As I was looking at a case in the Project Blue Book files, I found a two page letter stuffed between that case and the one that followed. It was labeled as “Information Only,” which meant that the Air Force didn’t investigate it but had retained the information in their files. This was not an uncommon practice for them. Nearly every month there were cases labeled that way. But since it suggested there had been some sort of crash recovery, and because I didn’t find it listed on any of the various web sites that report such things, I thought it interesting enough to mention here.
According to the report, Bob Barry, the News Director at radio station WMNS in Orlean, NY, wrote that he had received information about a UFO crash from a respected local citizen, the Chief of Police, George Finger sometime during the week of March 17, 1958. The Chief asked Barry if he had ever heard of an incident that happened sometime between September 1949 and January 1951. Finger said that an object was “supposed to have crashed in the vicinity of Coudersport and Emporium, PA and it sheared off the tops of trees. I [Barry] was also told that the US Army came into the area (a hilly section away from any main roads) with Army trucks. They roped off the area, loaded the object on trucks, and drove away.”
That interested Barry enough so that he began his own investigation. According to him:
I learned that several people in the area were supposed to have seen the object shortly before it crashed. One of them was a Reserve Officer of the U.S. Army who lived in Emporium and who worked at the Sears Roebuck & Co. at Emporium at the time. He was supposed to have seen an Army truck pick up the object and haul it away. The Reserve Officer figured the Army knew what the object was, and he thought the Army truck he saw was from Baltimore, Maryland. He allegedly was told to keep quiet concerning what he saw! I learned that the Cameron County Press Independent in Emporium supposedly carried the story.
If that was true, then the case entered a new arena. Unlike some of the alleged crashes that had no corresponding UFO sightings reported in the newspaper, here was a chance for some confirmation. A story in the newspaper doesn’t prove that it was a UFO crash; merely that it was something of enough importance to land in the newspaper.
Barry called the editor of the newspaper, James Kiles. Kiles said that he would check on it and call back. Keeping his word, he did call and told Barry that the only thing he found was that on October 13, 1950, a weather balloon had been recovered. Two hunters, Gene Kreitner and Clifford Stuckey, hunting near Keating Summit found the object. They said that the object had six panels and was covered with aluminum or lead foil (yes, that’s right, a lead balloon), and the panels had two small batteries and a light bulb. The equipment was turned over to the Air Force.
Some might have given up at that point but Barry continued the search. He contacted a reporter, Bert Freed, who suggested that Barry contact Katherine Dorfeld. Barry interviewed her and learned that the object had some printing on it that said to return it to the U.S. Government. She also said that someone from the government did show up, rope off the area and “closed all news sources on the event.” Which, of course, doesn’t sound like something they would do for a balloon, no matter how important that balloon might have been.
After making a few more telephone calls, and writing a letter or two, Barry gathered additional information. Barry wrote:
Through a series of phone calls, I picked up the fact that a witness allegedly heard a noise while working on his farm. He then heard an explosion and started running to the vicinity of where the noise came from. This man’s name is Joseph E. Phelps, and at the time he lived near Emporium. Since that time Mr. Phelps has moved and through a friend of his (Mr. Carl Reidy, an attorney in Emporium), I obtained his present address…. Phelps told Mr. Dorfeld [husband of Katherine, but Barry failed to get his first name] that the object was made of metal. Two boys were supposed to have been playing in the vicinity, and they got to the object before Phelps. Phelps allegedly was told by Government officials or the U.S. Army to be quiet about the story…
Barry wrote to Phelps, providing the facts as he knew them but he didn’t receive a reply. He tried a second time and Phelps sent the following:
Dear Bob [Barry]:
In so far as my stating this object was metal or any of the so-called Army suppression is bunk. Most of what you quote me as saying is hearsay. I was in the crowd at Keating Summit but there were dozens of people there before and after I left. Go see Cliff Stuckey at the General Store in Keating Summit. He should be able to give you plenty of information. If I had anything worthwhile I would be more than glad to give it to you, but I do not. There is just a chance that I may be in a bad spot as I work for a firm which is doing a job for the [Army] Signal Corps and I may get fired, but that wouldn’t matter should I know anything worthwhile. I do not think you want to be a boob. I’m sure I do not want to be one either.
Barry offered an analysis of the letter at the end of his article about the case. He wrote:
Well, that’s the story to date. You will remember that Cliff Stuckey is one of the men who is said to have found a weather balloon on Oct. 13, 1950. What puzzles me is why Phelps didn’t straighten me out on what was supposedly quoted wrong to me by Mrs. Dorfeld in regard to the conversation Mr. Dorfeld and Joe Phelps had together concerning this object, at the time the incident occurred. Why didn’t Phelps tell me what he did see? He admits he was in the crowd, so he must have seen or heard something.
Barry’s questions weren’t the only ones I had. Reading through this, we have two hunters finding a weather balloon in the field, one that sounds somewhat like a rawin radar target and a light that would allow tracking at night. But then there are two boys who found it first, a farmer (Phelps) who was involved and a crowd of people who were standing around when the authorities, most probably the Army, made the recovery. This simply doesn’t sound like a weather balloon, no matter how exotic the debris might have been. I can’t think of a situation in which a fallen weather balloon would draw a crowd, unless, of course, there was some sort of unnecessary recovery operation.
Phelps’ letter makes little sense and is filled with contradictions. He doesn’t know anything but he suggests that his job might be in jeopardy if he talks. He said that he was misquoted, or more accurately, the information attributed to him is hearsay, but fails to say what information was wrong. He suggests there is nothing of interest there, but talks of crowds. He never explains why the crowds were drawn to the area, which they wouldn’t be for a weather balloon.
If there is someone in that area of Pennsylvania who wishes to follow up, all the information is here. I suspect since the date of the crash is 1950, or almost 65 years ago, the witnesses, if any are left, are probably in their 90s. Although I suspect the answer is something mundane, there are enough questions left to make it an interesting topic for a little additional research. I don’t think we really know what was recovered and I don’t think the Army would waste time recovering an ordinary weather balloon. At this point we simply don’t know what fell.