The Fisherville UFO Landing And The Shenandoah Valley UFO Wave

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
August 9, 2023
Estimated Reading Time
17 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Waves

An incident that unfolded in Fisherville, Virginia in December 1964 is intriguing not only because it seemingly saw a potential vehicle from another world land in a field by the roadside, but it appeared to set off an absolute wave of UFO sightings witnessed by multiple residents across the state.

Was this region of the country suddenly of intense interest to these apparently otherworldly visitors? Or was this a case of mass hysteria following a first, bizarre incident? Whatever the truth, the United States Air Force saw fit to not only investigate the encounters under Project Blue Book, but they sent one of their most senior and respected investigators, someone usually reserved only, at least officially, for cases that posed an imminent threat to national security.

Whatever did happen that night remains unexplained, and the case is still of interest to investigators today. Very recently, journalist, Jacob Fife, in the wake of the Pentagon revelations, pushed the incident back into the consciousness of the wider public arena with his overview of the case for WHSV3.

With that in mind, then, the best place to start would be with the alleged landing itself.

A Strange Encounter On Route 250

At around 5 pm on December 21st, 1964, Horace Burns was driving along Route 250 in the Shenandoah Valley from Staunton to Fisherville when he suddenly began to experience problems with his car. [1] At around the same time, much to his disbelief, Burns noticed a metallic object in the skies overhead. And what’s more, it was getting closer.

As the object passed directly ahead of him, his car engine cut out completely. The car would come to a stop, but Burns would later recall that there was something not quite right about the speed with which the vehicle’s momentum came to a halt.

The stunned gunsmith got out of the vehicle and continued to watch the object, which he described as being cone-shaped looking like an “upside down spinning top toy”. He would further estimate it was just short of 100 feet in height and around 125 feet wide. Although he couldn’t see any doors or windows in the object, Burns could make out a blue glow that came from the object’s underside.

He continued to watch in amazement as the object calmly descended and landed in a nearby field. For around a minute, possibly as long as 90 seconds, the object remained completely still in its landed position. Although it remained completely silent, Burns would later attest to being able to feel a great heat coming from it.

Then, with a sudden “whooshing” sound, it rose into the air with great speed, eventually disappearing from sight.

After taking a moment or two to take in what he had just witnessed, Burns returned to his car, and much to his surprise, not only had the car seemingly shifted itself into park, the engine now started with no problems whatsoever.

Evidence Of Something Out Of The Ordinary

He immediately drove home and was barely through the front door before he began telling his wife of what he had seen, although he had already decided to otherwise keep the encounter to himself. However, when he saw a television program on WSVA about a UFO group at the Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisburg, he decided to share his account with the organization.

He did so with the presenter of the WSVA show, Jim Shipp, who would interview Burns for the program before putting him in touch with a professor at the college who was involved with the group.

A little over a week after the incident, on the afternoon of December 30th, Professor Ernest Gehman from the organization arrived to investigate. [2] After locating where the landing took place, Gehman used his Geiger counter to conduct readings for radioactivity in the region. He was more than alarmed to find the readings coming back at 60,000 counts per minute. He would request two other engineers join him at the location in order to perform their own tests that would corroborate his own findings. These further tests would indeed confirm his results.

Following this, and recognizing that something truly out of the ordinary had taken place, Gehman quickly passed details of the incident to Project Blue Book, the official UFO investigative department of the United States at the time.

Other Sightings Come To Light

Although the request for Project Blue Book to send investigators was made in the final days of December 1964, it was a further two weeks before they arrived in the area. However, the person they sent, Sergeant David Moody, was one of their top investigators, and a person whose presence would only be required at the location of a sighting if there was a real genuine threat to national security. Indeed, we might consider whether the length of time it took for Moody to arrive was due to an intense study of the encounter.

Indeed, in the time between the report being sent to Project Blue Book and Moody’s arrival in Fisherville, not only were more UFO reports coming from people who had seen something strange around the same time as Horace Burns, but reports of new sightings also.

