Published: 4:48 AM 8/11/2014
On a chilly Saturday night in November 1974, three teenage boys lit up a Carbondale silt pond and sparked a UFO legend that still glows 40 years later.
The boys, including Robert Gillette Jr., reported to police on Nov. 9 they saw “a red, whirring ball fly over Salem Mountain and into the mine pond.”
What would become known as the “Carbondale UFO” drew police officers, military, UFO enthusiasts and curious spectators from across the country. The glow lasted nine hours. After two days, a diver emerged from the murky waters with nothing but an old railroad lantern in hand.
Twenty-five years later, Mr. Gillette admitted throwing the battery-powered lantern into the pond to scare his sister, but the legend lives on.
The city plans to mark the upcoming 40th anniversary of the “close encounter” during the Pioneer Nights - Ethnic Heritage Festival with the Carbon D. Alien Regatta on Saturday.
Alex Kelly, co-owner of Icon Technologies, grew up down the road from the silt pond. He doesn’t remember any UFOs or little green men but he does recall the “chaos the next day.”
“There were cars everywhere, we couldn’t get out of our driveway,” he said.
A Scranton Times reporter described seeing licenses plates from 17 states and Canada at the pond. A story published on Nov. 12, 1974, reports that crowds showed up from New York and Connecticut. Every regional newspaper, radio and television station was live from the scene including a three-man news crew from Philadelphia. UFO specialists from New York, New Jersey and Northwestern University in Illinois investigated. A lengthy report by Matthew J. Graeber from the UFO Research Investigation Center in Philadelphia is still on file today at the Carbondale Historical Society.
Police manning the overwhelmed phone lines reported calls from as far away as England. People of all backgrounds and occupations surrounded the pond behind Russell Park, making the light in the water the lesser of then-police chief Francis Dottle’s worries. He was more concerned about the masses on the shore.
Mr. Kelly said believers and non-believers of the legend are separated into a few groups. Some believe the glow was caused by a lantern thrown into the pond. Others insist a craft from outer space landed in the small pond and the government covered it up.
One popular theory is that the illumination came from a fallen spy satellite, maybe from Russia, maybe from the United States, he said.
Jim Racht, also a co-owner of Icon Technologies, said, “People either roll their eyes or say, ‘Yeah, they took something out of there.’”
Involved with the Carbondale Historical Society and the Route 6 Task Force, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Racht began researching the event after an interview for WVIA’s My Town documentary about the city. Mr. Kelly said when Michele Bannon, city clerk, suggested including the UFO landing in the town’s history, the two men raised their hands and got to work. One question they asked themselves was if there was a UFO, who was drove the craft?
Shortly after the documentary premiered in 2012 the two men started the website, carbondalien.com. The site features old and new photos of Carbondale doctored to include the life-sized green extraterrestrial plastic figure, which they took to the WVIA documentary premiere. A comprehensive history of the lore is also on the site.
In Mr. Racht’s 2010 book about the history of Carbondale, he dubs the incident the “Birth of a Suburban Legend.”
Sitting in their office next to a nearly five-foot-tall green extraterrestrial-looking figure wearing a white T-shirt, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Racht said one thing that most Carbondale residents agree that a flat bed truck hauled something covered by a blue tarp away from the scene all those years ago.
What it concealed remains a mystery.
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See the UFO Casebook case file, The Carbondale UFO Crash, 1974