On the night of Friday 23 August 1974, John Lennon and his partner May Pang saw an unidentified flying object over New York City.
The couple were living at their apartment at Penthouse Tower B or the Southgate Complex at 434 East 52nd Street in New York, NY 1022 towards the end of Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend’ estrangement from Yoko Ono. Lennon and Pang had moved into the Sutton Place apartment in early July 1974.
At the time Lennon was working on Walls And Bridges at the Record Plant in New York. Lennon included the following words on the opening page of the album’s lyrics booklet:
On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O.
Upon spotting the object, Lennon hastily summoned Pang to the terrace balcony.
I had just stepped out of the shower one Friday night toward the end of August when I heard John shout, ‘Fung Yee, come here.’
‘In a minute,’ I called back.
‘Now, Fung Yee. Now!’ he screamed.
He sounded panic-stricken, so I ran into the living room. I could see him standing naked on the terrace, and I ran out and stood beside him.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.
‘Look up there!’ He pointed to the sky. ‘Tell me what you see.’ I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a saucer-shaped object surrounded by blinding white lights gliding through the sky. I was convinced it was a UFO.
‘I can’t believe it!’ I exclaimed.
‘You’re seein’ exactly what I see.’
‘I can’t believe it!’ I repeated.
I was astonished. Then I began to laugh.
‘What are you laughin’ at?’ asked John.
‘Suppose it’s looking at us. Maybe they think that everyone who lives on the East Side wanders around naked on their terraces on Friday evenings. We look like Adam and Eve.’
We watched the object gliding through the sky. Then we went inside, got our telescope, and studied it some more. ‘I almost didn’t call you,’ John said. ‘I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me. I thought you’d say, “What is John on?” I didn’t think anyone would believe me.’
We went to the phone and called Harold Seider and Elliot Mintz to tell them about the UFO. Seider was skeptical. Elliot, of course, was not. John spoke to Bob Gruen, a photographer who did a lot of work for him, and asked Gruen to come over and to get on the phone to find out if anyone else had sighted the object. Gruen made a few phone calls and learned that there had been reports made to both the local police station as well as to the newspapers…
We couldn’t stop talking about the UFO. ‘I never believed this stuff before,’ I said. ‘Now I’ve seen it and I do believe it.’
‘It was real enough,’ said John.
When Yoko called, John told her about the spaceship.
‘What did she say?’ I asked when he got off the phone.
‘She was upset because she hadn’t seen it.’
Yoko called back two or three times to complain about being left out.
In bed that night we continued to talk about it.
Just before he fell asleep, John said softly, ‘I wish it had taken us both away.’
If only it had been true, we would both have been much better off.
Interviewed by this site in 2011, May Pang maintained her belief in the UFO sighting.
The famous UFO incident, as mentioned in the liner notes of Walls And Bridges: do you believe it was an extra-terrestrial object, or might there be a rational explanation for it?
I know what I saw. And the rational explanation is… it was a UFO. There’s UFOs over New York, as the song goes. And I saw another one in the early 80s, and I know other did people did too.
Did nobody else in NYC see it? It seems astonishing to think an unidentified flying object going down East 52nd Street could remain unseen by anyone else.
Yes, that event had about 400 reported sightings, I believe.
Did John really call out to the UFO in the hope that it might take him away?
He didn’t call out to it; he later said he wished it had taken us with it. However, I doubt we’d have been that enthusiastic to go along had the opportunity actually presented itself.
Pang attempted to photograph the object, but the images came out blank when the film was developed.
I was so freaked out by it and John was just taking it all in. We were not far from this thing. I remember running in to try to get my camera because I had – I was testing out some surveillance film at the time… It was moving slowly, at times it would just sort of hover. There was no noise. I could hear the street noise below me, but the thing that was directly above my head had no noise – nothing.
We watched it go sideways, around the corner. It kept going up and up further into the sky and it hovered over the Waterside Towers on 23rd Street. It sat there for a good few minutes and it started to move and he thought it was heading towards Brooklyn. When it got to the bridge down there, I think it’s probably the Williamsburg Bridge, it just sort of stayed there for a second and then I watched it go straight up, and it was gone. John was calm, I was like a lunatic. We said, ‘Who should we call?’ I think we called Elliot Mintz first, and the first thing he said to John after he told him the story was, ‘Could I speak to May, did May see this?’ And then we called Bob Gruen and he made a couple of calls and he took my film.
On my roll of film you could see the sprockets were flared where the film had gone through – my whole roll of film, everything I had on it looked like it was overexposed. It was completely blank. John made a sketch of it, he wanted to put it down so he grabbed a pen and he took an 8×10 envelope and he just drew what he thought he saw.
Strange Days Indeed, Chip Madinger and Scott Raile
Lennon’s fullest account of the incident appeared in a piece he wrote for the November 1974 issue of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. The piece was headlined ‘Interview/Interview with by/on John Lennon and/or Dr. Winston O’Boogie’.
A. If you look closely at the wonderful “Walls and Bridges“, out now, album package, you will notice a little notice saying, “I saw a U.F.O…” why don’t you ask me about that?
Q. Oh. I hadn’t noticed, did you really… where you drunk? high? having a primal?
A. No. Actually I was very straight. I was lying naked on my bed, when I had this urge…
Q. Don’t we all…?
A. So I went to the window, just dreaming around in my usual poetic frame of mind, to cut a long short story, there, as I turned my head, hovering over the next building, no more than a hundred feet away was this thing… with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non blinking red light on top… what the Nixon is that! I says to myself (for no one else was there)… is it a helicopter? No! It makes no noise… ah then, it must be a ballon! (Frantically trying to rationalize it, in all my too human way) but no!! Balloons don’t look like that, nor do they fly so low, yes folks, it was flying (very slow, about 30 m.p.h.,) below…. I repeat, below most roof tops (i.e. higher than the ‘old building’ lower than the ‘new’.) all the time it was there, I never took my eyes off it, but I did scream to a friend who was in another room “Come and look at this” etc. etc. My friend came running and bore witness with me. Nobody else was around. We tried to take pictures (shit on my polaroid, it was bust) with a straight camera. We gave the film to Bob Gruen to develop, he brought back a blank film…. said it looked like it had been thru the radar at customs…. well, it stayed around for a bit, then sailed off.
Q. Did you check to see…….
A. Yeh, yeh, the next day Bob (is it in focus) Gruen rang the Daily News, Times, police to see if any one else reported any thing. Two other people and or groups of/said they too saw something….. anyway I know what I saw…….
Lennon referenced the UFO incident in his song ‘Nobody Told Me’, recorded during the Double Fantasy sessions in 1980 and released on the posthumous album Milk And Honey. The song contains the phrase “There’s a UFO over New York and I ain’t too surprised”.
Also on this day...
- 2018: John Lennon’s Imagine to be reissued as super deluxe box set
- 1968: Recording, mixing: Back In The USSR
- 1967: Recording: Your Mother Should Know
- 1966: Live: Shea Stadium, New York
- 1965: Day off in Los Angeles
- 1964: Live: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
- 1964: Interview: John Lennon and Ringo Starr in Los Angeles
- 1963: Live: Gaumont Cinema, Bournemouth
- 1963: UK single release: She Loves You
- 1962: Live: Riverpark Ballroom, Chester
- 1962: John Lennon marries Cynthia Powell
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1960: Live: Indra Club, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.