The Salem UFO

The Salem UFO - July 16, 1952
(Four unidentified luminous objects photographed in Salem, MA on July 16, 1952)


The Sighting

Just before 10 AM on July 16, 1952, U.S. Coast Guard photographer Shell R. Alpert sighted four luminous objects in a “V” formation outside his photo lab window in Salem, Massachusetts.

Alpert quickly grabbed the camera he was cleaning, which was on his desk. He was unsure if it had any film in it, but, luckily, it did. Perplexed by what he was seeing, he suddenly noticed that the lights were suddenly dimming. Alpert then ran outside and called in a colleague, Thomas E. Flaherty. They went back into the photo lab, which is where Alpert took the now-famous photo. Due to Alpert’s occupation in 1952, it is considered an official U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Alpert described the sighting by stating, “I was sitting in the photo office filing negatives with my back toward the window when I turned slightly in the direction of the window and noticed something bright outside. I observed the sky and saw what appeared to be several bright, almost brilliant lights slightly on the starboard side of the power plant smokestacks.“

Shell R. Alpert and his camera - Salem UFO - July 1952

(Shell R. Alpert with his camera)

The Press

The story of Alpert’s photo made waves as it was told in newspapers throughout the U.S. by the end of July 1952. Many papers reported that the Air Force was checking on the authenticity of the image. Attention on the saucers was at its highest when a Pentagon press conference was held on July 29, 1952, with General John A. Samford speaking publicly on the phenomena. This historic conference featured Donald Keyhoe and was the result of numerous sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena in Washington, D.C., just weeks after Alpert’s photo was taken in Salem.

Samford did not address any cases specifically; however, his face was featured in several newspapers that reported on the Salem sighting. In almost every report, it was stated that the Air Force assured that the objects were no menace and posed no danger. Many reported that the objects were merely the result of weather phenomena or optical and radar illusions. 

Salem UFO - July 1952 - Newspaper Clippings
 (July 1952 newspaper clippings)

The Aftermath

After he turned the photo over to his superior, Alpert was told to classify it as top-secret. He was then visited by Air Force officials, intelligence officers, and even a Harvard astrophysicist. Alpert recalled the experience by saying, "these people interviewed me till I was going out of my head."

With no other earthly explanation at the time, Alpert and Flaherty believed that what they sighted were just reflections from nearby cars or the ocean. 

Although he never said he saw a flying saucer, Alpert was eventually pushed to the point of making a statement recanting his initial encounter. He said, "I cannot, in all honesty, say that I saw objects or aircraft, merely some manner of lights."

As reported in archival news clippings, the photo was flown to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington and then delivered to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to be investigated. The photo was even shown to personnel at the Pentagon. There was also a copy of it in Captain E.J. Smith's briefcase at General John A Samford's 1952 flying saucer press conference at the Pentagon just two weeks later.

Some believed the whole ordeal was hoaxed; however, the source of the objects has been determined as "unidentified." Even after 70 years, there seems to be no conclusive earthly explanation for the Salem UFO.

@saucer The Salem UFO - July 1952 #UFO #UAP #UFOsightings #UFOsighting #UFOs #UAPs #Ufology #Ufologia #OVNI #OVNIs #SalemMassachusetts #SalemUFO #Saucer #SaucerCo #TheSaucerCompany ♬ Epic, cinematic(327703) - Kirill Kharchenko



  • Glen Rains

    I saw something very similar to the 1952 lights when I was about 13 (1978) outside my house in rural Georgia. The lights were not in formation, they moved around each other it seemed and it was a clear day. I watched them move off into the horizon for at least a couple of minutes. This caught my attention a little more than usual because my birthday is July, 16, but 1965.

  • Carl Melin

    I am Scott’s Father. It was I who saw the UFO’s in Salem by the Power Plant. “It was at night” not at 10 AM in the morning. They had an orange or amber glow to them and they were non-dimensional, as if they had no mass to them at all. At first glance I thought they may have been search lights, but they were dancing around too quickly.

  • Scott

    While talking about UFO’s about ten years ago, my father told me a story about sitting with his friends on the Collins cove wall when he saw the lights across the harbor. They were moving all about and then disappeared. He said they ran to a friends house to call the police. The police told him to ho home and play. I found this photo online about five years sgo and showed him, he was astonished thst a photo existed. He said that was whst he saw, and he was amazed that the lights were photographed in a “V” formation because they appeared to be moving all about when he saw them. I since gave him a framed copy of this image which he has hanging in his home.

  • Wes

    I saw something similar to this in Japan in 2005. The circular lights were more well-defined and I could see that they were actually connected physically in a V-like shape that hugged the lights.

  • Glenn Morrison

    My father Edward and my self saw this from our rowboat in Beverly when we were out fishing. Still remember this to this day.
    Oct 2022.

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