UFO Conference’s Search for Truth
by Joshua Heston
Eureka Springs, Arkansas. A cool April night. Across the valley, the outstretched arms of the “milk-jug” Jesus reaches my way from East Mountain. The castle hotel balcony upon which I am sitting is known for a lady in white who dissolves in green mist as she plummets from the third floor.
Westward, countless stars dance above southern pines whose top clusters appear cloud-like in the yellow light of the Crescent Hotel. The tree trunks are all but invisible and the black-green needles seem to float high above, detached in the darkness. Separate. Weird. Alien. What mysteries lurk in the stars? I wonder.
Eureka Springs — eccentric, diverse, eclectic, you pick the adjectives from there — is a tiny Victorian community precariously nested between two mountains. This place has long been a strange mix of uproarious hillbillies, rich redneck tourists, hippie artists and LGBT activists. Eureka Springs has also been home to one of the nation’s most popular UFO conferences, begun here in 1987 by the late Lucius O. Farish.
Farish was a “metaphysical author, researcher and pioneer in hypnosis and past-life regression.” The conference is a “gathering place for top experts and investigators in the field of UFOs, extraterrestrials, lost civilizations, crop circles and otherworldly phenomenon.” After Farish’s death in 2012, Dolores Cannon and daughter Julia run the event.
“Would you like to try the orgone generator?” says the short, heavy man with a Chicago accent. It is the next morning and I am making my way through the convention’s crowded vendor floor. The “orgone-generator” booth is wedged between the guy with a large copper plate plugged into a wall outlet — “to help you ground your energy” — and a vast, makeshift bookstore of Wicca how-to, alternative medicine and tarot card readings. I turn back to the man with the Chicago accent. He hands me a resin pyramid with shiny things inside. “These larger ones are cloud busters,” he continues, “and they keep away the grays, the drakes and the whites.”
I blink. “They keep away what?”
“Aliens,” he says as though it’s manifestly obvious. “The grays, drakes and whites don’t like orgone energy.”
Clearly, I need to catch up.
Broadly speaking, the UFO community is made up of two schools of thought: either aliens are real and are here to help us, or aliens are real and mean us great harm.
“I prefer to stay positive,” explains Race Hobbs, founder of KGRA, an internet-based talk radio network. “Julia Cannon and her mother Dolores work hard to keep things as positive as they can. There is a faction who believe these [aliens] are terribly evil. Julia is ever-mindful of the power of positive thinking.”
Hobbs is a friendly bear of a man who grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. An on-air radio personality since 1985, he has a UFO story of his own.
“It was 1990 and I was on the radio. A listener called me, said he was on a highway 10 miles from the studio, and there was an object over his car. He said the object looked like a black submarine with a blinding light in the front of it. I put the caller on hold, ran outside — the studio had a panoramic view of the valley — and I saw a sparking-bright, shimmering light about 30 degrees off my horizon, floating from right to left. The light looked like a welders’ arc.
“After that I started a little research investigation group and [also] joined the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).”
Later that day, the positive thinking took a leap upwards during author Whitley Strieber’s lecture. The darkened room was packed as I settled into a back row.
“They are coming slowly along, struggling with our gravity,” Strieber was saying. “Look at them! What they hell they must think we look like?” In the grainy video, tall white aliens with bulging heads walk gangly-legged into view. The crowd inhales as one and begins murmuring to one another. Whitley continues, “Isn’t it amazing? And quite wonderful.” There is soft laughter. Heads nod in affirmation. I feel as though I’m watching a surreal nature show. The poofy-headed aliens gander off as I try to rein in my skepticism.
Strieber’s book Communion was his “true story” of an “elaborate personal encounter with intelligent nonhuman beings.” Stacks of his best-selling books are available for sale. “Old thinking says there are aliens from this planet or that,” he furthers. “New thinking is the human mind winking back from the dark. This is real power. Trust it.”
I resist the urge to snicker.
Nick Pope, freelance British journalist and former British Government’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) employee explains, “It is a bizarre mix. There are fantastically intelligent, insightful people asking hard questions. There are true believers with their minds made up. Sometimes they are fearful. On the other side are those with a New Age approach — our galactic brothers and sisters making crop circles and reaching out to us in a happy-clappy way.
