Pine Bush, NY: One Small Town, Two Huge Reputations

Welcome to the Jekyll and Hyde of Suburbia

Jill Valentino
May 12, 2019 · 11 min read
Entering Pine Bush, NY via Route 302 north. Photo by Jill Valentino.

For the better part of 41 years, I have lived in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of NY. Four years at SUNY-Binghamton plus one yearlong urban experiment as a Boston resident (spoiler alert: hated it) are the only periods in my life when I haven’t lived within the parameters of the MHV. Indeed, I feel as if I almost belong to this Valley, and this Valley, in turn, belongs to me.

In 2004, my husband Mike and I were searching for affordable housing. Back then, as well as now, in the NY metro area, finding such a thing was analogous to squaring a circle. We did finally succeed in finding shelter, which took the form of a less-than-lovely run-down two-family farmhouse. Our ramshackle “fixer upper” (read: money pit) was and is located on the westernmost outskirts of a hamlet named Pine Bush, which is located in the Town of Shawangunk (which is oddly pronounced SHON-gum). All of the above is comfortably nestled in the southern NY county of Ulster.

Got all that?

Since our kids attend Pine Bush schools and ‘Pine Bush’ is MUCH easier to pronounce than ‘Shawangunk,’ we tell people that we live in Pine Bush.

Main entrance of Pine Bush High School in Pine Bush, NY, USA by Daniel Case licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Until becoming a Pine Bush resident, all I had known of the town was its odd-looking high school. I remember thinking as a teen that the school reminded me of a fast-food restaurant, even. I grew up about 30 minutes southeast of Pine Bush, in the slightly larger town of New Windsor. However, New Windsor did not have an independent school district, thus we Windsorites along with the neighboring Newburgh Town kids were bussed to the City of Newburgh (oft- referred to as the “Murder Capital of New York.” Cause it was.). Though not all City of Newburgh schools were in the City of Newburgh. Some were actually close by in New Windsor.

Apparently, my beloved suburbs are pretty confusing to explain! No wonder NYC residents think we’re dopey.

As a teen, I recall Pine Bush High School hosting the annual All-County Music Festival during my violin-playing high school years. Back then, nearly 25 years ago, upon arriving at PBHS, I clearly remember taking in the pink roof and clean-looking exterior with suspicion. This place looked nothing like my beloved Newburgh Free Academy, with its urban, cement exterior, and white-pillared entryway.

Pine Bush High School, with its red and yellow accents, looked kind of like…

…McDonald’s.

Or maybe I was just hungry. All-County rehearsal runs long.

Pine Bush town limit sign located on northbound NY State Route 302. Photo by Saige Valentino.

After moving to Pine Bush, I noticed that whenever I mentioned where I lived, people would typically respond one of two ways. Either it was:

“Seen any UFOs lately?”

“Um, what?” Photo by Ambir Tolang on Unsplash

Or:

“Yikes. Watch out for those good ol’ boys. Good thing you changed your last name to Valentino.”

Somehow, I doubt that meant “good ol’ cowboys.” Photo by Xiang Gao on Unsplash
Sometimes… what’s obvious to everyone else… is not so much to me. Photo by Jill Valentino.

Living in Pine Bush, I get asked about UFO sightings. Goes with the turf. When I first moved here, my response was simply “no” with a chuckle, because I was pretending that I actually understood the question (spoiler alert: I did not.). Coming from the tough-as-nails City of Newburgh (well, at least for junior high and high school), I figured people were just making fun of Pine Bush and UFOs could be kind of funny. It still did seem odd though. Then finally, one day, (via my husband), I was enlightened.

Historically, and for reasons not yet known to man, Pine Bush has had periods of copiously recurring UFO sightings and other paranormal activity since the middle of the 20th century! Pretty fascinating stuff.

More on that though, later on.

My youngest daughter Sophia lighting our electric menorah last December. Photo by Jill Valentino.

From a NY metro area perspective, Pine Bush is considered kind of a “hick town.” Admittedly, it is a smidge more rural than most. To make things worse, Pine Bush’s local history is not without its embarrassments. My hometown does, unfortunately, possess substantial dark spots, none of which I am at all proud of.

Most notably, there was a vocal KKK presence in the area throughout the mid to late-1970s, which is a huge, ugly black mark on the town’s history. Along with not being distant enough in the past to be forgiven or forgotten.

Which it shouldn’t be.

