Thursday, April 26, 2007

Retro UFO Spaceship Convention in Landers

Integratron-2 With Saucer
The Press-Enterprise

      Sixty people shelled out as much as $225 apiece this past weekend to relive the days when thousands made annual pilgrimages to the San Bernardino County desert town of Landers to soak up the sun, breathe the clean air, stretch out under the stars and wait for the space aliens to land.

The attendance at Retro UFO2 was a disappointment, event organizers said, but there was no shortage of believers.

Frank Stranges, president of the National Investigations Committee on Unidentified Flying Objects, said 95 percent of the people who listened to his lecture were true believers.

They even gathered around him and embraced each other as he passed along the wisdom he says he got from "the commander," a space alien whose invisible space ship, the Victor One, is parked at Lake Mead.

Stranges, 79, of Chatsworth, first came to Landers in 1960 to attend a space convention at Giant Rock by George Van Tassel, a former test pilot for Howard Hughes.

Stranges said he has never seen an alien in the desert here.

"There is no reason for him to contact me here," Stranges said. "He meets me at my office, at my home, in a restaurant, or he'll meet me down at the courthouse."

Robert Short, 76, of Cornville, Ariz., said he met five extraterrestrials when he was sitting at a table next to Giant Rock in 1964.

"This family, a gentleman, his wife and a child came over with two other beings," he said. "The two other beings were a little over 5 foot tall and had short-cropped black hair, T-shirts and swarthy skin."

And they had no fingerprints.

Their leader, who did all the talking, wore a plaid lumberjack shirt and a cap and had a pipe in his mouth, Short said.

"He said to my wife, 'We understand that you get communication.' She said, 'Yes. We get our communication from Mars.' And he said, 'We get our communications from Venus.' "

Scientists have yet to discover life on Venus, Short said, because the Venusians have gone underground. Like most UFOlogists, as they call themselves, Short is convinced that there is a government cover-up of alien contact.

Keeping History Alive

The 200-member Morongo Valley Basin Historical Society organized Retro UFO2, the second such retro convention, to "bring back the history" of Van Tassel's conventions in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, said society promotion coordinator Barbara Harris.

"We have speakers here who are getting up in age and were part of the original UFOlogy time period," she said. "They carry with them a lot of information, a lot of experience and a lot of stories. It's all about the storytelling."

As many as 10,000 people would attend the events during the height of the conventions.

"Some of them brought tents that they erected behind their cars and some of them brought trailers they could sleep in," said Wendelle Stevens, 84, who first came in 1958. "They came in everything. Some even flew in airplanes."

As did Hughes himself, the story goes. He couldn't get enough of the apple pie baked by Van Tassel's wife and sold at the Come On Inn cafe they built next to the rock.

That's just one of the stories visitors share about the convention. Others range from alien flybys to the tale of Frank Critzer, a miner who dug out a home underneath Giant Rock in the 1940s, stored dynamite there and was blown to bits when a sheriff's deputy tried to root him out with tear gas.

Fascination With Integratron

But no story captures the imagination of Landers devotees quite like the Integratron, a two-story wooden dome that Van Tassel began building in 1953 and left unfinished when he died a quarter of a century later.

He claimed that a Venusian named Solganda implanted the plans for the Integratron in his mind.

The Integratron, with its giant outside armature, was supposed to generate 50 million volts of electricity, channel it inside the structure and allow people to travel through time. It was also supposed to regenerate bodies so humans could live longer.

"It's a crying shame that he didn't finish it before he died," Stranges says, "but I believe, in a time to come, somebody else might receive the information to complete it."

Van Tassel left no plans behind, but there are plenty of Integratron fans.

"I read about it in a coffee table book called 'L.A. Exposed,' which was full of weird things," says John Hickie, 37, who came from London for the convention. "There was one page about the Integratron. It didn't go into much detail. I read it and I was absolutely captivated by the story."

He has been a frequent visitor at the Integratron for the past five years.

"I wouldn't say it changes your life," he said. "Undeniably, there are special things about this place and the way it was built, without a single metal nail."

He doesn't buy into the alien visitor stories, although he said he spotted a UFO once.

Seeing Is Believing

Short believes it all.

"We are descendants of these visitors," he says. "They have actually showed up at the conventions. We were here last year. As a matter of fact, I've got photographs of the ship that showed up here last year around 8 o'clock."

"I was here that night," said Bob Connors, 78, of Yucca Valley, "and I didn't see a space ship."

Connors, president of the historical society, is skeptical about the aliens, but doesn't dismiss the Integratron.

"I like to think it would have worked," he said.

Harris, who organized the convention as a fundraiser for the society and to maintain the Integratron, added a new twist: a depiction of alien encounters with cowboys in the 19th century.

Many people, including skeptics, have seen aliens, but don't recognize them, she said.

"That's the thing about most of the aliens," Harris said. "You wouldn't know them. They look like the rest of us. They kind of blend in.

"For all you know, I might be one."

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