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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Unsolved Mysteries

So what to make of the Pine Bush weirdness?

One possibility is that Burns and Polise — not to mention Ellen Crystall, Bruce Cornet, police officers, Air Force personnel, academics, journalists and thousands of others — are all mad, or else operating under a collective hysteria.

“These are my experiences,” Polise stresses. “I can’t expect people to believe them if they weren’t there.” Even his parents, he says, expressed skepticism when they read his book. This does not sound like the ravings of a lunatic.

ufo sightingufo sighting
ufo sighting

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,

Photographs courtesy of Vincent Polise

Another possibility: Burns and Polise have spent the last 18 years perpetrating an elaborate hoax, investing countless hours of free time and not insignificant personal expense in order to... what? Promote Polise’s book? Appear on UFO Hunters? Drum up business for Pine Bush motels? Not only does this not make sense, it doesn’t explain the host of other witnesses.

Or it could be that Burns and Polise and the others — including former HV editor Lynn Hazlewood, who wrote about her own strange sighting in this magazine in 1997 — are right. Strange things are afoot in the Pine Bush skies. If that’s so, then what’s going on?

It’s airplanes. This is the stock answer supplied by Stewart Airport when pressed on the subject — that an anonymous group of pilots, none of whom has ever come forward, enjoy doing night maneuvers to mess with the gullible dupes on West Searsville Road. Even the most ardent UFO believer admits that the lion’s share of sightings are airplanes. But what Burns and Polise saw was lights; nothing that resembled a spacecraft. And the sightings in Pine Bush have been low to the ground, just over the tops of the trees — not places airplanes tend to fly. “The UFO phenomenon might not have to do with the sky,” Burns says. “It might have to do with the ground.”

And Pine Bush is not alone. In Yakima, Washington and in Piedmont, Missouri, to name but two other locales, residents have reported witnessing eerily similar sights. The existence of a cabal of prankster aviators operating in three different states seems as unlikely as the existence of men from Mars.

It’s military craft. Yes, there is a strong and somewhat secretive military presence in the area. Yes, the Army has been known to drop soldiers in the apple orchards of Pine Bush for so-called “night games.” Yes, the Stealth bomber was tested at Stewart before it was made public.

cup and saucer dinerE.T. eats here: The rooftop sign at Pine Bush’s Cup & Saucer Diner, the only public acknowledgment of the town’s extraterrestrial reputation

Photograph by Greg Olear

Polise doesn’t hold with this line of thinking. He’s met people who work at Stewart and at the other military bases, he says, and what they do there is not covert ops. Furthermore, why would a military intent on secrecy do test runs in the Hudson Valley, where many people live, instead of, say, the New Mexico desert, where absolutely no one would see? For those seeking a scientific explanation for Pine Bush, however, this is the most attractive theory.

The UFOs are what Ellen Crystall said they are: alien spacecraft. The stigma of believing in — or even considering the possibility of — alien life forms on Earth can destroy reputations, threatening the livelihood of those who advance such theories. (This is the reason Burns does not want to use his full name.) Few serious scientists will publicly embrace this explanation, but that doesn’t mean serious scientists don’t buy it. Sure, the government flatly denies the existence of UFOs, but it’s not like the CIA is a bastion of transparency. There is ample physical evidence out there to support Crystall’s claim, if you choose to entertain it.

Polise speculates that Pine Bush may be what’s known as a “UFO flap” — a gateway through which alien craft travel. They open for 10 years, he says, then close for 10 years. Which, if his theory is right, could make 2010 an interesting summer. “They seem to have an intelligence,” Polise says of whoever — or whatever — is controlling the lights, “where they like to play with the people watching. Like a cat-and-mouse game.”

There is one other possibility: the UFOs are not aliens, but rather what Air Force UFO investigator J. Allen Hynek called “Earth spirits” — or ghosts. The wooded lands of Pine Bush are, in effect, an open-air haunted house.

Pine Bush remains a mystery, one that Burns, Polise, and the other Pine Bush skywatchers hope one day to solve. “I think we can explain what’s going on,” Burns says. “I think we can figure it out. I don’t think it’s beyond us.”

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