The Other Roswell
By Ralph Vigoda - Inquirer Staff Writer

Visitors from outer space seem to love Kecksburg, Pa.
It was about 4:45 in the afternoon and Bill Bulebush was in his driveway, flat on his back under the dashboard of his Corvair, his head beneath the steering wheel, the tools he needed to install a CB radio in his hands, when he was startled by a strange, sizzling noise overhead. He craned his neck and looked through the windshield and saw a bright light speeding across the clouds so fast it seemed to set the sky on fire.
"I got out of the car and walked out toward the road where I could watch it," says Bulebush, 74, recalling the afternoon of Dec. 9, 1965.
"I went down over the hill toward the mountain, then I seen it coming back. It was like it couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to do. This thing floated and made a U-turn and headed into the ravine. I got in my car and took off over the back road."
That back road - a lightly traveled two-lane stretch then called Kuhn's Road and later rechristened Meteor Road - winds above the farmland and woods that make up Kecksburg, Pa., a crossroads community in Westmoreland County about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Bulebush parked his car, got out and looked down into the valley to see where the thing had landed. The landscape was familiar. Bulebush had lived there his entire life.
He grabbed a flashlight and walked down the hill into the woods. The tops of trees had been sheared in the same direction as the fireball's path. He smelled sulfur. Then he came upon it: an acorn-shaped object about the size of a Volkswagen bug, burnt orange in color, with a raised ring around the back and markings that looked like backward letters.
Frightened, his heart pounding wildly, Bulebush stood behind a tree, staring, expecting something to jump out - although he couldn't see how anything could possibly exit the strange capsule.
"There was no doors, no seams, no nothing," he says. "It laid there and arced for a while, like it was cooling down. If I'd had my camera, that picture would be worth a million dollars."
When other people started to rush into the woods, Bulebush decided to leave. He was afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I didn't want to be running around with this light shining and get shot for no reason," he recalls.
In the early darkness he made his way back to his car, went home and told his wife what he had seen. "She asked me, Did I stop at the club? Was I drinking? I said, No, no, I wasn't drinking. She said, You better not say nothing to anybody."
Bulebush followed her advice for nearly 25 years. Until one day when out of the blue Bulebush got a phone call from a man who said he'd spent decades researching UFOs and the mystery of Kecksburg.
Plenty of books have been written about Roswell, N.M. Hollywood has made movies. There's even a television series about the spot where an alien spacecraft crashed in 1947. Pieces of spacecraft were recovered, bodies were found and for the past half-century the American government has been covering up the truth. That, of course, is the legend, but it's a legend that has spurred a healthy tourism industry in the desert town and fueled a generation of conspiracy theorists.
Kecksburg never gained the same notoriety as Roswell. But for people who believe the government is not telling all it knows about unidentified flying objects, what happened there ranks just behind Roswell in American lore. And whether or not a visit from outer space occurred, one thing is indisputable: What happened in Kecksburg changed the small community forever.
"A lot of people don't talk to each other anymore on account of it," Bulebush says. "There's two people I went to school with, they have nothing to do with me. But I don't care at all. I know what I seen, and I ain't going to change my mind."
"You can still get into a fistfight over it to this day," adds Gene Lisker, 55, a real estate agent who has lived in the area most of his life.
Kecksburg is impossibly rural, farming country. Its up-and-down terrain is quiet. It has no stoplights, no post office and only about 150 people. It began in the 1800s as Ridgeview. Then the Keck family arrived and in 1907 opened a bottling plant where 100 people found jobs making pop.
"They had Big Stick ginger ale in a green bottle," says Ed Myers, who has spent all of his 74 years in Kecksburg and whose dad worked the filters at the plant. "It was good ginger ale."
There are still some Keck descendants in the area, but the plant is no more. Pepsi took it over. Then Pepsi left and now the plant is occupied by a company that makes pop-up tent trailers.
Just about the only other spot to work in Kecksburg is the store at Hutter's Dairy Farm, where you can get a quart of milk and some lunch meat. For serious grocery shopping you've got to drive four miles to Mount Pleasant, or seven miles to Latrobe (pronounced LAY-trobe).
When the 25th anniversary of the Kecksburg incident rolled around in 1990, a crew from the television program Unsolved Mysteries arrived. It spent a week in town re-creating the events of that long-ago Dec. 9, complete with a model of the mysterious craft. Some would-be entrepreneurs took a shot at earning a little money off the publicity, but after a few T-shirts and hats were sold things got back to normal. Which in Kecksburg means not normal at all.
