Tales of an Exeter-Terrestrial
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"I assume the speed must have been something terrific, because it came up on me all of a sudden like THIS, " Muscarello said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. The night was silent, he recalled, with no crickets, only the sound of the horses braying loudly in the nearby field. Then came the lights.
"I don't have to tell you, you get kind of nervous out there. I'm all alone... I mean, is this guy smoking something?" Muscarello said of himself, and the Exeter High School students tittered. "I just froze up. I didn't know quite what to do. I got scared."
Standing uncomfortably, at first, at the head of the class, Muscarello looked like a big kid giving a book report rather than a celebrity guest speaker. Still, my students were at full attention, empathizing with his awkwardness, drawn to his candor. For days we had been reading "The Incident at Exeter", the best-seller by John Fuller about a UFO spotted in Seacoast, New Hampshire on September 3, 1965. Muscarello, they knew, was the real deal, what Journalism teachers call "a primary source." This, to my knowledge, was one of the few interviews he ever recorded after the incident. My students got it all on tape.
"I fell into the ditch and I lay there with my head down," the speaker continued. "I looked up and it was like the whole side of this house...the whole side of the building seemed to turn out like a blood red. ...It was a white house and these lights were still pulsating in erratic positions. I couldn't make out any designs or silhouette at all, and then -- it took off." Muscarello made a noise like a slide whistle, indicating the disappearing UFO.
In the last 35 years Muscarello's story and those of other eye-witnesses have been analyzed to smithereens in countless books, white papers, TV shows and web sites. It's part of the Hynek Report where the term "close encounters" was coined. It's documented in Air Force reports and police reports, even the Congressional Record. Skeptics have called the phenomenon everything from fire balloons to a perceptual illusion of the planet Jupiter. For believers, this story is tucked so deeply into the foundation of UFOlogy that removing it would disrupt the infrastructure of the whole system.
It's the cops that hold the whole wild tale together. Three days after the incident, a statewide newspaper photo showed a sullen teenaged Muscarello with three smiling Exeter officers -- David Hunt, Eugene Bertrand and dispatcher "Scratch: Toland. After crawling from the ditch, Muscarello told the class, he knocked on a couple of doors. No one answered, but they later corroborated the fact that he had been there. Muscarello flagged down a car and got a ride to the local police station. The driver of the car, he told the students, was never identified in Fuller's book because the woman with him at 2 am wasn't the driver's wife. By the time Muscarello rushed frantically into the station near the famous Exeter bandstand, Scratch Toland had already received a call from another witness.
Toland asked Officer Bertrand to accompany Muscarello out to the field and he too saw something. It was about the size of a plane, Bertrand later told my student investigator in a separate interview. It defied the laws of gravity, "floating like a leaf". Officer Hunt then pulled up and all three men watched the object disappear seaward toward Hampton. Minutes later they heard a police radio dispatch from Hampton -- a UFO had been spotted there. According to Muscarello, Bertrand had even removed his gun from its holster during the flyover.
"What was he going to do, shoot it?" one of my students said laughing. In 1980, back from a long stretch in the military, Muscarello still wore his hair slicked back, Elvis-style, with long sideburns, a thin mustache and was paunchier than the tough teenager in 1965 news photo. "He was kind of a crazy kid in a way," Bertrand told my student reporter. But in front of the class that day, the more Muscarello spoke, the calmer and more confident he sounded.
"At the time I was more afraid of the gun than that thing," Muscarello said of the UFO. "So we boogied back to the cruiser and Gene got on the blower and he says, 'Scratch, I see the damn thing myself!"
The rest is UFO history. Reporter John Fuller was assigned to write a piece originally called "Outer Space Ghost Story" for Look magazine. It appeared in Reader's Digest and then in True Magazine as "The Incident at Exeter" - the title Fuller used for his book. Peter R. Geremia, (see related story) director of the New Hampshire chapter of Mufon (Mutual UFO Network) remembers Fuller as a scrupulous investigative reporter. Geremia has studied Fuller's notes now archived at Boston University and describes his work as "very very meticulous".
But there's more to the Seacoast UFO story. In 1980 my Journalism students fanned out and interviewed everyone they could find associated with the book. We published the results in a special edition of the school paper. Conrad Quimby, then editor of the Derry News and a staunch nonbeliever, told one student that he had tipped off Fuller to the Exeter UFO incident. Quimby said he was also friendly with a Portsmouth couple, Betty and Barney Hill, who had seen a UFO while driving in the White Mountains in 1961. As Fuller worked on the Exeter book, Quimby introduced him to the Hills. I checked this fact with Betty Hill, now living in Portsmouth at age 81. She agrees that her husband Barney had confided in Quimby, and that indeed may be how Fuller - and soon the whole world - learned of the couple's wild ride.
"Interrupted Journey" Fuller's follow-up book about the Hill's alleged abduction by aliens was another big seller. His detailed journalistic style again intrigued even skeptics and positioned Betty and Barney Hill deeply in the hearts and minds of UFO addicts world wide. Distinguished actor James Earl Jones, the voice of CNN, Bell Atlantic and Darth Vader, was a key force in turning the book into a film and Jones played the part of Barney Hill in the 1975 film version "The UFO Incident." The two books were recently republished back to back as one trade paperback volume and are already out of stock again.
The Hills received a royalty for their UFO story, much of it recorded while under hypnosis. Muscarello and the Exeter witnesses were not compensated in an era before the fearful onset of checkbook journalism. One month after seeing the Exeter UFO, Muscarello began a close encounter with the US Navy and served in the Viet Nam War. He remembers first discovering Fuller's book about him at a shop in Saigon. By the time he arrived in my classroom 15 years later, Incident at Exeter had sold over a half million copies.
"Don't you feel at all ripped off?" someone in the classroom asked Muscarello. Teenagers have an inherent sense of justice that, we should teach them, history, fate, commerce and UFOs do not. If I were in charge of public education in America, all kids would study Journalism, work on the school paper and write oral histories. They would meet real people, ask real questions and report the results with detail and without bias.
"It would have been nice to make a few bucks, right?" Muscarello shrugged. "He (Fuller) said he made a bundle. I talked to John on the phone about four months ago. It was the first time I'd talked to him in 15 years. I had lost my original copy and he sent me that one," Muscarello said, gesturing toward his copy of "Incident at Exeter."
It was, as I recall, one of my best days as a high school teacher. Our school paper The Talon was consumed by the students at Exeter Area High School as soon as it was published. The kids sold ads and paid for the whole process. We bought our own typewriters. We purchased our own textbooks. The paper won some sort of award and 20 years after the fact, the UFO issue is as readable as ever. I made a few calls to see if Norman Muscarello is around town with no luck. I called the Exeter Police Station to see what had happened to the three officers. The young dispatcher had never heard of any UFO flying over Exeter or of the officers in question. Two, it appears, have passed away. One transferred out long ago.
UFO researcher Peter Geremia says he met with John G. Fuller, corresponded and spoke with him on the phone. The two men planned to present a detailed lecture together in Exeter in 1990, but the author died just weeks before. Time passes and the thin cables that connect us to the truth rust and snap. I couldn't find the audio tape of our conversation with the man who saw the lights over Kensington in 1965 - just the transcript my students pulled together. It's not the missing 20 minutes from the Watergate archives - but I'm proud of it and of my students - and it will have to do.
By J. Dennis Robinson
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Content may not be used or transferred without permission.
Photos courtesy Manchester Union Leader and Exeter High School Talon. Illustrations by high school artist JP Smith.
Don't miss Dennis Robinson's new column "Seacoast Rambles" every other week in Foster's Sunday Citizen at your local newsstand.
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