Strange New England

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Revisiting the Incident at Exeter

New Hampshire has always held a fascination for me, but it’s not the mountains or the live free or die attitude. It’s not the New Hampshire Motor Speedway or Strawberry Banke, either. As a young man from far northern Maine, I took my share of trips out of the state at the rate of about two a year. Each time we drove into New Hampshire, especially at night and we passed the sign that read ‘Exeter’ I turned my eyes to the skies. You see, in my young imagination, the Granite State’s reputation as a UFO hotspot fired my imagination. When I was a kid, I read John G. Fuller’s Incident at Exeter (now out of print) and it forever altered my view of UFOs. This year, if you’ve a mind that turns to wondering about such things, there will be a celebration of sorts in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. On September 5 and 6, the town is hosting the Exeter UFO Festival, a fundraiser for the local Kiwanis Club and its charitable programs.

This is a blend of campy fun and serious ufology studies. With a list of speakers, from physicist Stanton Friedman to political commentator Richard Dolan, visitors will receive more than their fair share of serious investigatory work. Meanwhile, kids can explore a UFO ‘Crash Site” in the park, along with extraterrestrial arts and crafts. A fun time is to be had by all. But the best part might be after all of the talks and activities, when the town quiets down and the night skies darken. Then, all you need to do is possibly just look up to be ‘entertained.’

Of course, those who visit the festival on a lark might find themselves fascinated by two of the most famous UFO stories ever investigated. The famous “Hill Abduction” of 1961 is the more famous of the two cases. It gained attention in the media as the first widely publicized report of an alien abduction in the country. A best-selling book by John G. Fuller, The Interrupted Journey, sold like hotcakes from the bookstore shelves. Even today, Betty and Barney Hill’s notes, tapes and other items including the dress she shore during the abduction have been placed in the University of New Hampshire’s permanent collection. The state has even marked the site of the alleged abduction with an appropriate historical marker. For readers interested in the Hill Abduction, there are plenty of online resources that detail their story. It is definitely worth the research and reading, but in the end, we only have the words of the couple and Betty’s dreams as a kind of remembrance of the events. Later hypnosis seemed to confirm the ‘truth’ of the events, though hypnosis still must rely solely on subjective testimony.

The other famous case concerns events that occurred in nearby Kensington in the early morning of September 3, 1965 and are in the official police records of the Exeter Police At around two in the morning, 18 year old Norman Muscarello was hitchhiking to his parent’s home along Highway 150. Having already enlisted in the U.S.Navy, he had been spending time with his girlfriend at her parent’s home in Amesbury, Massachusetts. There was little traffic on the road at that time of night and he spent most of his time walking. He noticed five red lights low in the sky, flashing on and off. Later, he would claim that the craft with the lights was as big as a house. According to his story, when the ‘thing’ moved away from him and began hovering over a nearby farmhouse, Muscarello jumped out of the ditch he had been cowering in and ran to the house, pounding on the door as the lights got lower and closer. Of course, no one was home. He was alone, except for whatever or whoever was behind the mysterious lights. He ran back to the road and thankfully, a passing car stopped to pick him up. He asked to go to the police station in nearby Exeter.

As Muscarello reported what he had just witnessed to the policemen in the station, Patrolman Eugene Bertrand must have had a perplexed look on his face. Hours before, while patrolling the roads, he had stopped to help a motorist parked on the Rte. 101 bypass. She was visibly shaken and when the officer inquired why, she explained that she had been followed by a huge glowing object in the sky for the past twelves miles, all the way from Epping. It had red, glowing lights and was as big as a house. At the time, Patrolman Bertrand simply wrote her off as a ‘kook’ and remained with her long enough for her to resume her journey, about fifteen minutes. It hardly seemed worth mentioning.

It is the testimony of Patrolman Bertrand that makes this particular UFO story worth considering. Here was a no-nonsense man of the law, a level-headed, professionally-trained and well-respected member of the law enforcement community who was willing to go back out to the farmhouse Muscarello mentioned to see if there was any evidence of otherworldly visitation or if this young man was possibly under some kind of influence. With Muscarello in the passenger seat, Bertrand drove them back to the site.

