Roswell, New Mexico, is ubiquitous in legend and lore for sightings of unidentified flying objects or UFOs.
Across the globe, World UFO Day is celebrate on June 24th—the date that aviator Kenneth Arnold reported what is generally considered to be the first unidentified flying object sighting in the United States. On that day in 1947 he saw after claiming to have seen nine unusual objects flying in tandem near Mount Rainier, Washington. Others “celebrate” on July 2nd, the date of the supposed 1947 Roswell UFO Incident.
But you have to go back almost 300 years to track the first documented account of someone reporting strange flashes of light in the nighttime sky.
World UFO Day—Should It Be March 1?
On March 1st, 1639, Puritan settler John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote in his diary about what several boatmen rowing on the tidal basin Muddy River saw. Winthrop called witness John Everell “a sober, discreet man” when he explained seeing a bright light flash across the sky.
“When it stood still, it flamed up and was about three yards square. When it ran, it contracted into the figure of a swine; it ran as swift as an arrow toward Charleston and up and down about two or three hours.”
When the strange encounter ended, the men said their boat had been transported about a mile by the tide but was then mysteriously returned to its original location. Some maintain that what the men saw was an ignis fatuus, a light caused by the combustion of gas from decomposing organic matter over a marsh.
Speculation aside, the mysterious sighting spawned similar tales still told today, some unexplained, others hoaxes that play on peoples’ imaginations.
In 1897 in Texas, a newspaper reporter fabricated a story of dozens of witnesses finding a crashed space-craft and a dead Martian body in the wreckage. The term flying saucer originated in 1947 when a pilot reported seeing nine boomerang-like objects flying through the sky.
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Jim Kneiszel is a freelance writer based in De Pere, Wisconsin. He edits a number of trade publications and runs The Word House with his wife, Judy. His article, Infuriating and Frightening Invasive Species appears in the 2021 Farmers' Almanac.