Fifty years ago I had a friend, with whom I’m still in touch. He was an old friend even then, and a good one. Fifty years ago he did me a big favor which I now realize could have gotten him in big trouble. At the time, it didn’t even cross my mind.
We were both entering seniors in high school, and he worked part time at a local radio station. He wrote for me a letter on official stationery saying that I, who had no connection whatsoever with the station, was a representative of its radio news team sent to investigate a UFO landing that had taken place the weekend before in southern New Jersey.
Even if you know your UFO history, you’ve probably never heard of the Glassboro landing. There’s a good reason for that. Still, the story has its instructive features.
On Saturday morning, September 12, 1964, I boarded a bus to Philadelphia and another one to Glassboro. Equipped with the letter my friend had provided, I marched into the police station and asked for their help with my investigation.
Amazingly–so it seems in retrospect–they took me seriously. I was a 16-year-old kid; maybe in my tan raincoat I looked older, more official. Maybe my sense of mission gave me an air of gravity. The police chief sat me down in his office and talked with me about the case. He gave me a diagram of the landing site, reproduced at the end of this post.
Check out the measurements on the diagram; you’ll see it’s way off scale. I assume the policeman who drew it assumed that the marks really had been made by a landed UFO, and represented them with the symmetry they ought to have had but didn’t.
Afterward one of the patrolmen drove me to the site, which was lucky for me although I’d been prepared to walk. The day, gray and lowering from the get-go, had grown steadily grayer and more threatening. As I walked the last stretch through the woods to the spot where the UFO had been, it began pouring rain. A couple of teenage girls walking in the opposite direction asked me if I was a space scientist. That raincoat must really have been impressive.
This was the story: The Saturday before, two local boys–brothers, ages 8 and 11–were fishing in a small lake near an oak forest on private property. At about 3:00 p.m., they were approached by two young men who said that one of the pair had seen a luminous red object land in the woods at dusk the previous evening (Friday, September 4). He came back with his friend the next day and found strange markings in a clearing in the woods.
The two young men invited the boys to come into the woods with them to look at the markings. This sounds like the beginning of a rather nasty story but apparently nothing untoward happened, the young men went off and the boys went back to fishing. They showed the holes to their father when he came to pick them up later that afternoon, and their father went to the police.
A peculiar detail: one of the young men was barefoot according to the boys, although well-dressed otherwise.
The markings consisted of three small holes arranged in a rough triangle around a much larger central crater. The crater was conical, nearly 20 inches deep, 28 inches wide at the top and about 10 inches across at the bottom. Its sides were smooth, hard-surfaced, scorched black. The three “tripod holes,” as I soon came to think of them, were 10 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. Oak leaves were flattened at the bottoms, giving the impression the holes had been pressed into the ground rather than dug out of it.
Near the central crater a sassafras tree had been partially uprooted and three of its branches broken, as if by an impact from above. The leaves that faced the crater were wilted and turned brown as if by intense heat.
Most of this I gathered from my interviews and, afterward, published reports. By the time I saw the holes they were pretty nondescript, although the broken sassafras tree was still impressive. The boys’ father told me that 4000 people had visited the landing site in the week before I arrived; similar figures were given in some news accounts. The site wasn’t roped off, so that the curiosity seekers–as opposed to serious researchers like myself–had managed to trample everything of UFOlogical interest before I got there. The rain wasn’t helping either.
I took measurements and snapped some pictures. I tried to evoke within myself the awe of being in the presence of the traces of an extraterrestrial vehicle, but I didn’t have an umbrella and was getting more soaked by the minute, which made it difficult to get into the vibe. Just then a very nice family–father, mother, two lovely young daughters–showed up with a ton of photographic equipment, and we struck up a conversation. Afterward they shared their photos of the markings with me, including the fine one of me contemplating the central crater that accompanies this post. They also invited me home for dinner. For that delightful evening with those warm-hearted people, I’m grateful to Michael Hallowich.
(That’s right–you don’t know yet who Michael Hallowich is. I’m coming to that.)
