Sunday, July 4, 2021

Hoping to see UFOs for 1976 bicentennial Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! I promised more "saucer shenanigans" on June 2, so here we go with one tied to Independence Day. During the 1976 bicentennial (I was only 5, so I don't remember much), everything was tied into America's 200th anniversary. And I do mean everything; check out "17 vintage ads that prove everything was patriotic in the summer of '76."

With everything in 1976 reflecting the Spirit of 1776, why not UFOs, too? It was only natural, given that the 1970s were a decade in which the burgeoning UFO interest of the 1950s and 1960s was built upon by the likes of Project Blue Book, the Holloman Air Force Base conspiracy, Travis Walton's alleged abduction, and the bonkers books of Erich von Däniken.

Plenty of folks worked to commercialize the UFO fervor, so why not go one step further and meld aliens and the Founding Fathers (not literally, of course)?

Which brings us to this vintage tri-fold brochure. I've unfolded and scanned it for the two images at the top of this post. As you can see, it's advertising the "unique bicentennial experience" of the "1st official U.F.O. landing port" in Lake City, Pennsylvania. Lake City is a tiny borough in Erie County, northwestern Pennsylvania. You can imagine how it would have been an economic boon to draw UFO-fanatic tourism to the area that summer. It's a bit harder, however, to imagine aliens deciding to choose little Lake City as their landing spot.

[Possible Klingon conversation:
— naDev!
— qatlh?
— bIlughbej.]

But Lake City apparently had its paperwork in order. According to the fine print on the handy map (presumably for tourists, not aliens), the landing port at Lake Erie Community Park was "approved by the American Revolution Bi-centennial Commission under project #019429."

Because the last thing you wanted to do in the summer of '76 was get caught running an unauthorized landing area for extraterrestrials. 

So what's the story behind this?

For starters, Lake City does not shy away from this history. On the borough's official website, it states: "In 1976 Bicentennial celebrations were held throughout the year including a square dance, a quilt raffle, Miss UFO pageant and Sunday in the Park. The UFO landing site was created at the entrance of Community Park and captured worldwide attention." 

(I might need a separate post just to deal with the Miss UFO pageant. I haven't even fully wrapped my mind around the idea of the UFO landing port yet.)

In 2017, the website Weird Universe provided some more details about the history of the Lake City landing port. An excerpt:
"The landing port consisted of  'a grass-covered mound five feet high and 100 feet in diameter, bordered by red and blue lights.' A representative from the Tucson, Arizona Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization checked it out and said approvingly that he was relieved it wasn't 'a schlock thing.'"
Dayton Daily News. September 10, 1978. Screenshot from 

Two years after the bicentennial, in September 1978, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News reporter Bob Batz wrote a story about the landing port and how it had its origins in an idea by Lake City Chamber of Commerce president Jim Meeder. He had decided in 1976 that what "Lake City needed was a landing site for UFOs, just in case a craft from outer space ever took a notice to touch down," Batz wrote. Mayor Floyd Cornell was on board with the idea.

The commercialization further extended to bumper stickers, license plate holders, keychains and "other assorted doo-dads," Batz reported. Hundreds of people attended an event at the landing site on July 4, 1976, and "thousands" of tourists visited Lake City that summer, so the "little green men" gambit was a success.

But by 1978, the landing port had already become neglected.

"The grass on the site was permitted to grow high, and vandals caused considerable damage in the area," Batz reported. "It's in a sad state of disrepair. Lights that once made the landing site visible have been removed, as has the American flag that once flew atop a pole."

Batz wrote that neither Meeder nor Cornell wanted to talk much about the Spirit of '76 UFO endeavor.

"It got a lot of publicity in the newspapers and on the television and people (who) flocked here to see it really did put us on the map," Meeder told Batz. "But now well ... I don't know what's going to happen."

It's 45 years later and, while the tourism dollars are no longer rolling in, it's safe to say that one of Lake City's claims to fame remains secure. 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder whether the good people of Lake City weren't inspired by the St Paul, Alberta UFO Landing Pad. Constructed in 1967 for - you guessed it - Canada's Centennial, it's recognized by Guinness World Records as the first official UFO landing pad. This is not to take anything away from Lake City's project, which I note is the world's "1st official UFO landing port [emphasis mine]."

    An UFO enthusiast in my adolescence, I'd have visited both. As a skeptical adult, I've made made no attempt, though I'm happy to report that the St. Paul pad hasn't shared the same fate as the Lake City port.

    You may enjoy this two-year-old report from the CBC:

    For Canada's centennial, the Alberta town of St. Paul built a UFO landing pad ... but why?