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Things That Go Boom
In The Night

By Brad Steiger
I have long been intrigued by the phenomenon of mystery explosions that seemingly manifest from nowhere for no reason and startle area residents with that same kind of sudden shock as a cherry bomb set off behind unsuspecting picnickers. As I was sorting through my files recently, I came across records of a rash of unknown things that went "boom" in the night in the 1950s and 60s.
In Modesto, California, on October 3, 1950, a mystery explosion shattered the night with such violence that a general fire alarm was sounded for fifteen miles around.
In Thanet and Margate, England, in the early morning of October 19th , officials reported the "biggest explosion since the war." Vibrations were felt as far away as Deal, but no one offered an explanation.
On November 10, 1950, a thirty-mile area in the lower St. Lawrence River area, Canada, was vibrated by a mystery blast. Federal transport department officials tried to pin this one on a U.S. Air Force plane with engine trouble that dropped a bomb.
On January 4, 1952, a series of mystery blasts shook Los Angeles and San Diego. The first explosion sounded at 3:33 A.M. in the vicinity of Los Angeles' International Airport. The second thundered forth from San Diego's Mission Hills at 8:30 P.M., followed by a third at Point Lorna a half an hour later, and a fourth nearly two hours later in the Chula Vista region.
Police officials stated that their investigation revealed that no explosions had been set off at those times. Scientists selected the old, dependable scapegoat of exploding meteorites, even though none had been reported or observed on that date.
Niagara Falls, New York, residents were rattled out of their sleep by an explosion, followed by a mysterious light in the sky, on the night of March 23, 1953. A check with officials at the U.S.. Air Force base in Niagara Falls revealed that no planes were missing that night. A Coast Guard launch plowed the water for two hours without finding any debris. The approved explanation was that a meteorite had exploded above Niagara Falls.
On January 30, 1954, Mrs. Robert Arledge was thrown to the dining room floor of their new six-room home in Gadsden, Alabama, by a terrific explosion that left her with slight burns. Fire investigation officials found no evidence of fire or explosion, even though the floor of the house from the front to the rear doors had been tilted up.
State Police, Cornell University geologists, and Army and Air Force explosives specialists examined the gaping holes left on the Howard Lacey farm at Venice Center, New York, on each November 12th for 1966, '67, and '68, and ruled out ordinary explosives.
"It's getting to be an annual affair at Howard Lacey's place: Something goes boom in the night and leaves a hole within 300 yards of the one before," stated an Associated Press release.
On each November 12th for three years in succession, Lacey and his neighbors were shaken out of their beds by a loud explosion during the night; then upon investigation, they would discover a large crater on, or near, his farm. Lacey's mystery blast in 1968 was the loudest and the largest of all. The noise could be heard more than twenty miles away, and the crater was eighteen feet wide and almost five feet deep.
Pressed by newsmen for some kind of explanation, a Cornell University geologist could only shake his head and reply: "There's a hole in the ground out there--that's a fact. The rest is open to conjecture."
"Big jets" that are never spotted, earthquakes that are never recorded on seismographs, explosives that never leave debris, and UFO
s emerging from other dimensions are the suspects most often named by those who have suffered property damage and who have had the devil scared out of them by mystery blasts that have been reported across the United States and in other parts of the world.
A New England community, Moodus, Connecticut, has been plagued by mystery blasts for over three hundred years, baffling scientists as well as inhabitants of the village. "Moodus" is derived from the name Machemoodus, from the Wangunk, meaning "place of noises." The Wangunk tribe made a religion out of the strange booms, believing that they were made by a spirit made angry by the European colonists settling in the area. The settlers themselves blamed the noises on the battle sounds of good and evil witches fighting for their puritanical souls.
Geophysicists attributed the sounds to "microquakes" which occur periodically, but no one really knows the precise cause of the activity and why they should make noises that sound like distant thunder or cannon fire. At least six seismograph stations have been set up around the Moodus area, and all that technical equipment has produced numerous theories, but no answers to the mystery of what causes the quakes and why they occur in a particular place about a mile deep and a few hundred yards wide.
