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Virginia Is For…Ufos?

UFO festival invades small Virginia town

The UFOs are here! Photo courtesy of author.

Thirty-five years ago, my hometown was dubbed “The UFO Capitol of the World.” We are nowhere near Roswell, New Mexico, but nestled in the mountains between North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee, with Kentucky a bit further away. When I was about eleven years old, my hometown was abuzz with rumors about UFOs. In the days before kids pranked one another with drones, people saw flashing lights and other things in the skies. These stories fascinated and intrigued me. My family didn’t have a telescope, but I did have some binoculars. I set up a spot in the yard and aimed the lenses at the sky and I waited…

And I waited. I was eventually thrilled to see a flashing light in the sky, but much to my disappointment, I deduced that it was an airplane.

But other folks were seeing UFOs in 1987.

They saw something in the skies over the Wytheville area. Some witnesses saw flashing lights in the sky. A witness described a giant floating cube in the sky.  Sometimes the lights and the crafts moved in ways that seemed impossible at the time. A couple from Ohio reported being run out of the road by a UFO. At first, the sightings were viewed with skepticism and amusement. As the viewings continued, eyes turned to the heavens and attention grew. As the story spread, some witnesses were intimidated and ridiculed, but they continued sharing their stories. Eventually, a book was written, t-shirts were printed, and Unsolved Mysteries filmed a segment about the sightings. Ever since then, I have kept looking into the night sky with wonder. Despite my best efforts, I only saw stars, planets, and more airplanes.  I didn’t see any UFOs in Wytheville until last month.

Triangular black photo opportunity set with lights.
Beam me up! Photo courtesy of the author.

I finally saw a UFO in 2022.

In June, I strolled into our local community center to see some UFOs. The Wytheville UFO Fest was held on June 11.  A triangle-shaped UFO display adorned the lobby for photo-ops. The festival was well organized and well attended. The event was split between a vendor area and a speaker stage. I perused the vendor area and chatted with the MothBoys, who have a “comedy podcast on cryptids, conspiracies, and the unknown.” My attention was drawn to Weird and Wild West Virginia, and I talked with Angel Johnson of Starryeyedartist Designs. I also visited with Ashley Hilt, Fortean Investigator. Merchandise and fans of cryptids, aliens, science fiction, and all things unusual packed the room. Prices were reasonable and aliens like Mothman, The Flatwoods Monster, Wendigo, and Bigfoot looked at me from every angle of the room. What is the actual term for the plural of Bigfoot? I’m wondering because there were many representations of this elusive cryptid in the room.

I looked around and recognized many fans as friends and people I grew up with.

Alien with blue face, yellow eyes, and exposed brain wears a t-shirt that declares "Stay Weird"
Please stay weird!
Photo courtesy of the author.

I talked with many folks who had traveled significant distances for this event. I am used to traveling to places several hours away for events like Mad Monster Party and Oddities, but here this event was in my own backyard. Did I mention all of this was free to attend? There is another festival happening in Northern West Virginia on August 6 in Morgantown, WV. Cryptid Bash II is ahead and is also free. No one was sure if the Wytheville UFO Fest will continue as an annual event, but it was out of this world.

They wrote the book.

There is an updated copy of the book, Don’t Look Up, The Real Story Behind the Virginia UFO Sightings, and I talked with the authors. Danny Gordon, a retired reporter and radio personality, and Paul Dellinger, a reporter, also gave speeches at the festival. Mr. Dellinger discussed the science fiction genre, and Mr. Gordon spoke about the sightings and his involvement in the spread of information about them. He shared about how these events had changed his life, and some ways were not positive at all.

Seeing a UFO would be life-changing in itself. Gordon’s life took unexpected turns after the sightings. He described unforeseen events, threats, health concerns, a break-in at his house, phone calls at all hours. His son was the victim of a shooting at a drunken party. Witnesses first reported that the shooters were two men wearing black. Those witnesses recanted, and Gordon’s son survived the incident, although he lost his eyesight. That tragedy ended Gordon’s UFO involvement for a period of time.

I hadn’t heard these stories through my adult lens and hadn’t understood the full impact when the sightings were widespread. No one made reports of abductions or alien sightings. Eager listeners packed the lecture hall to hear his experiences. I sat on the floor against the back wall and observed the room. As I looked around the room, I noticed many young people who couldn’t have even been alive 35 years ago when UFOs circled Wytheville. The next generation is turning up to hear this unique history.

A crowd listens to a speaker on stage at the Wytheville UFO Fest.
Danny Gordon talks about his experiences to a full house.
Photo courtesy of the author.

What were they seeing?

No one is sure exactly what inhabited the skies in the Wytheville area in 1987. Was it a top-secret military operation?  An aerial refueling mission? Was it the Russians? Were the spacecraft from another planet? Did highly evolved humans from the future come back to visit? Were the crafts from other dimensions? Was it all the work of clever hoaxers who could keep a secret for decades? Will we ever know the truth? These are only some of the questions raised by the UFO sightings 35 years ago.

No one has ever uncovered definitive answers. But the stories remain. I’m still here on the edge of my seat listening to the stories and am eager to talk with the people who did see something in the sky while they are still able to tell their stories. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching the skies and will likely just continue to see airplanes, stars, planets, and drones.

One Comment

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  1. I just watched the Unsolved Mysteries segment on this topic. I live about 2 hours north of Wythville. In October 1987 I was 2 months old so I obviously don’t remember any of this when it occurred.

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Written by Sarah Sigfried

Sarah Sigfried hails from the rural mountains of Virginia. She has enjoyed horror movies and ghost stories since childhood. A mental health clinician by day, she spends her leisure time creating nightmares. She dabbles in makeup special effects and horrifies her friends and neighbors each Halloween. Sigfried is an emerging author and is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. She dominates pub trivia on horror-related topics and especially enjoys classic horror movies and 1980’s horror comedies. She lives with her spouse and their cat, Sam in a home originally built by a family of morticians.

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