The city of Carbondale is nestled among rolling hills in the Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. Carbondale had been a "boom" town in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, being it was home to both the first underground coal mine and the first commercial railroad system in the United States. The first 100 years of Carbondale's existence had been marked by tremendous growth and prosperity. However, by November of 1974 those days were over.
In the two decades leading up to the seventies Carbondale had suffered one loss after another. In the post-war years of the 1950's the two main industries responsible for the city's prosperity, and for that matter it's very existence, hand dwindled to near extinction. The rapidly developing interstate system and growth in commercial trucking put most of the nation's railroads out of business. The Knox Mine Disaster in Pittston, PA in the early 50's coupled with stiff market competition from natural gas and oil effectively ended underground coal mining in the Northern Anthracite Fields. While still reeling from the disintegration of its mainstay industries, the city would be hit with a near knockout blow in the early 1960's.
Since the 1940's an underground mine fire had been smoldering under the city's West Side, viewed as little more than a nuisance to local residents and a sideshow-like spectacle to curious visitors. By 1961 it had become clear that this nuisance was growing in size and intensity and was rapidly becoming a major public safety issue. By 1963 local, state and Federal resources had come together with a comprehensive plan to deal with the mine fire, they would dig it out. This effort would take three years, displace thousands of people and erase about one-third of the residential housing in the city in some of its oldest and strongest neighborhoods.
This brings us to November 1974. On the heels of two decades of local discouragement, and a sluggish economy, Carbondale is also feeling the effects of national and world events, these include: The end of the Vietnam War, the escalating cold war with the omni-present threat of death from above via Soviet Missile or bomber. Distrust in government is on the rise in the wake of the Watergate Scandal and the Resignation of President Nixon just three months earlier. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. are still hotly competing for space supremacy by launching all types of civilian and military satellites as well as manned space stations such as SkyLab. The early 1970's were also rife with rumors, third person accounts and stories of unexplained phenomena such as UFOs and the latest suburban legend of Bigfoot (not the monster truck but the large hairy Cryptoid and future advertising spokes(man/woman/thing.)) This sets the stage for the events of November 9-11, 1974.The Cast
Sgt. F.X. Dottle, CPD: Acting police chief whose hopes for a quiet three day weekend would disappear beneath the murky water of a silt pond.
The Eyewitnesses: Whose identities will not be divulged herein for the sake of their privacy as well as not wanting to remind anyone of their youthful transgressions, but don't worry. We KNOW who they are.
The Lantern: As the UFO. Whose dim glow shone beneath the murky water of the pond and turned a crank call into a three day, media circus.
Matthew Graeber: UFO researcher who was on the scene during the incident and has the most comprehensive records and documents of the events of that memorable weekend.
NASA: Who spent over one hour on the phone collecting data and asking questions of the Carbondale Police regarding the incident.
NORAD: Who were also in communication with the Carbondale Police during the weekend.
The Civil Air Patrol: Called in by the CPD to assist with crowd and traffic control who, to this day, play the role of "The Air Force" in the popular narrative of the conspiracy theorists.
The SCUBA Diver: As either good-intentioned citizen looking for a little free publicity. Or, mysterious out-of-towner who was obviously a shadowy government operative. Depending on which camp you reside in.
The Media: Who, apparently suffering through a slow news day, were more than happy to spread the story far and wide. This is what attracted thousands of people to the scene from hundreds of miles away and played a key role in the escalation of public hysteria.
The Public: As the crowd/mob/rumor mongers/skeptics/conspiracy theorists/random marginally interested parties. Special thanks goes to these players in our disjointed little melodrama, for without them this event may have been long forgotten by Thanksgiving of 1974 and you would not be reading this.The Plot: Saturday November 9th, 1974
In the late afternoon on Saturday November 9, 1974 several teenage boys, in the area of Russell Park in Carbondale PA., reported seeing a fast-moving, brightly lit object flying across the sky. According to these witnesses this object was moving in a westward direction coming over Salem Mountain at a very low altitude, the object then seemed to stop briefly in mid-air before crashing into a silt pond just beyond the Park to the South. The boys immediately began telling people what they had seen, beginning with a group of younger children nearby. Also, they reported that there was now a glowing object beneath the surface of the pond's murky water.
