Stan Gordon and I have the same last name, we both live in Southwestern Pennsylvania and neither of us has seen Bigfoot in person.
I haven't been looking. Gordon, on the other hand, has spent 59 years investigating reports of paranormal activity in the area: Bigfoot, UFOs, and cryptids (a creature whose existence is either disputed or unconfirmed). He’s never seen these or other unusual phenomena. But what he lacks in first-hand experience with the paranormal, Gordon makes up for with fierce dedication to investigating the stories of those who have. Or say they have.
Gordon founded Westmoreland County UFO Study Group (WCUFOSG) in 1970, broke off for a solo career as an independent researcher in 1993, and these days spends time penning articles for paranormal outlets, speaking at expos, and continuing to investigate sightings in the area. He's seen a lot of weird stuff over the years, most of it easy to explain by natural or manmade origins — UFOs are often just airplanes or Venus or the International Space Station or Chinese lanterns. But there are a few examples that elude breezy disproof.
The big one is the Kecksburg UFO incident of 1965, an event that hooked Gordon on paranormalism at the age of 16.
It was late afternoon ("about 4:47 p.m.," Gordon says) on Dec. 9, 1965, when a "brilliant fiery object" was spotted in the night sky in Westmoreland County. Witnesses reported a slow-moving object that changed its path over the woods of Kecksburg — "like it was being controlled," not falling straight down, like a meteor. There were reports at the time of a military flatbed leaving the woods where the object fell sometime in the night.
However, one group of spectators was able to locate the object first. People described it as an oversized metallic acorn, an estimated 10-12 feet in length, 8-10 feet in diameter, "big enough for a person to stand inside of." There were markings on the outside, similar to Cyrillic or hieroglyphics, but unidentifiable. (For a deeper look, check out Gordon's website, his film Kecksburg: The Untold Story, or Unsolved Mysteries Season 1, Episode 8, hosted by Dennis Farina.) It's been a big part of town lore ever since.
When I spoke to Gordon, he was preparing to visit Kecksburg for the city's annual UFO Festival. It's an odd mix of charming small-town festival fun and paranormal reporting. There are fireworks, a "bed race," corn hole, live music, and something called a "UFO hot dog eating competition."
Mixed in the itinerary are film screenings and guest speakers, including an update on recent Bigfoot/UFO sightings from Gordon, former Greensburg Tribune-Review reporter Bob Gatty, and area researcher Ed Kelemen. It's kind of weird to imagine these professional investigators and authors in the company of such brazen, lighthearted fun such as eating contests and a DJ. You'd think the more kid-friendly festival stuff would undermine the seriousness of the research.
Whatever. Thinking about paranormal activity is fun for most people, whether it's reading sci-fi/horror books, watching latter-day History Channel, or spending your life's work investigating aliens and Bigfoot. Gordon speaks about his work like a giddy professor mid-lecture, tripping over his own stories. Interviewing him was like tapping a boulder at the top of a steep hill and watching it roll down the road for miles. I might have asked four questions in 45 minutes. He handled the rest.
When it comes to what he personally believes, Gordon takes the role of impartial detective. There's a lot of fascinating information out there. It's all interesting, but he's hesitant to go much beyond that.
"The more I know about the phenomena, the more interesting and more complex it is," Gordon says. "I don't think anybody out there really has a good explanation for some of the phenomena we’re dealing with."
When he says the majority of the people who submit reports to him do it anonymously to avoid unwanted attention and ridicule, I ask why he's OK putting himself out there, full name and all.
"Because I'm not a witness," he says. "I'm an investigator."