Lights in the Sky
May 31, 2023 — by Sandy Dahlfred
In February of 1991, the Londonderry Historical Society hosted a “UFO Info Night” in the High School cafeteria. The guest speaker was Cheryl Powell, a local resident and member of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, an organization made up of civilian volunteers who study UFO sightings. During the early nineties, so many sightings were being reported that MUFON considered the state of a New Hampshire a “hotspot.” To understand the background of the phenomenon, we need to go back several decades to the 1960s, when the Space Race between the United States and Russia reached its peak.
In April of 1961, Russia put the very first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. America responded less than a month later by launching the first pilot-controlled space flight. The pilot in question was none other than Derry’s own Alan Shepard, no doubt instilling into our local residents more than the usual amount of pride and interest in the subject. Each year of the decade brought a new achievement in the space program, culminating in the first human moon walk on July 20, 1969. With so much focus on the heavens, is it any wonder that reports of UFOs also reached a high point during the sixties?
Also in 1961, one of the nation’s most well-known and bizarre UFO stories came out of our state, that of the alleged abduction by aliens of Portsmouth residents Betty and Barney Hill. The Hills were traveling home from a vacation in Canada via a rural road in the White Mountains when they stopped to observe a strange light in the sky. After returning to their travels, they realized that they’d “lost” a couple of hours. Subsequent hypnosis of both individuals revealed extraordinary accounts of having been brought aboard a spaceship and subjected to medical examinations. In 1965, the “Exeter Incident” garnered much local and national attention. Although it was a teenaged hitchhiker who reported seeing a completely silent, 90-foot diameter object hovering over a farmhouse in the nearby town of Kensington in the middle of the night, the incident acquired credibility when two police officers also reported seeing the craft. Books have been written about both of these events.
Londonderry, itself, has had its share of sightings. In August of 1966, several residents observed a large red orb hovering in the area of routes 93 and 102. The object made no sound, and all of the witnesses, including a police officer, described the very same details. Some people observed the craft for a full 20 minutes. Witnesses included a Derry News reporter and several motorists who’d stopped on the side of the road to view the spectacle. One member of that group said that the thing “traveled up and down and across the sky in a crazy pattern.” In 1988, several witnesses reported a UFO in the sand pits near the airport. Although a report of an “object in the sky near the airport” shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, witnesses who lived nearby said that they know what an airplane looks like, thank you very much, but this was something different. Further investigation revealed that this was not an isolated incident. As the sightings became public, more people came out of the woodwork to admit that they, too, had seen “strange objects” in that same area. Witnesses to these phenomena always describe the objects as having lights and moving at unusually fast or slow speeds. Whether round, triangular, oval, or cylindrical, the entities consistently have two things in common – lights and silence.
The UFO craze seems to have simmered down, but in fact, sightings haven’t stopped. A 2014 WMUR news article stated that several reports, most anonymous, are investigated each month in the Granite State. It’s interesting to note that in the sixties, a UFO observer’s experience practically guaranteed him celebrity status, but by the eighties it was more of an embarrassment, thus accounting for the anonymous reports. Some attribute this change in attitude to the fact that the U.S. Air Force discontinued its study of UFOs, ending their “Blue Book” project in 1969. If the Government isn’t taking these things seriously, should we? MUFON, however, still exists, and you can report a UFO sighting on their website, www.mufon.com/, or, if you’re a real UFO enthusiast, you can even join their ranks.
Fourth of July – We Deserve to Celebrate!
July 2, 2021 — by Sandy Dahlfred
A Farmer’s Cabinet article of April 2, 1875, reported that the New England Historic Genealogical Society had acknowledged receipt of a donation from the town of Londonderry that included “eighteen bullets cast during the Revolution, 1774-1783, being a part of the town stock of Londonderry, and kept in the town chest to the present time; also a cup made from wood taken from the house of Gen. George Reid of Londonderry, a famous officer in the Revolutionary War.” Being a long-time member of the NEHGS as well as a Londonderry resident, this article prompted me to look further into the town’s role in achieving our country’s independence.
What I learned is that Londonderry played a significant part in the Revolutionary War. The town was overwhelmingly pro-independence, with a full 96% of men signing the “Association Test,” a document declaring an individual’s support for the patriotic cause. In addition to dozens of fighting men, Londonderry contributed two generals, John Stark and the above-mentioned George Reid, and it’s even rumored that the first act of defiance that precipitated the war actually took place here rather than in in Lexington, Massachusetts! In January of 1769, a group of British Army deserters – of which there were many – was living in Londonderry. Their presence was reported to the royal authorities, possibly by a local spy, and they were rounded up and marched out of town. At that point, eleven Londonderry men intercepted the Redcoats in the nearby town of Atkinson and forced them to free the prisoners, resulting in quite a shock to the British soldiers who’d been thwarted by, in their view, a bunch of undisciplined rubes! If you’d like to learn more about this event, read the story The Londonderry Riot in Richard Holmes’ excellent book, Nutfield Rambles.
But, back to the donations…
From its very inception, Londonderry kept on hand “one barrel of good powder, 200 weight of bullets, and 300 flints for every 60 listed soldiers” as charged by the Province of New Hampshire in 1718. Although this ammunition was initially kept in the event of an attack by Natives, at the time of the Revolution, some of the stock was being distributed to men who were “willing to go against the enemy” and who promised “not to waste any.” Recipients needed to have their own guns in good working order, as well as twenty of their own bullets. No doubt the stash needed to be replenished due to the existing hostilities, and the town hung onto the remaining bullets until they were donated to the Society.
(Old) Londonderry-born George Reid, born in 1733, was the son of James and Mary Reid, some of the first settlers of the town. When the Revolution began, Reid was in command of a company of minutemen under General Stark. He quickly moved up the Army ranks to become general and served for the entire war, beginning with the battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. In 1786, General Reid was tasked with helping to quell a rebellion that had arisen regarding the use of paper currency. Because of his part in what became known as the “Exeter Rebellion,” he received death threats through anonymous letters, and was even accosted by an angry crowd that surrounded his Londonderry home. Though well-armed, Reid was able to talk the mob into disbursing. No guns were fired and no one was injured. General Reid, along with his wife, Mary Woodburn, raised five children on their farm here in town. The wooden cup mentioned in the article no doubt came from that place.
I contacted the folks at NEHGS and learned that, sadly, the donated items are no longer housed there. They were deaccessioned in January of 1962 when the organization moved from Ashburton Place in Boston to its current location on Newbury Street. No record of their whereabouts exists.