At this point other curious children and adults went to the pond to see for themselves what was going on and indeed, there was something glowing in the water. The original eyewitnesses story continued to be retold and circulated throughout the neighborhood. During this time period the Carbondale Police received several calls concerning both an object falling from the sky and an unidentified glow from the pond. The Police first arrived on the scene around 9pm and observed the light glowing beneath the surface of the pond. Some witnesses reported that at one point an officer fired his revolver into the water at the light. The official Police Department position on this is that no shots were fired by anyone throughout the entire incident.
During the night as word of this unusual event continued to circulate and, no doubt, acquire new and exciting aspects with each retelling, the Carbondale Fire Department was summoned to the scene with a small boat, a net and various other implements. The mysterious light had now been glowing eerily for at least seven hours and authorities were anxious to put an end to this incident before things got any weirder. With this goal in mind, two firemen put out in the boat which was tethered to shore by a rope stretched across a section of the pond. After a short time it appeared that they had snagged the object but before they could raise it very far it slipped out of their snare, at which time the light appeared to move away from the boat. A short time later, the light grew dim and then went out completely.The Plot: Sunday November 10th, 1974
When the sun rose on the morning of November 10th, it found the authorities still on the scene at the shoreline of the pond being joined by a rapidly growing crowd of spectators and media personnel. The rapid word-of-mouth reports of this event were now being exponentially magnified by local media outlets, followed by the national news wire and finally national news networks. Thousands of people were now flocking to Carbondale from all over the Northeast including a number of UFOlogists, who were trying to determine if this was a legitimate UFO sighting and/or crash. Acting Chief Dottle of the Carbondale Police now had a bigger problem than what was in the pond. He had a huge and growing crowd of people wandering around an abandoned industrial area and he had a town completely gridlocked by out-of town traffic, and the police phone lines constantly ringing with calls from reporters, UFO "experts" and the randomly curious. it was a public safety nightmare.
To assist with crowd/traffic control, Chief Dottle called on the Civil Air Patrol, the arrival of the CAP immediately led to the word being spread that: "The military or Air Force was now on the scene of the UFO crash in Carbondale". To add to this story arc the Police spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with officials from NORAD and NASA answering questions about the incident. As word of these discussions trickled out of the police station it only reinforced the "military is here, this must be big" narrative. Throughout the day and through the night as officials devised a plan of action the story spread, the crowds grew and the rumors became more outrageous.The Plot: Monday November 11th, 1974
On the morning of November 11th, Chief Dottle concluded that he had to put an end to this incident as quickly as possible. The first plan was to bring in a number of fire companies and have them pump the pond down in order to retrieve the object. A short time after the pumping operations began it was determined that the silt from the pond as well as other debris was clogging the suction lines. This lead to plan A being scrapped. Plan B took the form of a SCUBA diver from Binghamton, N.Y. who heard the reports on the radio and drove to Carbondale with his equipment and offered to go into the pond to see what was down there. After some discussion, seeing no other alternative, Chief Dottle gave the diver the green light (no pun intended).
The diver donned his gear and carefully entered the polluted water. He first submerged near where the light was initially observed, while the crowd held its collective breath, after a few long minutes he resurfaced empty handed. He then moved in the direction where the light had been seen moving after the first retrieval attempt and submerged again. This time he returned to the surface and held aloft an electric railroad lantern and handed it to the officials in a nearby rowboat. The anticlimactic conclusion had been reached, or so it seemed.The Plot: Aftermath
Two days of borderline mass hysteria in a small town does not simply vanish without a trace, like an unexplained light streaking across the night sky. It has a tendency to linger, like an eerily glowing light in a murky pond. The rumors and stories never ceased and the theories and conjecture continue into a fourth decade after the event. Numerous people have claimed, and some still claim, that at some point during the night a flatbed truck, that looked like a military vehicle and was carrying a large covered object, quietly left Carbondale via the less travelled back roads, bound for parts unknown.
Despite the fact that one of the teenagers who first reported the UFO admitted, 25 years later that they did, in fact throw the lantern in the pond as a prank to scare a group of younger kids. It seems that everyone who lived in or near Carbondale at the time knows someone, who knows someone who played some part in the vast government cover-up/conspiracy that took place. And thank God for the Internet, which has breathed new life and added even more outlandish elements to this tale. The vast World Wide Web has allowed people from across the globe to participate in, and add to, our weird little suburban legend. All are welcome, because you don't have to be from Carbondale to be a CarbondAlien.