As a Jewish woman who lives here, however, I don’t really like to think about that part of my town’s history much, because I honestly just end up angry. Like I am right now after reading this old clipping from the Times Herald-Record newspaper dated August 17, 1976(my husband was a month old. This happened in his lifetime). Apparently, two Pine Bush residents who were also KKK members had the gall to claim that their membership status in said hate group led to… claims of “discrimination” towards them by others.

You’ve got to be kidding.

Hmmm… maybe don’t be a racist, Anti-Semitic dick?

To make matters worse, instances of hate and bigotry in Pine Bush didn’t end with the disco era, either. As recently as 2012, the NY Times has reported rampant Anti-Semitism as a substantial issue at one of the local middle schools, obviously with Jewish students as the targets. Not surprisingly, a lawsuit ended up filed and eventually settled to the tune of 4.48 million dollars in 2015. Since then, however, there have been no repeat issues (that I am aware of), so either folks are more woke, or money talks.

Probably both.

To be real though, since my oldest (half-Jewish) daughter presently attends middle school here, to me, no price paid is too steep to protect her. Every child should always have the right to be educated in a safe environment where they feel comfortable to be who they are. Middle school is tough enough as is. And I’m happy to report that for 1.5 years, my daughter has not had a single problem. She has never felt the urge to hide her half-Jewishness either, which would be quite easy given her Italian last name.

This Jewish Momma’s damn proud.

You can’t put a price tag on feeling comfortable and accepted for who you are, especially when you’re just a kid.

Not even a 4.48 million dollar one.

My oldest daughter Saige lighting the fire menorah last December. Photo by Jill Valentino.
I kind of like that the NY Post referred to Pine Bush as “a town right out of the X-Files.” Sounds mysterious!

As I stated earlier, I moved to Pine Bush with no knowledge of its paranormal past. On the other hand, my husband, raised in the Town of Newburgh, knew a decent amount beforehand. How did I not possess this same knowledge? Who knows. Perhaps I grew up sheltered, maybe I just chose not to listen, possibly both. Either way, after moving here, I learned that Pine Bush, while infamous, is also kind of famous too.

The Cup and Saucer Diner in Pine Bush. Yup, I’m not even joking. Photo by Jill Valentino.

According to several articles I’ve read on Pine Bush’s role in ufology (yes, that IS A WORD!), reports of alien sightings and paranormal activity in my hometown date all the way back to the 1950s. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that UFO sightings in Pine Bush began to “fly” completely off the rails, quantity-wise.

According to this article, between 1983 and 1987, about two thousand UFO sightings occurred in Pine Bush! That particular smattering paranormality eventually resulted in the creation of a phone hotline (remember those?) for people to call in to report individual sightings, too! (1–800-UFO-SEEN?)

I do find it notable to mention, however, that Pine Bush’s most intense cosmic activity bump occurred between the years of 1983 to 1987. Looking closer at that time frame through a lens of popular culture, I did notice some interesting parallels:

  • E.T. came out in ‘82
  • Return of the Jedi-released in ‘83
  • The Last Starfighter premiered circa ‘84
  • Aliens-entered theaters in ‘86!

Hmmm.

In 1987, I was 10 years old. And I do remember some things pretty clearly. In particular, I vividly recollect hearing about NASA, space exploration, and space missions constantly throughout the 1980s, especially mid-decade. It was discussed on the news, written about in print, and I even studied it in school at times.

Additionally, from 1983–1987, the following timeline of major American Space Exploration events occurred as well:

1983: Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space.

1983: Guion Bluford becomes first African-American in space.

1984: Bruce McCandless performs man’s first untethered spacewalk.

1986: NASA space probe Voyager photographs planet Uranus up close for the first time.

1986: Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all 7 aboard including Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space (I watched this happen in my third-grade classroom!).

Only the historical space events of the late-1960s rivaled the importance of those occurring in America from 1983–1986. With space in the news constantly, coupled with the high-interest appeal of discovering what lies beyond the dark unknown abyss of Planet Earth…

…I’m sure many would have loved to get close to that action.

Were people really truly seeing UFOs in Pine Bush? Or was it all just an instance of inadvertent bandwagon propaganda?

Maybe?

Cognitive biases are ways of thinking about and perceiving the world that may not necessarily reflect reality. Both are limitations of the human condition.

However, my gut tells me that the Pine Bush UFO phenomenon is not even close to quite that simple.

The existence of video does help lend a whiff of legitimacy to the local UFO lore.

