Port Kent’s Mysterious Fireball
Auer Family Boathouse | Circa 1950. Photo from my family archives.
This is a peculiar tale I recall from my childhood. It was a cool summers night – late July, 1998. I was 10 years old and was spending the night at my Grandfather’s boathouse, situated on one of the most splendid locations in all of the state. Located where the Winooski River meets Lake Champlain in a sandy delta of twisted Cottonwood Trees and fragile swampland in the eye of Burlington’s aching heart, The Auer Family Boathouse is a historic relic, built during simpler times and witnessed Burlington and Colchester change around it. It played an unassuming role in notable events such as prohibition (my great grandfather made bootleg whiskey in a still there) and witnessed the transformation of the Island Line Railroad into the now landmark bike path – as bicyclists and tourists soon replaced the traditional fishermen as customers and visitors as the years and its youth passed on.
It was past 10 PM and a surreal oily blackness slipped over Lake Champlain, the waters and the night sky were indistinguishable from one another. But every now and then, the creaks and groans from the wooden docks rocking gently in the water assured any living soul that the lake was still there.
On the front lawn, my Grandfather had 2 large wooden swings which over looked the lake, and were a very pleasant place to sit and relax, swinging gently in the shadows of the night’s song. It was on one of these swings where my 10 year old self was that very night, my Grandfather sitting next to me enjoying random conversation while a gentle breeze blew through the Willows above our heads.
But our reverie was interrupted when our gaze was drawn across the lake. On the distant shores somewhere near Port Kent, the silhouettes fell apart as a giant ball of fire was suddenly propelled from the terra firma rapidly into the New York skies above. It’s light was brilliantly bright as it soured into the lonely night, now far above the ground below. We both watched and held our breath. Then, it simply disappeared. No explosion, no firework finale, nothing. It’s journey was short, it lasted less then 5 seconds at the most. I knew enough to know that it certainly wasn’t a firework. So what was it?
“Did you see that?” my Grandfather asked me, confusion in his voice. I told him I did, but had no answers. And to our surprise, it happened again! Another ball of fire shot straight up from the ground and into the atmosphere above, where it simply fizzed out. This time, I was able to get a better look at it. From where we were standing, on the Vermont side of the lake, the mysterious flying object seemed to be as big as a basketball, and was launched at incredible speeds. It’s bold brightness illuminated the shadows around it, it’s flames being shaped by the winds its fast velocity created, and then simply vanished effortlessly as if it never existed.
“Have you ever seen this before?” I asked my Grandfather. Surely someone who had spent his entire life living near the lake would have some answers, but he had never seen it before and had no idea what to say. Once again, the familiar ball of light shot up again for a third time and followed the same routine. After 7 times, the phenomena stopped entirely, disappearing into memory.
So what did we see on that cool summers night? Some sort of failed fireworks attempt? An arcane home experiment? Or maybe it was something more secretive – perhaps carried out under the orders of Plattsburgh’s military personal? But the base in Plattsburgh had been decommissioned for years by then.
To this day, neither of us have any answers. We asked some of my Grandfather’s neighbors, as well as some friends of mine who live near the lake, and some friends who lived on the New York side of the lake, and not only did they not have any answers, but no one else reported seeing it. The American Meteor Society had no reports or mentions either. It was like that mysterious ball of fire never even existed – and I have never seen it since.
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