It’s late. Outside, in the deep darkness of a winter’s night in a landscape vast and empty, the temperature is dipping well below zero and the first quarter moon is a sliver in the stillness of the heavens. You look at the calender from Pat’s Sunoco on the wall by the phone. It’s only four days until Christmas, 1955. As you check your front door lock and turn to make your way up the stairs to bed, you notice something odd, something out of place, a color and a glow that should not be there, growing in the distance. You turn to study it, wondering if a neighbor’s house or farm is aflame, but you immediately dismiss that idea. Whatever it is, it’s getting brighter and, yes, it must be getting closer as well. And now you want to go awaken your husband but you’re afraid if you look away, it will be gone. Then you know that you can’t look away because in some way you cannot explain, you understand in a bone-deep way, that the light, or whatever is within the light, is looking at you, too. Your name is Roberta Jacobs and this night, you’ve been chosen to witness something few others in northern Maine, or the world, for that matter, have ever seen, something that would haunt you for the rest of your days.
The more you look at it, the bigger it appears and the color – oh the color! Later you will say it was gold, but of a hue you had never seen before, a color that didn’t appear on any color wheel you have ever seen. And the brightness! It was glowing brighter than the sun on a summer day, just brilliant to your eyes. At least the size of the moon in the sky, it was close, so close you could make out many details. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t a star or the planet Venus – you knew those astronomical bodies as well as any farmer’s wife in Aroostook County. But if it isn’t a star or the moon, what is it? And what does it want?
In the late 1940s onward, there began a rash of sightings of strange lights in the sky making erratic and seemingly impossible movements and filling the imagination of millions as these strange and frightening lights began to appear in the nation’s skies. Eight years earlier in mid 1947, the now infamous Roswell Incident ushered in a new era of conspiracy theories, alien craft and a fear of the other that rode alongside the Red Scare and McCarthyism in America. The term U.F.O. had only come into the parlance of the era, replacing the term ‘flying saucer’ for something more inclusive of all the different kinds and shapes of crafts being reported by the general public. The hysteria grew and the U.S. Air Force responded with official investigations, first with Project Sign in 1947, followed by Project Grudge in 1949 and finally with Project Blue Book in 1952. Project Blue Book continued until 1969, gathering and collating thousands of reports over the years but coming to no solid sensibilities or claims about the cause of these lights in the sky. In fact, the reports are now freely available to the general public (see references at the end of the article).
Currently, Maine ranks fifth in the nation for reported U.F.O. sightings. Perhaps this is because of the darkness of the nights. Of all the states on the east coast, Maine is the only one with a true night sky, one so devoid of light pollution that it rates a 1 on the Bortle Scale used in astronomy to describe places on the planet with the best night seeing conditions. But if it is fairly dark at night Maine now, imagine how much darker it must have been on that night in December in 1955.
If you haven’t heard of Project Blue Book, it was our military’s attempt to explain and document the rash of sighting occurring in the country beginning in the late 1940s and going until the late sixties, run and maintained by the Air Force. Though they attempted to gather the information from witnesses, Project Blue Book’s explanations of UFO sightings have often been criticized as dismissive and grossly unscientific – claiming ‘swamp gas’, the planet Venus, or the Moon, as likely explanations for the strange lights in the sky/ Regardless of logic or common sense, the investigators seemed driven to attach some explanation to its cases.
