Michael A. Frizzell & Marcus Adams
Just before dusk, on the evening of September 12,
1952, five boys playing near the Flatwoods Grade School were sharply distracted
by a large fiery object they saw descend from the sky and disappear amongst
trees on a nearby hill. To further investigate the strange sight, two brothers
among the group (Fred and Eddie May) stopped at their home to get flashlights
and were joined by their mother, Kathleen, when she heard what they were up to.
Gene Lemon, a seventeen-year-old neighbor and National Guardsman, joined Mrs.
May and the five boys as they hiked up the mountain in search of answers. At one
point in their travel the group could perceive a large, dark object
“pulsating” on the ground some distance ahead of them. Within minutes, they
became aware of a fog-like mist in the area that carried an overpowering
“burnt metallic” stench. Though the group was nauseated by the odor, they
pressed on toward the dark object. Suddenly, a noise to their left, near an old tree,
attracted their attention. They trained their flashlights in the direction of
the sound. To their horror, they saw a monstrous being with a red face and
orange, glowing eyes. The creature was about twelve feet tall and had a head
enclosed by an “ace of spades” shaped helmet-like assembly that sat atop an
outward flaring cone. As the bizarre entity slowly floated toward them, the
terrified group quickly retreated from the mountain. As they all returned to the
May home, Mrs. May contacted local authorities to report the strange experience.
The event summarized above long ago became entrenched as a part of UFO lore, though with the retelling the accuracy of the story has apparently waxed and waned over the years.
Coleman announced that a festival would be held to commemorate the 50th
Anniversary of the alleged UFO encounter at Flatwoods, West Virginia. The event
was slated for September 12-14, 2002. Accomplished scientist and
Roswellian UFOlogist Stanton
Friedman was a scheduled lecturer along with Flatwoods Incident historian
and researcher, Frank Feschino, Jr.
Guests of honor for the affair were two of the original witnesses to the 1952
encounter, Kathleen May and her son
I was intrigued by the prospect of this event. For a number
of reasons, since the time I was a young boy, the Flatwoods Incident has
captivated me. Items of my interest were: that the case was
depicted as a Close Encounter of the Third Kind (a UFO sighting that includes an
alien interaction), that it had multiple witnesses and occurred in an extremely remote area, and that the details of the actual sighting remained somewhat
unique (fireball-type craft as opposed to a metallic disk or sphere,
unparalleled description of the “alien”, and the peculiar odor that
nauseated the witnesses). This case always went far beyond just another strange
light seen in the night sky.
On the morning of September 13, 2002 (Friday the 13th no less!) Marcus Adams and I left Baltimore, Maryland and headed for West Virginia. Nearly six hours and 305 miles later, we arrived at Flatwoods. A mere blink of a town, Flatwoods, West Virginia is nestled in a beautifully mountainous region of the state and sports a tidy population of about 450 people (150 more than the figure in a 1952 news article). Although it has been variously described, one reference decrees it to be “a small town with a big secret.”
Upon our arrival we were directed to a rustic general store
in the center of town within which, we were told, all the action was taking
place. On the grounds around the store several tables had been set with vendors
selling food, trinkets, and tomes of local folklore. Though the store did not appear
as a likely venue in which you would find a UFO function, we were quite
mistaken. As we entered the building, amidst large wooden bowls of aromatic potpourri,
we spied UFO books and pamphlets, copies of the MidState Star (a well written Gassaway, WV newspaper whose
current issue was dedicated to the Flatwoods Incident), many Tee shirts
germane to the affair, and several curious ceramic statues crafted to resemble
the Flatwoods Monster. Amidst the creaking of the wooden slat floors, we could
hear the resounding tones of Mr. Friedman, whose lecture was already in
progress. A wall, which divided the store, separated us from the activities. We
quickly exited the store and re-entered through an adjacent store front door and
discovered that an annex of the building had been converted into a lecture hall
and museum. The walls of this room were adorned with enlarged photos, drawings,
posters, and news clippings of the 1952 Flatwoods UFO encounter. The lecture
hall was arranged with about 30 folding chairs, all of which were filled,
forcing a number of people (ourselves included) to stand for the duration of the
Predictably, Stanton Friedman’s lecture was superb. He is
an accomplished public speaker. For the most uninformed listener, he skillfully
launched into a “UFOs 101” history primer and (to accommodate research
veterans) quickly progressed into the areas of his greatest expertise: the
alleged UFO crashes of
1947 New Mexico and the Majestic
After the Stanton’s lecture concluded I discovered, to my
delight, that among the spectators in the hall was one George
D. Fawcett. A personable 73 year-old UFOlogist from Lincolnton, North Carolina, George
has been a lecturer and researcher of the UFO phenomenon for decades and, as in
the case of Mr. Friedman, has
achieved living legend status. The opportunity to finally meet him at this event
was a personal pleasure for me as I have been following his work for many years.
As I walked through the museum hall, I saw Fred May studying news clippings on the wall and introduced myself. I found him to be a most genuine, friendly, and matter-of-fact gentleman. Since he is an actual witness to the alleged encounter (he was 11 years old at the time), I was curious about his recollections of the event. He basically re-echoed the experience as summarized above, but also clarified several additional details.
Fred May explained that the strange odor that pervaded the encounter scene was akin to the smell of burned electrical circuits. He emphasized that while the odor was disagreeable and created some minor discomforts, it did not produce the extreme vomiting that so many newspaper articles claimed at the time.
He surprised me by saying that the typical illustration of the Flatwoods Monster--the one that's been in circulation for over four decades--is not fully representative of the strange entity they encountered. He went on to say that the 1952 illustration was produced by a New York artist who embellished upon actual descriptions to make the "monster" seem more menacing. May insists the entity that he and the others saw more resembled a "machine" than anything biological. Modern illustrations, as produced by Frank Feschino, clearly show these features.
also noted that there was after-the-fact government/military involvement in
the event. He stated that shortly after the encounter, military personnel
arrived and cordoned off the scene of the experience. He claimed that uniformed officers
and plain-clothes men were present on the mountain. During that time, he said, curiosity seekers were sternly told to leave the area by military personnel and that the Flatwoods Sheriff’s authority was superceded during
their stay (Interestingly, the 1952 newspaper accounts that I've read of the
incident were devoid of these details).
[Note- Subsequent to our Flatwoods trip, in correspondence with Gary Harris, Publisher/Editor of the MidState Star newspaper, we learned that he actually accompanied A. Lee Stewart (reporter for the Braxton Democrat) to the encounter site on the morning of September 13, 1952 (the day following the main event). Mr. Harris reported to us that he observed a sizeable number of National Guardsmen conducting an investigation of the mountain scene.]
Unfortunately, we were only able to visit the festival on Friday. However, the itinerary mentioned that the events for Thursday (opening day) included an actual hike up the mountain to the original scene of the 1952 experience. We regret that we were not able to participate in that activity. We can only assume that it was a stroll full of unique recollections. Also regrettable, is that we were unable to speak with Frank Feschino during our brief visit. Frank has devoted ten years of research to the Flatwoods encounter that will culminate in a book, soon to be published.
News articles that presaged this quaint event, credit Flatwoods Mayor Margaret Clise and researcher Frank Feschino, Jr. for the development of Monster Festival. If that is the case, we must tip our hats to them. Their idea to honor the 1952 encounter was, in our opinion, successful. Marcus and I enjoyed the entire affair.
© 2002 The Enigma Project, All rights reserved on text and photographs