One particularly intriguing sighting came from a 10-year-old child who claimed to have seen a similar object to that reported by Burns in nearby Waynesboro on the same night as Burns witnessed the cone-shaped UFO.

Perhaps offering corroboration to the young child’s sightings, and indeed Burns’, were reports from several local residents to the Virginia Electric and Power Company regarding an apparently weakened electricity supply to their homes that saw lights dim and even radios and televisions cease to work for several minutes a little after 5 pm.

In an article in Flying Saucer Review several months after the incident, Donald Hanlon highlighted several of these.

According to Hanlon’s research, Kenneth Norton claimed to have seen a beehive-shaped UFO on the evening of November 20th in Staunton. Furthermore, according to the January 14th, 1965 edition of the Times-Dispatch, approximately 20 minutes before Burns had his encounter, Kenneth North Jr. witnessed a cigar-shaped object from his bedroom window, also in Staunton. [3]

It is not clear if these two sightings feature the same witness or not, or even if they have become confused over time with the November sighting likely to be the actual incident, which was later attributed to the December date, so creating two separate sightings when there was, in fact, only one.

Another sighting would eventually come to light through reports in two British newspapers, the Daily Telegraph and the London Evening News. According to the reports, on the evening of December 29th, in nearby Maryland, the Patuxent Naval Air Station tracked two anomalous objects on radar that were moving at a blistering 4800 miles per hour. Further details suggest the two anomalous objects approached the air station before changing course at the very last moment.

Incidentally, when researcher and investigator, Coral Lorenzen investigated the claims, she was told by representatives from the air station that the radar equipment was “malfunctioning” on the night in question, something Lorenzen, like many others, found hard to believe.

We will return to the investigations of Project Blue Book shortly. First, though, we will turn our attention to some of the many other UFO sightings on record around the same time, and in the weeks that followed the landing incident at Fisherville.

The Wave Continues

In the days that followed further incidents were reported. In the early hours of January 1st, 1965, at a little after 3 am, a police officer in Norfolk was on patrol when he noticed a large round light moving across the sky with seven or eight smaller lights following close behind it in a single-file formation. [4] These lights made their way from south to north. However, just before they disappeared into the distance, a second larger object zipped across the sky along the same path as the first set of lights, only at remarkable speed.

Another such report came from an entire family, who claimed to have seen a cigar-shaped object near Staunton High School, while another resident of Harrisonburg claimed that a bright object followed her for some time before disappearing.

Several days later, at around 6 pm on January 5th, a witness named Dempsey Bruton also witnessed a bright, orange object. What’s more, several further witnesses were able to corroborate the sighting. [5]

There were two more reports on the same evening. The first occurred just short of 6 pm in Wallops Island, when a NASA engineer, along with his wife, and his brother-in-law, witnessed a “round, bright yellow light” rising up from the ground somewhere in the distance. [6] After several moments, it hovered momentarily before heading off into the distance.

Although the exact time isn’t known, on the same evening in Lynchburg, a local resident reported seeing a “round circle of light” moving southward at a relatively high altitude. [7] After several moments, the light came to a sudden stop before restarting once more on its course. The object remained visible for around five minutes before disappearing.

Rapidly Increasing Activity

An even stranger sighting unfolded during the afternoon of January 11th, at around 4:20 pm, when 12 people, six of whom were engineers with the Army Signal Corps, reported seeing at least a dozen oval-shaped crafts move across the sky with great speed. Even more intriguing, the witnesses claimed that these objects were seemingly being pursued by military jets, presumably from Andrews Air Force Base in nearby Maryland. Interestingly, although the witnesses maintained their version of events – privately and publicly – the Department of Defense flat out denied anything out of the ordinary happened on the night in question.

The following day, at around 6:30 pm on Wallops Island, two NASA public relations employees, Mr. and Mrs. Milliner, reported seeing a bright yellow object moving overhead which remained visible for around two minutes before disappearing.

