This day was bitter cold and the frayed Christmas decorations strung across the main street of the little town of Point Pleasant seemed to hang limply, sadly, as if to match the grim, ashen faces of the townspeople who shuffled about their business, their eyes averted from the gaping hole where the Silver Bridge had stood only a week before.
Now the 700' span was gone.
Clusters of workmen, police officers, and assorted officials stood along the banks of the Ohio river, watching silently as divers continued to bob into the black waters.
Occasionally ropes would jerk and a bloated, whitened body would be hauled to the surface.
It was not going to be a Merry Christmas in Point Pleasant.
A few yards from the place where the bridge had been, Mrs. Mary Hyre sat in her office revising a list of the missing and the known dead.
A stout woman in her early 50s, her normally cheerful, alert face was blurred with fatigue.
She had had almost no sleep in the past week.
After 20 years as the local stringer for the Messenger, recording all the births, marriages, and deaths in the little town, Mrs. Hyre suddenly found herself at the center of the universe.
Camera teams from as far away as New York were perched outside her door.
The swarms of newsmen who had descended on Point Pleasant to record the tragedy had quickly learned what everyone in the Ohio valley already knew.
If you wanted to find out anything about the area and its people, the quickest way to do it was to ask Mary Hyre.
For 7 days now her office had been filled with strangers, relatives of the missing, and weary rescue workers.
So she hardly looked up that afternoon when 2 men entered.
They seemed almost like twins, she recalled later.
Both were short and wore black overcoats.
Their complexions were dark, somewhat Oriental, she thought.
We hear there's been a lot of flying saucer activity around here, one of them remarked.
She was taken aback.
The bridge disaster had dominated everyone's thoughts for the last week.
Flying saucers were the furthest thing from her mind at that moment.
We have had quite a few sightings here, she responded, turning her chair to pull open a filing cabinet.
She hauled out a bulging folder filled with clippings of sighting reports and handed it to one of the men.
He flipped it open, gave the pile of clippings a cursory glance, and handed it back.
Has anyone told you not to publish these reports?
She shook her head as she shoved the folder back into the drawer.
What would you do if someone did order you to stop writing about flying saucers?
I'd tell them to go to Hell, she smiled weakly.
Both men glanced at each other.
She went back to her lists and when she looked up again they were gone.
Later that same afternoon another stranger walked into Mrs. Hyre's office.
He was slightly built, about 5' 7" tall, with black, piercing eyes and unruly black hair, as if he had had a brush cut and it was just growing back in.
His complexion was even darker than that of the 2 previous visitors and he looked like a Korean or Oriental of some kind.
His hands were especially unusual, she thought, with unduly long, tapering fingers.
He wore a cheap looking, ill fitting black suit, slightly out of fashion, and his tie was knotted in an odd old fashioned way.
Strangely, he was not wearing an overcoat despite the fierce cold outside.
My name is Jack Brown, he announced in a hesitant manner.
I'm a UFO researcher.
Oh, Mary pushed aside the pile of papers on her desk and studied him.
The day was ending and she was ready to go home and try to get some sleep at last.
After a brief, almost incoherent struggle to discuss UFO sightings Brown stammered & stuttered:
What would what would you do, if someone ordered, ordered you to stop?
To stop printing UFO stories?
Say, are you with those men who were here earlier? she asked.
Surprised to hear the same weird question twice in one day.
No. No, I'm alone.
I'm a friend of Gray, Gray Barker.
Gray Barker of Clarksburg was West Virginia's best-known UFO investigator.
He had published a number of books on the subject and was a frequent visitor to Point Pleasant.
Do you know John Keel?
His face tightened.
I, I used to think, think the world of K, K, Keel.
Then a few minutes ago I bought a, a magazine.
He has an article in it.
He says he's seen UFOs himself.
He's, he's a liar.
I know he's seen things, Mary flared.
I've been with him when he saw them.
Brown smiled weakly at the success of his simple gambit.
Could you take me out, t, t, take me where you, you and K, K, Keel saw, saw things?
I'm not going to do anything except go home to bed, Mary declared flatly.
Is K, K, Keel in P, P, Point Pleasant?
No, he lives in New York.
I, I think he m, m, m, makes up all these stories.
Look, I can give you the names of some of the people here who have seen things, Mary said wearily.
You can talk to them and decide for yourself.
But I just can't escort you around.
I'm a friend of G, G, Gray Barker, he repeated lamely.
Outside the office a massive crane creaked and rumbled, dragging a huge hunk of twisted steel out of the river.