As they sat in the car, nothing seemed out of place or amiss. Not content with simply investigating from the driver’s seat, Bertrand told Muscarello to follow him and that they would have a look around. That’s when things got weird. Though there were no people about, some horses in a nearby barn began kicking at their stalls and neighing. Local dogs began barking and howling. Something was causing them concern. That was when they saw an object rising from the edge of the trees at the end of the field. Officer Bertrand unholstered his pistol, withdrew it and fell on one knee, taking aim. For whatever reason, he decided not to squeeze the trigger. Instead, he grabbed the teenager and ran back to the squad car, immediately calling the station, exclaiming, “My God. I see the damned thing myself!” He later described the object as a ‘brilliant roundish object, without a sound.’ White light filled the area.

As they waited for Officer David Hunt to arrive, the two witnesses watched the object about one hundred feet from them and about a hundred feet off the ground pulsate its light from the left to the right and swaying, back and forth. Then, the lights pulsated from the right to the left. Officer Hunt arrived and also witnessed the object and its strange behavior, adding another well-respected and trustworthy witness to the event. Soon enough, the object rose and flew away from them over the trees.

When their chief read their reports of the night, he decided to contact authorities at Pease Air Force Base and report the sighting. Major David Griffin and Lieutenant Alan Brandt came to Exeter to interview the three men involved and asked all three of the men not to report their sighting to the press. It was too late for that, however. The Manchester Union-Leader had already spoken to the men. In his report, Major Griffin would write, “At this time I have been unable to arrive at a probable cause of this sighting. The three observers seem to be stable, reliable persons, especially the two patrolmen. I viewed the area of the sighting and found nothing in the area that could be the probable cause. Pease AFB had five B-47 aircraft flying in the area but I do not believe that they had any connection with this sighting.”

Before it had a chance to be investigated by the official UFO investigatory team of Project Blue Book, the Pentagon issued a statement saying that the men had seen “nothing more than stars and planets twinkling…owing to a temperature inversion.” This would become one of the classic explanations for hundreds of alleged UFO encounters, in addition to swamp gas. An Air Force operation, BIG BLAST, begin operations that night, as well and this might have added to the confusion, according to the entry for the incident in Project Blue Book. The three men involved were angry at the Air Force’s dismissal of their testimony. In the press and personally, these two officers and the now U.S. serviceman Muscarello involved had nothing good to say about the Air Force’s conclusions. In 1966, the Air Force finally relented in a reply to their letters. Lieutenant John Spaulding from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force wrote to the men, “based on additional information submitted to our UFO investigation office, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, we have been unable to identify the object you observed on September 3, 1965.”

The story made its way into the mainstream media. First, it was printed in The Saturday Review, then for Look magazine and then for Reader’s Digest. John G. Fuller would later write an account of the events entitled Incident at Exeter and it would not only become a New York Times bestseller, but would remain one of the top-selling books on the subject of UFOs for decades. No one knows for certain what was witnessed by Officers Bertrand, Hunt and Mr. Muscarello that night. The Incident at Exeter is only one of thousands of UFO sighting in New England in the early 1960s and remains one of the most famous accounts because of the veracity of the men involved.

resized exeter

Left to right: Eighteen-year-old Norman Muscarello, who first spotted the UFO, patrolman David Hunt and Eugene Bertrand and (seated) dispatcher “Scratch” Toland



New Hampshire Magazine, September 2015

  • Fuller, John G. Incident at Exeter, the Interrupted Journey: Two Landmark Investigations of UFO Encounters Together in One Volume. MJF, 1997. ISBN 1-56731-134-2
  • Clark, Jerome. The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Tom Burby

Thomas Burby is the owner of and the author of THE LAST BOY ON EARTH and THE SEVEN O'CLOCK MAN, both available on Mr. Burby has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Maine and an MSEd in the Science of Education from the University of New England. He loves a good scary story...


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