Mark LaFlamme: Where have all the UFOs gone?

·8 min read

Aug. 2—The lady lived on the dark edge of Lewiston and every night around dusk, a visitor from another world would come to her.

a visitor from another world, anyway. All she could tell me for sure was that each night, just after suppertime, a spherical light would appear in the darkness just beyond the edge of her property. For the remainder of the night it just hovered there as though watching her.

You can imagine how excited I got at this news.

"Stop everything!" I advised the press crew. "We're going to want the full front page for this one! E.T.s arrive in Lewiston! Big photo spread! Comments from NASA and possibly Will Smith! Look alive, fellas! This is the big one!"

So, I went over to investigate the alien visitation and, well ... It didn't go as I'd imagined. It turned out the strange, spherical light wasn't the arrival of some exotic life form from the Pleiades. In fact, the cause of the mysterious light was something so dull and mundane I've forgotten exactly what it was, but it definitely was not the kind of thing that would cause those press guys to push the big, red STOP button.

Five years ago that was, and I'm STILL disappointed. I'm disappointed in particular because I used to make quite a living out of reporting on UFO sightings and all the Sci-Fi Channel fun that goes with them.

My, how the Sun Journal switchboards used to light up on those beautiful nights. I'd be sitting sulkily at my desk, pretending to work on a weather story or some damn thing, when our switchboard operator, Cathy, would come flying over to my desk.

"I just took three calls in a row about some strange lights in the sky over Lake Auburn. Got a lady on the line right now who said the roar of it knocked all the knickknacks off her shelf. You interested?"

It was a rhetorical question and she knew it.

God, those were fun nights. I'd talk to one fast-talking witness after another over the newsroom phone, scribbling frantically in my notebook as we went along.

"Cigar-shaped ... moving real fast ... a kind of sizzling noise followed by a thunderous boom ..."

As soon as I'd finish up one glorious conversation, Cathy (I really need to write a full column about her someday) would send me another and then another after that.

I'd call the sheriff's department where a suddenly animated dispatcher would tell me about all the calls HE'd been getting. I'd call the weather service and THEY would verify getting reports as well. No matter who you talked to about these things, the enthusiasm for the phenomenon was infectious. Every one of us wanted to believe.

One specific UFO report, probably 18 years ago or even further back, lasted for days. Scores of people had seen strange lights in the sky and many had heard the big, chest-rattling booms that went with them. A whole bunch of people from Auburn saw it. And Lewiston and Greene, Sabattus, Leeds ...

Over the course of the week, more and more reports tumbled in.

That story got so big that I started getting random visits from people claiming to be scientists or UFO researchers. One lady, tall, pale and severe in countenance, claimed to be a researcher sent over from Russia. She asked me a whole lot of questions about the reports I'd heard but would answer no questions that I put to her. When she was through, she folded up her notebook, nodded crisply, and strode out of the newsroom.

On another night, I was called by a group of people assembled in a dark field off Ferry Road in Lewiston.

"We've been watching a strange craft circling overhead for about an hour. You should come and check it out."

I thought it was possibly a trap and I was about to get whacked on Ferry Road, but out I went, and for the next hour or two, I stood with my head hung back on my neck, staring into the sky with a group of six or eight people.

What'd we see that night? Beats me, Scully. It was mainly just a dim light moving in some strange formations; no tractor beam, no random dude sucked into the belly of the mothership or any of that action. But with a little imagination — and whatever that one guy had in his flask — we were able to turn an otherwise dull night into a night of awe. We wanted to believe.

I used to get at least a handful of UFO reports per year. Now I don't get any. Why call your local newspaper about some Dorito-shaped craft you saw hovering over the power lines in Greene when you can just post your photos to Lewiston Rocks and let the party begin?

I miss those calls, I really do. It bums me out in particular because I'm one of those sad jamokes who doesn't have a UFO story of his own with which to bore people at parties. That big night of blazing lights and sonic booms over Androscoggin County back in 19-whenever-that-was? I never saw or heard a thing in spite of being out and about at all hours of the night.

It doesn't matter WHERE I am, galactic travelers just have no interest in me.

Never saw one in the hot spots of Arizona and Nevada, no matter how long I roamed the deserts, gawking at the sky and bumping into saguaro cacti every 30 feet. Not even at the gates of Area 51 did I see so much as a strange twinkle from the sky.

Never saw one in Newport News, Virginia, in spite of living right next to a naval shipyard, which is supposed to draw UFOs like flies to poo. Never saw a UFO here, never saw a UFO there, and it makes me wonder if I have some kind of hideous character flaw that extraterrestrials find repellent. And it doesn't help that everybody and his brother Paul have seen SOMETHING unexplainable in the vast of night.

John F. claims to have been just hanging around, not doing anything at all to attract E.T.s, when he clapped eyes on a TR-3B-style craft. "I saw one of these about 12 years ago," he says. "It made absolutely no sound at all. The path it was on seemed to be going along the Androscoggin River, just about over the Great Falls."

Michael E. may have seen the same thing: "Yep. Back in 1998, I think it was. Hovering triangle shapes with lights on each point. In Lisbon by the river — I had a buddy in the car with me and when we noticed them, we took a side road and they followed and then we stopped and they all took off in different directions."

Stephanie S. hath such charms, she's had not one but two UFO sightings to report. "When I lived in Brunswick and when I lived in Presque Isle," she says, all gloatingly. "Three different types. Orange ball type and triangle type in Brunswick. In Presque Isle it was a huge low hovering slow moving tan craft that shut all the power off, including running cars, as it passed over."

Not to be outdone, Bruce W. reports no fewer than three UFO sightings. "Lived on Lake Auburn, saw a really weird globe shaped thingy zigging and zagging, then it would shoot straight up and just hover," he says. "Then in Turner on Route 4, I was headed north, thought the damn thing was a plane crashing, then it just disappeared. And one in Jackman, but I was a bit drunk that time."

"Me and my son and his wife captured a UFO late in the day in Turner," Steve D. tells me, and he doesn't just have the cool story, he has the video to go with it.

There are more, but you get my drift. All my life I've been down here waiting for Mork to appear and yet the only UFO experiences I have are vicarious. I could be hanging out at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, with the grandest astronomical equipment at my disposal, and I'd probably get a call from some yahoo in Lewiston who just witnessed the most bizarre sight in the sky over the old Bates Mill.

But whatever. The other night, with all these sad thoughts running through my head, I sat down to watch the 1993 film "Fire in the Sky" for the first time (I like to let a movie percolate for a couple decades before diving in). After witnessing what happened to poor D.B. Sweeney during HIS UFO experience, I've decided I'm quite OK with Alf and Co. giving me the cold shoulder.

See one mysterious light over the back roads of Greene and the next thing you know, you're covered in goo with a twisted and sadistic space creature pouring milk in your eyes.

Who needs it?