If Pine Bush’s flurry of mid-1980s-era UFO sightings could solely be attributed to cognitive bias or bandwagoning, there likely would have been increased reports of a multitude of paranormal activity throughout the entirety of the USA at that same time. Why this activity was contained in just one particular municipality, an unremarkable suburban NY hamlet to boot, and for four straight years, is an enigma. I mean, what was it about Pine Bush, NY that caused people to see unidentifiable flying objects flashing across the sky at night, over and over again?

Non-spoiler alert: I have no idea.

But it’s interesting AF to wonder about.

For more on Paranormal Pine Bush and UFO sighting theories, click here.

Westbound Main Street in Pine Bush, just before sunset. Photo by Jill Valentino.
Girl Scout troops getting into the cosmic spirit at Pine Bush’s annual UFO Fair (2012). Photo by Jill Valentino.

The early 1990s saw a marked decline in UFO sightings in and around Pine Bush. The general consensus as to why comes down to the dirty “D” word, “development.” The vast farmlands skywatchers would flock to thirty-five years ago armed with Polaroid cameras and VHS recorders have become a mosaic of luxury condominiums and commercial real estate buildings to accommodate Pine Bush’s quasi-recent population boom that occurred throughout the 2000s (which I sheepishly must admit being a part of).

Perhaps aliens do not like corporate supermarkets and identical attached open floor plan townhomes as humans do?

My oldest daughter Saige, then-5, after an afternoon at the Pine Bush UFO Fair (2012). Photo by Jill Valentino.

Though no longer an active “hotbed” of UFO activity, Pine Bush’s reputation as “The UFO Capitol of the Northeast” remains intact. And I have to admit, I like the association. It’s definitely unique, not to mention a fun and interesting reputation for my hometown to have.

It’s also a substantially more positive and inclusive reputation than that other unfortunate thing Pine Bush is still known for.

My favorite part of this whole UFO business has to be the annual Pine Bush UFO Fair and Parade. According to ListVerse, Pine Bush actually holds the number 2-ranked UFO Festival in the world!

Take that, Roswell, Arizona!

The UFO Fair shuts down most of Main Street for 4 hours on a Saturday each May, transforming the half-mile stretch into a family-friendly revelry of reenacted paranormal activity, historical celebrations, learning opportunities, and probably some very weird discussions. Various lecturers and paranormal experts speak throughout the day, while green-faced mock alien adults and children merrily parade down the street on homemade floats, try their hand at some games, eat a variety of green-hued snacks, and enjoy themselves. There is something for everyone at the UFO Fair. In addition, I feel that this annual tradition has helped my town build a stronger sense of community, inclusivity, and understanding of differences between its residents, particularly the old guard and the new.

Which is a huge step towards eradicating that “other” reputation that Pine Bush currently has.

At least one Saturday a year, I am certain my town is cooler than yours (2012). Photo by Jill Valentino.

Regarding said “other” infamous reputation, I recently learned a pretty fascinating tidbit that made me feel somewhat better about my hometown’s association with the disease of Anti-Semitism. The Weird U.S. Travel website (great name) details several specific locations within Pine Bush that contained the most active, recurring points of paranormal activity reported during the UFO sighting explosion of the mid-1980s. Meaning, most of the unexplained cosmic phenomena, UFO sightings, and possible alien abductions occurred in the decade immediately following the one when the KKK had a presence in the town. And according to the website:

“Locals first began to speak among each other regarding the strange events they were noticing… Many reported hearing strange noises and having odd things happen at the Jewish Cemetery on Route 52.”

That’s right. Us Jews will find you, haunt you, and scare the hate straight out of you too.

And 7 years plus one child later, those alien glasses are still a total hit. Photo by Jill Valentino.

Pine Bush, Pine Bush, you’re a hell of a town.

Jill Valentino is a mom, wife, educator, and lifelong resident of NY’s Hudson Valley. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Medium @doublesmom77.

This story is published in Writers on the Run. If you’re interested in submitting your travel stories please visit our submission guidelines.

Writers On The Run

For those who love to travel, live for travel, and always…

Jill Valentino

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Mom, Wife, Crazy Life. Writer of Words, Educator of Children. Classic Rock Lover, Introvert. Topics: Parenting, Education, Music, Poetry, Books, & Creativity.

Writers On The Run

For those who love to travel, live for travel, and always have a story to tell.

Jill Valentino

Written by

Mom, Wife, Crazy Life. Writer of Words, Educator of Children. Classic Rock Lover, Introvert. Topics: Parenting, Education, Music, Poetry, Books, & Creativity.

Writers On The Run

For those who love to travel, live for travel, and always have a story to tell.

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