Loch Raven Dam Incident

Loch Raven Dam Incident

Date: October 26, 1958

Loch Raven, Baltimore, MD

Around midnight Alvin Cohen & Phillip Small were taking a drive by Loch Raven Reservoir in Towson when they said a great, iridescent, egg shaped object appeared above a bridge.

The young men inched closer and the car stopped dead, no headlights, no engine, no ignition, as if the entire electrical system had given out.

There was no place to run, Small, then 27, told an Air Force investigator less than 2 weeks later, according to an interview transcript in a declassified report of the incident.

We probably wouldíve if we couldíve but we were terrified at what we saw.

Cohen, then 24, told investigators the men hid behind the car and watched the object hover.

There was a flash of light and noise and heat and then, Cohen said, it rose into the sky and disappeared.

October 26 this year will mark 60 years since Cohen & Small reported seeing the mysterious object above the reservoir, at the height of the American obsession with unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

The incident inspired UFO hunters through the years and launched an official Air Force investigation.

But today, locals say, the story has largely been lost to history and many do not know it ever happened.

After conducting interviews and examining the scene, the investigating officer, Second lieutenant Bert R. Staples, wrote in the 1958 report:

This UFO remains unidentified.

The Loch Raven incident was one of many strange occurrences reported in the 1940s through the 1960s, when Cold War paranoia intersected with a fascination with outer space and the unknown.

Pennsylvania State University history professor Greg Eghigian, who studies the history of UFOs, said in the late 1940s and early 1950s:

Even mainstream news outlets would report strange sightings of flying saucers.

Around the same time, the U.S. government started investigating the reports, not looking for signs of alien life, but for signs of spy technology from the Soviet Union.

From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated these occurrences under a program called Project Blue Book.

According to a 1985 Air Force fact sheet posted on the National Archives website, 12,618 sightings were reported to Project Blue Book.

Of those, just 5% were never explained.

The Loch Raven incident was among the 701 that remained unidentified.

The Air Force was not the only organization watching the skies.

According to the Air Force report, after the object disappeared and Small & Cohen found that their car would start again, they drove to the intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard & Joppa Road to make a phone call.

Their first call was not to police, but to the Ground Observer Corps, a civilian organization that watched the sky for enemy airplanes during the Cold War.

Tom Graf, a Baltimore County Historical Society board member who has studied the Loch Raven incident, said he was fascinated that the organization was the first call the men would make when the strangest event in your life happens.

A million and a half people watching the skies, they donít do that today, it was just a different world back then, Graf said.

Other groups watching for UFOs included the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, or NICAP.

The group, founded in the 1950s, visited the site of the Loch Raven incident to conduct its own forensic tests, which were inconclusive, according to the Air Force report.

By 1958, Eghigian said the media and the public had tired of UFO watching unless an incident was something really unusual or arresting.

The Loch Raven incident fit the bill, he said.

Itís whatís later going to be called a real close encounter, Eghigian said.

The idea that would grab attention is, they are very, very close to this thing.

Itís not up in the sky miles away.

Though the Air Force was not looking for aliens, Eghigian said many civilians certainly were, and incidents like Loch Raven concerned those UFO watchers, dubbed ufologists.

If these are really aliens, theyíre getting kind of close to us, a little bold, a little less reserved, Eghigian said ufologists thought at the time.

There are some ufologists who are going to start seeing these stories as indicative of something more sinister.

Graf, of the Historical Society, is not exactly sure what happened that night in 1958, but it seems like something did.

You read the report and it sounds like these guys were telling the truth, Graf said, adding that, separately, they sounded scared.

I am sorry I saw it, I wish I hadnít seen it, Small told the Air Force.

Eghigian said the UFO community seeks out compelling reports that have 3 elements.

The people who report them should be believable.

The details should lend credence to the stories.

And there should be forensic evidence.

Loch Raven, he said, had all 3.

Both Cohen & Small appeared to be well educated and spoke in an intelligent manner, wrote Staples the Air Force lieutenant.

They seemed sincere and they indicated that they did not want publicity.

Efforts to learn Small & Cohenís present day whereabouts were unsuccessful.

The lieutenant also interviewed other witnesses, including a 16 year old boy and 2 employees of a lakefront restaurant, who all saw similar glowing objects around the same time and location.

The restaurant employees also heard the same sound the men reported:

A loud boom that sounded to Cohen like an explosion, to Small like a thunderclap.

Then there was the carís electrical system, which allegedly shut off when Cohen & Small got close to the object. Eghigian said that could be considered forensic evidence.

After the object disappeared and Small & Cohen made that first phone call, the Ground Observer Corps member who answered said:

Aww, come on now.

And hung up.

They then called the Towson Precinct of the Baltimore County Police Department, which sent 2 officers to the scene and took a report.

After the tremendous heat wave from the object, Small said he and Cohen felt as if their faces had been sunburnt. They went to St. Josephís Hospital ďto try to determine if possibly they were some kind of radiation burns,Ē he said.

The hospital did a cursory examination and released the men.

Small said his face was noticeably red, and The Baltimore Sun reported in December that he said his wife and colleagues had noticed the change in color.

The Air Force investigator was convinced:

Staples wrote that with all the credible witnesses:

It can be assumed that the sighting did actually occur.

But the Air Force could find no explanation for the glowing egg, the report said.

No unusual meteorological activity, no thunderstorms, no clouds, no possibility of it being an aircraft at such a low altitude.

And no special projects are known to be operating in that area.

The Air Force had no answers.

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