Like the hearty souls who hunt and fish, most photographers can probably tell a story or two about “the ones that got away.” Loss can happen for any number of reasons:

  • Not having a camera handy
  • Reacting to a fleeting moment too slowly
  • Poor exposures
  • Lost or stolen equipment
  • Fires, floods or storms
  • Computer or disc crashes
  • Inadequate backup
  • And perhaps a hundred more

I don’t intend for this article to be about “paranormal” photos. But I’ve had more than my fair share of such experiences, and my most memorable losses have come from that realm.

Our “Twonky”

1953’s “The Twonky,” Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 “Poltergeist,” and many other films have made haunted, animate, television sets a sci-fi meme. In the early 1950s, my family moved to a minimalist cement-block house with a flat roof and an attitude. (Even today, when we get together, my sisters and I still compare memories of what we experienced in that “House on Sharon Avenue.”)

The place soon began to “show its stuff” when dad brought our first black-and-white television into the house. He ran antenna wire out through a nearby window and up to a man-sized roof antenna that looked like a metal tree. But when he turned the TV on for the first time, none of us understood what we saw. Every channel showed horizontal gray bars with two round black smudges at the screen’s bottom corners.

Dad had a theory and seemed angry. “Stay here… Watch,” he barked. Running outside, he quickly jogged into the TV picture… and briefly danced around like a clown. We were seeing live footage of the outside of the wall behind the TV! The horizontal gray bars were the house’s siding, and the two round smudges were bushes that mom had just planted.

At the time, there was no camera outside, beaming our wall to a broadcast satellite. Heck, there weren’t even satellites yet! And I’m sure that what we were seeing made dad angry because his scientist mind couldn’t explain it.

On returning, he quickly switched the television off and on again, and our “Twonky” resumed its normal programming. But I still wish I’d a camera handy to capture dad making a fool of himself on live haunted TV.

A Haunted Minolta A1

I’d long believed that “ghost orb” photos were nothing more than flash-illuminated dust, bugs, raindrops or snowflakes. Until 2004 that is, when I visited my mother’s retirement community in northern Ohio. The place allowed people to rent furnished, recently vacated cabanas at extremely low rates while they visited their loved ones. It was a wonderful service… but one with potential downsides.

I arrived at my rental, in mom’s cull-de-sac, just as the sun was setting. And before walking over to mom’s place for dinner, I called my wife back in Massachusetts. It was nearly impossible to get bars. There were none outside, and the only place where I found any inside was on the floor between the unit’s front door and coat closet. If I walked even three feet from them, the bars vanished. So I moved a chair over to the doors, sat down, and made my call.

Lovely and comfortable, the place exceeded expectations. And I had just started to tell Kate about it, when a “click” came from the closet door in front of me. I looked up and the door’s lever handle turned downward, the door slowly swung all the way open, then slowly closed, and latched with another click. Surprised, I asked Kate if she “had seen that?” But back in Massachusetts, she replied “Um… No.”

After we hung up, I grabbed my Minolta A1 and shot interiors of the place to show Kate. If she liked the looks of it, maybe we’d rent furnished units on future visits.

I had used the camera to photograph hundreds of houses for the Coldwell-Banker real-estate agency back home. And not one of those thousands of shots ever contained “ghost orbs”–  even when taken in old, dusty basements and attics. Doubtlessly, this was because I never use flash (I think it “flattens” things). But when I started shooting inside that cabana– again without flash– white disks filled a few of the images. And in one photo, a bright streak of light appeared in a pitch-black bathroom.

Stranger still, after capturing a photo with an especially BIG “orb” floating right in front of me, the camera briefly (and abnormally) froze while saving the next shot. And when I previewed the image, it was fractured. (I tried to simulate its look in the opening image.)

Its top section (including “orbs”) had stored normally, but the bottom part had shifted to the right about 30 percent… and the pixels that fell off the photo’s right edge wrapped back into the frame from the left. And finally, the entire image had tilted!

Amazingly, though, I had no trouble sleeping there. Compared with some of my previous experiences, what had just occurred was tame. And over subsequent years, the A1 (and the memory card) captured thousands more images– without any anomalies.

It seemed odd that on my arrival, the only place I could phone home was right in front of that closet! By morning, I had full bars both indoors and out. And at breakfast, I showed the photos to mom. She found them “interesting,”  told me that the cabana’s owner had died only months before, and added that, before retiring, she’d been a commercial photographer. Maybe she was just having a bit of fun with my camera!

I lost those images (and tons of others) when rare “thundersnow” near our house fried my computer and backup disc. I especially regret the loss of that one fractured photo. During many paranormal experiences over the decades, it was the only time I had a camera with me and captured something strange.

But on subsequent visits to Ohio, Kate and I stayed in motels.

The “Mothership”

My losses, though, paled in comparison with what a brother-in-law experienced.  I’ll call him “Colonel Tom.”

Around 20 years ago, he visited New England for Christmas at a time when UFOs were seen around Boston. When we asked if he’d ever seen one of the things during his years as an Air Force pilot, the Colonel frowned and said, “Yes… but I’ll tell you this only once.”

During the Vietnam War, he commanded a SAC B-52 Stratofortress squadron over a regular Asian circuit. One moonless night, an extremely bright point of light appeared ahead of them. The light streaked up to them so fast that the compression waves from its arrival pushed Tom’s plane backward in the air and caused it to briefly lose lift.

The thing just beyond his cockpit was a gigantic disc “about four times the size of the B-52.” This would make it around a quarter-mile in diameter– or in Tom’s words, “mothership-sized.” It was also close enough for them to see mechanical details all across its vast metal surfaces. And brilliant white light emanated from its huge, translucent dome.

The craft began to fly slow, lazy circles around them– horizontally, vertically and laterally– before again “parking” in front of the B-52. It then streaked away so suddenly that the suction from its departure pulled their plane forward. But their visitor soon returned (this time, from behind their plane) and flew more circles around them… before finally shooting off for good. When it did, it again positioned itself in front of them, tilted slightly away, and in just seconds, shot up into space.

And the suction from its departure pulled their plane to a higher altitude.

During the encounter, Tom had the presence-of-mind to activate the plane’s cameras. And when he and his crew returned to base, “interested strangers” were waiting to debrief them. When their interrogators asked for the plane’s films, the Colonel expressed his expectation that they’d be returned. “Of course, sir,” he was assured. But… surprise… they weren’t.

Must have been spectacular images too! And though the films were government property, Colonel Tom was angry about their loss. Maybe they’re still squirreled away at Wright Patterson, Area 51 or even Dugway Proving Ground (AKA “Area 52”).


Shortly after his visit, Tom sent Kate and me tickets to a private military air show at nearby Hanscom Field. It was my first outing with a Soligor 500mm mirror lens on my Canon AE-1.

I spent much of the show learning to capture high-velocity aircraft with the long lens. The show’s unexpected climax came when a Stealth bomber blasted directly over us from behind a nearby hill. And I snagged one panning shot of its belly.

When Tom next visited, he looked at the prints and took that belly shot to show higher-ups “who might be able to explain something.” I never heard what he learned and haven’t asked.

So technically, I lost that photo too. (But I still have the negative!)

Your Turn!

So what photos or footage do you most regret losing (or not capturing)? Tell us in your comments. (And again… they don’t have to be “paranormal.”)

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass. writer and avid amateur photographer.

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