Out of Orbit: Falling to Earth at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

The truth is out there … but it’s probably not here at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

There is a lot of green in Kecksburg this time of year. The deep, multi-hued leaves on trees, rich with heavy spring and summer rainfall, are present in all directions as are rich earthy greens found in grasses and flower stems, corn fields and vegetable gardens bursting with life in summer’s thick humidity. The local volunteer fire department has painted their cinderblock-and-wood plank buildings in muted emerald shades and you’ll find dark, military-issue greens in the small set of U.S. Army Jeeps and troop-transports brought in for the weekend.

With all this, the green that stays with you is an electric, iridescent lime color. Like a fluorescent safety sign come to life or the inside of one of those light sticks, the eye-popping Day-Glo green wiggles in spring-mounted antennae on the heads of youths, graces noggins in the form of synthetic costume wigs, and gently flutters as inflatable figures dance in the wind. It glows in the bright sunlight on a 10-foot pneumatic carnival saucer and struts through the midway in novelty full-body costumes.

The Kecksburg “space acorn” monument, created for “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1990

Little Kecksburg, a rural community 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, was the perfect spot for a UFO to crash land. Far enough in the country to have few eyewitnesses but close enough to city resources for federal authorities to swoop in and make off with the evidence before anyone could figure out what had happened.

Exactly what occurred on the evening of December 9, 1965 is still in question. Theories range from a stray meteor and fallen Russian satellite to a time-traveling Nazi war machine and, yes, alien spacecraft.

It is this last possibility–amazingly, not the weirdest option in the list–that has kept dogged UFO hunters and seekers of truth in the unexplained coming back to “Pennsylvania’s Roswell” for the last 54 years. The continued interest brought the TV series Unexplained Mysteries to town in 1990, bringing a custom-built, scaled-to-life facsimile of the flying object with them. The hieroglyphics-engraved, acorn-shaped replica lives in permanent display elevated atop a tall pole on a hillside near the VFD hall. (See photo, above.) It’s also one of the things that brought us here. That, and the 14th annual Kecksburg UFO Festival.

The Orbit wasn’t the only news outlet on the scene. TV crews interview Kecksburg incident expert Stan Gordon.

Stan Gordon is the self-declared “primary investigator” of the 1965 Kecksburg incident and a lifelong researcher of the unexplained. Mr. Gordon operates a “radio command center” from his home in nearby Greensburg and regularly attends the UFO Festival. He was busy signing books and DVD documentaries at a corner table that included numerous fuzzy photo enlargements of mysterious lights in the night sky and enormous ape-like footprints in both mud and snow.

Gordon has spent a lifetime looking for the truth about Kecksburg and the description of the event and summary of his findings on his web site are without parallel. We encourage our readers to visit stangordon.info for his full rundown of the event and subsequent investigations.

Yes: the tinfoil hats were there

Stan Gordon wasn’t alone. Appearing at the annual UFO festival is both de rigueur and a no braineur for the region’s experts on the unexplained–and there are a lot more of these than you may think.

Why, there was Raymond Keller, author of Cosmic Ray and Tony Lavorgne of the Legends & Lore podcast. Bilco Productions, the team behind the film Paranormal Bigfoot, was there, as was Ed Kelemen, author of a half dozen books of haunted Pennsylvania lore. Saucers Over Appalachia! author William B. Van Huss had books to sell as did “Mr. UFO” Timothy Green Beckley.

Carried away. This parade-goer may or may not have made it to the main event.

Of course, not every attendee of the Kecksburg UFO Festival takes the event quite so seriously. The costume du jour was clearly this one that effectively makes the illusion an alien is hoisting a child-sized version of the person within (see photos above and below). After seeing a bunch of these–both at the event and then reviewing the pictures afterward–I can tell you neither is the deception obvious nor does the joke get old.

The Leeper Meats crew in the festival parade

The three-day festival is paced with a number of marquee events. Some of these–lectures from UFO and paranormal experts–stay firmly on-message. Others–a corn hole tournament, country band, and the “UFO hot dog-eating contest”–not so much.

