The Phoenix Lights

Hey, Readers. It’s Monday, and you know what that means. Time for a new Mystery Monday post. This one occurred in the southwestern states of Nevada and Arizona

On March 13, 1987, a series of widely sighted unidentified flying objects appeared over the skies of Arizona. Between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., thousands of people reported seeing lights of varying descriptions over a space of about three-hundred miles. This line stretched from the Nevada state line through Phoenix, and into Tucson. These sightings came to be known as The Phoenix Lights.

Image courtesy of USA Today via Wikipedia. (Fair Use)

Around 7:55 p.m. a witness in Henderson, Nevada reported seeing a large V-shaped object traveling in a southeasterly direction. At 8:15 p.m. a former police officer in Paulden, Nevada saw a cluster of reddish-orange lights disappear over the southern horizon. Not long afterward, reports of lights came from the Prescott Valley area of Arizona.

One man, Tim Ley, and his family first saw the lights when they were approximately sixty-five miles away. The objects first appeared as five separate and distinguished lights in an arc shape, much like the top of a balloon. As the lights came closer, they took on the shape of an upside-down V. When the lights came within two miles, the Ley family stated the shape looked like a 60-degree carpenter’s square with five lights. The lights passed over at a distance of 100-150 feet above them and traveled slowly enough they gave the appearance of a hovering object. They disappeared through a gap in the Piestewa Peak Mountain toward the direction of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Witnesses in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, saw the light formation between 8:30 and 8:45 p.m. Mitch Stanley, an amateur astronomer in Scottsdale observed these lights through a telescope. He stated they were clearly individual airplanes. At approximately 10:00 p.m. a large number of people in the Phoenix area reported seeing “a row of brilliant lights hovering in the sky, or slowly falling.” Several photographs and videos were taken, prompting author Robert Sheaffer to describe it as “Perhaps the most widely witnessed UFO event in history.”

According to Sheaffer, the Phoenix Lights were two unrelated incidents, but both were the result of a pilot training program known as Operation Snowbird and operated by the Air National Guard out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. A retired Air Force pilot and astronomer investigated the incident and traced them to A-10 aircraft flying in formation at high altitudes.

The second incident which was described as “a row of brilliant lights hovering in the sky” was due to a flare drop exercise by different A-10 jets from the Maryland Air National Guard. They also operated out of Davis-Monthan as part of Operation Snowbird.

As you can imagine these sightings became the source of much speculation with allegations of conspiracy theories (there always seems to be an abundance of those with every unexplainable event) and hoaxes. This spawned numerous websites, books, and documentaries. Even then Arizona Governor Fife Symington III gave some credence to the stories.

The Phoenix Lights became part of a local legend. A decade later, the lights returned in February 2007 and again in April 2008. Theories include a fleet of aircraft, top-secret military aircraft, and of course, UFOs.

My biggest question is in regard to the Ley family’s sighting. If the objects were aircraft and flew only 100-150 feet above them, wouldn’t they have heard a sound?

No matter what the cause, there will always be skeptics, and some will always be convinced aliens few over the skies of Arizona that night.

What say you?

The Pollock Sisters

Time to wrap up another year of Mystery Monday posts. This month we’re going across the pond to the town of Hexham, Northumberland, England.

Beaumont Street in Hexham (Public Domain)

Florence and John Pollock were married in the 1940s. Florence gave birth to two sons before welcoming their first daughter, Joanna, in 1946. In 1951, the Pollocks had a second daughter named Jacqueline.

Even with their five-year age difference, the two girls shared a close bond. Joanna took on both the role of big sister and also type of mother to Jacqueline since Florence stayed busy running the family’s grocery business.

Supposedly Joanna claimed she would remain a child forever and not grow up to be a lady. In 1957 when she was eleven and Jacqueline was six, the two girls were walking to church with a friend named Anthony. An erratic driver came up behind the children, hitting all three, and killing the girls instantly. Anthony died of his injuries while on the way to the hospital.

As you might imagine, Florence and John Pollock were grief-stricken over the deaths. Florence fell into a deep depression. John held the spiritual belief the girls were in Heaven or that they would be reincarnated. This put a strain on their marriage—Florence was a strict Catholic and didn’t hold to any beliefs in reincarnation.

However, the two of them remained together and Florence became pregnant again. John was convinced Florence would give birth to twin daughters, even though there wasn’t a family history of twins. The doctor claimed there was a single fetus, and Florence said she never felt like she was carrying two babies.

John remained insistent and on October 4, 1958, Florence gave birth to identical twin girls—Gillian and Jennifer. Jennifer had a small birthmark on her left hip and one on her forehead. Jacqueline had a similar birthmark on her hip as well as a scar on her forehead.