“Some people think I’m the bad guy. Many think governments around the world know the truth about UFOs. Hand on my heart, the British government does not know and we don’t have a spaceship hidden away. But the MoD investigated about 12,000 sightings and had around 60,000 pages on the subject. Why are our own pilots seeing these things? Why can we track them on radar? I’m not saying they are alien but this is more than weather balloons and swamp gas.”
For John Burroughs, former US Air Force, the questions are more personal. Burroughs was stationed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, England on December 26, 1980. Strange lights were seen in the nearby Rendlesham Forest. Burroughs and others were sent to investigate. “Different people saw different things,” he says. “I saw a red oval object with blue, orange and white lights within it. Another saw an oval object that exploded into a triangle object.” Burroughs was later diagnosed with heart failure as a result of UAP radiation exposure.
“There is a stigma to [those] who attend UFO conferences,” explains Micah Hanks, author and personality of The Gralien Report and Mysterious Universe. A Dr. Who aficionado and bluegrass guitarist, Hanks’ North Carolina accent is evident as he speaks. “You’ll hear people laughing about tinfoil hats but the people I interacted with during the conference included a present government employee and a chemist.
“And then there are hard-core UFO researchers like David Marler who say, ‘Let’s focus on what we have observed. On that, the consensus is there appears to be a phenomenon that is at times dismissed by science.”
Marler was also presenting so I settled into the back row again, this time for a lecture on “The UFO Invasion of 1950: Farmington, New Mexico.” As Marler began sharing his research, a few New-Agey attendees looked bored.
“By the third day, flying saucers were reported over Farmington. Fully half of the population saw anywhere from ‘several’ to ‘more than 500’ UFOs. Some [UFOs] appeared to play tag. Some were seen streaking away at high speeds. Some were estimated to be ‘twice the size of a B-29.’”
Marlo Webb, a 91-year old former Navy pilot, told Marler, “These things were clustered, pretty much in formation, with 15 to 20 in one cluster. They looked like saucers. I looked northwest and they were flying east to west [against the wind]. There was no noise, no contrails. They made course changes abruptly. I thought they were under intelligent control.”
Official explanations would include a burst Skyhook balloon or floating desert milkweed blossoms.
As the slides conclude, Marler invited Virgil Riggs of Aztec, New Mexico, to the podium. Riggs was in third grade in 1950 and would grow up to become a military and commercial pilot.
“It was a blanket of dots traversing the sky, southwest to northeast, first over Farmington, then Aztec,” said Riggs without fanfare.
“The formation was very geometric, like dominos. Shiny, silvery dots, nine or 12 in formation, extra dots floating around. The next day you couldn’t count them all. They were stable and slow-moving and at airline level, 13,000 to 30,000 feet. There were high cirrus clouds the first day. The second day was very clear and they stood out vividly. The third day there were a lot less, probably 30 of these squares. Then we never saw them again. I remember the teacher crying. We [students] were disappointed when they didn’t come back.”
Chillingly, a similar event was recorded on April 14, 1561, over Nuremberg, Germany.
Shaken, I headed downstairs to talk to Larry Cekander, owner of the “Museum of the Unexplained” in Reeds Spring, Missouri. His booth’s centerpiece is a tapered, aluminum blob called the “Rosetta Stone of UFO physical evidence.”
Cekander is a heavy man in a black biker jacket and airbrushed t-shirt. Behind him, an eight-foot green alien is slowly deflating. “Would you blow that back up?” he asks his granddaughter and then turns his attention to me.
“I’ve worked with metal all my life,” he explains, “and the first time I saw the object, I knew it was like nothing I’d ever seen. The scaling effect is only possible if the alloy is molten in a vacuum. The alloy is made of 33 elements. Normal aluminum has nine to 11.”
He hands me the artifact and it is surprisingly heavy. “It is radioactive,” says Cekander. I must look startled. He laughs. “But at safe levels. Otherwise we’d glow in the dark and parts would be falling off. I’m not as dumb as I look!”
Cekander produces pages of documents showing graphs, charts and metallurgy data from numerous labs, including Los Alamos. His friend Bob White — a performer who moved to Branson from Kansas City — was the metal blob’s first owner. White, killed in a car accident in 2009, said he found the metal after an apparent 1985 UFO disaster in Colorado.
