Published: 12:04 PM 5/2/2010
By Charles Culbertson/contributor, email@example.com
The December 1964 sighting of an alleged unidentified flying object on U.S. 250 just east of Staunton sparked massive public interest, an investigation by the U.S. Air Force and a number of what might be called "copycat" sightings.
One of them involved several Staunton teenagers who claimed to have had a close encounter with a spaceman.
By late January 1965, the story of Grottoes resident Horace Burns' sighting of the mysterious craft (which he said landed in a field between Staunton and Fishersville) had gained national media attention and was beginning to generate a rash of other sightings throughout the state.
UFOs were allegedly seen at Marion, Fredericksburg and South Boston.
Locally, UFOs were reported seen in Greenville and the Jollivue area.
"Despite mounting reports of UFOs, the Leander McCormick observatory on Mt. Jefferson at Charlottesville hasn't spotted a thing," wrote the Jan. 25 Staunton Leader. "Larry Frederick, chairman of the astronomy department at the University of Virginia, explained that the objects could be meteors since the last six weeks have produced some 'showering' activity."
Frederick said another possibility was that people were seeing the high-intensity landing lights of jets which "follow the main north-south and east-west flyways that criss-cross the area."
The most creative sighting was reported by a Staunton teenager who said that while riding on U.S. 250 at Brands Flat with some friends, he saw what looked like a man walking toward the road from a field.
The teen thought nothing of it until the man sat down alongside the road and began to examine the cars passing by.
The youth said he then realized that the man might have come from one of the spaceships recently reported in the area. He said he and his friends got out of the car and ran toward the man, who escaped over a hill.
Two other little men appeared and also ran away, he said.
"They left us way behind," said the teen, who described the men as about three and a half feet tall and wearing one-piece, skin-tight garments that were silver in color.
The boys reported their sighting to Staunton police, who sent 10 reservists and a photographer to the scene to investigate. They turned up nothing.
After they left, the teenager who had first spotted the "spacemen" and the photographer stayed to continue the search.
They said they came upon a "glowing" aluminum barn. The photographer allegedly entered the barn and was hit by something. When he and the teenager started to run, the photographer turned to take a picture of the barn.
The teen said that as the camera's flash bulb went off, its light showed one of the little men standing by the structure. That alleged photo has never been published, at least not locally.
Local UFO hysteria reached its height Jan. 28 when a number of Staunton residents carrying guns spread out along U.S. 250 to search for aliens.
"Gun-toting Staunton area residents who pursue 'little green men' were sharply criticized today by Augusta County Sheriff John E. Kent," reported the Leader.
Kent said "it is dangerous as well as ridiculous" for grown men to take to the fields and woods to look for nocturnal creatures who stray away from their spaceships and disappear.
Staunton Police Chief R. Ruff Cline said he believed "the whole thing is a hoax."
After that, local interest in UFOs and spacemen seemed to diminish, with the Leader firing a final satirical shot with a front-page photo of a spaceman in a flying saucer — concocted by staff photographer Dennis Sutton.