New Brunswick

'The thing in the woods' still puzzles Moncton-area family after 55 years

In 1962 woodsman David McPherson Sr. found himself deep in the forest of Lutes Mountain staring upwards at a 181-kilogram white box with cameras and hanging from a tree by a deteriorated parachute.

181-kilogram white box with 2 cameras was found hanging in a tree by a parachute in Lutes Mountain in 1962

What was that thing in the woods?

5 years ago
Duration 0:53
55 years ago David McPherson discovered a 400 lbs box in the woods. What it was remains a mystery.

In 1962 woodsman David McPherson Sr. found himself deep in the forest of Lutes Mountain, some 15 kilometres west of Moncton, N.B., staring upwards at a 181-kilogram white box with cameras and hanging from a tree by a deteriorated parachute. 

What began as a day of scouting timber would turn into the mystery of "the thing in the woods" that would stay with his family for the next 55 years.

His son, David McPherson Jr., now pores over black-and-white photos of his father and the mysterious box that he found in the forest.

"Dad always wanted to know just what that thing in the woods was," he said.

"It bugged him, even up until he passed away." 

Days after the senior McPherson found the mysterious box, he went from trying to convince the RCMP to go into the forest and inspect the box to dragging it out of the forest himself.

A photo from 1962 of David McPherson Sr. and a friend after finding a 181-kilogram white box in the woods near Lutes Mountain containing a pair of cameras and attached to a rotting parachute. (Submitted: David McPherson)

With the help of a few friends, he used a bulldozer to build a road through the forest and hauled the box to his barn on Isaiah Road, near Moncton, with his tractor. 

James Rogers, 74, is the only person still living who helped recover the box from the forest that day. He was 19 when the mystery began.

"And we did not know what it was. At first, he thought it might be a small aircraft that had crashed," he said.

"But there was no sign of aircraft parts or anything around." 

He helped lug out a large antenna attached to the box that was later discovered to contain a dynamite cap, which was used to extend the rod to full length when detonated. 

"We never opened it," said Rogers.

"Because there were clearly two window cameras inside, we didn't want to spoil any film." 

A 'big deal' in the small community

Rogers also said people thought the box might explode if it was opened.

"We just didn't know what it was," he said.

In a written retelling of the events surrounding "the thing in the woods," Lois MacPherson, the wife of David MacPherson Sr., said people in the community were concerned about the box.

"Some 'Mrs. Lutes' called [the] RCMP and air force and army to report that Mr. McPherson had found a 'box' that was 'ticking and would blow up the mountain at anytime,'" wrote McPherson, before she passed away in 2004.

"This caused a lot of laughs to others." 

McPherson stands with "the thing" alongside Major E. W. Flewelling moments before the unit was whisked away from the McPherson family. (Submitted: David McPherson)

Dangerous or not, the box did cause a stir in the small community. 

She said people came from all over the area to see it.

"I would say there was over a 100 people. It was a big deal," she wrote.

"Will it blow up? Was it supposed to blow up? Do you think it's from Russia? Are there any bones of a man found near it?"

At one point, the RCMP did get involved, according to McPherson Jr.

"But they still weren't able to say what it was," he said.

Military dispute

McPherson said the attention from the public, including reporters from both the Moncton newspaper and the CBC, led to interest from the Canadian military.

Although he said his father called them to assess what he'd found, they only showed up days after he'd gone back to work.

James Rogers was 19 when he helped bring out the heavy, mysterious, box from the forest. He's now 74 and the last remaining person alive who helped with the retrieval of "the thing from the woods." (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"A large army truck pulled into the yard, backed up to the garage where the thing was kept and six men got out and started to attempt to load it into the vehicle," wrote Lois McPherson. 

But she wasn't having it. 

Her family said she single-handedly barred the military from attempting to steal the white box from their property.

Eventually, the "nasty corporal blew his top" and left, according to Lois McPherson's recounting of the ordeal.

The contents inside

 Once the military left, Lois McPherson did not leave the box alone.

"And mom later told us she opened it up," said David McPherson Jr.

McPherson said his mother said the mysterious box had two cameras and about a dozen bottles of clear liquid surrounding the lenses.

And she said there was writing on some of the equipment, according to her son.

David McPherson Jr. was three years old when his father discovered the mysterious box. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"But it wasn't in the English alphabet, she thought maybe Russian, but she didn't tell dad she'd opened it that day," McPherson said.

The next day the military came back to the McPherson farm, this time with a different strategy.

"They took it with promises of, 'You'll be there when it's opened' and, 'We'll let you know what it was and who owns it,'" said McPherson. 

"But once it was on the truck, that was all gone. And so was the thing. They took it away." 

That was the last time the family heard from the military on the issue, despite two rejected access to information requests to the Department of Defence in the years that followed.

No one from Lutes Mountain saw the box again. 

"It was crazy how it just disappeared," said Rogers.

"For one week, it was huge. Then the next it was like everyone forgot." 

They want answers

The mystery of "the thing in the woods" lives on in the yellowed newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, photos and documents the McPherson family kept.

Reports from the Moncton newspaper would later state the object was a "transosonde," a large weather balloon, but no attribution for that designation was given in those articles.

Rogers, left, is shown helping lift a large metal antenna recovered alongside the white box attached to a parachute in 1962. The bulldozer in the background was used to build the road to retrieve the heavy box. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Both David McPherson Jr. and Rogers say they doubt what was found that day had anything to do with weather, but both men still want answers 55 years later. 

"That would be very good, to have an answer, just for the satisfaction of knowing what it was," said Rogers. 

"If it was some surveillance equipment from another country or if it was a weather balloon. But I don't really think it was a weather balloon."

Rogers said if it would have been a weather balloon, someone would have told them that immediately. 

"Dad and mom would have loved to know what exactly that was before they passed," McPherson said.

"It'd be really great for the family."


Shane Fowler


Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.


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