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The jolting phenomenon of “thundersnow” visited Meriden, Connecticut, over Christmas break in 1958. And a young Jan Aldrich will never forget it.

A bolt of lightning struck his family’s chimney, and he remembers a bright flash zapping across the range in the kitchen, where cinnamon toast was heating up in the oven. What he saw as he opened the door and peered inside sent him on a lifelong quest that has no end.

“There was this small white ball about the size of a quarter just sitting there in the oven,” Aldrich recalls. “It wasn’t touching anything, but it rolled over towards the door and it fell off and exploded like a cherry bomb. I asked my father what it was, and he said that’s what the library’s for. That’s how I discovered ball lightning, and from that, I got interested in UFOs.”

Today, the same house where Aldrich grew up has five rooms dedicated to his UFO investigation – culled from the National Archives, FOIA responses, contemporaneous media coverage, etc. – and there’s plenty more stashed away in off-site storage. At age 76, the U.S. Army veteran and a small network of hardcore researchers are racing the clock to digitize and rescue a seemingly bottomless pit of primary-source data from neglect and obscurity. And, fearing past as prelude, Aldrich has a queasy feeling about the new Pentagon office ordered to take a public dive into the deep black waters of the UFO swamp.

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