'The noises sound just like explosions and come without warning at intervals of two or three years," said a researcher from Williams College who had been investigating the phenomena.
"The 'Moodus noises' always occur within the radius of a few miles around the village," he went on, "but although we have frequently investigated the explosions, we have found no clue as to their cause. To the best of our knowledge, no smoke or steam is ever seen at the site of these mystery blasts and no buildings, trees, or rock formations have ever been affected."
Observers have stated that one of the weirdest aspects of the "Moodus noises" is that it seems impossible to determine their direction. Residents at varying distances from the village invariably report the noises as having occurred near them. A local hunter testified that he distinctly heard an explosion sounding above him, and not from beneath his feet. Other inhabitants argue that if the noises were due to some form of earthquake, then tottering buildings or other damage logically would have occurred during at least one of the blasts.
In the summer of 1959, a violent shock, accompanied by two loud explosions, was reported in an area from one hundred miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, to Roswell, New Mexico, two hundred miles to the southeast. In the town of Pampa, fifty-five miles northeast of Amarillo, the wall of a downtown building was cracked by the blasts.
Investigators found that seismograph stations said the shock could not have been caused by an earth tremor, Further inquiry determined that no supersonic flights had been scheduled over the area at the time of the mysterious explosions.
Unexplained blasts in the sky over the San Francisco area in a three-day period during that same summer knocked dishes from their shelves and cracked the plaster on innumerable household walls. Windows were shattered over a thirty-five-mile area; and the unidentified explosions were also held responsible for opening the door to a bank vault, triggering fire alarms, and setting off a warehouse sprinkling system.
Within a few days of mystery blasts in Texas, New Mexico, and California, two unexplained explosions rocked Henderson, North Carolina. Authorities there offered an official theory that some unnamed parties had suspended explosives from trees.
Army and Navy spokesmen denied that they were the "unnamed parties" who had set loose floating blobs of strange, exploding plastic material along southern California beaches in 1968.
On April 16, 1968, seventeen-year-old Louis Duenweg and three friends discovered strange, whitish blobs bobbing at the water's edge along Huntington Beach. Duenweg broke one of the things open, then stopped to wash off sand particles in order to better examine the unfamiliar pinkish substance within the plastic-like shell. There was a sudden hissing noise; and before the teenager could run, the blob exploded, temporarily blinding him and burning his face.
About a week later, another young man scooped a similar object out of the sea along Seal Beach. He cracked it open, became disinterested in his find, tossed it over his shoulder. A resultant blast knocked him to the beach and made a small crater in the sand.
Quite naturally, surfers, fishermen, and coastal residents become a bit uptight when mysterious, unidentified explosive globs are found floating off their beaches. Military spokesmen insisted that they were not in anyway responsible for the blasting blobs. The Los Angeles County Crime Laboratory was said to have fished a number of blobs out of the ocean for careful analysis, but it seems that no official report was ever released which designated the explosive plastic's place of origin.
Concerned citizens who protest that an unidentified someone seems to be fouling up our atmosphere with mysterious explosions and increasing the existing hazards of our surface by setting adrift exploding blobs are laughed off by the authorities as alarmists. However, those who make a serious study of phenomena associated with UFO sightings are quick to point out that such mysterious blasts and inexplicable skyfalls date back to man's prehistory. Unfortunately, an uninformed and an entrenched science disregards such documentation as pure, unadulterated kookery. But neither, it seems, do the skeptics offer explanations that are any more acceptable to the individuals who have endured mystery blasts and such phenomena as glowing, and sometimes fatal, rain.
On the Wednesday before Christmas, 1965, it rained in Buckeye, Arizona. According to old-timers and the weather bureau, rain during the holiday season is unusual enough, but this rain left glowing spots that varied from a quarter of an inch to two inches in diameter.
Buckeye Civil Defense Director George Hamner checked the spots with his geiger counter, and was relieved to find that they registered no harmful radioactivity.
Jerry Benson, a high school biology teacher, told reporters: "At first they looked like aluminum, but taking a real close look at them, they appeared to have a pale green glow. The first time I walked across my backyard, I didn't see anything, but the more I looked, the more spots I saw.