Saturday afternoon features a parade down a half-mile of Kecksburg Road, alongside the VFD grounds where the main event takes place. The fancy term bifurcated comes to mind as there were really only two unconnected parties involved here: a handful of old-school military vehicles, with riders playing along dressed-up as the 1960s-era G-men and -women that whisked E.T. away, and then what felt like every fire truck in Westmoreland County.

That’s it. No high school marching bands dressed in coordinated alien costumes and no pre-teen dance troupes shimmying to “Outta Space”; no local politicians waving from tinfoil-covered convertibles and no flatbed hay bale dioramas. Just army play-actors, fire trucks, and Leeper Meats.

U.S. Army truck with replica of cloaked UFO remains

Yes, the parade was a disappointment. Luckily The Kecksburg UFO Festival redeems itself in its many other offerings.

The best of the lot were a number of artisans who brought chainsaw-hewn sculptures of big-eyed aliens and models of Big Foot. (Big Feet?) Among the latter were some extremely impressive life-size (around 7-feet tall) carved-from-a-tree-trunk Sasquatches–any one of which would look great in the backyard of Chez Orbit.

Sasquatch chainsaw sculptures

alien chainsaw art

It’s unclear who comes to the Kecksburg UFO Festival and why they’re there. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess the dressing up/having-a-laugh group outnumbers the relatively small contingent of true believers. Both sets are likely dwarfed by the soft pretzel-and-corn hole crowd, for whom this is the nearby summer fair benefiting their local fire department.

These numbers don’t work in the favor of a researcher who’s given his or her life (it’s pretty much always his) to studying alien contact and Big Foot sightings. Visibly annoyed at having to answer the same old questions from funnel cake-wielding skeptics and won’t-stop-talking over-enthusiasts, a number of the authors and filmmakers came with an arms-crossed, scowl and furrowed brow body language that pretty much told the world, just buy the damn book and get out of my face. No one said ghost hunting was easy.

little green man, big soft pretzel

The story of the Kecksburg incident and its supposed cover-up is even getting the big-screen treatment courtesy of a new, feature-length independent film by SW PA local Cody Knotts. Representatives from the team were there to sell t-shirts and offer advance tickets to the world premier and “red carpet screening” this September in Uniontown.

A couple trailers for the movie are already out. While it’s clear the filmmakers are working on a budget and you won’t recognize any of the local actors (at least, you know, not from acting), they managed to get the period look of mid-’60s America right and shot in a creepy, stylized Twilight Zone way that should satisfy the Creature Feature audience. Judging from the preview clips alone, I doubt we’ll see Kecksburg during Oscar season, but hats off to anyone who can produce a full-length dramatic period piece–even if the actor portraying  L.B.J. had to be shot from behind.

Alas, a real journalist would have bunked-down for the full UFO conference on Sunday–or at least stayed later on Saturday to catch the bed race and Renegade Ridge Band! But it was just too damn hot and your fair-skinned, not-watching-his-figure-enough author didn’t need any more time around the deep-fried pierogies and Helltown beers.

So … we headed home early, content that whether or not the truth is out there, it could wait for another day.

Kecksburg V.F.D., home of the 14th annual UFO Festival

3 thoughts on “Out of Orbit: Falling to Earth at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

  1. davidc5033 says:

    Great coverage. I appreciate your willingness to goof on aliens. I personally am not understanding the Alien/Big Foot connection. I don’t like them lumped together. I give you props for your willingness to play parade critic. I guess that’s part of the job. Thank you for your service.

    Like

    • Pittsburgh Orbit says:

      There’s definitely some crossover–Stan Gordon researches both aliens and Big Foot–but I’m guessing most folks choose to take sides. I wonder how many purists there are that think the other guys are kooks.

      Kecksburg could learn a thing or two about throwing a UFO parade from McMinnville–but those guys are probably working with some more resources.

      Like

  2. davidc5033 says:

    Those alien carrying people suits are the bomb. I’m not sure how to even begin figuring out how to acquire one for myself but I can’t see why that couldn’t be a normal day’s fashion statement to beat all fashion statements.

    Like

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