I've noticed there's been a flurry of UFO activity reported around the globe as of late. Have any unidentified flying objects ever been sighted in or around Charlotte? - Maria Cohen, Charlotte
Using online newspaper archives, into which I typed various phrases including "flying pencil" and "flying cigar" (both popular from the early 20th century up to the mid-1940s), "foo-fighters" (late 1940s military slang), "flying saucers" and "UFO" (both 1950s), I found little to convince me that Charlotte is a destination for otherworldly visitors. But I did find a handful of stories, dating back to the '70s, that indicate the Queen City has perhaps been visited by extraterrestrials who wanted us to know that we are not alone.
In fact, according to the website www.mufon.com (that stands for "Mutual UFO Network"), Charlotte rates at about a cateogry five when it comes to possible visitors from another planet, which means there's not much going on here. It doesn't mean there hasn't been some kind of activity. Just not very much.
On December 27, 1977, a story carried in the Mount Airy News stated that two Charlotte police aviators - Ronald Arey and Howard Dellinger - reported a sighting and "playing tag" in the police squad's helicopter with a purported UFO. Their experiences were further confirmed by a Douglas Airport radar tracker and a radio announcer.
The News said the UFOs were about 18 feet in diameter and capable of maneuvering at tremendous speeds, suddenly "vaulting from 1,700 feet to about 5,000 feet in a couple of seconds." After an investigation that spanned nearly two years, the Charlotte Police and the FAA gave the case "a high credibility and a high degree of strangeness rating."
Aliens presumably stayed away for the next few years. But that all changed in 1985.
Another article from Associated Press took an in-depth look at UFO sightings that occurred en masse in Charlotte's outlying regions. Though some of the stories are fragmentary, they're still intriguing: on May 1 of that year, four people in Lincolnton claimed they saw a "Saturn-shaped" object that maneuvered over their homes for 30 minutes, vibrating their houses, frightening animals, causing power failure and telephone interference and casting a mysterious "beam of light."
In the tiny upper state town of Pilot Mountain, a resident claimed she caught sight of an object in the evening sky on Sept. 2. Moving rapidly towards Elkin, it was circular with red, blue, green and white lights.
As the year drew to an end, there were a handful of additional appearances: on Oct. 8, a man and his wife, as well as another man in a tractor-trailer rig, nearly collided with a white obelisk that had a "gear on the bottom and made an intense humming sound."
There were a few others, but perhaps the most interesting took place in Salisbury on Nov. 10.
"I had never seen anything like it," said Salisbury hairdresser Sylvia Bagby. "When I looked up, it was shining through the trees over my neighbor's trailer. Bigger than the moon or the sun, it was like it was revolving." Her neighbor Irene Jones confirmed the appearance.
"It was so red it looked like hot coals," Bagby continued. "I thought, This is it. This thing is going to disintegrate everything."
Bagby said she reported the incident to police. "They just laughed. So I really haven't said that much about it. It makes you feel so alone."
I found no evidence of anymore visitations in the proceeding 25 years, save for a crop circle or two just on the edge of Charlotte.
Then came 2011.
On May 1, various websites reported that witnesses claimed a series of "bright orange orbs" moved across the sky at about 10:30 p.m. According to a MUFON representative who also witnessed the orbs, "they looked like they were on fire." Although he is unidentified in the text, he admits to having seen as many as 12.
Maybe just a coincidence, but it seems as though this story set off a colorful orb fever of sorts that has continued until as recently as a month ago.
In Belmont, a woman told WBTV she saw three orange objects over Lake Wylie at about 9:30 p.m. on June 14. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., a business owner told WMBF-TV on Oct. 19, that he, too, had witnessed a series of bright orange lights flitting across the sky in distinct patterns.
The most recent Carolina-area occurrence took place in Carrboro when a man told the local CBS affiliate that he saw a "bright streak of light" while using his compost pile for a restroom.
So what to make of the increased number of sightings in the past two years?
The theories vary, from UFO experts who claim humanity is advancing and our neighbors want to get to know us, to skeptics who believe it's a knee-jerk reaction to the upcoming Mayan end-of-the-world scenario.
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: orange appears to be a must for contemporary extraterrestrials.
Moore is the author of "Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem." His writings have appeared in numerous publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.