"I don't believe that the rain activated spots of phosphorus in the soil," Benson went on. "An earthworm that got covered with the stuff turned into a glowworm."
It is better to glow than to burn. Later in 1961, a rain fell near Huixtla in Chiapas State, Mexico, that, according to United Press International, killed several children. When the deadly liquid touched human skin, it produced blisters that later became dark stains that resembled hot oil burns.
On the night of Saturday, August 18, 1962, many San Franciscans thought that an airborne armada of enemy bombers was poisoning the skies above their city. Between 10:00 and 10:30 P.M. a mysterious rumbling noise that sounded like the flight of heavy super-bombers came from somewhere above San Francisco. Navy spokesmen from Alameda Naval Air Station denied running any engines after 10:00 P.M. A theory that atmospheric conditions could have been "just right" to magnify thunderclaps fell sour when authorities were reminded that the evening of August 18th was clear, with virtually no wind.
Nor was there any wind on· U.S. Route 75 between Madisonville and Centerville, Texas, on April 19, 1963, when Louis A. Johnson of Houston was returning from a trip to Fort Worth--but that did not prevent "something" from lifting his automobile into the air, turning it completely around, and setting it back down on the highway, traveling the opposite direction from which he had come.
Johnson, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, said that his unexpected and unexplainable ride was more exciting then anything he had experienced in two invasions.
"I can't even describe the sensation," he was quoted as saying. "When I realized what had happened, and that I'd come down partly on the shoulder of the road, I put the car into lower gear and eased to a stop. I didn't think the car had been hurt any, but when I got to Houston, I stopped at a service station and they found that the oil pump wasn't working too well."
Several eye-witnesses saw Johnson's automobile suddenly sprout wings, and in an attempt to fit what they had seen into some form of recognizable reality, most of them believed that a tornado had swooped down and momentarily hoisted him aloft. There was no tornado, of course, and there are probably no tornadoes that would set an automobile back down on the highway without damage to either car or occupant.
Yet something did lift Johnson's automobile into the air. Could it have been the same "something" that is responsible for the mystery blasts? Is it possible that some aircraft not visible to the human eye is soaring around breaking the sound barrier with horrendous sound booms and occasionally reaching down to pluck up an automobile...or a garage...or a roof?
There was just a slight breeze in the air in Albany, New York, on April 10, 1964, when Teddy Bix, who was in his yard raking leaves, saw the garage at 13 O'Connell Street leave its foundation. According to the Albany Times-Union, the garage shot up about fifteen feet, turned twice, banked slightly, then headed due east before losing altitude, skimming over a snow fence, and crash-landing in complete ruin more than fifty feet from its take-off point.
When William F. Rider, who lived downstairs at the O'Connell Street address, came home from work, he nearly drove his car into the garage that was no longer there. Michael Keaveny, the owner of the property, told investigators that the garage was fifteen to twenty years old, braced with interior beams, and had withstood some "terrific wind storms" without showing any ill effects.
The Albany Weather Bureau passed over the evidence that there was only a slight breeze at the time the garage had left its launching pad and decreed that a "freak gust" had created a vacuum that had raised the building.
The explanation does not sound too bad until one stops to reason that a vacuum, with stronger pressures on the outside, would be more likely to hold the garage in place, rather than hoist it up through the air.
A good portion of the roof of a building at 1503 Shenandoah St. in Hollywood, California, was ripped away and scattered in pieces up to 280 feet away. Mrs. Bertha Fink was left lying in pouring spring rain; Mrs. Rachael Benveniste was tossed out of her bed; and Mrs. Sarah Eisenberg found her ceiling cracked and leaking.
Authorities attempted to classify the mystery force that struck that Hollywood roof in spring of 1963 as a sonic boom, a gas explosion, or a small tornado. Upon investigation, however, gas company officials ruled out their utility as the culprit, the weather bureau denied the existence of a tornado striking Hollywood on that evening, and everyone wondered if a sonic boom were really capable of ripping away a five hundred pound hunk of roof.