When the twins were three months old, the family moved to Whitley Bay which is east of Hexham. After they were old enough to talk, they began asking for toys that belonged to Joanna and Jacqueline. They were able to identify these toys by name, and even divided them in the same way their sisters did.

John and Florence also noticed the girls had similar personalities to Jacqueline and Joanna. Gillian, born ten minutes before Jennifer, was protective of her sister much in the same way Joanna was to Jacqueline. The twins enjoyed many of the same games and foods as their older sisters.

As the girls got older, they seemed to have vivid memories of Hexham despite them being too young to remember living there. They would sometimes panic upon seeing cars and supposedly knew about street safety without their parents telling them.

When Jennifer and Gillian were four, the family returned to Hexham. The girls pointed out landmarks they had never seen before, including the school Joanna and Jacqueline attended, Hexham Abbey, and a playground where their deceased sisters loved to play. Jennifer and Gillian seemed to know their way around the playground.

Hexham Abbey – Creative Commons photo by Bob Castle, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Florence continued to reject the idea of reincarnation until she overheard the girls talking about Joanna and Jacqueline’s car accident. Gillian cradled Jennifer’s head saying, “The blood is coming out your eyes. That’s where the car hit you.”

Shortly after they turned five, memories of their “past life” began to fade. However, their story drew the attention of Dr. Ian Stevenson, a psychologist who studied reincarnation. He believed their story was real.

John and Florence claimed they never talked about Joanna and Jacqueline to the twins, but many skeptics believe they heard stories from their older brothers.

Whatever the case, this remains a strange and bizarre mystery.

The Vanishing of Orion Williamson

The deep south is home to a passel of legends, folklore, and ghost stories. There are dozens told by my ancestors alone, some of which they purported to have witnessed. Others are passed down from family to family or neighbor to neighbor.

The following is a story I recall one of my Alabama relatives talking about years ago. This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest and most perplexing stories I’ve ever heard.

Orion Williamson was a farmer who lived in Selma, Alabama. On a July afternoon in 1854, he sat on his front porch with his wife and son. Mr. Williamson got up in order to move his horses to the shade.

At the same time, a neighbor, Armour Wren, and his son James passed by. Orion stopped to pick up a small stick, then continued to walk in ankle-deep grass. He waved to his neighbors, took another step, and vanished into thin air.

A young colt in a field, perhaps much like the one where Orion Williamson took his last step. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)

The Williamsons and the Wrens rushed to the place where Orion disappeared to search for any sign of him. They found nothing. It’s reported most of the grass in that spot was gone as well. After searching in vain, the family called for help. A search party of approximately three hundred men combed every inch of the field. Bloodhounds joined the search, which continued into the night. Still, there was no sign of Orion Williamson.

As the news spread, more volunteers and a team of geologists came to the scene. They dug up the field to determine if the ground was unstable or if there was anything unusual. They found solid rock a few feet below the surface. There were no holes and no evidence of a cave-in.

No one could explain the strange event. Mrs. Williamson claimed she and her son could hear Orion’s voice calling for help several weeks afterward. They would rush into the field but found nothing. The voice grew fainter and fainter, faded into a whisper, and then was no more.

After all the searches proved futile, a judge declared Orion Williamson dead.

The German scientist, Maximillian Hern believed Mr. Williamson walked into a spot of “universal ether.” Hern believed these places lasted only a few seconds but could destroy all matter within them.

Another scientist theorized Orion walked into a magnetic field that disintegrated his atomic structure, sending him into another dimension.

Williamson’s story drew the attention of the writer, Ambrose Bierce. Bierce interviewed individuals who were involved in the search. He later wrote “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” which was first published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888. His account varies slightly, but with the same outcome. Williamson waved to his neighbor, took a step, then vanished. Ironically, Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 but he didn’t evaporate into thin air.

Today, there is still no logical explanation for Williamson’s disappearance. Needless to say, this is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard.

I wrote and scheduled this post several months ago. Shortly afterward, I read Marlena Smith’s post on her Lore and Curiosities blog. If you’re interested in reading it, click this link.

No Grass on My Grave

The more I read about legends, folklore, and ghost stories, the more I find there are many variations. Storytellers have adapted these tales to fit the part of the country where they live, but they all have commonalities.

As a child and into my adolescent years, I often visited relatives in Alabama. I even went to school there for a short time during sixth grade, so I made friends. One summer, when I was about fourteen, my aunt allowed me to have some of those friends over for a slumber party. We had the entire second floor of the bungalow to ourselves. The setting alone—a half-century-old house—was enough to capture the imagination of four teenage girls.

