October 24, 1967. It was a typically crisp October night in Newfield. The hamlet and town were even quieter than they are now, just the scattered homes of farmers and a few commuters, tuned-out from the tumultuous world around them. They knew of the Soviets and Sputnik, of Johnson and the Apollo program, but were so far removed that it would serve only as a vague interest, coffee talk. By any account, it should have been just a normal, serene night in the hills and valleys southwest of Ithaca.
But at about 9:30 PM, the strangest set of events unfolded in the hamlet. A 12-year old boy named Donald Chiszar said he witnessed a “craft” hovering about 130 feet above the ground. There were markings on the craft, which he could not recognize, and a large window. Two humanoid figures could be seen in a saucer-shaped craft. “But then all of the sudden it leveled off real fast and disappeared”, Chizsar claimed. The visitors were “[r]ough-colored and brownish” beings with “big, wide hips”.
Though no one else claimed to see the craft up close, many other folks in Newfield that evening reported seeing strange lights. Red and white, or green and white, flashing in some kind of sequence. Stanley Orr, driving on 13 to Ithaca the night before, reported “two large, stationary red lights” visible from his car, but at no time thought they were a flying saucer, until he had heard about Chizsar’s experience.
Overnight, people in Newfield began to see UFOs everywhere. On October 30th, more than 100 sightings were claimed by local residents. So started the “Great Ithaca Flap“, as it would be later known.
Now, these sightings caused quite a stir. People wanted an explanation. Many of the witnesses were convinced that what they saw was not of this earth. Residents of Newfield invited UFO experts and an Air Force Lieutenant from the Hancock Air Force Base to a meeting at a local home, so they could hear about their experiences.
One of the UFO experts was intrigued by the stories, but said the lights could be easily mistaken, just tricks of the eye. The air force lieutenant, Gerald White, was less accommodating, saying that it sounded like airplanes to him, traveling along one of the major air traffic conduits out of and into New York City. Newfield laid below one of those routes. Cornell astronomers were rather incredulous as well.
The sightings continued well into November. One of the UFO investigators, William Donovan, set up shop on Newfield’s Main Street, and went about interviewing witnesses and examining sighting locations. A meeting was held in Ithaca, and the claims of sightings were in the hundreds. Although the police and military were skeptical, residents felt like the truth was being hidden from them. Some residents felt the UFOs were related to the Synchrotron (a particle accelerator) on Cornell’s campus; it was reasoned that being one of the few facilities able to bring atomic particles to near-light speed would attract alien visitors, and some of the “flight paths” came from that direction. The local papers picked up the stories and relayed them with interest. Folks crowded the secluded pull-offs and star-lit fields, hoping for a glimpse of something extraordinary.
Finally, in December, Donovan stated that he could find no proof that Newfield was seeing flying saucers. He didn’t offer ideas as to what people saw, he just said that there was no hard evidence that Newfielders were seeing UFOs.
Or course, that didn’t stop the college students from having fun with the news; students launched laundry bags filled with burning fuel, and in one case a local pilot fitted a strobe light to his plane to instigate the UFO-watchers below. Eventually, the sightings tapered off as interest waned. A year after the sightings, Donovan was charged with fraud on an unrelated matter. Occasional reports of UFOs still come in from all over the county.
So was there a UFO in Newfield on that cool October night? Well, probably not. A UFO tracking website reported on the case several years ago, and received the following email:
It would seem Newfield has more to fear from curious college students than space aliens.