Art Museum UFO
Dan Levy/Billy Penn Illustration

UFO sightings on the rise in Philly and PA: ‘I realized it wasn’t a plane at all’

Volunteers even logged a sighting during an Obama rally at the Art Museum.

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Out on the Main Line — the white-fence-stately-house-preschool-that-looks-like-a-liberal-arts-college Main Line — dozens of people have gathered to talk UFOs.

They ask guest speaker Travis Walton whether he got any younger or healthier from his abduction experience. They wonder whether he thinks aliens are walking among us. They have either seen UFOs or have intense curiosity about them.

So yes, UFO sightings are happening in the area. In Philadelphia, on the Main Line, especially in Bucks County and even at the Art Museum (when Obama was speaking!). And they’re on the rise.

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have seen an increase in UFO sightings in recent years, following a national trend recently brought to light by the book UFO Sightings Desk Reference, which was reviewed by the New York Times. From 2001 to 2005, Philly had eight or fewer sightings per year, according to statistics from the book. That total has grown to at least 20 per year from 2010 to 2015 (sightings were unusually high in 2008, likely because of increased media coverage of groups that track UFO reports). Pennsylvania had at least 600 sightings per year from 2012 to 2014, after seeing fewer than 200 per year in the early aughts.

“We’re busy here in Pennsylvania,” said Bill Weber, state director for the Pennsylvania branch of the Mutual UFO Network.

You could say the same for Philadelphia, which has two volunteers who investigate every UFO sighting reported to MUFON. They’re not just happening on our outskirts, either. They pop up in well-known areas of Philly. For example:

After leaving the Moshulu: “I was looking over the edge of the boat, and my friend asked me what ‘that’ was. I didn’t realize what she was referring to at first. Then i spotted three lights, flying in a triangle shape.”

On the way to Pho Ha in Little Saigon: “A few blocks before I turned onto Seventh, I was looking up at the clouds when I saw something just kind of sitting there in the clouds that I could not identify.”

Near Temple: “My friends and I were leaving a party at another friend’s house around 2 a.m…. As soon as I said ‘whoa, look at that plane’ I realized it wasn’t a plane at all, there were no lights on it and it was flying very low to the ground (maybe 600 or 700 feet in the air at most). It was also completely silent.”

And then there’s the Art Museum. This major landmark has been a hotbed for UFO activity. Most prominently, in 2008, multiple people reported spotting UFOs during a Bruce Springsteen-Barack Obama rally.

One person who reported a sighting noted: “With Philadelphia, I’ve seen more here than in a country setting where I had lived before.”

Few people would expect many sightings in a city of bright lights and tall buildings, but our number of sightings since 2001, when adjusted for population, is comparable to New York or Washington, D.C. Los Angeles County had more sightings than any other county in the United States.

Cheryl Costa, co-author of the book UFO Sightings Desk Reference, with Linda Miller Costa, said most people are surprised by urban UFO sightings but noted the high population of cities and the many places where people can see through light pollution.

“If they’re in high rises,” she said, “they’re sort of above the city lights and light pollution to a certain degree.”

Weber said about 85 percent of area sightings can be explained naturally — and sometimes easily. When MUFON investigators dig into a report and interview witnesses, they oftentimes discover somebody saw a plane, a reflection of the sun or moon or even a planet.

Then there’s the other 15 percent. MUFON finds no explanation for these sightings. They are like what Weber recalls investigating a few years ago at Washington Crossing Park in Bucks County.

Bucks County is a veritable hotbed for sightings. With 397 sightings between 2001 and 2015 and a population of about 625,000, it comes in at 6.35 sightings per 10,000 people. Philly had 2.24 per 10,000 and Allegheny County 3.97.

CountySightingsSightings per 10,000
Bucks3976.35
Westmoreland2125.9
Erie1384.96
Lehigh1644.59
Northampton1364.53
Luzerne1444.52
Berks1814.38
Allegheny4973.97
York 1653.75
Lancaster1943.64
Montgomery2823.45
Philadelphia3362.24

For this particular sighting, a woman spotted an aircraft above her in a field. All of a sudden, she was joined in her car by three human-looking figures. Last thing she remembers, somebody grabbed her by the arm and then she returned to the car. But the engine, which had been running, was cold. A cigarette, which had been smoking in the ashtray, was burned out.

Weber calls that the most memorable sighting he’s investigated and a likely abduction experience. He believes somebody or something is visiting us.

“It’s making people cognizant that these things are alive and well and out there,” he said. “What we’re trying to see is, are they from space? Are they multidimensional? Are they us coming back from the future? There’s a whole host of different scenarios that are being kicked around out there.”

Amid believers and witnesses of UFOs, there’s a clear line between the serious people like Weber and what Jennifer Stein refers to as “loonies and kooks,” who are either unhinged or trying to make themselves the center of attention. Stein formed Mainline MUFON several years ago in part to give serious people a group where they could hold discussions about UFOs and learn more and to make public that UFOs are everywhere, even the Main Line.

“It’s like, ‘what they don’t go together,’” she said. “It’s kind of like my rib, like yeah there are bizarre things out there.”

Jennifer Stein, founder of Mainline MUFON, in the backyard of her Radnor home.

Jennifer Stein, founder of Mainline MUFON, in the backyard of her Radnor home.

Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Stein had her own experience seeing a UFO in Montgomery County in the 1970s. When people realize she’s the leader of the Mainline’s own UFO club she’s been ridiculed, even though she’s involved in the local PTA and with an anti-gun group.

“It’s not easy,” Stein said. “It takes a brave person to come forward to share their sighting because there’s no good that comes from it really.”

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