By Bill LynchThe sleek, rounded automobiles parked outside the Capitol Theater on Summers Street on Friday night were artifacts of another generation, almost another America.
The Charleston Gazette
The Charleston Gazette
The Flatwoods Monster 55th Anniversary and Flying Saucer Extravaganza at the Capitol Theater was part celebration and part remembrance of an era when the nation seemed more innocent, if no less suspicious.
Many of the people milling around the vehicles before the doors opened at the theater and during the brief intermission of the four-hour show were children of the 1950s.
From conversations over the breakfast table or around the schoolyard, they’d heard the story of the strange visitor from the sky who came to Flatwoods. They grew up with the rumors that became legend long before it was a book called “The Braxton County Monster.”
Clayton Loudermilk from Clarksburg remembered hearing about the Braxton County Monster or the Flatwoods Monster when he was a kid. Stories about aliens have always fascinated him.
“I’ve always been interested in everything from pyramids, to space travel, to aliens,” Loudermilk said. “I’ve seen Stanton Friedman on television many times and just wanted to hear what he had to say in person.”
Others came because aliens and UFOs are part of their everyday lives.
Joe Gardner and his girlfriend, April Bailey, came from Huntington to commune with others who might share their experiences. Gardner, who works with the disabled, brought pictures of what he believes are alien spacecraft.
“I see them all the time, since I was 4,” he said. “Back in March, I was coming back into town and something got my attention. I had a disposable camera in my tackle box.”
He said he started carrying cheap disposable cameras with him when he went fishing after he got tired of people doubting the size of the fish he caught.
“Nobody ever believes you when you say you’ve caught something this big.”
He held his hands out broadly and laughed.
The pictures he had with him show odd, cylindrical shapes in the grainy background. It’s a flying saucer, he insists, and they fly over Huntington all the time.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “She’s seen them, too.”
His girlfriend shrugged, but nodded.
It was a quiet crowd, a polite crowd and, largely, a devoted crowd. Some of the finer points of what was presented might have been new, but it was unlikely any of the attendees had come to be convinced of anything they weren’t at least sympathetic to.
There was music and an occasionally surreal stage show complete with lasers, disco lights, smoke machines, erupting cannons and a 10-foot-tall cutout of the Flatwoods monster. This was the festival trying to not take itself too seriously.
Author, illustrator and filmmaker Frank Feschino screened his documentary, “Shoot Them Down: The Night They Were Here.” The film was a companion piece to both of his books. Feschino’s first book, “The Braxton County Monster,” dealt with the story of the crash and encounter. The second, called “Shoot Them Down: The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952,” expands that story past that September 1952 night in Flatwoods.
The film was a mixture of interviews with some of the principle figures involved with the Flatwoods monster story, among them Freddie and Kathleen May, who say they saw the creature, and A. Lee Stewart, the owner of and reporter from the paper that first reported the incident.
Freddie May was scheduled to appear at the extravaganza but was unable to attend because of health problems.
“Shoot Them Down” explored the events around the Flatwoods monster incident. The film described a combative culture existing between the U.S. government and flying saucers.
“It was policy for the Air Force to shoot them down if they couldn’t be made to land,” he said.
Two hundred twenty-nine fighter planes had been shot down, he said. At least 199 pilots had been killed. But the flying saucers had taken losses, too.
Feschino explained the craft that was supposed to have crashed in Flatwoods might have been one of several that “buzzed” Washington and was chased.
Author, UFO researcher and nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman casually pulled apart the arguments against Earth being visited by beings from other worlds. It’s something he’s been doing for 30 years.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” he said. “The subject of flying saucers is a cosmic Watergate. None of the objections the debunkers use stand up under scrutiny.”
Friedman showed pictures of people who had seen spacecraft. He explained people who had seen and experienced contact with aliens came from all walks of life. Flying saucers, he said, weren’t the hallucinations of crazies living out in the middle of nowhere. They had been seen above major cities and by scores and scores of competent observers.
“The debunkers don’t want to be bothered by the facts,” he said. “It really is the biggest story of the millennia.”