Fans seek out park, site of 1969 UFO encounter featured on ‘Unsolved Mysteries,’ ‘Ancient Aliens’
By Jennifer Huberdeau
Planning a trip to the site of the Sept. 1, 1969, UFO encounter featured in episode five of the “Unsolved Mysteries” reboot on Netflix?
If you are, you’re not alone.
The spot where Thom Reed, his mother, grandmother and brother had their 1969 encounter/off-world incident — about 300 feet from the Upper Sheffield Covered Bridge — and the adjacent Thom Reed Memorial UFO Monument Park have become a destination for UFO enthusiasts and seekers of iconic/historical landmarks. Both sites have listings on popular landmark websites, including atlasobsura.com, tripadvisor.com and roadsideamerica.com.“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a little while,” said David Fleming, of Holyoke, during a visit to the park.
Fleming and Tara Garvey, of Easthampton, had stopped at the park on a recent Tuesday evening to take photos and see the site of the Reed family incident.
“My oldest sister, who now lives in California, visited the park a few years ago and sent me a link to it,” Fleming said. “She goes on lots of trips, and I’m aiming to do that, travel more. A few weeks ago we visited the Hoosac Tunnel. Earlier today, we stopped at the Rutland [Mass.] Prison Camp ruins.”
After watching the Berkshire UFO episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” the pair decided it was time to visit the Sheffield spot.
“I was really expecting there to be more open space, like you hear about in many UFO stories,” Garvey said.
Fleming added: “I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.”
The Reed family’s encounter — it was one of dozens experienced that night by residents of Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Egremont and reported on by WSBS Radio in Great Barrington — was thrust into the national spotlight in February 2015, when it officially was included in the archives of the Great Barrington Historical Society.
Reed, who founded Miami Models South Beach and worked as a television/film casting agent, has shared his experience not only on “Unsolved Mysteries.” He also has appeared in episodes of “Our New England Legends,” “Paranormal Paparazzi,” “Alien Mysteries,” “Uncovering Aliens” and the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens.”
Arno Pinsonnault and Kathy Silliker, of Springfield, were visiting the park that same Tuesday night with their friend, Sue Scipter, and her 9-year-old son, Eithyn Burge.
“We’re into all things paranormal — UFOs, haunted places,” said Pinsonnault, who was wearing a shirt with a willowy alien figure from the Notch Express Store in Lincoln, N.H., a stop near the site of Barney and Betty Hill’s alleged 1961 alien encounter, another destination for UFO seekers.
That interest brought Pinsonnault and Silliker to the UFO Park when it first opened in 2015. They later returned for an event featuring Reed and Travis Walton, whose alleged 1975 UFO incident in Arizona was the basis for the 1993 film “Fire in the Sky.” Through the years, the couple has formed a friendship with Reed, whom they keep in touch with, and continue to periodically visit the park.
“We were supposed to have our wedding here on June 20, but we had to postpone due to COVID-19. We still made a trip out here with some of our friends to take photographs,” Silliker said, pulling up photos on her phone of the two of them wearing shirts that say “bride” and “groom.”
And interest in both locations is expected to continue to grow in the coming months. Reed, in a recent phone interview, said he just recently finished filming an episode for the Travel Channel’s “Mission Declassified.” He also is writing a book, and is in talks about a film and a television series.
Then there’s the upcoming release of the Quest AT Turbo Putt golf disc emblazoned with the UFO Monument Park Logo, which will be sold on the park’s website, ufopark.org, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the park’s upkeep.
“The Turbo Putt’s design happens to look like the entrance sign at the park,” Reed said, referring to a gear-shaped sculpture by Len Morneau, of New Hartford, Conn., that was donated by the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens.”
Thom Reed UFO Monument Park
Visitors to the UFO Monument Park might notice something is missing when they arrive — its namesake.
Gone is the 5,000-pound white concrete monument commemorating the 1969 encounter as “our nation’s first off-world/UFO incident” to be inducted into a historical society’s archive.
The monument, paid for, designed and placed by a group of local UFO witnesses and community members who remain anonymous, hasn’t been seen since June 4, 2019.
Its disappearance isn’t otherworldly in nature; it was removed, along with a UFO Park bench, at the order of the Sheffield Select Board. Town officials, in past interviews, have stated that the monument and bench were placed on the town’s right of way. A dispute with the town, over the location, ultimately ended with the town removing the items.
There still is plenty to see at the UFO Park, including a large-scale reproduction of a citation issued by Gov. Charlie Baker in November 2015 recognizing Reed’s “dedicated service” to the incident being “factually upheld, founded and deemed historically significant and true by Massachusetts historians.”
The citation — it originally was issued Oct. 27, 2015, and reissued Nov. 3, 2015, to include the date of the incident — also recognizes the event as “now officially part of the Great Barrington, MA Historical Society’s collection” and Reed’s “recent induction into Massachusetts history.”
“I created this park for all who fell under scrutiny back then,” said Reed, now a resident of Tennessee. “I know the scrutiny we had on the school bus. We all had that, those of us who did not fit in the framework of the local community. This is a judgment-free spot for all of them, for anyone who has had an experience like ours.”
The land that his park sits on, he said, is leased from Pine Island Farm. It is maintained with donations from individuals and members of the larger ufology community. The sign with the reproduction of Baker’s citation, for example, was donated by Beth Weigand, spokeswoman of the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, N.M., after the concrete monument was removed.
