Published: 1:02 PM 2/29/2012
By Lisa Rose/The Star-Ledger
North Bergen is a national UFO landmark, thanks to a famous book, "Missing Time, " which chronicles a mysterious night in North Hudson Park, where several witnesses say an alien ship landed. Right across from the park is an unusual apartment building called the Stonehenge, also known as the "Round House."
NORTH BERGEN — Maybe the Mayans were right. Over the past few months, bloggers around the globe have been buzzing about ominous sounds from above. Some conclude a cloaked spacecraft is prepping for a doomsday attack by year’s end.
The sounds are sweeping the web. With cameras tilted skyward, folks claim to be capturing audible evidence of a ship hovering over the planet. There are viral videos from Kiev, Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Sweden and both coasts of the United States.
"We do get daytime cases in which people hear something mechanical pass overhead, but they see nothing," says Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, nuforc.org. "But I don’t believe the videos are a true phenomenon. I think it is a marketing effort associated with a film designed to scare the daylights out of people."
Whether the videos are an elaborate hoax inspired by "Cloverfield" or the real apocalyptic deal, the trend has New Jersey roots. Last May, a YouTube user in North Bergen posted a six-minute video with creepy howling noises under cloudless sky.
It’s not the first report of the unexplained in North Bergen. The city may seem like a humble suburb wedged between Weehawken and Fairview but it is actually the UFO capital of New Jersey. Forget about the Pine Barrens. Based on an abundance of sightings over the past three decades, the hilly town along the Hudson River is a hub for other worldly mysteries.
The community’s alien mythos dates to a famous 1975 tale of a spacecraft landing in North Hudson County Park, across the street from the Stonehenge, a circular apartment tower built in 1968 by the architecture firm that designed the Empire State Building. Once the tallest edifice in New Jersey, the 35-story complex shines over the park like a beacon for galactic travelers.
During the 1975 "Stonehenge Incident," witnesses in the tower and on the ground described strange lights glowing in the park, now named for boxer James J. Braddock. It was the first case investigated by the late UFO researcher, author and artist Budd Hopkins.
He was compelled to explore the episode after a North Bergen liquor store owner, George O’Barski, told him that he’d seen a saucer land in a grassy field opposite the Stonehenge. O’Barski said a group of diminutive creatures in helmets traipsed down an illuminated ramp to scoop soil samples.
Hopkins penned a 1976 Village Voice piece about the encounter, "Sane Citizen Sees UFO in New Jersey."
"We have the article in our office," says Stonehenge doorman William Schiappa. "I was kind of surprised when I first heard about it, but we have people who have lived here a long time. They have a coffee klatch and sometimes UFOs come up in conversation."
Hopkins put North Bergen on the cosmic map. He followed up his Village Voice article with a pioneering book, "Missing Time: A Documented Study of UFO Abductions."
"I heard about the story," says Philip Pietro, a retired postal worker eating breakfast at the Boulevard Diner in North Bergen. "A few people told me about it at the post office."
Reports of unidentified flying objects around the Stonehenge and the park continue to surface online, along with videos and photos.
Fireballs, blue discs, whirling triangles and wingless planes have all been spotted on starry nights in North Bergen, according to dispatches in the UFO databases, nuforc.org and mufon.com.
"North Hudson Park has been ground zero for UFO sightings for years," says Edward Giunta, the North Bergen tax assessor. "I remember back when the original story came out, the park was filled with news trucks. One of our friends, as a prank, wrapped himself in tinfoil."
Like any other city, North Bergen has a mix of skeptics and believers but most residents, even those born after 1975, are acquainted with the UFO lore.
"Just through word of mouth, people know about it," says Sgt. Alex Guzman of the North Bergen Police Department. "We haven’t received any new reports about the park, but one of our sergeants told me about it. He said that a lot of people from the apartment building called that one night."
Indeed, a retired sergeant, Bose Bozicevic, started carrying a camera with him on patrol after he saw something bright and menacing in the park. Nearly a decade after the initial Stonehenge Incident, he was working the late shift on a summer night, ticketing vehicles. He had an "eerie feeling" and looked up.
"I was mesmerized by the lights," says Bozicevic. "It went really slow over me and I got in my car. I threw my lights on and followed it down Park Avenue. It kind of went sideways and disappeared right around the Stonehenge, which we used to call the ‘Round House.’ I told a buddy of mine and he said, ‘Don’t tell a soul.’ Maybe it was Air Force. I didn’t report it because as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t a criminal incident. No one got hurt."
Davenport estimates that for every UFO missive he’s received, there are another 70,000 undocumented sightings. He says folks want to talk on the phone but are reluctant to provide him with written accounts.
"People say they’re too busy or they don’t want to lose their job at the landfill," says Davenport. "The American people, we like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, but nothing could be further from the truth from my vantage point. People come up with excuses for why they can’t write their UFO sighting report but to me, it’s just laziness."
Even as increasingly sophisticated telescopes reveal the enormity of the universe, skeptics still ridicule believers, says Charles Ratliff, assistant director of the New Jersey chapter of the Mutual UFO Network. "The ‘giggle factor’ comes into play when someone starts talking about UFO’s," says Ratliff, of Milltown, a retired police captain.
"I remember speaking to a group of individuals at a party indicating that I’d seen something and I became the laughingstock. There are people whose sole purpose is to debunk everything. Maybe they’re skeptics or maybe they’re being paid by the government. It is ludicrous and arrogant on humanity’s part to think this is the only planet where God chose to put intelligent life."
Ratliff adds, "I’m not trying to force anyone to believe anything. I’m not standing on a corner with a placard."