History can be a funny thing in that it often tells us a lot more about the people writing it than about events that may or may not have actually occurred.
Why, for example, do so many local histories include the story of Lockport's Byron Day -- a two-bit burglar and horse thief who lived during the 1800s -- while none include a chapter on Don Stefano Magaddino, who was for decades the most powerful organized crime boss in the country?
A little bit too recent? Still a little bit too frightening, perhaps?
And while the tales of the dozen or so daredevils who did or did not survive their plunges over the falls are regurgitated with astonishing regularity, scant attention has been paid to the stories of literally thousands of tortured souls who have thrown themselves into the roiling waters with no thought whatsoever of coming out alive.
A bit too dark, maybe. Wouldn't want to scare the tourists.
While researching an article on Nikola Tesla, I came across a series of documents of undeniable interest, at least to anyone with a somewhat skeptical and perhaps twisted sensibility.
All of the documents pertained to the Great Northeast Power Blackout of 1965. Many were clippings from the old Niagara Falls Gazette and dealt with eyewitness reports -- by city police officers, state troopers and Air Force personnel -- of UFO activity in the vicinity of the power plants before, during and after that unprecedented event.
The basic facts of the incident are well known. At 5:16 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1965, 30 million people in eight U.S. states and the province of Ontario were suddenly plunged into darkness. Trapped in elevators, office buildings and on expressways, one-sixth of the continent's residents suddenly found themselves without electrical power.
A joint investigation into the disaster by the U.S. Federal Power Commission and the Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission ultimately discovered that a sudden surge of power had tripped a circuit breaker at the Sir Adam Beck generating station in Queenston. Line after line went down in Ontario and, by the time the surge hit New York, the charge amounted to some 1.1 million kilowatts. The chain reaction continued until the entire East Coast of the United States was blacked out.
Although experts were able to pinpoint the origin of the blackout, they were baffled by the cause of the relay malfunctions and the failure of protective systems to contain the overload. Furthermore, the origin of the sudden power surge remained a mystery.
In a Nov. 19, 1965, Ontario Hydro Hydroscope article, system supervising engineer Jim Harris was at a loss to explain the incident.
"It's incredible! I would have said this was impossible if I hadn't seen the evidence," he said.
Just two weeks before the blackout, on Sept. 22, 1965, in an article entitled "Many report seeing two UFOs," the Gazette chronicled the activity near the power plants.
"Dozens of persons Tuesday night watched two unidentified flying objects moving and hovering over this area for more than an hour," the article stated. "The objects, bright lights which changed color, were below cloud level and remained at a fairly low level during most of the period they were observed.
"Observers said the objects were not helicopters or conventional aircraft. At one point, about 8 p.m., the two objects, which had been widely separated when viewed earlier, approached each other on a collision course until they 'teamed up' and moved off close together toward Buffalo," the article added.
The objects were first sighted "on the Canadian side of the river, at a point opposite Lewiston." In other words, over Queenston and the Sir Adam Beck plant.
Among the witnesses named in the article were State Trooper John Riehl, Alden residents Roselle Simon and Leonard Butler, and V.D. Price and Raymond Bright, employees of the American Standard Division in North Tonawanda.
"This was not a satellite. Satellites travel in straight lines and within a few minutes they are gone," Bright told the Gazette. "This hung in the sky for about half an hour. It would move off in one direction and then stop. Then it would change direction and move off again."
The relationship between the blackout and reported UFO activity wasn't lost on the scientific community.
In a statement prepared for hearings held on the blackout by the Federal Power Commission, University of Arizona physicist Dr. James McDonald contended that magnetic fields accompanying UFOs could cause sudden power surges and could, theoretically, trigger a blackout.
Writing about the event on April 2, 1968, Gazette reporter Joe Donaldson recalled the reports on the night of the blackout.
"After the big blackout, spokesmen for the power firms denied a strange light was spotted over the Beck Station the night of Nov. 9. Since then, however, they have admitted that sightings were reported by hundreds of people," the veteran newsman wrote.
But gradually, the "broken two-dollar switch" theory as to the cause of the disaster became the accepted version of events.
This would not mark the end of credible reports of UFOs in Niagara Falls, however.
On Aug. 4, 1966, the Gazette reported "Bright, high-flying, fast moving objects observed during the night and similarly described by three Niagara Falls residents."
This time the witnesses were Mrs. George Haberle of the Parkway Apartments and 91st Street residents Russell Sorenberger and Bill Nelson. Ironically, attempts by the paper to reach Capt. Harry Meir, chief of operations and training at Niagara Falls Air Base, were unsuccessful because Meir had been in Erie, Pa., investigating another UFO report.
Two Niagara Falls city policemen and a former Air Force radar chief had their own close encounters over a 48-hour period in August 1967.
According to an Aug. 25, 1967, Gazette article, the two officers, Patrolmen Anthony Caraglin and David Greene, saw a pair of UFOs while patrolling at 19th Street and Mackenna Avenue. They filed an official report of the incident.
"We saw two objects in the sky -- one object went in an easterly direction then went northeasterly. As the object went out of sight it appeared to give off different colored lights. While the object was in sight it was a solid white light and appeared to be round.
"Object Two was the same as Object One but went from south to north and went out of sight. Both objects were in view for approximately 15 minutes and appeared to be very high," the report stated.
Howard Kay of Youngstown was working at DuPont that night. An eight-year Air Force radar chief, he told the Gazette the object he saw over the Niagara River near Buffalo Avenue looked like "an inverted cereal bowl and was lit up."
Perhaps predictably, USAF Information Officer Thomas White said he knew nothing about the UFOs.
"I have checked with the U.S. Air Force Station in Lockport, and the 763rd Radar Squadron there reports no objects logged by their radar screens at these times," he told the Gazette.
Eight months later, on April 2, 1968, no fewer than three NFPD patrolmen reported UFOs from two separate locations.
The pulsating lights hovered for nearly an hour in the vicinity of the Beck Station, the officers said.
Patrolmen Thomas Shumway and William Wells watched the lights from Lewiston Road and Hyde Park Boulevard.
"They were like something I had never seen before," Shumway told the Gazette. "They were in formation and they were pulsating."
Shumway said the red, white and blue lights did not come from an airplane and were motionless until they suddenly shot away to the northwest at a tremendous rate of speed.
At the same time, Patrolman Richard Adkins confirmed the lights were hovering across the Niagara River from the Robert Moses Power Plant and near the Beck Station.
He said the lights were about 1,000 feet in the air and that, from time to time, a red streak of light would pass through the formation.
While strange lights are still occasionally reported in the Niagara skies, it appears that 1965 to 1968 represented something of a golden age for UFO sightings here.
And in the presence of so much documentation and credible testimony by trained observers, it seems difficult to deny that something was going on.
What -- exactly -- the mysterious objects were will likely never be known.
It is interesting to note that the Air Force employed a device to disrupt electrical power in the city of Belgrade during the Kosovo war. Could some early testing of a similar device have resulted in the 1965 blackout?
We'll have to settle for what it is. A page of Niagara history that you won't find in the history books.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 25 2005|