Festival marks 50th anniversary of 'Exeter Incident'

Sunday News Correspondent
September 05. 2015 7:59PM
An alien head from Seacoast Saucers of New England sat on a table outside the Exeter Town Hall as people gathered inside to listen to guest speakers at the 6th annual Exeter UFO Festival. (JASON SCHREIBER)

EXETER — Thomas Muscarello knew there was little that could scare his older brother, Norman.

He was 12 years old and remembers how shaken Norman was when he told the strange story of his frightening encounter with a UFO while hitchhiking along Route 150 in Kensington on the night of Sept. 3, 1965.

Norman was 18 at the time and about to join the Navy. “He was never afraid of anything,” Thomas recalled, “but he was afraid of that. It scared him.”

Norman died in 2003, but his account of that night and the accounts of two Exeter police officers and other witnesses continue to fascinate believers and even skeptics 50 years after the famed UFO sighting that became known as the “Exeter Incident.”

The incident is among the most notable UFO sightings in U.S. history and was the inspiration for this weekend's 6th Annual Exeter UFO Festival.

This year's festival marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 sighting that has brought countless UFO researchers, writers and others interested in the extraterrestrial topic to the area.

The festival, which was held Saturday and continues Sunday, is hosted by the Exeter Area Kiwanis Club as a fundraiser to benefit children's charities.

Interest in the festival has grown, and with the 50th anniversary this year, the club decided to expand the festival to two days for the first time this year.

The festival attracts internationally renowned guest speakers on the topic of UFOs, who present the more serious side of the event, while other family-friendly activities are offered that include alien arts and crafts, music, and an art exhibit.

While the festival is about raising money for a good cause, it brings a mix of people together to share views on a topic that's often controversial.

“We've got strong believers, we've got strong disbelievers, but the vast majority of people are in the middle,” said Bill Smith, Exeter Kiwanis president.

The 1965 incident was based on observations made by Norman Muscarello and Exeter police officers Eugene Bertrand and David Hunt. The three have since passed away, but their accounts were well-documented and highly publicized.

According to reports, Muscarello was hitchhiking from his girlfriend's home in Amesbury, Mass., to his parents' home in Exeter when he witnessed a flying object with flashing red lights near the woods. When it moved toward him he reportedly became frightened and crouched in a ditch along the road.

Arthur Wiggin, 86, lives in the house where a panicked Muscarello came knocking. Wiggin's parents were living in the house at the time and he was living a couple of houses away.

Wiggin's parents didn't open the door for Muscarello because it was in the middle of the night.

“They didn't bother to go to the door,” Wiggin said.

While he said neither he nor his parents saw the UFO, they believe it happened.

On the night of the incident, a startled Muscarello reportedly flagged down a motorist and got a ride to the Exeter police station where he shared his story.

Officer Bertrand, as it turned out, had already responded to another incident that night in which two women were in a car and claimed they were chased by a red flying object, The Exeter News-Letter reported at the time.

Bertrand, fellow officer Hunt, and Muscarello returned to the site on Route 150 a short time later and claim to have seen the UFO hovering over a farm.

Hunt also reported seeing it again a while later. In the years that followed, reporters and authors continued to pursue Muscarello as he joined the Navy and served three tours in Vietnam.

“I know he saw it. Police saw it and others saw it. These cops were on the level. They wouldn't make up a story like that,” said his brother Tom Muscarello, now 62 and still living in Exeter.

Robert Hoxie, 72, is a retired Exeter police officer who began working with Hunt and Bertrand about a year after their close encounter.

He said the officers didn't want to talk much about it after all the publicity.

“They didn't make anything more about it than they had to. Neither one of them were ones that sought the limelight, and this was kind of thrust upon them,” Hoxie said.

Hoxie insists he never thought his fellow officers made up the story.

“I believe these guys 100 percent. I worked with them for the better part of 10 years. After working with them and learning a lot from them, I had no doubts and I still don't,” Hoxie said.

Dean Merchant, an American historian from Stratham who has written about the 1965 sighting and gave tours of the site Saturday, has interviewed many about the incident and said there were more people who saw it than Muscarello and the officers.

“Eugene Bertrand had nine years in the Air Force. He knew exactly what he was seeing,” he said.

After investigating the incident, the U.S. Air Force eventually concluded that it couldn't identify the object.

Wiggin's neighbor John Sevier, 50, lives in a house across the street where his mother-in-law was living at the time of the sighting.

He claims that in his 18 years living there he's also witnessed strange objects but never reported them because he thinks people will dismiss his claims.

“It makes you sound crazy,” he said.

Since moving in, Sevier claims he's seen a “circular craft with lights spinning” over the same area where Muscarello and the police officers reported seeing the UFO. He also claims that the activity occurs in September. Sevier was interviewed for a documentary called “Strange Septembers: The Hill Abduction and Exeter Encounter.”

Richard Dolan of New York, who emceed Saturday's talks, has spent about 20 years writing about UFOs and was one of the guest speakers.

“The thing about the UFO subject is that when it grabs you it doesn't let go. I think what you find with a lot of the people who come to these, it's almost like coming back to see your family, like the people who actually get you and people who understand you. You can talk to other people about this subject and not worry about what your crazy relatives will think,” Dolan said.

He described the Exeter incident as a “leading case” in UFO research with credible sources.

Those who have tried to disprove the incident have no basis and have been left with an “unexplained phenomenon,” said Charles Creteau of Rochester, co-founder of Seacoast Saucers of New England.

“I think once people start to realize there's more going on than we can explain, I think that's the first step to have people start raising an eyebrow to the topic,” he said.



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