The Glassboro incident has been so thoroughly forgotten that it comes as a surprise how much of a splash it made at the time. My browned old “Glassboro Landing” folder, which grew to be more than an inch thick and which I’ve toted with me for the past half-century, contains clippings reporting on the mystery from newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, Camden, Pittsburgh, Easton (PA) and Woodbury (NJ). WOR Radio in New York City mentioned it in their 10:00 a.m. news broadcast on September 10. The predictable sequel, that the Air Force had investigated the landing and decided it was a hoax, was announced by papers in New York, Newark, and as far away as Cleveland.
On October 4, the Newark Sunday News ran, under the headline “Monster Tales Raise Devil in N.J.,” a moderately astute piece putting Glassboro in the context of the supernatural lore of New Jersey. It was accompanied by a moderately amusing cartoon showing the famed “Jersey Devil” standing perplexed before the Glassboro holes. I don’t think it occurred to anyone to point out that, in the 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” the Martians picked New Jersey as the spot from which to begin their invasion of this planet.
That’s the media for you. First they hype the UFO incident. Then they turn around and debunk it, and if you protest the debunking on any grounds whatsoever, you’re hooted down as a “flying saucer nut.”
Yet on November 2, the Woodbury Daily Times reported the results of an investigation by the Washington-based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, which was at the time the gold standard for objective UFO research. The Glassboro markings “probably were put there by an unidentified flying object.” The Air Force’s hoax explanation was “absurd.” Unnamed “tree experts” had examined the broken sassafras for NICAP and concluded that “the pressure and power required to produce the markings (some with leaves forced deep into the ground) and tree damage rules out a hoax.”
This “impressive physical evidence,” NICAP pointed out, was very much like “markings found at three other reported UFO landing sites earlier this year in New Mexico and Montana.” The reference was to the famous Socorro (NM) landing of April 24, 1964, which triggered a nationwide UFO flap and has stayed unexplained to this day.
The arguments against the hoax theory were weighty and solid. Unfortunately they were also wrong. In January 1965, the Philadelphia newspapers broke the appalling news. A college student named Michael Hallowich–spelled Hallowitz in some reports–had admitted to doing it. He and two pals “dug a crater, then punched out three ‘tripod’ holes and above these broke off the branches of a tree. Then they set a fire in the center of the crater and sprinkled some sulfa potassium and radium dioxide about the area to make it appear radioactive.” The next day they told the boys they’d seen a UFO land, and thus the “Glassboro landing” was born.
Hallowich was caught when he tried to sell his story, under an assumed name, to a “local weekly newspaper.” He pleaded guilty to being a disorderly person and issuing a false alarm and was fined $50.00, later reduced to $10.00 court costs.
I didn’t believe a word of his confession, of course. He’d fabricated the whole thing to get money from that “weekly newspaper,” then couldn’t back away from it. But this was obviously desperate, and NICAP and everyone else in the UFO world with a reputation to lose quietly let Glassboro fade into obscurity. At a UFO convention the following June, I defended in public debate the UFO landing I’d developed proprietary feelings for, and was made to look like a perfect idiot. It took a few years before I was able to get over my rage at my opponent’s brutal tactics enough to recognize that he was right.
“Very likely,” the writer for the Newark Sunday News opined, “the Glassboro holes will add to the supernatural legends of New Jersey.” They didn’t. I’m probably the only person who even remembers them. Glassboro didn’t make its mark for posterity until June 1967, when Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin picked the place for the summit conference known to history as the “Glassboro Summit.”
What happened to Michael Hallowich? Like me, he’s got to be pushing 70. I hope he’s happy, prosperous, in good health. I hope he sees this post and gets in touch. I’d like to thank him for a really fine adventure 50 years ago today. I’d also like to ask him a question that’s bugged me, off and on, for those 50 years.
Did he or one of his friends really go barefoot when they interrupted the two boys’ fishing to show them the marks left by the UFO? And if so–why?
by David Halperin
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