Another daylight sighting occurred at 4:45 pm on the afternoon of January 14th when Carl Billings and Jody Smith witnessed a strange object moving through the sky over Staunton. Only 15 minutes earlier, in Thaxton, Mr. McManaway reported seeing a cigar-shaped object moving across the sky at approximately 2000 miles per hour. [8] He would recall that he was watching a B-52 plane when he first noticed the object and that the mysterious craft was much larger than the B-52.

Just over an hour later, at around 6 pm, several students witnessed a “stationary light” hovering over their dorms. At just before midnight, another local resident, James Myers, claimed to have seen a glowing object rising from the ground.

Multiple Witnesses From Multiple Locations

Although it occurred in New Hampshire, a sighting at around 10 pm on January 15th is interesting as it contains similar details to the report made by Horace Burns. According to the report, Charles Knee Jr. was driving between Enfield and Wilmot when his engine suddenly stalled and his lights failed, causing him to temporarily lose control of the vehicle. As he stepped out of the car to investigate what the problem might be, he suddenly heard a strange high-pitched noise overhead and saw a bright, glowing object moving across the sky at a rapid pace.

Three nights later, at around 6 pm in Buchanan, three children witnessed a “round object with three rings like donuts stacked one on the other” moving across the sky overhead. [9] After moving for several moments, the object then came to a stop before descending temporarily. It then began to climb once more to its previous altitude before heading off toward the south at a significantly fast pace.

The following evening, at around 6:15 pm on January 19th, back in Virginia at Brands Flat, two circular objects were witnessed by an industrial worker flying at low altitude. Even more remarkable, one of these objects landed no more than 20 yards away from the witness, before three humanoids, each around three feet tall, emerged from the object. They spoke several words in a language unknown to the witness, before simply returning inside the object, which then rose into the air and disappeared into the distance.

At just after 7 pm on January 21st in Richmond was a report of a “bright light” hovering over the WTVR radio tower for approximately 45 seconds. [10] It isn’t clear how many witnesses there were to this event, but after hovering, the object disappeared into the distance at a rapid pace.

At just before 9 pm on January 23rd, on Highway US 60 near Toano, Virginia, two motorists, each going in opposite directions, brought their respective vehicles to a stop in order to view a “huge cone-shaped object” that had seemingly landed in a field along the roadside. According to some reports, two military helicopters were sent to investigate the object, however, it is unclear if any contact was made.

Reports Of Humanoids

The following day in Richmond, a radio news reporter and his wife reported seeing “an orange ball” zip across the sky before it simply went out as if something had switched it off. Later that same evening, several students driving near Salem claimed that a glowing oval object kept pace with their car for a considerable distance. At one point, they estimated it was barely 400 feet above them, allowing them to see that it had three yellow lights and one green light on its underside.

Yet another sighting occurred on the evening of January 24th in Virginia, this time in Verona, a local couple witnessed a “bright yellow light” hovering near their home before it shot off into the distance, incidentally, in the direction of Staunton.

The following night over the Rappahannock Valley near Fredericksburg, multiple people saw a “top-shaped object” rising into the air, “emitting sparks” as it did so. A short time after that, at just before 11 pm just outside of Bedford, a local resident saw an “aluminum-colored object” move across the sky at a relatively slow pace. Only five minutes later, around 10 miles away in Moneta, two people reported seeing a cigar-shaped object moving overhead.

The following evening near Brands Flat, seven young adults were driving when they spotted a bizarre looking humanoid, much shorter than an average adult, quickly spotting two others several moments later. They would bring their vehicle to a halt before exiting and attempting to pursue the entities, ultimately losing track of them. They would report the sighting to police who would send a unit to explore the location for signs of the strange creatures. Although they wouldn’t locate any such evidence, the account would take an intriguing if ominous twist.

