Although it happened more than 46 years ago, Curtis Walker remembers it as if it were ... oh, maybe 45 years ago.
Which is to say it was highly memorable, but 46 years is still 46 years.
When he first started telling me about it, Walker thought he remembered doing something he couldn’t possibly have been doing when the weird thing that happened happened.
He was just 10 at the time. We know this wasn’t a childhood fantasy, though, because whatever he saw was seen by a whole bunch of other folks and reported in the next day’s Beacon Journal.
The headline on the Dec. 10, 1965, story read, “Many Here Saw Fireball, But Where Did It Go?”
Some of the eyewitnesses thought it ended up in Bath Township, but we now know it ended up in Kecksburg, Pa., flaming its way into UFO lore.
To believers in alien spaceships, Kecksburg apparently ranks only a notch below Roswell, N.M., in their pantheon of pleasures.
Here’s what happened, according to a lengthy story in the Beacon:
“Akronites glancing skyward about 4:45 p.m. Thursday were among those startled to see a fireball sweeping across the sky.
“Descriptions of the phenomenon were nearly all the same from observers who called the Beacon Journal.
“Many said they believed it had fallen somewhere in Bath Township. At the time, it was not known that a similar object had been seen by hundreds of viewers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and as far away as Canada.”
Walker, who grew up in Akron and now lives in Jackson Township, remembers seeing it in the company of his mother, father (a longtime Akron physician) and younger brother.
“A huge fireball flew through the sky,” he recalls. “It gave off enough orange light — the color of a heat lamp — to cast a shadow.
“This was all-over light. It was sci-fi material. Truly awesome — in the actual definition of the word, not the ridiculously abused contemporary one.”
Recently Walker was watching a TV show about Kecksburg when he realized his fireball and Kecksburg’s fireball were one and the same.
Walker recalled seeing it while sitting at the Rubber Bowl during an Acme-Zip football game. But that’s impossible, because that game was played Sept. 18. Akron’s season ended in November. And neither the Dec. 9 nor Dec. 10 edition of the Beacon mentioned a high school game or any other Rubber Bowl event.
The University of Akron says that, although its archives don’t show any activity that day, that doesn’t necessarily mean some type of event wasn’t held.
Walker’s fuzziness on the details is actually quite fitting, because when it comes to this story, nobody seems to know exactly what happened.
Well, maybe some folks do, but they worked for the military and are either not talking or dead. (Maybe both.)
In that first day’s story, an astronomer from the University of Michigan was quoted as saying the object was “undoubtedly” a meteor.
A Defense Department spokesman said it must have been a natural phenomenon because all of its aircraft and missiles were accounted for.
The Canton Repository said “an American Airlines pilot flying near Toledo at 33,000 feet altitude reported that he saw a satellite booster burning and exploding on re-entry and trailing smoke.”
Stories in dozens of other media outlets said the object landed in Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, and that folks who saw it flocked to the scene, but most were stopped by military officials who quickly roped off the area.
Some folks who lived near the crash site and arrived before the military supposedly said they saw an acorn-shaped object the size of a small car.
Reporters said the Air Force and Army were swarming all over the place. The news director of a Pittsburgh radio station who conducted interviews at the scene claimed his tapes and photos were confiscated weeks later while he was in the middle of putting together a radio documentary.
During the intervening half-century, a slew of books and TV documentaries have suggested the fireball could have been everything from a meteor to the Soviet Union’s Venus probe to an experimental U.S. craft that was quickly hidden. Or, of course, an alien spaceship.
Researchers have been badgering authorities for years for more information. A 2007 wire story in the Beacon Journal said NASA had agreed to search its archives again after failing to come up with anything in 2003, when a reporter filed a Freedom of Information request.
NASA again found nothing. Coincidence or conspiracy? (Cue spooky music.)
Walker views all talk of aliens as “crappola.” But, he adds, “the fact is that something big, either a man-made satellite or a large meteor, flew over our heads in Akron that day. ...
“I can’t overstate how incredible this was to see.”
Anybody else remember it?
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.