Ed Myers was the town fire chief in December 1965. His first cousin, Jim Mayes, was the assistant fire chief. Shortly after the incident, Mayes talked to the press about seeing blue lights in the woods and told people he escorted the military to the capsule. Myers says Mayes had no business talking to reporters or anybody else about what happened that evening. Actually, Myers says, he should have done the talking because he was the fire chief. And here's what he would have said he saw: nothing.
Myers contends the whole crazy thing started when a woman called police to say her young sons might have seen a crash. There was a search. A couple of military guys from a nearby base arrived to help. No one found anything. End of story.
But, of course, it turned out to be just the beginning. The number of military men swarming into Kecksburg kept growing as the story got told and retold. People swore the soldiers were armed and that they threatened to shoot folks who got in their way. Some said they saw flashing lights and smoke in the woods. Some talked about a convoy of military vehicles and hushed meetings among officials. There were stories of men in space suits carrying boxes into the woods.
"I never saw anything," Myers declares. "And I was there all night. You had a few that know it didn't happen, and they talked anyway. See, I wouldn't go along with it."
To this day Myers believes people got so carried away that they started making up tales, thinking they'd get on television, hoping to cash in.
"I know one guy, he got $300 just for driving his old car in the movie," he says, referring to the Unsolved Mysteries show. "We was a pretty close-knit area. But it's not anymore."
What happened on Dec. 9, 1965 changed lives. It made enemies of friends. It ruptured families. Jim Mayes died five years ago. By then he and Myers had long since stopped speaking to one another.
The debate has endured because some swear they saw something and want validation, and because an opposite camp disputes all accounts of alien arrivals, finding them embarrassing to the community. And because a man named Stan Gordon will not let it go.
Stan Gordon, 50, sells electronics - televisions, radios, video equipment - but that's just his job. His letterhead identifies him in this way: "Researching the Unexplained Since 1959."
The date points back to the year he got a radio as a birthday present. It was Halloween eve and he was 10, living in Greensburg, Pa., in a house around the corner from his home today. He tuned in a program about ghosts and goblins and was hooked. He dashed to the library, took notes on the mysteries of unexplained phenomena and started a scrapbook, embarking on a lifetime of exploring events that seem to defy reason.
Though fascinated by mysteries - everything from UFOs to Bigfoot - Gordon says he is not fanatical. He hunts for rational explanations, and that's why in 1981 he founded the Pennsylvania Association for the Study of the Unexplained, a clearinghouse for reports of strange encounters.
"The majority of the cases are found to have a natural or man-made source," Gordon says. But a percentage of cases can't be easily explained. "And that's what makes it so intriguing."
Kecksburg is his biggest research project yet and, he says, one of the most interesting because so many things remain unknown.
Skeptics, Gordon says, need to stop mocking and concentrate on the information he's gathered over the past 35 years: Hundreds of people from Canada to Pennsylvania reported a fireball in the sky. Airline pilots believed a plane was going down that wintry evening. Witnesses said they found an odd-shaped craft partially buried in the woods. A Soviet space probe fell out of orbit on the very same day. People claimed they were told by military personnel not to talk about what they saw.
And after considering all that, try, just try, Gordon says, to believe the government's "official" story that nothing of significance occurred.
"Something did happen that day in Kecksburg and we still don't know what it is," he insists.
For more than two decades Gordon collected dribs and drabs of information. He located witnesses, some who would talk, some who would not.
In the 1980s one of Gordon's associates obtained a copy of the Project Blue Book report on Kecksburg. Project Blue Book, which operated from 1947 to 1969, was headquartered at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. It was an official arm of the Air Force charged with investigating UFOs. Spurred by sightings reported by military pilots, the investigations were taken seriously for the first few years. But by the early 1950s - the infancy of the Cold War - the Air Force decided that looking into every UFO report was taking too much time.
Nevertheless, during the project's 22 years, 12,750 sightings were investigated; 587 were marked "unidentified."
To those who believed the government was hiding something about Kecksburg, the inclusion in the Blue Book gave the Pennsylvania incident some legitimacy. But the Blue Book report discounted the entire thing. The records, now in the National Archives in College Park, Md., indicate that an investigation into the Kecksburg incident was performed, that a few military personnel assisted local authorities, and that what people saw was most likely a meteorite disintegrating as it fell toward Earth.
Gordon calls the Blue Book finding fiction.
