Westmoreland had always been a relatively peaceful town until July 2, 1954 when a UFO shot down an Air Force jet and made it crash into Walesville corners.
I’m joking…maybe. We have a truly out-of-this-world “History Mystery,” and as president of the Westmoreland Historical Society I couldn’t be more thrilled.
In an article for the online publication called The Windswept Press, entitled “Walesville: A true story of the July 2, 1954 tragedy,” researcher David Griffin points out that “all through that year there had been news reports of flying disks, cigar shaped tubes, and a variety of saucers in the skies over the United States. They were calling it the ‘Great UFO Wave of 1954’.”
Westmoreland may very well have been part of that wave when an Air Force jet crashed through Walesville after its pilot and radar operator had to bailed out under unexplained circumstances.
The front page of the July 3 edition of the Rome Daily Sentinel has a photo it describes as “grisly.” In it state police are shown “examining the wreckage of a car which was caught in the path of a pilotless F-94 Starfire Jet.” The caption says that the crew members were forced to bail out of their plane after the cockpit was “seared by intense heat.”
The Syracuse Herald Journal of the same day reported that the jet was ordered to check on an “unidentified plane” that had suddenly appeared in the area guarded by air defense operations. After doing that “a fire developed in the forward section of the aircraft in flight and the heat in the cockpit became so intense the pilot and radar observer were forced to leave the aircraft.”
The source of that sudden and unexplained blaze of that unbearable heat has intrigued researchers ever since.
United States Marine Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, an early proponent of UFOlogy and the author of a classic book on the subject entitled, The Flying Saucers Are Real, wrote “these odd phenomena, high radiation, mysterious heat, and electrical interference may be the side effects of gravity control devices.”
Even the New York Times quotes an unnamed Mohawk Airlines pilot as having seen “a light apparently shining” from whatever object the Air Force jet was chasing. The paper of record also reported that in the moments immediately before the crash thousands of people across the state were clogging phonelines to the police with reports of an unidentified flying object in the skies over their heads.
Two years before the “Walesville Incident” the Air Force began Project Blue Book a top-secret study which set out to scientifically analyze UFO-related data, and determine if UFOs were a threat to national security. The crash that occurred in Westmoreland was one of the incidents studied, but the report was sealed for decades.
In the report, the Air Force confirms that there were “no indications of malfunctions,” that the aircraft had been “asked to identify an unknown target,” and that the “unidentified target was going to Griffis Air Force Base.”
What’s curious is that some official reports insist that there was no fire in the cockpit, only that the pilot thought it was hot because of a malfunctioning heat sensor. As much as this explanation strains credulity it is ever more difficult to accept that it might be mere coincidence that the Air Force happened to develop this bizarre mechanical problem right while it was closing in on an unidentified flying object.
On July 3, 1954 Utica’s Observer-Dispatch even concluded its July 3rd report with, “The exact nature of the silvery balloon-like object seen floating high over Utica last night, continued a mystery today,” and quoted one witness as saying, “I don’t believe in flying saucers, but if there (are) any, this is one of them.”
On Feb. 25 the Westmoreland Historical Society hosted an event we called, “The Walesville Incident: An Afternoon of Discussion and Inquiry into the Historic Events of July 1954.” At this gathering one of the members of the audience talked about how her father had been an eyewitness to the UFO and had grown up to join the NYS Police hoping to investigate mysterious incidences and perhaps someday make sense of what he had seen. Sadly, he died before the Air Force declassified Operation Blue Book, which validated his recollection of that day.
Before our presentation in February, I had done my best to track down a thick folder about the incident stuffed with research that Westmoreland resident Tom Wilcox has spent years compiling. It had been intended for our historical archives but never made it to our office. We had finally concluded that the file was itself lost to history. However, by the time we gathered for our meeting in March, the file had appeared on our desk, inside our locked office, and to the best of our knowledge, no one in our group had let anyone in to drop it off.
Now that our “Walesville UFO File” has reappeared you can see it for yourself this Saturday, June 16th, when Westmoreland Historical Society hosts, “The Schoolhouse Celebrates Flag Day,” from 1-4 pm. There will also be a discussion led by Sam Falvo, the NYS Director of the Mutual UFO Network on the mysterious “Walesville Incident”. The festivities will also include tours of the schoolhouse, live music by local performers Ty James and Brian Mulkerne, games and activities for kids and an ice cream social sponsored by Stewart’s Shops. The event is free thanks to our sponsors- North Star Orchards, Whitestown Automotive, Snyder’s Flooring, Community Bank, Tents 4 U, and Personal Graphics.
What happened in Walesville was undeniably a tragedy because it cost four people their lives. But it did leave some big questions unanswered, and historical research is all about trying to answer those questions. History isn’t just in the past- it’s also a living thing that should be celebrated. We plan to have some fun as we explore our town’s most intriguing mystery. Come and join us Saturday afternoon for Flag Day, free ice cream and flying saucers. We may not be the biggest historical society but we sure are the coolest!
Ron Klopfanstein is a seventh generation Westmoreland native, president of the Westmoreland Historical Society, a board member of the Westmoreland Town Pool, and a 1stdegree Westmoreland Mason. He teaches English at Utica College and Mohawk Valley Community College. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and Follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.