There are times when the universe thrusts a moment upon us that possesses the capability of forever altering the course of our lives. As if thrown by some cosmic legionary, fate’s javelin can pierce a quiet life, leaving difficult choices, harsh lessons and unknown paths in its wake. What these moments – often traumatic – do offer us are choices. Choices that are not always clear, but ever-present. Some choose acceptance, others denial – there is no right or wrong, only choice.
For Thomas Reed, it was a late summer’s evening in September of 1969 that the universe would fix its cross hairs on him and his family while they enjoyed a quiet ride home in Sheffield, MA. Despite the event that took place that evening, and the life-altering decades since, Thom’s choice has remained steadfast – perseverance.
Thom’s experience, as personal as it has become to the man himself, lives among the stories that exist on the fringes of formal society. These happenings however, cannot universally be dismissed as tales that solely belong within the vacuum of fantasy. Ever since Allied aircraft pilots began to describe mysterious aerial phenomena, or foo fighters, in the skies over both the European and Pacific theaters of operations, modern society has been captivated by lights in the night sky, mysterious objects hovering silently over the earthly horizon – UFOs.
What began as innocent curiosity would morph into full-blown history when, in July of 1947, what the US Air Force claims was a weather balloon crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, launching countless conspiracy theories that claim the crash was actually that of a flying saucer, and the truth has been covered up by the US government to this day. The incident, combined with the development of the atomic bomb, soon drew the gaze of science fiction and both literature and film would soon feature political commentary mixed with the concept of UFOs. Stories by authors like Ray Bradbury and films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World would embed themselves in the public consciousness.
Despite its prevalence in popular culture, UFO sightings and any form of accompanying alien phenomena have yet to hurdle the “little green men” stigma that has fashioned itself to those who might consider the possibilities, or who have experienced something unexplained themselves. Much like the character of small towns across America, seeing is believing and historically, the Hudson Valley as well as residents in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains have seen plenty. Some thousands of residents of the Hudson Valley witnessed strange objects in the sky from March of 1983 until the following July of 1984. Eyewitness reports suggested that a large object moved slowly north over the Hudson River Valley. Local police received countless calls from people reporting the shape. Two officers who saw something together later gave different descriptions at the same time describing the object as a series of small planes flying in tight formation. Mysteries like this have woven themselves into the history of our area.
The 1969 mass-sighting
In Sheffield, MA, three years of enigmatic phenomena culminated in one fateful evening in September of 1969 when what can only be described as a mass-sighting engulfed the towns of Sheffield, Great Barrington, and Canaan in Connecticut’s Northwest corner. For some, the events of that evening would forever divide a small town. For others, it would strengthen the bonds between neighbors who shared a common experience.
For the last 52 years, the one remaining constant has been Thom himself who snatched fate’s cosmic javelin and defiantly chose to keep the incident alive in the public eye. Reed, who established a commemorative park where the incident took place, has carried the sightings memorial torch for the better part of three decades appearing on numerous television programs including most recently Netflix’s reboot of the cult-classic television show Unsolved Mysteries.
Though the subject of Thom’s quest may seem far-fetched to some, his reasons are as noble as the Berkshires themselves. For decades,Thom has kept the memory of his sighting alive despite resistance in order to preserve the integrity of those in the community who witnessed something incredible, fight ridicule with legitimacy and, perhaps most importantly, honor the family who he has loved so dearly.
September 1, 1969
“My family has always been open minded in general,” recalls Thom as he recounts his time in Sheffield from his home in Concord, TN. “That sense of openness pervaded throughout our family diner in Sheffield.”
Until the age of two, Thom lived in Cherry Hills Colorado, at the home of William Roosevelt, the grandson of President Roosevelt. His grandmother Marian was the governess for the household. Thom’s family would move back to New England in 1963 buying 80 acres of land and a diner in Sheffield. His father, Dr. Howard Reed, was an attorney and town selectman. His mother, Nancy, owned the aforementioned Village Green Diner. “My mother would run a tab for children and would hand them quarters to use the jukebox,” recalls Thom. “Those same kids later supported my family years after our sighting, added crucial details that would ultimately lead to our case being officially inducted into the state’s history, and helped fund the monument at the park in Sheffield.”
In 1966 and 1967, sightings abounded around Sheffield causing residents to theorize on the many reasons why the small town had suddenly become a UFO hotspot. For decades, the Sprague Electric Company in North Adams, MA, served as the area’s industrial backbone. Throughout the 1960s, Sprague became one of the major contributors to NASA’s ambitions by making a wide range of electrical components and would become highly motivated to manufacture the silicon disk that contains the Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages left on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. The company’s push to join the Space Race led many to speculate whether the string of sightings could be related.
It was in the booths of the Reed family diner that members of Sheffield’s community began to speculate on the strange sightings in the years leading up to September 1, 1969. Despite the flurry of conversations, Thom says he felt like an outsider for much of his childhood spent in Sheffield. “Not everyone took kindly to those types of conversations taking place at the diner during those years,” says Thom. “My mother had to endure many disrespectful criticisms from folks even before our experience in 1969.”
