MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. — The details are obscure, but it's possible that one of the first UFO sightings reported in the U.S. originated in West Virginia over the region that's now the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
The encounter allegedly occurred in the vicinity of Mount Hope, West Virginia, and over what's now the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in January 1950.
Only one reference appears online as of the publication of this story, though some local sources are available to corroborate the tale.
The following post requesting information, reportedly sourced from National UFO Reporting Center, appears at the website UFO-Hunters.com:
One of the first sightings in U.S. — 1950s
"Apparently one of the earliest sightings in the U.S. was reported by the mayor of this small West Virginia city in the 1950s. The witness later built a memorial to the sighting, which has since been destroyed, and the event was recorded by a British author. Has anyone seen this information or the book in which the event was documented? ((NUFORC Note: Witness indicates that the date of the sighting is approximate. PD))"
Historian backs up UFO sighting details
To some extent, the details cited in the above reference are true. According to late historian C. Lloyd Gibson, the mayor in question at the time was Pat Garrett, who spotted the object on the skyline to the east of his home, which sits on a hill that overlooks the town.
Gibson noted that before the space age, mankind had reported strange aerial phenomena, but it wasn't until the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik into outer space in 1957 that the explanation for such began to take the form of an extra-terrestrial origin.
Gibson says the mayor erected a monument to the event and buried a time capsule somewhere on the property, both of which may have later been removed.
According to Gibson, Garrett spoke of the encounter with conviction and spent time pondering the matter. At one time a book that included notes on the encounter was shelved in the public library at Mount Hope but could no longer be found.
However, Sam Duncan, a nephew of the mayor, says he questions the tale and wonders if the term "martian" might have been confused with the term "martin," as the mayor was an avid birder and fan of insect-eating purple martins, and had installed at least one purple-martin house near his home.
"He had all kinds of diagrams about the birds and their flights on a platform about this size," Duncan said, tracing a square about two-and-a-half feet broad on a tabletop.
"I heard rumors about the UFOs, but I never knew anything about it, and I wonder if people just got the story mixed up over time."
Could the monument to an encounter really have been a diagram used to record bird flights? If so, how did news of the encounter reach a British author? And what happened to the monument?
The direction of the sighting would appear to be over, or possibly beyond, the wilderness west of Garden Grounds Mountain that is now home to the Bechtel Summit Reserve, the national home of scouting jamborees, which should increase interest in the incident among scouts.
The hunt for evidence continues
Becky Sullivan, executive director of the New River Gorge Convention and Visitors Bureau, says she'll be happy to speak with anyone about the encounter about which she had only heard recently.
"Mount Hope is a very interesting historical community, no less because the reserve is located there, but it's also at the gateway to the middle section of the New River Gorge National Park," Sullivan said.
"I'd be very happy to speak with whoever could tell us more about this mystery."
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