Space Acorn - 1965 UFO
December 9, 1965. A fiery object rockets across the night and crashes into the woods northeast of rural Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. Some say that it's a copper-colored spacecraft, maybe 15 feet long, encircled by a band of writing like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Army arrives within hours, throws a tarp over the thing, and hauls it away on a flatbed truck. Everyone in town is told to forget about it. And almost everyone did.
Fast-forward to 1990. The TV show Unsolved Mysteries comes to Kecksburg to make a docu-drama about the obscure UFO. Since this was before the days of inexpensive CGI special effects, the producers build a life-size replica to use in their shots. After reviewing the sketchy first-hand accounts, they create a Space Acorn. When the film crew leaves town, the awkward prop is left behind. Kecksburg bolts it to the roof of the town's truck barn, and forgets about it for another 15 years.
2005. The 40th anniversary of the crash. Attitudes in Kecksburg are shifting. The town has heard about Roswell's and Area 51's UFO tourism bonanzas. It realizes that the Space Acorn could be grown into something profitable.
The oblong UFO is repaired and repainted an unfortunate shade of brown (making it look even more like an acorn). It's taken off of the roof and hoisted atop a pole on a very visible hillside, lit by spotlights at night. A UFO Store is opened across the street, in the back of the fire department's social hall and bar.
Ron Struble, head of the fire department's UFO Committee, sums up the town's epiphany. "If we can make a few bucks on this to help pay for a $300,000 truck," he tells us, "that's what we're gonna do."
We visited with Ron and with Stan Gordon, possibly the world's leading Space Acorn expert, on the grassy hill beneath the replica. Stan surveys the Acorn with a critical eye. "It should be longer, and the crown on this one is a little too wide," he says. "But it's very close. If you really look at it, it looks exactly like the capsules on our early space flights."
Ron was in a town south of Kecksburg on the night the Acorn landed, and recalls his neighbors seeing the bright streak across the rural skies. Stan meticulously chronicles the sequence of events for us, the roles of various witnesses and participants -- some whom only came forward decades later -- painting a picture of a bizarre extraterrestrial encounter and military cover-up.
Fireman Ron defers to Ufologist Stan on nearly all of the UFO historical details. While Stan has a researcher's earnestness about the Acorn, Ron seems both bemused and pragmatic. Whatever happened on that night in 1965, there are souvenirs to buy now.
Ron points north along the street and says that the thing came down on the far side of a nearby hill. The street was renamed "Meteor Road" in honor of the event, and copies of its green street sign are for sale in the UFO Store. "They can't keep 'em on the post," Ron says of the real sign. "If they're gonna steal 'em, we might as well sell 'em."
The UFO Store, although not yet bursting with merchandise, does have the advantage of being open whenever the bar is open, which is seven days a week, long into the night. The Space Acorn art on its t-shirts is well done, and Stan's 90-minute documentary DVD, "Kecksburg: The Untold Story," is a popular item.
Kecksburg is still getting comfortable with its UFO heritage, and the firefighters are nervous about their role as flying saucer boosters. "We're trying to keep this thing so it don't turn into a wacko museum," Ron says. He doesn't want the store to sell any "little green men" merchandise, although the lady behind the bar told us that people ask for just that kind of stuff all of the time.
2008 marked another turning point in Kecksburg: the first year the Space Acorn was invited into the town's annual Old Fashion Days. The festival was previously known only for its bed races and "Burn-Out Contest," where cars are chained to a concrete pad and spin their wheels until they burn up their tires. But it's now a UFO event as well, inviting experts into town to share their insights. "I want the researchers like Stan," says Ron. "I want to bring in the good people, so there's a little bit of stability and thinkability to this whole thing."
Of course if it was up to us, we'd have people in squirrel costumes attack the bed race, then drag researchers to their radioactive nut cache....
Next on Keckburg's agenda is a UFO-themed cafeteria selling UFO burgers and UFO Fries. An expanded UFO Store will include souvenir miniatures of the Space Acorn -- which will look great displayed next to souvenir miniature space monsters if the store starts stocking everything that its fans really want.
"It's kinda worked out pretty nice for us," Ron says of his town's belated fame. "I don't care if you're a believer or not. I don't care if it's ever solved. Just buy my shirts, buy my stuff here."