UFO Festival Fever

by Charles Lear

UFO fairs and festivals are popping up everywhere these days and some might think that this is not such a good thing.  People dressing themselves, their children and pets up as aliens and turning their vehicles into flying saucers, bah, humbug!  These activities trivialize the whole investigation and bias the public towards the extraterrestrial hypothesis.  Some of the fairs center around highly questionable cases and possible hoaxes.  The public needs to be informed that this is serious business and a revelation may be just around the corner that this planet is just one of many in the universe that harbors life and that would be the most profound moment in the history human civilization.

    But, seriously folks, we’ve been waiting for a revelation for over 70 years and for a lot of us this is a pursuit on which we spend our leisure time even our own money. When there is fun to be had and a chance to get together and celebrate our weirdness in public, by all means we should embrace it.  Of course, some have been traumatized by sightings and possible abductions, but you’ll find Travis Walton and others like him at these events and what could be more therapeutic than to share your experience with a receptive audience.

If you type “UFO Festival” into your search bar, you may be surprised.  The first thing is how many there are and how many have been organized within the last few years.  Then there are the towns and cases you may not have heard of and finally, that Roswell’s festival was organized decades after what appears to be the oldest and longest running event.  It seems that the town of Elmwood, Wisconsin can pride itself for its pioneer spirit as its first festival was organized in 1978.  Roswell didn’t get started until 1996.

Elmwood’s UFO story is documented in, “Out There”, a 1991 book by former New York Times reporter, Howard Blum.  Elmwood experienced a flap that started in the mid seventies.  The most famous encounter occurred April 22, 1976 when Elmwood’s police chief, George Wheeler went to investigate an orange glow near a local quarry.  When he got the the crest of a hill that gave him a good view, he saw a large, silver craft, 250 feet in diameter, which he calmly described over his police radio.  As Wheeler was talking, the craft rose in the air, he heard a “whooshing” sound, and a blue ray shot out from the object which burned out his car’s electrical system and knocked him unconscious.  This and many more sightings put Elmwood firmly on the UFO map.

Elmwood quickly latched on to its status as the “UFO Capital of Wisconsin” and the festival was organized.  Recently there was an attempt by locals to build a UFO landing strip that was championed by many but ultimately quashed by some of the more staid citizens.  Former businessman, Tom Weber, proposed to raise 50 million dollars for the project, that would include the strip and buildings to house scientists and tracking equipment.  How could town officials take such a proposal seriously?

The answer to this is tourism.

Most of the festivals you’ll find are in small rural towns that are not near well-travelled roads.  Roswell is a perfect example.  Roswell is like many small New Mexico towns where the main source of outside money is the local speed trap.      There’s also the boredom factor.  Anything to do that breaks up the monotony of daily life in these isolated spots is a big deal.  If you can combine this with big tourism bucks and your town is a part of UFO history, then what better than to celebrate it.

The rise in the number of festivals within the last three years is interesting in the light of the rise in respectability of UFOlogy.  As a generation that grew up with the internet and greater access to UFO lore gets older, more of them are in positions within small town politics where they may have a strong enough voice to get such celebrations of weirdness approved.  Along with the festivals, there are UFO museums and historical markers and tours sprouting up all over the country.  What better reason for hitting the road and spreading some money around.