Naturally, one thing we did was tell ghost stories. One girl even brought a book about ghostly encounters. It was that night when I first heard the tale, “No Grass on My Grave.” Recently, I searched for information about the story. I had always thought it took place in Alabama, but the reference I found happened in Wales. The details were virtually the same but nonetheless makes for an interesting story.

In 1821, John Newton (not to be confused with the hymn writer) was sentenced to death for a crime he claimed he didn’t commit. Throughout his controversial trial, he steadfastly maintained his innocence. However, the two key witnesses were respected citizens of the town.

The trial was lengthy, the witnesses unwavering, so the jury eventually accepted their word against Newton’s. When the judge announced the death sentence, Newton said to the court, “I am innocent, and no grass will grow over my grave for a generation to prove it.”

After his hanging, they buried Newton in a local churchyard. No one believed him, but they took special care in placing fresh sod on the burial plot. Within a matter of days, the grass turned brown and died, leaving a bare spot of earth in the shape of a coffin.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The townspeople thought it was a mere coincidence, so they continued to place fresh sod and grass seed. Each time, their efforts were futile. This went on for decades. Thirty years later, someone published an article that rekindled interest in Newton’s claim.

Residents brought in more sod in another attempt to cover the bare spot of earth. The grass at the head of the grave soon withered. For a while, the rest of the area had sporadic growth. However, this also died within a few months, leaving behind a coffin shape.

In 1886, sixty-five years after Newton’s death, a change took place. Grass began to grow, first on the sides and eventually spreading the length and width of the grave. It was never completely covered, but by 1941, there was another strange occurrence. The grass had grown into the shape of a cross.

It’s safe to say no one will ever know for sure if John Newton was innocent, but his declaration and the ensuing events lead a person to believe he told the truth.

The Watcher House

Westfield, New Jersey is a town that many residents compare to the idyllic Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. Only forty-five minutes from New York City, it’s a nice community in which to raise a family.

For one couple, their dream of living there turned into a nightmare.

On a June night in 2014, Derek Broaddus went outside to check his mail. He had been busy painting at his home in Westfield, New Jersey. He and his wife, Maria, had closed on the six-bedroom Dutch Colonial house three days earlier. They decided to do some renovations before moving in.

As Derek thumbed through the mail, he discovered a white, card-shaped envelope addressed in thick handwriting to “The New Owner.” Curious, he looked inside to find a type-written note. It began with a friendly greeting.

Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard, allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.

Buying the home was a longtime dream for Derek and his wife. Maria was raised in Westfield, only a few blocks away. Derek grew up in Maine, but worked for an insurance company in Manhattan, working his way up the ladder to the position of senior vice-president. His salary enabled the family to afford the $1.3 million house.

Westfield, New Jersey. Photo by Donald Siano, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As Derek continued to read the letter, the tone changed.

657 Boulevard has been the subject of my family for decades now and as it approaches its 110th birthday, I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out.

You have children. I have seen them. So far, I think there are three that I have counted.

Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me. Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring me your children? Once I know their names, I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me.

Derek phoned the police. When an officer came to investigate, he asked Broaddus if he had enemies and suggested moving a piece of construction equipment from the back porch.

Two weeks later, Maria stopped by the house to check the mail. Once again, there was a card-shaped envelope. She phoned the police. By now, The Watcher knew their names.

The workers have been busy, and I have been watching you… Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will…. I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me. You certainly say their names often.

The writer indicated he/she could watch and track their movements. Derek and Maria stopped bringing their kids to the house. A third letter arrived asking, “Where have you gone to? 657 Boulevard is missing you.”

Workers completed the renovations within a few months. By that time, Derek and Maria were uncertain about moving in. Letters had continued to come. The Broaddus family hired a private detective and enlisted the help of a former FBI Agent.

For a time, the Westfield police suspected the next-door neighbor who suffered from schizophrenia. However, a DNA sample from the envelopes didn’t match him or anyone in his family. To this day, police have not identified another suspect.         

Six months after the first letter arrived, Derek and Maria put the house on the market, asking for more than they paid. However, after they disclosed the letters to potential buyers, each offer fell through.

Some speculated the Broaddus family had sent the letters to themselves, saying they had purchased a house they couldn’t afford. One person said, “How can a couple with a $300,000 house and a $175,000 mortgage ten years ago have a $1.1 million mortgage?”

Finally, in July 2019, the house sold for $959,000—a significant loss for the family, considering they also spent approximately 100K on renovations. But, as one website said, “It’s perhaps a small price to pay for peace of mind.”

It’s unknown if the new owners have received any correspondence from the watcher, and his or her identity has never been discovered.