CRAWFORD – Pine Bush residents may be used to looking up at the sky for signs of UFO life, but now the US Navy has permission too, and just in time for the annual UFO fair and pop-up museum, which may soon find a permanent home.
In case you missed the report last week, the Navy promised that pilots who report "unexplained aerial phenomena" will be taken seriously. The Navy is even putting together procedures to document such sightings, reported media outlet Politico.
According to Politico, the Navy says such sightings have been on the upswing since at least 2014, and for reasons of safety and security they can’t be ignored. Although the service is loath to identify the phenomena as UFOs, coming as they do with visions of little green men, it "investigates each and every report," the Navy told Politico.
Now, the good burghers of Pine Bush might well ask, "What took them so long?"
The ninth local celebration of unidentified flying objects and the paranormal is scheduled for May 18. Thousands of people — many dressed in elaborate costumes — are expected swoop in for the fair, a standard mix of food and entertainment until you encounter games like "You Bet Your Asteroid," speakers from the likes of the Bronxville Paranormal Society (BPS) and a museum in a building where spirits have apparently spoken.
Pine Bush’s reputation as the UFO capital of New York was cemented in the 1980s when the number of UFO sightings skyrocketed. But the tiny hamlet, where locals have been known to toss around stories of otherworldly events while sitting in the Cup & Saucer Diner, is hardly the only place where aliens get the benefit of the doubt.
The BPS folks point out a 2012 survey done for National Geographic that revealed 77 percent of 1,100 Americans 18 or older believed there are signs that aliens have visited Earth. The society cites another poll that found that as many as 45 percent of people think ghosts are real.
BPS even searched for spirits in the imposing, long-vacant and vaguely unsettling brick building at 51 Main Street, which is used as the temporary home for the Pine Bush UFO and Paranormal Museum during the annual fair, and may soon be the museum’s permanent location.
The museum’s director, Lance Hallowell said his avid interest in EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and UFOs led him to manage the museum. Hallowell said he learned about the UFO fair about three years ago, got in touch with Domanie Ragni, Crawford’s community services director, and said, "I want to help. What do you need?"
Hallowell does makeup, costume and production design for a living. He led the crew that transformed Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow into Horseman’s Hollow, a frightening Halloween experience that draws tens of thousands of people over two weeks each year. He has also worked on movies; filming is complete on his current project that he calls an "alien drama." Its working title is The Heiress Incident, and post-production work is in progress.
He’s designing the Pine Bush exhibits based on investigations into the paranormal. It’s a lot of work to turn 51 Main into a museum for just one weekend, and Hallowell is convinced that a permanent museum would be a boon to Pine Bush.
Ragni certainly thinks so. Two days a week, she staffs Crawford’s new Small Business and Tourism Center just down the street from 51 Main. Coffee mugs with the museum logo decorate a shelf in the center, as does a small museum poster.
For now, the museum disappears as fast as one of its elusive spirits when the fair ends. But it could make Pine Bush a destination point, give tourists a reason to travel to the hamlet year-round and boost business at nearby stores, restaurants, wineries and other attractions.
Pine Bush’s reputation has already rated it a place in magazines like Weird U.S., A Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. The museum itself, which debuted at last year’s fair, would raise its profile further.
The building at 51 Main dates from around 1930 and was long used as a doctor’s office. But according to town records, it’s been vacant since at least 1986 when it was put up for sale. Finally, in 2004, Dino Marvos, the same man who owns the Cup & Saucer — yes, that kind of saucer — bought it. It needs work to bring it up to modern building codes, said Dan Flanick, Crawford’s deputy supervisor.
Flanick recently met with Ragni, Marvos and town building inspector John Calaca to resolve some safety issues so the first floor of the building can again be used the day of the fair. The need for lighted exit signs and ramps for handicapped access were among the items reviewed, Flanick said. Calaca is scheduled to inspect the work this week, Flanick said.
Flanick believes the issues can be overcome in time for the fair, but then the building would be closed again. Although the fair itself is run by the town and financed with the proceeds from fees paid by the vendors, the museum is a private undertaking. When asked about who’s footing the bills, Hallowell replied, "We have investors."
Hallowell was upbeat this week as his crew moved around the old building getting ready for the fair. He says fairgoers will see new and expanded displays this year. Further, he says he’s lined up lectures and other events for the space once it’s up to code.
Who knows, maybe the Navy will send somebody to listen in.