San Francisco seems to have more than its share of mystery blasts. In May of 1961, the Rock Solaneo and Contra Costa districts were shaken with undetermined explosions for a period of two weeks. The ground shook, windows rattled and cracked, and pictures fell, as the entire area was rocked by blasts, explosions, and shocks.
The San Francisco Examiner stated that its reporters had checked "... military facilities in the area, quarries, contractors, city and county officials, every commercial operation which uses explosives ... " and found them all as mystified as anyone else .
According to the Examiner the mystery blasts usually began around 9:00 A.M. and sometimes as many as a dozen would shake the area in a single day. The mysterious explosions were heard in all parts of Vallejo and across Carquine Strait in Contra Costa County.
On June 15th, a blast of undetermined origin occurred which separated the causeway connecting. Mare Island with the mainland. This mystery blast took place at 3:00 P.M. and rattled several buildings. Day shift workers at Mare Island were delayed on their way home while a crack several inches wide was filled.
Investigating Naval and shipyard personnel considered clue after clue to the mystery explosion, and thoroughly ran down a hint of sabotage and the accusation that an Air Force practice bomb might have gone astray. Sabotage was eliminated as a cause, and Air Force officers at the Fourth Air Force and at Hamilton Field countered the veiled accusation levied at them with an indignant denial. As far as the public has ever been informed, investigators were unable to discover a single acceptable explanation for the mystery blast at Mare Island.
At 10:15 A.M., April 2, 1957, a tremendous blast thundered through six counties in northern New Jersey and was heard in Philadelphia. The explosion blew out windows, cracked sidewalks and swimming pools, sent alarmed housewives out into the streets, and shook the State House in Trenton.
Seismographs at Columbia University stated that no earthquakes showed on their recorder.
Meredith Johnson, New Jersey State Geologist, pointed out that Trenton does not lie on any major fault which could be responsible for a quake.
Spokesmen at McGuire Air Force Base denied that any of its F-660's had been fiying over New Jersey that morning and explained that their pilots were under strict orders to fly at least thirty miles out to sea before attempting to break the sound barrier. In addition to McGuire's denial of responsibility for any sonic boom, each of the six airfields in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania-New York area which base jet aircraft stated that they had no jet planes aloft at the time of the mystery blast.
Once again, after exhaustive investigation, officials could find no culprits on whom to place the responsibility of a massive explosion of undetermined origin. All they were left with was the undeniable physical evidence of shattered windows, cracked walls, damaged sidewalks, mined swimming pools, and sprung doorways that an unidentified someone or something had detonated in a blast of heroic proportions.
A similar pattern of physical damage and supervolume noise minus an apparent cause and a responsible party occurred on the night of November 13, 1958, in Dade County, Florida. Two powerful blasts at 6:20 and 6:27 P.M. shook houses, cracked plaster, shattered windows, and sent dishes rattling out of cupboards. The explosions were heard from Homestead to Hollywood, a distance of forty-five miles, and the sirens on police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks went screaming in all directions.
The authorities soon discovered that Florida had not been invaded--at least not by a visible antagonist--but they never discovered what had caused the two terrific mystery explosions. No missiles had been fired over Cape Kennedy (then Cape Canaveral), and both Miami Air Traffic Control Center and Miami International Control Tower confirmed that no jet planes, commercial or military, had been over South Florida at the time of the thunderous blasts.
On April 8, 1971, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the home of Mr. and Mrs. M.A. Woodworth of 10819 122nd St. exploded with such violence that neighbors were knocked off their sofas and beds, and lawns were covered with debris within a three hundred yard radius.
Fortunately, no member of the Woodworth family was injured, as they were vacationing in Saskatchewan at the time. Mrs. Woodworth's sister, who lives in the basement of the home, had luckily chosen that evening to visit friends.
Police and fire officials investigated, but they were unable to determine the cause of the blast. A very eerie clue to the mystery blast might, however, have been glimpsed by a Woodworth neighbor, Miss Anna Wojno, who happened to be watching her brother parking his car in the driveway next to the house when it exploded.
"The kitchen window blew in from the force of the explosion," she said. "A picture of a Halloween witch, a cutout, came flying through, sitting on her broomstick. It wasn't burnt or anything."

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