They Came From Pine Bush
For close to 90 years, observers in this Orange County town have been spotting objects in the night sky that defy explanation
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Through the (Light) Years
Burns and Polise are by no means the first in Pine Bush to bear witness to unusual phenomena. Reports of unexplained goings-on date back at least to the 1920s: pulsating lights, squiggly lights, multicolored lights; objects shaped like orbs, like triangles, like saucers, like boomerangs; machinery noises, mechanical noises, loud metallic banging that seems to emanate from far below the ground, or down the Wallkill River, or in the ’Gunks themselves.
What was that? Polise’s collection of photos of UFOs sighted in Pine Bush includes objects of different shapes, sizes, and colors. More photos can be seen on his Web site, www.pinebushufo.com
Photographs courtesy of Vincent Polise
In the 1950s, silver discs were seen landing in open fields — notable because the “saucer” shape was the prevailing UFO image during the Eisenhower administration. In the following two decades, the frequency of the mysterious sightings increased. Word began to filter out that Pine Bush was a ufological Lourdes, and lo, the paranormal pilgrims came.
During the Reagan years, there was a nationwide spike in reports of paranormal activity that coincided with a widespread cultural interest in science fiction. Novelist Whitley Strieber was living in upstate New York in 1985, probably in or around Pine Bush, when he had the alleged alien encounter on which he based his best-seller, Communion. And thousands of witnesses in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut observed a football field-sized V-shaped craft, the so-called “Westchester Boomerang,” hovering over the Taconic Parkway. (The sighting is chronicled in the 1987 book Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings, by Dr. Allen Hynek, Philip Imbrogno, and Robert Pratt.)
Ellen Crystall was an early Pine Bush disciple. On one of her first visits to West Searsville Road, Crystall made contact with what she believed was an alien. She contacted Harry Lebelson, the lone writer at Omni magazine’s UFO desk, who by chance was already investigating Pine Bush. Lebelson produced a well-researched article, in which he interviewed a number of local witnesses; it was the first time the Pine Bush phenomenon was mentioned in a national publication.
Crystall’s 1991 book, Silent Invasion — and its promotion on numerous TV programs — subsequently catapulted Pine Bush into pop culture prominence. Visitors, including cable-TV producers and members of the news media, came from far and wide to sit in the dark and watch. A Hawaiian skywatcher described the line of trees beyond West Searsville Road as a “sleeping giant’s belly,” a coinage that was eventually used to indicate where sightings took place. As the millennium approached, however, incidents became fewer and farther between, even as the lure of West Searsville Road became more widely known.
— John Lennon
In the summer of 2000, an altercation involving the skywatchers, a developer, and the police signaled the end of the Pine Bush party. Spurred on by the developer, the police began enforcing a no-parking rule on West Searsville Road, effectively shutting it down as a skywatching spot. In 2002, Ellen Crystall died; geologist and UFO researcher Bruce Cornet (who claimed that the Valley was remarkably similar, geologically, to the Cydonia region of Mars) left the area. And the paranormal activity slowed to a trickle.
But more recently, Polise and Burns have picked up the ufological mantle. In 2005, Polise published The Pine Bush Phenomenon, a book about his experiences. Burns is the founder of the Pine Bush Anomaly Archive, which is a comprehensive collection of data that he hopes to organize and share with other researchers. While both acknowledge the general slowdown of sightings, they also report that they have not stopped altogether.
“When they do happen,” Burns says, “they’re very dramatic sightings.”