The following day, one of the witnesses would return to the location with a friend who was a photographer. According to their account, they witnessed an aluminum-colored object. The photographer managed to capture a picture of the craft before he was struck on the head by an unknown assailant. Soon after, the pair ran from the scene as fast as they could. Incidentally, the photograph was allegedly taken from them a short time after by a pair of mysterious gentlemen claiming to be from the government.

At just after 8:30 pm on January 30th in Newport News, five high school students reported seeing a triangular-shaped object moving overhead. To begin with, the craft was heading to the south. [11] However, it made a sudden turn to the northwest and disappeared into the distance. The witnesses recalled that the object had “a white light at the apex of the triangle” with “an orange light on the left base and a white light on the right base”. In total, the object was in view for around 20 minutes, during which time it remained completely silent.

An Apparent Meeting With Aliens

One particularly intriguing encounter from some time in late January 1965 went far beyond a mere sighting and suggested an actual meeting with extraterrestrials themselves. According to the report, an anonymous resident of an undisclosed town somewhere in Virginia was cutting timber at around 6 pm when he noticed to strange UFOs “standing on the ground” a short distance away.

The witness immediately stopped what he was doing and intently watched the objects, realizing that each appeared to be completely silent despite their close proximity. He further noticed that the two crafts were different sizes from each other, with one being approximately 250 feet wide, while the other was somewhere around 70 feet in width.

As the witness noticed that the smaller object appeared to be made of some kind of glass as opposed to metal, three strange entities emerged and headed in the witness’s direction. Each was dressed in the same garments or uniform, which was the same dark color of the craft. Although they appeared human-looking – despite particularly long, thin fingers – they made sounds that were unintelligible, and certainly unlike any language that the witness had ever heard before.

The trio stood there for several moments before simply turning around and walking back toward the waiting object. Instead of walking through a door or some other kind of opening, it appeared as though the strange beings simply “merged” into the wall of the craft, as if they had simply passed through it. A moment later, both of the objects rose into the air and disappeared into the early evening sky.

The Marion Sighting

Another particularly detailed sighting occurred at just before 9 pm on the evening of January 26th in the town of Marion. On the night in question, Reverand Preston Robinson witnessed an object he described as a “flying saucer” moving over the town of Marion at an altitude of approximately 600 feet.

He would state in his report that the object was moving with its “nose down” and appeared out of the west heading toward the east. Even stranger, after vanishing for several moments, it suddenly reappeared, again over the town of Marion. This time when he viewed the object, he could see five portholes along the side, as well as bright lights shining down toward the ground from the underside.

Also at this stage, he could hear a “buzzing”, “swirling”, and “fluttering” sound that he believed came from the strange craft, and he further noticed that the object was spinning in an anti-clockwise direction.

After several moments, the object again headed toward the east. This time, however, as it moved, a “sort of fireball” came from it and fell to the ground. As it fell, the area below glowed a distinct red color.

Robinson wasn’t the only witness to these events, with four other members of his family also witnessing the bizarre events. Furthermore, Robinson would also speak of reports he had received from members of the public – ones that involved humanoid beings, and ones that he believed were authentic. Even more alarming, following such reports, many rumors and claims began to circulate around the region that these encounters were a sign of the end of the world, something we will come back to shortly.

The Brooksville Incident

At this point, it is also worth our time briefly examining a sighting that occurred around the same time (likely at some point in February 1965) in Brooksville, Florida, not least as it might suggest that some kind of extraterrestrial presence was in the United States, at the very least, in the closing weeks of 1964 and the opening months of 1965. And furthermore, there are remarkable similarities with the apparent meeting with extraterrestrials in Virginia several weeks previously that we examined earlier.

According to the report (which appeared in the weekly publication, Stars & Stripes), a retired longshoreman, John Reeves, claimed to have witnessed a flying saucer-type craft while walking in the woods one evening. He later recalled that the object was approximately 30 feet wide and around six feet high. What’s more, it had a strange “bluish green and reddish purple” exterior, as well as two windows and a raised upper section.