What began as the background noise of residents and witnesses discussing some of the strange goings on, as nebulous to a young Thom Reed as the Milky Way, took center stage in his life with a meteoric impact on the evening of September 1, 1969. What occurred just outside Sheffield’s covered bridge while Thom, his brother Matthew next to him, his mother driving, and his grandmother in the passenger seat as they drove home from the diner in the fading light of summer has become a testament to Thom and his life’s journey.
A sphere above the water…
As he recounts in his own words, “We left the diner around 8:15 that evening and arrived at the covered bridge shortly thereafter. As we neared the bridge, we became aware of what I can only describe as a sphere above the water, another whitish light not far from the bridge, and a disc down the road near a telephone pole. It appeared to me in those brief moments, that all three were performing some kind of function, or maneuver.”
Thom continues in the same manner one might describe a traumatic event, sometimes hazy, but thoroughly authentic in conviction. “When we pulled off the side of the road to get a better look, I distinctly recall everyone in the car feeling an odd sensation of being muted. It was like we all entered a vacuum of silence, we were alert but… not there.” The next Thom recalls, three hours had passed and the car was now over a mile away from where they had previously been, with his mother now in the passenger seat and his grandmother – who Thom says never drove – behind the wheel. “I have never said my family was abducted by aliens,” says Thom. “I do believe however, that someone or something removed us from our car, we were taken elsewhere. What I do remember is the sensation of coming to, almost as if I was waking up from an anesthetic. As my grandmother inexplicably drove down the road back to town, she missed the first entrance to the diner, and stopped at Silks General Store, which was just about to close, making it around 11pm despite us leaving the diner at 8:15 and only driving a few miles round trip. What people don’t understand is that lost in all of the sensationalism, is the trauma we endured that evening. It was almost as though we had been in an accident and were wandering around in a hazy fog of shock.”
The sightings that culminated in that night over 50 years ago have, perhaps unfairly, been dubbed The Berkshire UFO Sightings, and are one of the famous UFO-related events in American history. That evening, over 250 witnesses from Sheffield to Canaan would report seeing something strange in skies over Berkshire County including a flurry of calls into the local radio station, WSBS, to report what they were seeing. Though today, the incident is more widely accepted locally than it is dismissed, there remains mysteriously little records from the evening itself and in the immediate aftermath, the Reed family became the subject of much ridicule.
A down-to-earth family legacy
Though 1969’s mass sighting made UFOs the topic of conversation throughout the community, it was his mother Nancy who bore the weight of scrutiny. “Folks who had established themselves in the community just didn’t want Sheffield associated with this type of thing,” says Thom. “Because our diner was a safe haven for those, young and old, to talk about their experiences, she endured a lot of criticism the year that followed that fateful evening.” Indeed, it was less than a year after the encounter that Nancy Reed would sell the family diner and relocate the family to Great Barrington, MA. Still, for Thom, the incident would imprint itself upon his young mind. “Of course, what I saw changed my life. I was an altar boy when I was young, my faith was undoubtedly shaken.” For Thom, it was more than just the search for truth that led him to pursue a decades-long crusade for legitimacy. It was his love and admiration for his mother’s struggle and his father’s faith in him that has propelled Thom into a community celebrity today.
“My father never doubted us, and because he had the means, he became our biggest advocate,” says Thom. Dr. Howard Reed, an attorney and former mayor of Canaan, CT, assisted friend Robert Bletchmen, who was known internationally for his knowledge and studies on UFOs, organize a symposium on the UFO phenomenon and even aided in getting the incident presented to the United Nations on October 2, 1992, the same date Dr. Reed would tragically pass away. “My father was friendly with former Governor of Connecticut William O’Neill and Senator Christopher Dodd who backed him during his campaigns, making him somewhat connected. However, he used those connections to advocate for the people in Sheffield, those who felt that nobody believed them, but he did.” Thom would pick up where his father left off after his passing in October of 1992, fighting to garner recognition for both the incident itself as well as the place where it occurred.
Now a permanent part of US history
In February of 2015, Thom’s quest for vindication enjoyed a major victory when the Great Barrington Historical Society and Museum confirmed the Reed UFO incident and officially inducted the case into United States history. A concrete monument was erected outside the bridge to commemorate the incident and the Thom Reed UFO Monument Park was born thanks to locals who collectively paid for the monument, which was unveiled live on ABC News New York. “If not for my father, there would be no park, and there would be no park without the diner,” says Thom. “So the park itself is a tribute to my late father to commemorate his support of local people, my mother who selflessly welcomed any and all to the diner, and the families who experienced something back in ‘69. There’s a similar family element to the park that existed in our diner. Because of that kinship, we were able to move forward with the park and the monument.”
Today, Mr. Reed manages the Thom Reed UFO Monument Park with the helpful support of sponsors and locals. In the end, for Thom, along with those among us who have had an experience that falls hopelessly outside our preconceived notions, the phenomena itself takes a backseat to the real human impact on our lives. Thom’s experience, though found in the universe of the unknown, is grounded well within the realm of what is timelessly familiar if one chooses to look deeper. His is a journey driven by trauma, struggle, perseverance, and the very earthly love for his family and their legacy.
Follow Thom Reed’s “Off World Incident” and check out updates at the park at ufopark.org.