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This summer, nearly 20,000 people from around the world met at a small New York hamlet, called Pine Bush, at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains. They came for Pine Bush’s annual UFO Fair, which started in 2011.

When Dana Scully said, “The truth is out there,” did she mean six hours away from D.C.?

I was curious to find out. Addedly, I’ve always had an interest in extraterrestrial life. Mars Attacks was my favorite movie growing up. I can still quote it: “ACK, ACK, ACK, ACK!”

On my way to the Fair, I was surprised by the rural landscape. Kids were riding ATVs through tall grass, a cow grazed next to a horse crossing sign, and grain silos stuck out of the ground like swollen fingers. I saw a sign that says “BUY MY JUNK,” in front of a yard littered with a bunch of junk.

When I arrived, the whole of Pine Bush’s Main Street was cordoned off on both sides and was under the supervision of local police officers. The street was teeming with people from all over, conversing and perusing as a group of high-schoolers crooned “Under the Bridge” on a side-stage.

And there were vendors: people hawked Xanadu crystals, books on being an alien-human hybrid, edible gluten-free slime, henna tattoos and hair braiding (so anyone with long enough hair, could look like Princess Leia).

The atmosphere was electrified by the meandering crowd, a blend of true believers and thrill-seekers. Some came to enjoy the spectacle, while others came in search of a cosmic knowledge that might inform their lives.

I noticed motorcyclists with sleeveless vests bearing various insignias; Vietnam veterans, as stated by their hats; pimply teens; goofy parents; and children eating cotton candy.

A cosplayer that looked like a rusty celestial refrigerator rode a hoverboard screaming: “EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE, YOU ARE AN ENEMY OF THE DALEKS!” while a group of TIE fighter pilots posed for pictures with a treefrog-looking reptilian. A hairless blue man in a one-piece, silver jumpsuit strutted past me while grinning.

I kept asking people, even the ones not cosplaying, if they believed in aliens. The answer almost always was, “Why not? There’s so much out there that we don’t know about.”

I questioned an older man, Jeffrey, who was one street over sitting on a neighborhood stoop in the humid midday. He said, “Hold on, I need to close my porno channels,” as he fiddled with his phone. He finally told me that he did believe as he put his phone away.

I wanted to find more. And find out I did… after finally speaking with Roger L. Phillips.

Phillips is the cartoonist responsible for The Gray Zone comics, which is kind of like the Far Side, but with aliens. He grew up an hour away from Pine Bush.

In 1985, Phillips received a phone call. It was a high school friend, as he was still in high school, who excitedly said, “Go into your backyard, you have to see what’s in the sky.”

What Phillips saw, about five-hundred feet away, corroborates and coincides with what other Putnam County residents witnessed that night: a silent, black, boomerang-shaped craft, roughly three football fields in width, and one in length, with glowing white lights on its sides.

It exuded an immense feeling of mass. At the same time, it seemed to be thin. Phillips claims it was traveling at about thirty miles per hour.

When it passed over the treetops of his neighborhood, the crickets stopped chirping, the frogs stopped croaking, the dogs stopped barking. Everything went silent, until the UFO floated away.

The stars, which’d been obscured by the humongous UFO, were visible again.

“Did it seem malevolent?” I asked.

“No,” said Phillips, “it seemed cold and indifferent.”

Despite this unusual experience, Phillips remains agnostic about the existence of aliens. “They could be [real]. I don’t know. I’m a skeptic,” he says.

Even so, he couldn’t explain the sighting, calling it: “something not of this world.”

This specific sighting was referenced in the 1985 HBO documentary, UFOs – What’s Going On? which also purports 9,000 witnesses to similar sightings in that area, for a span of a year and a half. The day following the sighting, Phillips’ school was abuzz with chatter.

The creator of the local newspaper, Ye Olde Tri-Valley Townsman, claimed to have seen the same V-shaped craft as Phillips. The man slapped me on the back, offered me a job, and gave me his business card. It read: “Frank Comando.”

Pine Bush lies within the Hudson Valley, stretching along the Hudson River. The largely unindustrialized area was a hotbed for paranormal activity in the mid-1980s. The same time that Phillips saw his UFO.

