Throughout UFO lore a topic that constantly pops up is the phenomenon known as "contactees," who are people who seem to draw these entities to them and have multiple encounters. One of these has become quite famous, although he has humble roots. Before his life was turned upside down by forces from beyond our world, Woodrow Derenberger was just an ordinary guy with a rather mundane and almost boring life. A sewing machine salesman based in Mineral wells, West Virginia, he was mostly considered rather nondescript and was not what one would call a person who had a terribly exciting life. But all that would change when he would have a series of UFO and alien encounters that would propel him into UFO legend and make him one of the most famous and spectacular UFO contactees there is.
November 2, 1966, started out as usual for Derenberger. He was on his way back home after making a sale in Marietta, Ohio, driving along highway 77 near the interchange of Route number 47. The night was calm, and all was well, that is, until a giant, saucer-shaped craft apparently landed on the road right in front of his truck, forcing him to a stop. As the astonished Derenberger looked on, he says that a hatch opened on the side of the craft, and out climbed a figure that looked like a man with dark skin, who walked towards the truck even as the UFO, described as dark grey in color and slightly reflective, floated up to hover in the air. Derenberger would later describe the scene:
The sound when it was hovering over the ground and when it was lifting, I couldn't distinguish no difference in this sound, it was a low fluttery noise. If you've ever heard the blades of a helicopter as it was idling sitting on the ground, that would be the closest way that I could describe the noise it made but it was not very loud. It was approximately 8 to 10 inches off of the ground and as soon as it came to a stop, immediately there was a door on the side facing me open and this man stepped out and he started walking immediately right to the right-hand side of my truck. He had a topcoat on and it was zippered down the front. His top, the top two buttons, like my coat here, were open and, he, this outfit was a shiny material, it was a glossy outfit like it was metallic I suppose you would call it and his shirt was a little bit darker than his jacket and below his coat he had on trousers of the same kind of a cloth material and I believe the trousers were just a shade lighter than his coat. He looked perfectly natural and normal as any human being. He had, his face looked like he had a good tan, a deep sun tan, he was not too dark but it was just like he had been out in the sun a lot and had a good tan. His hair was combed straight back and it was a dark brown and he seemed to have a good thick head of hair. His eyebrows, his face, his features were very normal. I don't believe that he looked any different from any other man that would meet on the street.
The unusually normal looking stranger walked towards the truck and apparently made telepathic contact with Derenberger, telling him that he meant no harm and just wanted to talk. At this point the witness was afraid but he was unable to move or tear his eyes from the surreal sight, merely sitting there calmly as this strange man from the UFO approached. Derenberger would appear in a TV interview the very next day, in which he talked about the encounter with Ronald Maines of WTAP-TV, explaining what happened next:
He walked to the right hand side of the truck and he told me to roll down the window. He asked me to roll down the window on my right hand side of my truck and I done what he asked, and this man stood there and he first asked me what I was called and I know he meant my name and I told him my name and he asked me he said 'Why are you frightened?' he said 'Don't be frightened, we wish you no harm'. he said 'We mean you not harm, we wish you only happiness' and I told him my name and when I told him my name, he said he was called 'Cold'.
That was the name that he was called by, and he asked me what the city of Parkersburg, he pointed to the light. He didn't point but he gave the impression that he was pointing and he asked me what that was called and I told him it was Parkersburg, it was a city, a town and he asked me if most all the people lived in this city or town and I explained to him that it was a place of business, Its were we transacted our business but the people lived in communities, outline communities, most of the people and when I told him that this was a city he said that were his home was that was called a 'Gathering' and again he told me not to be frightened which I was. I was very frightened and as far as I can understand, this was all mental, there was no spoken words from him. I knew what he was asking me but yet he stood there and his mouth did not move. He had a smile on his face, he appeared very courteous and friendly, and after I talked with him a while, he told me, he said 'We will see you again' and he left in his vehicle.
All very strange, indeed. The experience deeply disturbed Derenberger, and he rushed home in a panic, appearing to his wife as almost a zombie, his face ashen and his hands trembling. He sat at the kitchen table for some time staring into space and incoherent, to the point that the wife was not sure what to do and was very worried. Finally he was able to will his body into action and call the police. The next morning, media and police swarmed the house and he became an instant town celebrity, the story of his bizarre encounter splashed all over the news and appearing in a TV interview. There were so many people milling about and calling the house at all hours that it strained Derenberger’s marriage, but it seems that the weirdness was not over yet.
Just a few days later, on November 4, Derenberger would have another alleged encounter with the mysterious Indrid Cold, this time as he was heading back home from Pomeroy, Idaho with a friend. He claimed that they both had seen the ship appear above them, Derenberger said that he began receiving telepathic messages from Cold. He would then give a rather startling revelation when he spoke about this second encounter with the UFO researcher M. Spohn Marling, who was writing an article for the publication Flying Saucers UFO Reports, saying:
You see, Mrs. Marling, I wasn’t the person Cold planned to contact the first time. He’s told me since that he was really homing in on a car ahead of me, a fellow he’d kept under watch for several days and believed would be a good communicant. But the man’s car was so close to a busy intersection that Cold was afraid there might be an accident if he dropped down in front of him, so he chose me instead. He wasn’t sorry. He told me I’m receptive, a good communicant.
