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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vincent poliseNight watchman: UFO observer Vincent Polise is the author of The Pine Bush Experience, in which he recounts seeing what “looked like a Ferris wheel on fire” in the sky

Photograph by Michael Nelson

Maps & Legends

Pine Bush is a small town on the east bank of the Shawangunk Kill, between Walden and Ellenville. There is a McDonald’s, a Hannaford food store, and a gleaming high school. The only overt nod to its standing as the UFO capital of the East Coast is the Cup and Saucer Diner, but — with a hand-painted sign festooned on an otherwise unassuming exterior — even that feels halfhearted.

But then, it is not Pine Bush proper but its rural environs — a 50-odd-square-mile area roughly bounded by the Wallkill River and the Shawangunk Mountains — that are the hotbed of alleged extraterrestrial activity. Within that larger area, there are three time-honored vantage points: Drexel Drive, which runs parallel to Albany Post Road; the Congregation Beth Hillel Cemetery on Route 52; and what many consider the epicenter of it all, West Searsville Road.

On the surface, there appears to be some logic behind the location. Whereas much of the Hudson Valley is a series of peaks and valleys, topographically, Pine Bush is almost perfectly flat. It’s close enough to the Shawangunks that you can see their rocky profile, but not so close that your view is obstructed in any way.

Debunkers are quick to point out Pine Bush’s proximity to a preponderance of airports and, perhaps significantly, military installations. Stewart Airport is 15 miles away; it was an Air Force base during the height of the UFO sightings, and the army still maintains an ammunition storage annex in Newburgh. There are also a number of smaller airstrips nearby. In Bullville, a U.S. military installation is built around Dwaar Kill, the same creek that runs through the woods off West Searsville Road.

Rumors abound of covert and possibly sinister military activity in the area: secret chambers beneath the ’Gunks; a clandestine subterranean tunnel connecting Stewart and Plattsburgh Air Force bases; a top-secret CIA mind-control program coordinated from an undisclosed location. These stories are touted by some as the scientific explanation for the rampant tales of alien abduction in the mid-’80s.

The pesky rumors, often-madcap speculation, books written by UFO researchers, coverage by cable TV shows devoted to the paranormal, and — above all — persistent eyewitness accounts: All of this has imbued the Pine Bush story with a folkloric aspect. But even folklore evolves from reality.

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