“Bob saw a light the size of a three-story building. It took off, connected with two stacked lights, there was an explosion, and this piece came back to where the big light started. That’s his sworn affidavit. He passed four polygraph tests.”
The green alien behind Cekander is going flat again, the thing’s head drooping on the railing. I think of the radiation and gingerly place the metal blob back on display. It’s awe-inspiring to think this lump could be from outer space and crafted by extraterrestrials but I know nothing of metallurgy. There’s no way I can determine the authenticity of the scalloped bit of shiny there on the table. I’m sure there are labs confirming certain bits of data just as I’m sure there are experts decrying this object as a hoax.
But the experts could be lying, says a voice in my mind. The world becomes darker, less defined. Am I becoming the “other people” I was snickering at a few moments ago?
“Be careful! If you’re nice to us your friends are gonna laugh,” cautions Chase Kloetzke. Kloetzke is a spunky firebrand and former employee with the Department of Defense. Her husband is active duty Navy. A certified private investigator, she is unapologetic about her work. “I investigate UFOs. People at receptions look at me and go, ‘You do what?’ It’s politically correct to roll your eyes and not be the guy who believes in aliens. But in private, I’ll be darned how many times I’ve been told of sightings.”
“It’s a career killer,” explains Hobbs. “Pilots won’t come forward. The government made interest in UFOs out to be cooky. They wanted to suppress the information. But a small portion really knew the truth. They had experienced events themselves and chose to believe their own eyes rather than the government. I’ve seen people ridiculed after they are exposed to an encounter. They may be doctors, ditch diggers, teachers, and they are completely derailed. Everything they believed or understood to be reality is gone.”
Perhaps it really is Erich von Däniken’s fault, I muse. I’m sitting in the conference center’s main room, eating a raspberry pastry. One table over, Däniken — best-selling Swiss author and keynote speaker — is being plied for autographs by three teenage boys. The 80-year old is the biggest celebrity here. His 1968 book Chariots of the Gods was a game-changer for the UFO community. In the book, he postulated the “ancient alien hypotheses,” saying aliens visited earth during antiquity, shared technology and impacted numerous cultures.
“Chariots of the Gods was permission to ask questions that couldn’t be asked,” explains Kloetzke before going on to share her own 2010 alien encounter in central Tennessee.
“A witness — a MUFON case — had reported lights. I felt he was credible. He called me and said, ‘Things are starting’ so we hurried out there. I step out of car and he’s already pointing up. All of a sudden I see these little points like stars, but they would move into formation, make little independent dances, then shoot off in different directions.
“We go into a cornfield down the road and he got really excited, saying, ‘Here it comes!’ This time I saw a brighter white light. Then — bing, bing — two more lights show up. I realize it is a huge triangle flying overhead. I’m snapping my camera and nothing is happening. The equipment came back on after the triangle had passed.
“All of a sudden, I said, ‘Does anybody feel like we’re being watched?’ I felt this fear — it’s hard to describe because it was physical, fight-or-flight times a thousand — in every cell of my body. I turned and started running. The witness and other investigator began running at the exact same time.
“We’re hauling and suddenly — bam! — I hit the witness in front of me. He said, ‘What the f—k is that?’ His flashlight beam was on a little gray being not six feet from us. He looked between three and three-and-a-half foot tall. His legs were so tiny. The eyes were almond-shaped but they weren’t cute. It didn’t flinch when the light hit it. And then we ran again! It was embarrassing. I was a trained professional but it felt as though there was some kind of hive mind or control happening. We went back and there was not a single footprint in the muddy field except ours.”
The hair on the back of my neck kept standing up and the life-size alien doll in the corner wasn’t helping. The world had gone topsy-turvy — but maybe for the better. We are social creatures ever in search of a herd. Society provides safety as long as we conform. Experts, the leaders of society, say extraterrestrial experiences are hoaxes, weather balloons, swamp gas, or overactive imaginations.
Provable or not, these conference-goers’ experiences have changed them, forcing them from the safety of the herd and making them vulnerable to ridicule and marginalization. And so they gather in Eureka Springs each April to talk, listen, and hope.
Do I believe? I don’t know.
But I do know our world is better because the questions are being asked and because we’re still willing to listen.
— Originally published April 2017
The Gralien Report
Museum of the Unexplained