During this second encounter, Cold apparently gave Derenberger a great amount of information about himself and his home planet, which he called “Lanulos,” and the witness would explain all of this to Marling. He said:
He’s from a planet called Lanulos, orbiting a sun much like our own in the Genemedes star cluster. They have woods, streams, fields and oceans, the same as we do. They’ve taken samples of our vegetation and animals. Ours are much like theirs. Cold is married. His wife is named Kimi and he had two sons at that time. He has three children, now; one was born right around Christmas time, a little girl. They’re time travelers. They’re in the fourth dimension. One reason they can’t stay here too long at a time is because they get younger down here instead of older. Their life span is 125-175 years; but if they stayed here too long, I think they’d go back in years so far that they might possibly forget how to manipulate their craft. He’s told me on several occasions that the people on his planet travel and trade with other planets all the time; and that’s what they want to do here. Lanulos has many things that would be of value to us and we have many things that would be of value to Lanulos. Cold wants to have a friendly exchange. There is a landing base on the Moon, which is shared by many interplanetary civilizations. Those from Lanulos also have a mother ship up there, big as a football field and nine stories high, equipped with berthing docks. The scout ships land there and are taken aboard the mothership.
Derenberger went on to claim that the U.S. government and NASA knew all about this, and also claimed that there were such bases on Mars and Venus as well. In addition, according to Derenberger, in later days Cold would make frequent appearances to him around town, even lurking outside of his home on several occasions, and that his family had seen the alien as well. Interestingly, as all of this was going on, there was a wave of UFO sightings that began to come in from all over the area, in particular the city of Parkersburg and the surrounding vicinities. Derenberger’s story was still making the rounds heavily in the news, and attracted the attention of the great paranormal researcher John A. Keel, who had been in West Virginia investigating various strange goings on. In March of 1967, Keel paid a personal visit to Derenberger, who told him that he had been on several interplanetary excursions aboard spaceships. Keel says:
On Saturday, March 25th, 1967, I spent several hours with Woodrow Derenberger of Mineral Wells, West Virginia. Mr. Gray Barker of Clarksburg accompanied me on my visit to Mr. Derenberger’s home. On November 2, 1966 (a Wednesday), Mr. Derenberger was allegedly stopped on Highway 77, just outside of Parkersburg, West Virginia, by a UFO and was engaged in a brief conversation by the object’s occupant. His original contact was with a man named ‘Indrid Cold,’ he says, and he came from the planet Lanulos. His story has already been widely reported and I won’t retell it here. Derenberger is a charming, outgoing man with a sincere, ingratiating manner. There were several witnesses to the original contact, people who were driving along Highway 77 and who claim they saw him actually “talking” to the UFO occupant. Since that experience, Mr. Derenberger has been frequently visited by the UFOs and has been taken for trips to the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
In the eyes of many in the mainstream, as well as within the field of UFOlogy as well, Derenberger was beginning to raise eyebrows and skepticism, with more and more people suspecting that he perhaps had a few screws loose and of perpetuating a fraud. Yet he still soldiered on. Derenberger also spoke with several other prominent UFOlogists, such as Gray Barker, who defended Derenberger against claims that he was a fraud by stating how sincere and reliable he was, as well as pointing out that he had not sought to get financial gain from his story and had no ulterior motives to want to lie. Barker would later say:
I do hope that the local people will keep an open mind about Derenberger’s experience. After all, everybody laughed at the Wright brothers, and for years reputable scientists scoffed at meteorites and said they were hoaxes. Today people scoff at mental telepathy, such as Mr. Derenberger said he experienced. Yet a recent story described how electronic impulses can be directed at the brain and influence human behavior. Within 25 years, we will be able to transfer brain waves into greatly amplified electronic impulses and affect such communication. Right now the Russians are experimenting with telepathy on a scientific basis. Within a few years, I predict that Mr. Derenberger will be laughing at us!
Indeed, Barker would be a staunch supporter of Derenberger in the face of mounting skepticism and ridicule from all sides, and is also the one who encouraged him to write a book on his experiences. Derenberger would then in 1968 pen the book Visitors from Lanulos, co-authored by an associate UFOlogist, Harold Hubbard, which features a foreward by John A. Keel himself and was self-published through Vantage Press, although not until three years later in 1971 for reasons that remain unclear. Nor is it clear why the book was self-published, rather than under Barker’s own established publishing label Saucerian Press. Dr. Raymond A. Keller, author of the international awards-winning Venus Rising Trilogy, would say of this and his thoughts on the story in an exclusive article for the site Phantoms and Monsters:
In the few years following his encounter with the alien Indrid Cold, he went from job to job, and even had to move out of his home in West Virginia because of the undue amount of negative publicity generated in the media. This forced him to start all over as a salesman in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Perhaps this was the primary factor that impelled him to write his book. However, he should have put more time and research into writing it. He could have considered hiring a ghostwriter to do it correctly. It surprises me that when the book was finally published in 1971, the introduction by the prestigious paranormal investigator John A. Keel was not even listed on the cover. It appears as though Derenberger’s situation was such that he could not afford to self-publish his book in 1968, nor could Barker afford to finance the undertaking at the Saucerian Press.
It is clear that Woodrow Derenberger lost control of his own narrative. I, for one, believe his story to be true. However, lacking any higher academic background, he failed to document the information in his book, either in the text or with applicable footnotes. In addition, he was too generous in providing information in sundry media outlets. Lacking discernment, he initially would speak to anyone who wanted to know about his experiences.
It is really hard to know how much veracity to assign to this tale. Derenberger continually upped the ante with the weirdness, until is really sort of got out of control, but there are those who stuck by him and he himself constantly insisted that it was all true. It is all very strange, and has gone on to become one of the fixtures of the UFO world when it comes to supposed contactees. What did he encounter out there, if anything? Was any of this real at all, or merely the product of a hoax, fraud, or addled mind? We may never know, and it goes on as a curious and anomalous tale.