All, that is, but a few. There are a few special cases officially labeled ‘unidentified’ possibly because anything that might suggest a valid explanation for the sighting other than unidentified, had been exhausted and to suggest otherwise would be to invite ridicule. With no correlation to any known object, one can imagine with what reticence the investigators checked the box ‘unidentified’. It meant that there was no current rational explanation. There were a total of seven unidentified reports in Maine during the Air Force’s investigations and the very first one in the country occurred in Maine on July 3, 1947 in Harborsville, at 2:30 in the afternoon by astronomer John Cole of South Brooksville. He watched for a mere 10 to 15 seconds as ten very light objects with two dark forms moved like a swarm of been to the northwest, accompanied by a loud roar. In 1952 in Portland, the crew of a U.S. Navy P2V Patrol Plane saw and tracked on radar a series of five lights. In 1954 in Rangeley, Maine, Wilhelm Reich, contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and the only man in history whose books were officially burned by the United Government, reported two bright lights that moved into a valley and were seen against the background of the mountain for a total of twenty minutes. Again in 1954 in Pittsfield, Mr and Mrs. F.E. Robertson reported a silver-dollar shaped object with a dome that made the sound of a swarm of bees that hovered, tilted, flew horizontally and then vertically – all of this happening in a span of four minutes. Then, a day later in nearby Hartland, another witness named D. Robertson witnessed a single silver oblong shaped object with a dome and a flashing light fly straight and then straight upwards for a total of a fifteen minute observation. Then, in November of 1954 in Augusta, N. Gallant, the manager of radio station WFAV, witnessed ten gold, circular objects flying in vertical V-formation, straight and level, for about 3 minutes.
Maine’s last officially unidentified sighting occurred in Caribou, and it is perhaps the most enigmatic because of the nature and voice of the person who submitted the report, Mrs. Roberta Jacobs. What makes this story so compelling to me is that, though I did not know Mrs. Jacobs, she was a neighbor of mine and I did know her husband, Fred Jacobs – Mr. Jacobs – he was my school bus driver for many years. The sky in which the golden light appeared to Mrs. Jacobs was my sky too, a vast sky so clear, you could lose yourself in the glow from distant stars unhindered by street lights and houses. It was a sky that came from and went on forever.
People from Maine and particularly Aroostook County are solid. I know that’s probably a simplification, but I have to say that they are no-nonsense, problem-solving, good-natured and hard working and certainly not prone to flights of fancy that might lead them to see an extraterrestrial spacecraft where someone else might see a star. Telling something like it is, is a hallmark of the County and Roberta Jacobs certainly fell under the category of honest and truth-telling. In the 1950s, Aroostook County must have seemed far away – even disconnected – from the rest of the nation. Few roads connected it with the southern part of the state. There were only a few industries – logging and potato-farming, and that is about it. There was an Air Force Base in Presque Isle and one being built in Limestone, Loring Air Force Base. These bases certainly had their fair share of aircraft coming to and fro and Roberta, like everyone else in the County, could tell an airplane from a star when she saw one. She referred to the Presque Isle Air Force Base simply as ‘the base’ and knew many folks who worked there. What she saw that night in late December in 1955 was nothing like anything she had seen before in the skies above her home, nothing like any of the aircraft she had seen so often.
It wasn’t until two months later, on February 20, 1956 that she reported to the Air Force the details of her experience. As I read the report, made public by the Freedom of Information Act and currently nestled deep in Archive.org’s network, the small hairs on the back of my neck fairly bristled with her words. We often read UFO reports as nothing more than strange, unexplained lights in the sky performing physically impossible feats, but Mrs. Jacob’s report was more than that. She described something that both thrilled and instilled in her a deep sense of dread.
She writes, “I just can’t explain it on paper, but there was life there I’m certain. Nothing human, but alive. I couldn’t see any form or outline, but it was like a person walking in front of a light. Like hurried movements. Not one, but many things. I say not human because whatever it was has made me sick in the pit of my stomach and now if I look where I saw it or picture it in my mind (that hurried movement) I get so nauseated. I know it will sound crazy to you, but it’s the truth. And whatever it was, I’m sure they saw me when I moved and I felt as though they knew just what I was thinking. I felt as though they had a telescope or something pointed at me.”
The idea that the memory of the vision makes her sick to her stomach is not unheard of in the reports of many UFO witnesses. Over the ensuring years, many people have described similar feelings when thinking about what they have seen. The cause of such illness isn’t known, except that the emotion of being watched by unknown eyes must be disconcerting. Her description of hurried movements make in the light and her insistence and this was something alive raises this report to a different level than many Project Blue Book Reports. In many cases, the witness would be personally interviewed by a member of the military. Mrs. Jacobs was not, which I find strange, considering that there were two air bases in close vicinity to her home. Instead, she was sent a form to fill in and send back to Project Blue Book in the mail. Perhaps because there was no interviewer, there was also no one to steer Mrs. Jacobs away or toward any conclusions. Instead, we have her raw and somewhat nervous report of what happened.