Even more amazing, next to the craft was a “weird robot-like creature” which began in his direction, eventually coming to a stop just over 10 feet away. As he looked at this strange entity, he noticed it raise some kind of black device, from which a flash came from it. This happened again before the creature seemingly returned inside the craft, which then rose up into the sky and disappeared.

He would later state in his report that this robotic creature was around five feet in height and wore a “canvas-like suit” with a glass-like helmet. Although only the face was visible through the helmet, he claimed he could see the creature had “dark-tanned flesh” and that its eyes were further apart than a human’s eyes would be.

When Reeves – who, at first, believed the mysterious creature was “taking snapshots of him” – walked over to where the strange object and the even stranger entity had been, he discovered two strange pieces of paper. On them was what appeared to be writing, although it was writing that the witness had never seen before, although he would offer that the closest he could think of would be Chinese writing.

Was this some kind of communication attempt, and was this the reason this alien presence was here, or was this contact simply an unintended consequence of what was an alien reconnaissance mission? It is certainly an intriguing encounter.

A Case Of Mass Hysteria?

As we might imagine, by this time, the residents of various towns and cities around Virginia were becoming increasingly anxious about these events. In fact, according to an article in the February 1st edition of Dayton Journal Herald newspaper, sightings of strange aerial vehicles over Virginia were becoming a daily event, with some residents even claiming to have seen strange humanoid entities moving around during the night. The article carried a quote from John Kent, the Augusta County Sheriff, who offered that “this thing has gotten completely out of control”.

Not only did more and more reports come in to both authorities and those investigating the case, but there soon became a real danger that something akin to panic would take control of the town.

It became noticed that the sightings themselves appeared to be happening closer and closer to the witnesses, which served to heighten the collective anxiety – particularly, it seemed, in and around Staunton.

In fact, things became so intense, and the local residents so concerned, that several vigilante-type groups were formed, who would patrol the streets on the lookout for strange flying objects and even entities from another world. One particular night, tragedy almost struck when one local man dressed up as an alien to spook the townsfolk for his own amusement and was almost shot as a result.

Perhaps one of the most significant moments of mass hysteria began with the linking of the sightings to the coming of the apocalypse. It was against this backdrop of rising hysteria and mass panic that the Blue Book investigation took place.

The Blue Book Investigation (That Wasn’t?)

To begin with, the Blue Book investigators attempted to maintain a low profile in the region. However, by the time they arrived on January 12th, the town was already gripped with sighting and sighting of vehicles seemingly from another world. There also appeared to be an attempt right from the start, at least according to the observations of Professor Gehman, to downplay and even attempt to suppress evidence, as well as the overall credibility of the sightings.

They discovered, for example, that the region where the apparent landing took place was still very high in radioactivity. However, the Blue Book investigators made efforts to leave out this evidence from their report. It was only the fact that these tests were performed in the presence of Professor Gehman, as well as several other independent witnesses – including Claire Weaver, a member of a local UFO organization, and a local newspaper reported – that suggestions of this cover-up reached the wider public.

It is also further worth examining the lead investigator himself, David Moody. Although he was one of the highest-ranking and respected investigators involved with Project Blue Book, he was, according to the research of the previously mentioned Jacob Fife, a renowned skeptic, and someone quick to dismiss witness statements and accounts.

Indeed, we might ask if Moody’s deployment to the region was not to assess closer any security issues but rather to discredit the sightings in the eyes of the wider public.

Whatever the truth of the matter, within a matter of weeks, Moody and his team were removed from the area suddenly and without explanation. And it is here where the waters become murky somewhat. According to some reports, rather than Moody wrapping up the investigation himself, he was significantly concerned with the volume and details of the sightings that he requested further Blue Book investigators from the director of Project Blue Book, Major Hector Quintanilla.

However, rather than send more investigators, Moody, and his team were recalled back to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, seemingly to work on another “more important” case (we should note, no records of this apparent case have been found in the Blue Book files).