"Blue Book said there were three Air Force personnel involved," Gordon says. "Well, we know there were more than three from all the eyewitness accounts. Blue Book said the search continued to 2 a.m. and nothing was found. People have told us there were military people down there the next day.
"The question is, where did these military people come from? You can't find any of the records for it. We've been searching for years."
In 1987 Gordon and some assistants set up a display about UFOs in a local shopping mall. One of those who passed the exhibit was Jim Romansky. He overheard a couple of people chatting, walked over and interrupted them.
"Excuse me," he said. "You're talking about Kecksburg, aren't you?"
That's right, he was told.
"Well," Romansky said, "I was there that night."
"I was just turning 18 and I was with the Lloydsville Volunteer Fire Department," Romansky, 54, says, retelling the story from his home in Derry, Pa. "I had seen something in the sky earlier that day and I thought in my mind, `Wow, a meteorite.' But I didn't pay it no attention.
"Not long after that the fire whistle went off, so I run up there. We received a report it was a downed aircraft. Myself and four or five other guys jumped into a truck and took off to Kecksburg, about 18 miles away."
When Romansky and his crew arrived at the Kecksburg fire station on Water Street, dozens of other volunteers were already on the scene, he says. One man laid out a large grid map and assigned teams to search different areas. Romansky was driven out to a field.
"We was into our grid area and we heard on our walkie-talkies that another team found where the object was and it wasn't so far from where we were, so we hightailed it over into a hollow and came upon the object.
"There were eight, nine, 10 guys there, standing around looking at this thing. I stopped and looked and said, `Whoa, this is no aircraft. What the hell is it?'
"It looked like a giant acorn. It was oblong and had a bumper around it and in back it was perfectly flat. I saw no doors, no motor, no windows, no seams, no rivets.
"But there were two unique things: one was the color, a golden bronze. It was a weird color. And the other thing was on this bumper . . . it looked like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Rectangles, lines and circles."
Soon afterward, Romansky says, a couple of guys came and ordered everyone out. One carried a small device that Romansky thought was a Geiger counter. They were followed by a contingent of military men who announced the area was being quarantined. Romansky and the others went back to the Kecksburg fire station. There, he says, it was "wall-to-wall military."
By this time the roads were jammed with news media, onlookers and state police, Romansky says. But no one was allowed back into the woods.
"We just hung around, and then we saw this big flatbed truck go into the woods and it's there an hour, hour and a half. And then it comes out, hell-bent for leather, and on the back of that truck was the object, covered by a tarpaulin, maybe 15 foot long, eight to 10 foot in diameter, big enough for a man to stand in."
The next day, Dec. 10, the newspapers were filled with the story. "Unidentified Flying Object Falls Near Kecksburg" read the headline in the Greensburg Tribune-Review. The article told how a fiery object was seen streaking across the sky by people in Canada and seven American states. A pilot from Ohio watched a fireball. A reporter from Erie said it left a trail of smoke. Coast Guard officials reported the object over Detroit.
Officials, the paper said, searched a 15-square mile area. Capt. Joseph Dussia of the state police at Greensburg was quoted as saying the search "uncovered absolutely nothing." He attributed the story of a crash to the "imagination" of two young boys.
"About the only thing that wasn't reported during the excitement," Dussia added, was "little green men getting out of a spaceship."
A spokesman for the 662d Radar Squadron at Oakdale, Allegheny County, which was called into the investigation, said no object was found. And Don Hays, who was at his farmhouse and about as close as anyone to the area where the object was supposed to have come down, told the newspaper he saw nothing.
On Dec. 11, two days after the event, the investigation was officially closed. Scientists and astronomers opined that the object was a disintegrated meteor and that, because it fell at sunset, observers could have been fooled into thinking it was close by when it was likely hundreds of miles away.
That's one reason Jim Romansky, like Bulebush, decided to stop talking about it. "I felt if you came out and said something, they'd send for the white wagon and put you away," he says. "But I know something happened."
So he kept his mouth shut for almost 25 years. Until that day he decided to go to the mall.
The Unsolved Mysteries episode aired in September 1990, despite an attempt to stop the broadcast by about 50 local residents who signed a petition addressed to the network.
After the show Gordon got a lot of calls. A truck driver said he remembered numerous conversations with other truckers over CB radios about a large military convoy on the highway heading toward Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And a man Gordon identifies only as Myron piped up with what is perhaps the most unusual tale.
