1459, of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, released in December 1969, it described how the rocket launched at evening twilight October 4, 1967 released three barium clouds that evening, the first cloud around 64 miles altitude, the second at 116 miles, and the third at 140 miles.

I'm thinking the Canadian pilots saw such a launch, as the description seemed to fit, though the sighting seemed a bit earlier than the time the Kennebec Journal gave for my strange “cloud” sightings in Maine and the time Keel gave for what he saw on Long Island. I'm wondering if there was more going on that night at Wallops Island or NASA , or somebody involved in rocket launches, then what has been released to the public. What came down in Shag Harbor that night at a 45 degree angle, with (according to multiple and independent witnesses) a whoosh or whistling sound, a flash of light and a bang sound happened close to 11:25 ADT (10:25 p.m. EST). Much later in time than the Wallops Island launch that we know of.

A Captain Leo Howard Mersey was piloting his fishing boat in the waters near the southern tip of Nova Scotia when around 9 p.m. ATD (8 EST) he and one of his hands with him on the bridge observed an object low over the water, with red flashing lights, that he also picked up on radar, showing that something was indeed there, some 16 miles northeast of his boat's location [wrong direction for Wallops Island]. The object eventually lifted into the air and passed over his boat. One of his crew members reported to him that he was picking up reports on the radio of people on shore seeing UFOs. He filed a report with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police afterwards.

It was certainly a busy night. I can't help but wonder if there other launches that have yet to be declassified from that night? Or was it, as a retired weapons technician with the Canadian army had told Chris Styles? He described how in 1970, while serving in the military, he had seen several large glowing orange spheres one evening on nearby Cape Sable Island. He was curious about what was going on in the area, and having heard of the Shag Harbor incident of 1967, he wondered about all of this and the close proximity to what is known as the Baccaro Radar Station. He questioned a Col. Calvin Rushton who, he said, matter-of-factly told him that with the Shag Harbor incident in 1967 a UFO, that was tracked by NORAD, had entered our atmosphere over Siberia, made a half orbit around the earth before splashing down into the bay off of Shag Harbor, where three Royal Canadian Mounties along with others watched it float and then sink beneath the water.

Why did an MIB-type Air Force disinformation agent try to drink Jello?

In John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies (1975), in chapter two, The Creep Who Came in from the Cold, he described how a Mrs. Ralph Butler of Owatonna, Minnesota, reported how following a wave of UFO sightings in that area, a mysterious Major Richard French, claiming to be with the U.S. Air Force, paid a visit to Mrs. Butler. Wearing civilian clothing, driving a white Mustang, and having very long black hair (which seemed inappropriate for an air force officer), this “Major French” engaged Butler in a very normal, fluent conversation – that is, until he complained of stomach trouble. She offered him some Jello, thinking that might help. “Did you ever hear of anyone – especially an air force officer – trying to drink Jello?” Mrs. Butler would later declare. “Well, that's what he did. He acted like he had never seen any before. He picked up the bowl and tried to drink it. I had to show him how to eat it with a spoon.”

The case has become known as a MIB classic. The man wore brand new looking clothes, a gray suit with new looking shoes, the tell-tale olive complex with a pointed face. “Richard French was an imposter,” Keel wrote. “One of the many wandering around the United States in 1967.” However, it turns out that there really was a Richard French, who claims he was working with Project Blue Book back in the 1950s as a UFO debunker. In 2013, he presumably came clean, testifying at the Citizen's Hearing on Disclosure in Washington, D.C., that in one case that he personally was involved with sometime back around 1952, he observed two submerged UFOs, complete with small alien beings, involved in some sort of apparent “repair job” - this off the coast of Saint Johns, Newfoundland.

Noted UFO researcher and author Micah Hanks sees this revelation as most significant as it shows that in 1967 a Richard French was doing “precisely” what French claimed in 2013 that he had been doing for the Air Force, engaging in disinformation and skeptical downplaying of the UFO phenomenon. One has to wonder, is he still following through with that earlier assignment? A number of ufologists have wondered if he may have used details from the similar Shag Harbor case to spin this other story. “All things considered, I too find this to be a compelling theory,” Hanks wrote.

Who was the other Jello drinking MIB?

Dr. Jacques Vallee describes in his book Confrontations: A Scientst's Search for Alien Contact (1990), his investigation in northern California of a small lumber town known as Happy Camp, which had only one bar and one cafe. The town's people had been undergoing a bizarre series of UFO-related events, from 1975 to 1977, that included humanoid being encounters, poltergiest activity, a “huge bird,” and more. One day early in 1976, a very peculiar stranger showed up at the local cafe. Pale skinned, oriental eyes, wearing a strange looking shirt and wearing a strange grimace on his face, constantly smiling at everyone [oddly wearing no coat, and it being the middle of winter], he ordered a steak dinner but seemingly didn't know how to use a fork and knife. He also left without paying, but to really top it all off, Vallee added this: “Among the peculiar things he did during his extraordinary dinner was a brave attempt to drink Jell-O out of his glass.”

Noctilucent Clouds

John Keel was also intrigued with those high altitude, luminous noctilucent clouds often said to be glowing an electric blue, that had, he pointed out, produced many spurious UFO sightings. He lamented that the Soviet Union had taken the lead in investigating them. He pointed out how the Russians had discovered back in the mid-1960s that they reflected radio and television waves. I wrote some about this phenomenon in my book Visitors From Hidden Realms (2004), wondering about some South American reports that they might have been tied into. “They generally seem to appear in the mesosphere some 50 to 85 kilomters up,” I wrote. “Space station astronaut Don Pettit had spent several weeks studying them from space. 'We routinely see them when we're flying over Australia and the tip of South America,' astronaut Pettit stated in an interview. These mystery 'clouds' first appeared in 1885. Gradually they seem to be spreading out and becoming more commonplace. One speculation is that they're some sort of high-altitude clouds being seeded by meteorites entering the atmosphere, while another theory suggests that they may be the byproduct of the Industrial Age. No one seems to know for sure.” Keel noted that the U.S. Air Force had launched instrument laden rockets into these “clouds” from several bases in Alaska, but that the results of their experiments were not released to the public. I recall in a magazine interview that Keel remarked that if he possessed the funds that he'd like to launch a rocket up there to try and see what those things are composed of.

Keel pointed out that some scientists speculated that these “clouds” might be related to what is referred to as the Air Glow Phenomenon. “Astronauts orbiting Earth have seen and photographed spherical glows on the dark side of this planet,” he once wrote (2). “These spheres are sometimes arranged in neat formations, like rows of soldiers. This phenomenon is rarely seen by ground observers...”

Ball lightning

Keel even pointed out how ball lightning could certainly also produce UFO reports, adding that while few laymen realized it, lightning and ball lightning both sometimes travel from the ground up to the sky, which could account for some reports of luminous spherical UFOs launching off into the sky from the ground.

For a researcher and author who many saw as too far out many times, Keel certainly explored many possible natural and man-made explanations that could better help the ufologists to separate, so to speak, the proverbial wheat from the chaff – possible solutions that few in the field had adequately addressed.


1. Operation Trojan Horse, by John A. Keel, 1970.
2. Phenomenon: Forty Years of Flying Saucers (1988), edited by John Spencer and Hilary Evans, with a chapter by Keel entitled “The People Problem.”

Editor's Note: A special word of thanks to UFO/paranormal researcher and author Nomar Slevik of Bangor, Maine for his help in acquiring images of the Daily Kennebec Journal (Oct. 5, 1967) and data on the October 4, 1967 barium rocket launch from Wallops Island, VA.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023