Local residents would hear nothing more from authorities, despite repeated requests for information from local officials. Then, when the report was released, it was stated that there was no evidence of UFO sightings or of a UFO landing event. As we might imagine, local residents, including Horace Burns, were in complete disagreement with the official findings.

Regardless, as spring gave way to the summer of 1965, sightings of these strange aerial objects suddenly slowed and then stopped altogether. The events, though, despite the official report, remain unexplained. In total, according to the Blue Book files themselves, between December 1964 and the late spring of 1965, there were at least 50 reported sightings of unexplained aerial objects. We can only imagine how many more went unreported during this time.

Sightings Still Happening Today

Although the barrage of sightings ceased in May 1965 following the surge that followed the apparent landing incident in December of the previous year, UFO sightings were still reported over the years, albeit at a much slower rate. And what’s more, they continue to happen today.

Perhaps one of the most interesting occurred on the evening of February 27th, 2015 in Shenandoah National Park. [12] According to the report, the witness went to the park with his girlfriend, having seemingly witnessed something strange there previous.

He goes on to say that this sighting and experience was a “lot more intense”. He stated that the “same light was there, doing the same thing” before a second light suddenly appeared – and this light was “a lot closer”.

At this point, the witness’s girlfriend reached for her phone in order to capture a picture of the aerial anomaly. As soon as she did so, however, the light began moving around the sky erratically, almost as if it was aware of her intention. Then, without any warning, the object just vanished in an instant.

A moment later, the witness’s girlfriend suddenly felt “drained”, and complained her “whole body hurt”. Realizing she could barely keep her eyes open, the witness put the car in motion and set off from the area. As they did, however, they noticed another set of five lights, a little way off in the distance. They moved in the sky in the same manner as the light they had witnessed close-up only moments earlier. Even stranger, as they were driving home, the car radio would cut out randomly, being replaced by harsh static.

Another UFO Landing Case Discreetly Suppressed?

So, what should we make of not only this fascinating landing case but the apparent wave of UFO sightings that followed? Given the amount of detail recorded at the time, not to mention the many witnesses, it is perhaps surprising that the incident is not more widely known, both inside and outside of the UFO community.

That something happened that evening in December in Fisherville and throughout Virginia during the weeks that followed is surely beyond doubt. And just what the authorities might have known at the time, and still know today, is surely open to debate. The fact that the Air Force sent one of their best investigators should perhaps tell us that they knew, or at least suspected, there was something more to the case than they publicly let on.

Whether we might see the case reinvestigated at an official level over the coming years also remains to be seen. And if it is, just what conclusions will be reached?

Ultimately, this is yet another case that sees an apparent craft from another world landing here on Earth for reasons unknown. And it happened at a time when UFO sightings were already rife during the 1950s and sixties. As we have seen, the case has regained interest in the UFO community in recent months, and with the establishment of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), we just might see the case investigated, officially, in the near future. Whether through an official investigation or a private one, this would appear to be a case that has further secrets and revelations to be uncovered.

The video below examines this fascinating incident a little further.


1 The story of the alleged 1964 Fisherville UFO landing and the chaos that ensued, WHSV3
2 The Opposition Flap 1965, NICAP
3 14-year-old student reports ‘cigar-shaped’ object near Staunton in 1964, WHSV3  
4 Large Light Leading 7-8 Smaller Lights, NICAP
5 Virginia 1965 Flap, Donald B. Hanlon, Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 12, No.2 (1966)
6 Bright Yellow Light Flies Overhead, NICAP
7 Light Stops and Starts, NICAP
8 Cigar Larger Than B-52, NICAP
9 Object With Rings Observed, NICAP
10 Light Hovers Over Radio Tower, NICAP
11 Triangular Object With No Sound, NICAP
12 Shenandoah National Park UFO Sighting, UFO Hunters,%20Virginia%20(United%20States)%20on%20Friday%2027%20February%202015

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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