Myron told Gordon he'd delivered a load of bricks to Wright-Patterson a few days after the incident, and while at the base had looked into a large building. Inside, he said, he saw an acorn-shaped object with unusual markings partially covered by a curtain. On a table nearby, covered by a sheet, was a body with a hand sticking out. He described its skin as "lizard-like."
Myron said he was told to keep his mouth shut by a man he assumed to be from the military, and he did for more than 25 years. But because he suffers from a bad heart and other ailments, he told Gordon, he came forward so the story wouldn't die with him.
"Look," Gordon says, "you're dealing with different intellects, different backgrounds of people, and I'm sure that after all these years certain little details have been changed slightly or gotten mixed up.
"But when you talk to these people, most of whom don't know each other, they're pretty much staying with the same story. And they're pretty much in the same ballpark."
Bob Young says they're full of beans.
Young is an amateur astronomer who gives shows and lectures at the state planetarium in Harrisburg. He, too, saw the Unsolved Mysteries episode and afterward asked a colleague at the planetarium if he had heard of Kecksburg. The answer was no. Young decided to dig for answers. His conclusion:
"It's an urban rumor. If you isolate the stories of the people who actually say they saw objects on the ground and armed troops and an armed convoy, there are really only a handful. And the stories get better as time goes on."
Young talked to Von Del Chamberlain, who was working at Michigan State University when the fireball appeared and later became director of the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Chamberlain wrote an article about the Kecksburg event for the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He plotted the object's track and its speed - nearly 9 miles per second, much too fast for a man-made craft entering Earth's atmosphere - and speculated that its orbit suggested it had come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
"It was clearly a meteorite event," says Chamberlain from Salt Lake City, where he's semiretired and teaching a college course in astronomy. "It's also a very typical event in many ways. The fireball, the trail that was left in the sky afterward, the sonic booms. And the confusion that results is also typical."
What happened in Kecksburg, he says, was this: People saw the fireball low in the sky, and the debris trail was lit up by the sunset, making everything appear extraordinarily bright and very close. The meteorite was traveling over Canada, to the east of Detroit, and its end point was somewhere over Lake Erie. "We're positive about that," Chamberlain says.
As for reports that people saw lights flashing in the woods, Bob Young says he has a statement from someone who was in high school at the time who says he ran through the woods with friends setting off a camera strobe light. Other flashes might have been made by news photographers.
And to those who say the object floated, slowed down or changed direction, there's this explanation: People were watching the bright vapor trail, which was likely buffeted by winds.
"But it's a good story," Young says.
Just a story?
Is it possible a craft really did fall out of the sky? Is it possible the military recovered it? Is it possible the government had a good reason to lie?
Yes, yes and yes.
On Dec. 9, 1965, Cosmos 96, a Soviet space probe headed toward Venus, failed. The U.S. Space Command said it crashed in Canada at 3:18 a.m. - nearly 14 hours before the Kecksburg incident. But this was in the middle of the Cold War, and it isn't farfetched to think the government might have recovered a piece of Soviet space debris in Kecksburg and wanted to keep it under wraps.
That would explain the supposed secrecy and military presence. It could also explain the markings on the craft that Bulebush, Romansky and others claim to have seen: The Russian alphabet can look like hieroglyphics.
In 1991 in yet another revisiting of the Kecksburg incident, James Oberg, an author, expert on Soviet spacecraft and oft-quoted UFO skeptic, concluded that the probe could not have landed in Kecksburg. But two years later in an article for Omni magazine, he suggested that perhaps only the rocket booster landed in Canada, leaving the possibility that the probe could have come down elsewhere.
"In the 1960s," he wrote, "U.S. military intelligence agencies interested in enemy technology were eagerly collecting all the Soviet missile and space debris they could find. International law required that debris be returned to the country of origin. But hardware from Cosmos 96, with it special missile warhead shielding, would have been too valuable to give back."
He suggests the government might have encouraged belief in an extraterrestrial visit as a convenient cover-up for its operation.
"Had such a thing happened, I hope they would have lied about it," Oberg says from his home in Texas, "because analyzing the weight of the heat shield materials on this spacecraft would have been crucial in determining the power of their nuclear missiles."
Stan Gordon wrote to the Russian space agency in 1995. He says he received a reply denying any connection between Kecksburg and Cosmos 96.
"So what was it?" Gordon asks. "What would cause people to react so emotionally over this for all these years? Is there more to this than we understand? These people have been living with this for years. They deserve answers."
And the truth is, he's not sure they'll ever get them.


This Site Served by TheHostPros