Phillips, however, is not unique in his sighting. Many Pine Bush locals claim to have seen inexplicable spacecrafts at some point in their lives.

The old timey barber shop on the cordoned off Main Street is run by one such experiencer: Butch Hunt. He’s a local legend and a beloved figure in the community.

In 1968, Hunt and four friends were sitting in their car when they saw a circular flying saucer hovering over Red Mills Bridge, “it was large as a bank, and it had a rim around the edge so you could see figures looking at us… we got out of the car and we were looking at them and they were looking at us, but then a car came up behind us, and the thing just tilted back and swoosh, it was gone in a couple seconds.”

Hunt seems a magnet for such experiences. He once saw a glowing cigar glide below the tree-line along Orange County’s Searsville Road. I needed to find out more.

The night of the Fair I traveled to the local Town Hall to hear special guests give their accounts. Here are a few of the most compelling:

Cheryl Costa is an ex-military technician, an ordained Buddhist nun, and a retired aerospace analyst. Her wife, Linda Miller Costa, is a former librarian at NASA, the EPA, and The National Academy of Sciences.

Together they’ve amassed and extrapolated mountains of data having to do with UFO sightings. They pulled source material from two volunteer organizations, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), where citizens can go, but often do not, to report their eyewitness accounts.

The Costas whittled the numbers down by eliminating explainable sightings (Fourth of July fireworks, a balloon, a drone), possible hoaxes, as well as information made by questionable sources.

After sixteen months of crunching numbers, the researchers compiled and published a book of hard data, delineating the regions where UFOs were seen. The book, UFO Sightings Desk Reference, is an interesting read, although there’s not a lot of reading since it is mostly graphs.

“Sightings occur in areas with higher populations,” Cheryl tells me. It also has to do with the weather (if it’s cold less people will be outside), leisure time, and hours of darkness. Long Island of Suffolk County is number one on the list, with a reported 686 reputable sightings from 2001-2018.

Curious, I asked Cheryl what kind of numbers she and her partner found for Washington, D.C. It’s a pretty low number of 190 sightings between 2001-2018. Maybe it’s because of Reagan’s Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative or that Neptunians have a general disdain for monuments.

Another fascinating speaker was Travis Walton, who was allegedly abducted in November of 1975, at the age of twenty-two.

Walton was working as a logger in the in the Apache-Sitegraves National Forest of Arizona, one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the world, when he was kidnapped by a flying saucer: it was “metallic” and as “smooth as glass,” hovering near the treetops on the way home from his work site.

Walton claims, “My initial impulse to jump out of the truck to head towards this thing, was something I lived to regret.”

Six of Walton’s fellow loggers remained in the pickup, screaming for Walton’s return with a slew of curses. A beam, best described as a lightning bolt, was emitted from the saucer, launching Walton 10-feet through the air. One of the loggers said he was “fallen like a sack of meat, like there wasn’t a bone in his body.”

Scared for their lives, the sped away down the dirt road. After regaining their composure, they returned to the bizarre scene… but Walton was missing, and remained that way for a period of five days. During the interval both the town and the police of Snowflake, Arizona suspected the other loggers of murdering Travis, then hiding his corpse somewhere in the woods.

They all took polygraphs, sticking to their story of extraterrestrial abductors. And they all passed (except for one who’s test was inconclusive). When Walton reemerged in Snowflake, confused and traumatized, he corroborated his coworkers’ paranormal account.

To find out more about Walton check out the movie made from his experience: Fire in the Sky.

I talked to Walton briefly, before he told the audience about his experience. He told me he went back to logging shortly after his abduction, fearfully toting a pistol he knew wouldn’t do much good. I asked him if he enjoyed coming to these events and he told me he doesn’t do “these things for fun.” He does them because, “People need to know the truth.”

But what is the truth? And why have so many people all over the world, including astronauts, Air Force personnel, and Navy pilots reported sightings they couldn’t explain? Would the Pentagon set up The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, if the footage and reports of otherworldly aircrafts were completely unfounded?

I’m not sure. But I did get a cool water bottle at the Pine Bush UFO Fair.