The park’s benches also are sponsored, with the most recent donations coming from “Unsolved Mysteries” and the Travel Channel’s “Mission Declassified.” Other bench sponsors include the International UFO Museum; Ben Hansen of “Fact or Faked”; Walton; Mike Bara of the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens”; UFOXpo.com; Gingras Lawn & Gardening; Shockwave Motors; WSBS Radio; KGRA Digital Radio; Marc D’Antonio of “NASA’s Unexplained Files”; and Reed’s Miami Models.
“I would like people to understand the park is truly sponsored by television shows and TV personalities,” he said. “Do they realize what happened here? Or do they just think of it like folklore?”
Reed also has received the donation of a high-powered telescope, in memory of nuclear physicist and professional ufologist Stanton Friedman, by Gary Holloway. Friedman, who appeared twice before the United Nations with regard to UFOs, was instrumental in getting the Reed family’s encounter included in the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
“I think it’s best to clear the air first [with the town],” Reed said of his hesitancy to install the telescope.
‘Historically significant and true’
Reed is, by no means, the only person to speak about what was seen Sept. 1, 1969, but he is the most active and vocal in seeking public validation and acceptance.
“Belief has nothing to do with matters of faith. It has nothing to do with our current scientific knowledge. Massachusetts had the first documented UFO case in the country,” Reed said, referring to the 1639 diary entries of Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop about colonists seeing great lights in the night sky over the Charles River. “Having our account officially inducted into American history, as historically true, is pioneering. It’s today. It’s tomorrow.”
In February 2015, the Great Barrington Historical Society voted 6-3 in favor of recognizing the 1969 event as “historically significant and true.” The decision was based on evidence that supported the claim: the radio station’s reports, eyewitness accounts — some of whom gave testimony to the U.S. Air Force, and polygraph results on Reed showing a 99.1 percent truthful reading under questioning about what he saw.
Recognition of off-world/UFO experiences as factual events is only part of his motivation for speaking so publicly. It also is something his late father, Howard W. Reed, Ph.D., a two-term selectman in Canaan, Conn., had encouraged him to do.
His father introduced him to Robert Bletchman, an attorney and the public relations director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), who helped organize the 1992 United Nations Symposium on Extraterrestrial Intelligence and Human Future, at which Friedman spoke. The Reed family’s incident was among the UFO encounters spoken about during the symposium Oct. 2, 1992.
While the majority of the Sept. 1, 1969, witnesses reported seeing a lighted object making irregular motions in the sky, a few recently spoke about their more involved encounters as part of the “Unsolved Mysteries” episode.
On the night of Sept. 1, 1969, as Reed recounts, his family — Reed, then 9, his mother, Nancy, his then-6-year-old brother, Matthew, and his grandmother — had stopped at his mother’s diner, The Village Green in Sheffield, on their way home to Great Barrington. Because it was late, Reed says, his mother took a shortcut over the covered bridge in Sheffield.
It was near the covered bridge that, the family says, they first saw a sphere of light rising over the banks of the nearby river. The light ascended about three stories into the air, eventually moving toward a disclike object, appearing similar to a turtle shell, hovering over a nearby cornfield.
Family members say the air pressure changed and the car was filled with light. And that’s the last thing most of the family remembers before waking up in the car with Nancy Reed now in the passenger seat.
“We were extracted from the vehicle,” Thom Reed said. “I don’t say who did it, because I don’t know who.”
The Reed family learned the next day that other members of the community had similar experiences or had seen strange lights in the night sky.
Eventually, excitement about the events died down, and people stopped talking about it. When Reed did speak about it, he says, it led to ridicule and even fights in school. The family moved to Canaan, Conn.
The missing monument
Initially, Reed says, he felt welcomed by the community. Then a series of requests from the town to move the monument signaled a shift in support from town leaders.
“This is similar to what’s happened in Salem. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t want to be associated with the witch trials,” he said, suggesting that Sheffield officials have decided to distance themselves from the UFO incident. “You can’t change your history just because you don’t like your history. You can’t erase your own history. When you have a history [like this], use it to your advantage. It’s not that difficult.”
“It’s been 50-something years and we’ve just gotten to the point that people are accepting that something happened that day, not just to me, but to the community. It’s been validated,” he said.
The monument already was in its second location when the town’s request for removal came in 2018.
Reed remains steadfast in his statement that the town was involved in the placement of the monument in September 2015 and is just as responsible as other parties for its placement in what has been identified as the town’s right of way.
Emails between the town counsel, town administrator and Reed from September 2015 indicate the town helped pick a new location, east of the original spot on land owned by Louis Aragi of Pine Island Farm, and that the monument was moved to the new location by town Department of Public Works crew members. They also show that Reed helped connect the town and Aragi, and helped facilitate a meeting between the town administrator and another individual at the monument site.
Communication between Reed and the town broke down in 2018.
Emails to Town Counsel Mark R. Reich and Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard were not answered. Calls to LaBombard’s office was not returned.
And yet, there still might be hope for an amicable solution. Last month, the town returned the missing bench to the UFO Park. Reed, though, still is awaiting the monument’s return.
Reed said he is hoping that he and town officials can make a fresh start.
“I’m just trying to do something nice for the community where I grew up, to add something positive,” he said.
IF YOU GO …
Thom Reed UFO Monument Park
What: Park dedicated to the Reed family 1969 UFO encounter. The park’s benches and solar lights are donated by ufology television shows and personalities.
Where: Covered Bridge Lane, Sheffield, Mass.
More information: ufopark.org
Jennifer Huberdeau is editor of UpCountry magazine. She also pens the column “Mysteries from the Morgue” for The Berkshire Eagle.