UFO pioneer inspires camp site’s astronomy theme

Palomar campground expanding its universe
UFO pioneer inspires site’s astronomy theme

When Larry Read and Elizabeth Norris became partners and bought the Oak Knoll Campground on Palomar Mountain four years ago, they didn’t know they were acquiring what some consider among the most famous landing sites in the world, if not the solar system.

An incident two years ago was their first clue.

“We were talking with the previous park owner when this huge motor coach rolled up and dozens of Japanese tourists piled out and started taking photographs everywhere,” Read said.

“We asked the prior owner what was going on and he said, ‘Oh, those are the Adamski people from Japan.’ We didn’t know what an Adamski was.”

Adamski was George Adamski, considered to be a founding father of ufology, the study of unidentified flying objects. A half-century ago, Adamski was a waiter at a hamburger stand in the park, then called Palomar Gardens, owned by his daughter, Alice K. Wells.

On Dec. 13, 1952, on what is now the campground’s baseball field, a scout ship from Venus is said to have landed, bringing information to Adamski.

In 1953, Adamski and his friend, Desmond Leslie, wrote “Flying Saucers Have Landed,” Adamski’s account of his encounters with extraterrestrials. Though Adamski was dismissed by Time magazine as “a crackpot from California,” the book was published in seven editions and attracted a huge following for Adamski in this country and in Europe.

“Everywhere he went, huge crowds came to hear him,” J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions in Evanston, Ill., told a reporter in 1979. “He almost had a national following.”

Read and Norris now know the story well and are excited about creating an Adamski-themed campground focused on astronomy. An astronomy enthusiast, Read has 12-and 15-inch telescopes that he sets up for campers to peer deep into the night sky.

They intend to get more telescopes and create level stands at the campground, at state Route 76 and county S6, so people can set up their own telescopes and computers. They soon hope to be selling Adamski T-shirts and baseball caps, plus information about Adamski, which will be done with the blessing of the George Adamski Foundation, headquartered in Vista.

Glenn S. Steckling is coordinator of the foundation, which has branches in several countries. He and his mother, Ingrid Steckling, run the foundation and maintain a Web site. Ingrid Steckling and her late husband, Siegfried, were friends of Adamski throughout his rise to fame.

Seigfried Steckling was executive chef at the exclusive Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., and later at the La Costa Country Club. Through his connections, Steckling was able to get Adamski into meetings with senators, Defense Department leaders and NASA officials.

With the nation embroiled in the Cold War, anyone with apparent knowledge of unidentified flying objects was welcomed in high places, and Adamski had virtually invented the subject. He went on world lecture tours in 1959 and 1960, and had an audience with Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in 1959.

Adamski was born in Poland on April 17, 1891, and moved to New York City when he was 2. From 1913 to 1916, he was with the U.S. Army in the 13th Cavalry, K-Troop, fighting along the Mexican border. He did various odd jobs around the West before he founded the Royal Order of Tibet, a mystical group, and started teaching what he called the Universal Law, a mixture of theosophy – teaching about God and the world based on mystical insight – and Christianity.

His group moved first to Valley Center and then to Palomar Mountain, about 11 miles from its famous telescope. They cleared brush and rocks to create trails that exist today.

The mother ship
It was during a meteor shower Oct. 9, 1946, that Adamski and some friends said they were in the campgrounds and saw a huge cigar-shaped “mother ship.” A year later, Adamski took his first photograph of what he said was the ship returning and crossing in front of the moon high over Palomar Gardens. The hunt for UFOs was launched.

On May 29, 1950, Adamski reported photographing six UFOs flying in formation. The picture was used on a 1978 stamp issued by the Caribbean island nation of Grenada to mark the Year of UFOs.

Adamski said his first alien contact was on Nov. 20, 1952, when he and a group of friends drove to a desert spot between Desert Center in eastern Riverside County and Parker, Ariz. In “Flying Saucers Have Landed,” Adamski described how a small scout ship touched down nearby and a Venusian called Orthon talked with him about the dangers of nuclear war. His friends said they witnessed the meeting from a distance. Orthon was described as medium height, very human looking with long blond hair.

Adamski said that Orthon refused to be photographed but asked for a photographic plate. Three weeks later, Adamski said, Orthon returned the plate to him. It contained strange symbols, recorded by the foundation, which are still not understood.

It was on this occasion that one of the most famous UFO pictures of all time was said to have been taken – an inverted saucer shape with a windowed dome on top and round supports underneath. Some say it is a picture of the end of a canister-type vacuum cleaner.

As his popularity grew, Adamski’s claims became progressively more fantastic.

“Inside the Spaceships,” Adamski’s 1955 book, tells of several trips he says he took around the solar system. He described drinking a clear liquid with a flavor similar to apricot juice and eating a Venusian plant that tasted like meat.

In 1962, he announced that he was scheduled to go to a conference on Saturn, a claim that infuriated many of his supporters. His fame declined and, at 74, he died of a heart attack April 23, 1965, in Maryland.

Preserving the record
Glenn Steckling emphasized that the role of the foundation is not to debate the veracity of Adamski’s accounts, but only to preserve the information he collected and ensure “it is available to people in its original form for honest research.”

The foundation is also a clearinghouse for new UFO sightings, which have continued unabated worldwide, he said.

“The UFOs are always around places where there is tension,” he said. “We are getting many reports from South America. There were about 20 sightings reported over Iraq during the war, and many sightings over Turkey.”

Read and Norris said the 50th anniversary of the purported landing on Palomar Mountain slipped past them in December, but vowed the 51st won’t. After all, they said, reports of a flying saucer landing made Roswell, N.M., famous around the world. Why not the Oak Knoll Campground?

Michael Scott-Blair is a freelance writer who lives in Escondido.

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