Published: 3:51 PM 4/28/2023
engine in his car stopped...
By Jacob Fife
AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - It's December 21, 1964 and things are quiet in the Shenandoah Valley. Gunsmith Horace Burns is heading towards Fishersville from Staunton on Route 250 when his vehicle starts to mess up. What he's about to see will change the Valley for the next 6 months.
This is an Unusual Sighting
The story of Burns' encounter was published in several newspapers from the Valley all the way to Richmond, but this version comes from the Flying Saucer Investigating Committee of Akron, Ohio.
The article states that Burns was near the Woodrow Wilson Center when he saw a metallic object coming from the north, and when it passed ahead of him Burns said the engine in his car stopped. He claimed his car came to an unnaturally quick stop, and he watched the craft land gently in a field about 100 yards back from the road.
The article says Burns got out of the vehicle and watched the craft, which he described as an Upside down spinning top toy and was about 125 feet wide and abut 90 feet high. Burns claimed to see a bluish glow from under the object, but he couldn't see any doors, windows, landing gear, or people inside. After about 60-90 seconds the craft made a whooshing sound and flew straight up, according to Burns.
Burns told his wife and decided to keep his sighting quiet until he saw a report by WSVA a few days later about a UFO club at Eastern Mennonite College he decided to share his story. Jim Shipp of WSVA interviewed Burns about his sighting, and a professor at EMU who was in the UFO club went to the landing site with a Geiger counter.
He reportedly picked up readings of over 60,000 counts per minute, and the sighting was reported to Project Blue Book at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Agents from the top secret program Project Blue Book were dispatched to investigate, including Sergeant David Moody, who was one of Blue Book's top investigators. After their arrival at the airport, words spread that military investigators were in town investigating the reported landing.
A reporter asked Moody what he thought about the sighting, and Moody told the reporter "This is an unusual sighting. If it was routine, we wouldn't be here."
Other Sightings Spread Fear
Burns' sighting was on December 21, 1964, but Blue Book didn't arrive until mid-January of 1965. During those few weeks between the events, more sightings took place between Harrisonburg and Staunton, including a 10-year old who claimed to see a metallic ship in the sky over Waynesboro near where Burns' sighting happened.
There was an excitement in the air when the sightings first started because this was something new to the area. People must've felt like they were in some science fiction movie; the excitement didn't last long though.
An article dated February 1, 1965 from the Journal Herald newspaper in Dayton, Ohio says "Almost daily Virginians are reporting UFO sightings, and some claim to see Martians running around at night."
A quote from Augusta County Sheriff John Kent put it simply, "This thing has gotten completely out of hand."
Sightings were getting closer, and people, especially around Staunton, were concerned that local law enforcement was not enough to keep them and their families safe. Different newspapers from Augusta County and even Richmond had armed groups patrolling the roads looking for UFOs, and the Journal Herald even mentioned an encounter where a man dressed up as an alien for a joke and was almost shot by three people one night.
While all of these sightings were going on, Blue Book was trying to keep a low profile as they investigated the sightings, but they were finding that to be an almost impossible task. Reporters seemed to know where they were going to be at all times, and Moody was interviewed several times by different reporters.
Every time he was interviewed he assured everyone that there was nothing to fear, but that there was something strange going on. This was strange coming from Moody, who had a track record of immediately dismissing sightings and people. Something was different about this.
Project Blue Book
Project Blue Book was formed in 1952, following Project Sign and Project Grudge. The purpose of Blue Book was to investigate and explain reported sightings of UFOs and provide scientific explanations to the general public. Blue Book was created by the United States Air Force and operated out of Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio.
Between 1952-1969, Blue Book would investigate over 12,000 UFO sightings, and 701 of them would be listed as "unexplained" according to the official report by the air force. Blue Book investigated cases that were possibly threats to national security, and the Fishersville case was one of those.
Sgt. David Moody had been with the program for about 4 years when he was sent to Fishersville, along with a few other agents. While Blue Book conducted their investigations they tried to stay out of the public eye, but didn't shy away from the press when a confrontation was inevitable.
The Fishersville case was interesting because Moody spoke to reporters several times, especially at the beginning of their investigation. As Moody and his agents continued to investigate, he began giving fewer and fewer interviews and began writing back to his bosses about the case.
Moody had questioned Burns several times about his sighting, but his story never changed, and Moody determined he was being credible.
Even the director of Blue Book, Major Hector Quintanilla, called Burns to see if he could trip him up, but in a letter he said no details had changed and he did not sense any hoax or trick being played.
Major Quintanilla was the last director of Blue Book, and has received a reputation from UFO researchers of not taking investigations seriously, or that the air force was trying to bring Blue Book back to its dismissive roots instead of actually investigating.
Whichever the case, no one had an explanation for what was happening in the Valley.
The Apocalypse is coming, and the Valley turns to chaos
While Blue Book investigators are scrambling to find answers, sightings keep happening. Regional radio stations have had reports almost daily about new sightings, military movements, and interviews with witnesses.
Then, in an interview Professor Ernest Gehman from Eastern Mennonite College, who took the Geiger counter readings, told a reporter with the Roanoke World-News he couldn't help feeling there is a prophetic significance to these sightings, it could possibly foretell the second coming of Christ.
Word spread from church to church, and others began foretelling of the apocalypse and that Jesus was coming to Augusta County, and they referenced scriptures from the New Testament to back up their claims.
As this was happening, a family of 6 witnessed a cigar-shaped aircraft near Staunton high school for several minutes, and a woman near Harrisonburg reported a bright object in the sky that she said was following her. As panic spread, more and more sightings were reported north of Augusta County, and people must've felt like an invasion was happening.
In a newspaper clipping from February 1965, it was suggested that the state police or National Guard be called in to calm the people, and protect them from the invaders from outer space. Moody called for more agents to be sent from Wright-Patterson to help and investigate the new sightings, but then something odd happened.
Quintanilla wrote to Moody about an incident in Ohio between an unidentified flying ship and an air force fighter plane, and that Moody was to bring all agents back to Wright-Patterson. There were no records or incidents found about this, but it had to be a pretty important event. As the Blue Book agents began to leave, people demanded a final explanation.
But none was given.
All the air force had to say was that there was nothing to be alarmed about, and they couldn't find any evidence of UFOs anywhere.
People were outraged because they felt like the military called everyone a liar and now they were running back to base. Blue Book was only in the Valley for just over a month, but it was enough to leave a lasting impression.
Blue Book's Report and Return to Normal
After the agents left people continued to report sightings, but as Spring arrived fewer and fewer sightings were reported. Project Blue Book would quietly release a report about the Fishersville case, saying that they found no evidence of a UFO landing, and that they recommended Horace Burns take a psychiatric test, but there is no mentioning of that ever happening.
Nowhere do they say he was wrong, or that the event was hoaxed. The case was quietly swept under the rug and they began working on other cases.
People in the Valley began losing interest in stories about UFOs, and no longer did religious figures talk about the apocalypse coming to the area. After reading countless reports, letters, and newspaper articles, it seems like people just got tired of talking about it.
According to Project Blue Book, between December 1964 through May of 1965, there were almost 50 reported UFO sightings in the Shenandoah Valley, and Blue Book kept a few agents in the Valley until the summer of 1965. The incident was never investigated again or even brought up by any of the investigators, or even by the UFO community.
It's almost like people forgot about the Fishersville landing and UFO scare altogether.
1965 would be a big year for UFO sightings and UFO lore, and I think we can say that it all started in the Shenandoah Valley on a cold winter's evening.