Here is her report, condensed from the longer written report she sent to the Air Force.
I just turned out my kitchen light to go to bed. I saw this red glare. I thought it was a fire on the Washburn Road. So I thought I would wait and see if I could see the flames, I’d know just about where it was. Then it got brighter and brighter, so bright it just couldn’t seem to get any brighter, and then it just came right out of the sky.
It either came from behind a cloud or the light was so bright it showed miles ahead of the ship. The light was so bright it would of shown through the blackest cloud anyway. Well I just stood there stunned, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought they were playing tricks on me. I could see the flat bottom part going round and round real fast. Almost too fast for the eyes to see it.
I thought it was a space ship. My husband (Freddie) was to bed sound asleep. I hollard for him to come down, never taking my eyes of from it. I was sure it going to disappear before he saw it. But when he was half way down our stairs the bottom part stopped going around – it speeded up so fast that it looked stopped to my eyes. Freddie came. I can’t say he was very much awake, he’s so hard to wake up suddenly like that. He took one look at it and said it was the moon. Then I took my eyes from it to look at him, I said, just like this “Are you crazy? Where did you ever see a moon like that”? He then went back to bed. I watched it disappear just exactly like it came. I had that feeling I told you of. I just knew they or it knew what I was thinking. I didn’t feel as if they knew until I moved a little and it struck me just like they looked at me quick with eyes that burned me. I mean I could feel them. And it made me so nauseated. After I felt that they saw me, I was thinking, should I call the base and it they just seemed to hurry so fast to get out of there. And then it disappeared just like it came. The circle moved right with the ship. Just like it was connected right to it some way.”
The next morning she took the time to review what had happened the previous evening. She recalled that there was a golden light that coalesced into a stationary dome on top of a flat disk that was spinning at a fantastic rate. She wondered if she had imagined it, but upon discussing it with her husband, she knew he had seen something and it could not have been the moon because the moon itself was only in its first quarter and was not anywhere near as bright as what she had seen. She had assumed that the light had been over Caribou Lake but in the morning she reconsidered – it had been close to their barn. Outside there was a stream of frozen water over the surface of the snow,on a night where the temperature had clearly been below the freezing mark. In the questionnaire she answered for Project Blue Book, she was asked, “In your opinion, what do think the object was and what might have caused it”
Her answer was clear, “A space ship. I’m certain it wasn’t anything we have on Earth. But it was an air ship, I’m sure of that. It was beautiful, just beautiful. There is really no word I can describe it in exactly.”
Mrs. Jacobs maintained that when she began to think about contacting the “Base”, which might have meant Presque Isle or the newly named Loring Air Base in Limestone, the craft immediately sensed her thoughts and began to quickly accelerate away, at that moment exactly. She maintained in the letter that she couldn’t find the words to describe what she saw, as though it was so far removed from normal human experience that it defied words. Her report ends here and the Air Force added a Project 10073 Record Card, in which field #12 labeled Conclusions has the box labeled ‘unknown’ checked off.
What Mrs. Jacobs saw that night remains a mystery. If it was some kind of alien spacecraft, as she supposed, the question arises – why would they visit a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere? Though it is impossible to scrutinize the inscrutable, the answer to that question might be answered by understanding the nature of the mission of an air base nearby that is rarely mentioned in the history books. It was called the Caribou Air Force Station and it was technically not run by the Air Force at all but by the United States Atomic Energy Commission from 1951 to 1962, when it was absorbed into the new Loring Air Force Base. Before it was called the Caribou Air Force Station is was one of several secret bases run by the government; Called the North River Depot, it was allegedly constructed for the storage, assembly, and testing of atomic weapons, the first ever constructed in the continental United States, built to house the growing nuclear stockpile of the nation. On that base stood twenty-seven vaulted concrete storage structures called igloos housing conventional and nuclear weapons sat in the middle of a great forest. It was America’s first organized armory of nuclear weapons, the first on earth.