Small town flair: Fyffe celebrates otherworldly history with premier summer festival
Unidentified flying objects. These are mysterious aircraft seen in the sky, and they harbor no scientific explanation. Recently, the U.S. Congress held a hearing on UFOs or, as it called them, unidentified aerial phenomena. As federal lawmakers continue their probe into this subject, a small town in Northeast Alabama welcomes the idea and wants to believe.
Fyffe is a small town in DeKalb County. Its population is just shy of 1,000 people. Part of the Appalachian Mountains, Fyffe is known for its sights, and one particular sighting placed the community in national headlines.
On Feb. 11 and 12, 1989, roughly 50 Fyffe residents saw what they believed to be a banana-shaped UFO in the sky. Residents called local and national intelligence, including the Birmingham and Huntsville airports, Marshall Space Flight Center, Maxwell Air Force Base and the National Weather Service. The sightings would return again in the early 1990s.
“We live in a universe that is far beyond our planet. Whether there’s life out there, as we know it here on this earth, I don’t know, but there are things that I feel can travel throughout our universe,” said Paul Cagle, who has served as the town’s mayor since 2016. “I know that our Creator has created this planet as well as the entire universe at his command. We live in a place and at a time in history where we can experience things that civilizations long before us never did or never had any understanding of.”
However, no one had answers. The sightings sparked a lot of attention, and Fyffe was later designated as the UFO Capital of Alabama by the state legislature. Due to the sightings’ popularity, in 2004, former Mayor Larry Lingerfelt decided to commemorate the town’s unusual history with a celebration. He called the festival “Fyffe UFO Days.” Since that time, town officials said anywhere from two- to 5,000 people attend the “Unforgettable Family Outing” every year, and they do so in all their alien-themed get-up.
“We actually had shirts made. [My shirt] says, ‘I survived the Sand Mountain UFO,’ and it has a picture of a banana on it,” festivalgoer Jeremy Bennefield said.
Bennefield wasn’t the only resident donned in attire that was out of this world.
“I’ve got headbands on that have four-inch, green metallic streamers. Each antennae [on the headband] has an alien head. The heads are green with black eyes and they glow in the dark,” Jennifer L. Davis said.
Davis was a vendor at this year’s festival. Close to 50 booths offered everything from tumblers to t-shirts to trinkets. Attendees also had the chance to enjoy an antique tractor show, free train rides, carnival-style games, live entertainment and hot air balloon rides. Davis said her favorite part of Fyffe UFO Days is seeing the creativity it brings to the small community of Fyffe.
“It gives people an opportunity to think outside the box, rather than just having cake or ice cream,” she said. “It kind of boosts their options for parties, family gatherings and wedding receptions.”
This newfound creativity allows Davis to step in and offer her own services to the community, which she said positively impacts her business.
“As far as getting out and getting exposure for private and corporate events, it does get my name out there,” she said. “I think that it is great advertising, marketing and networking. It’s not just that you’re seeing your community, but [you’re building] relationships with your fellow vendors. Some of us as vendors, this is our sole means of income. It’s really important for us to support each other and support our dreams.”
All in all, Davis said this event is a convenient way for small business owners like herself to both exhibit their products and gain local customers.
“I’m really excited whenever I can get into the bigger festivals that are local,” she said. “I don’t mind driving, but it’s always better whenever I can enjoy our local people and be able to spend more time here than having to [spend] more time traveling. I can actually enjoy the festival.”
The festival had more than just wearable goods. The annual celebration also featured several food vendors. One of these vendors was Santa Fe Cattle Company, which is a steakhouse chain based in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Allan Entrekin is the general manager of the chain’s Fort Payne location. Entrekin said his restaurant has participated in Fyffe UFO Days for several years now and will continue to for one simple reason: communion.
“We support our small towns,” he said. “The communities that we’re in have been really good to us, [so this is] our way of paying back. It lets people know we’re making an effort. We’re out here and we care. I think the more of these [festivals] you do, and you show people you want to get out and participate in the community, that stands out to them.”
Entrekin said he personally enjoyed the festival because of the commitment residents have toward their local community.
“I think they put on a great little event here. You can tell [for] the people, it’s something they do out of their heart,” he said. “For them to continue doing it that long, there’s a lot of love that’s put into it. If you like small town flair, this is it.”
Entrekin was not the only resident who discussed the festival’s appeal to the local community. Hannah Gregory lives just minutes down the road from Fyffe City Park in Geraldine. Gregory said Fyffe UFO Days is the perfect time to reconnect with her neighbors, who she often doesn’t see every day.
“I think it’s a good way for the community to come together. I also think it’s a great way to socialize with fellow members of the community,” she said. “You can get out and see people you haven’t seen since like forever. I think that’s a great thing for the community as a whole.”
Gregory said the festival also helps her young daughter build and rekindle friendships.
“I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I don’t get out much. Getting my daughter out and her seeing her friends is just a way to let off steam from our everyday lives,” she said.
Ultimately, Gregory said Alabamians in search of their next summer adventure should look no further; it’s right here in Fyffe.
“It’s something that is not everywhere. I’ve never heard of another festival like this except for here. It’s an experience I think everyone should have at least once in their lifetime,” she said.
While many attendees this year were long-time residents and annual travelers like Gregory, some visitors were totally new to the area. One of these fresh faces was Jeremy Bennefield, who is a former radio producer and program director from Nashville. Bennefield said Fyffe UFO Days is an important festival for new residents, such as himself, because it helps them connect with those who already live here.
“It’s community. That’s a huge thing. I feel like we’re losing that,” he said. “Folks out here, they’re having fun. They’re enjoying themselves. There’s great causes. You get to see things like donations for the Cub Scouts, the bands and the football team, just people gathering together. It’s a great thing and a lot of fun.”
However, Bennefield said this festival is more than just socializing; it helps the community heal.
“People need to come out and do things like this, get together. I think we’ll find as a community, as people and as citizens, this is how we bond,” he said. “There’s so much hate that goes on in the world, but there’s no negativity out here today. It’s all positive. It’s all fun. It’s together for the families, and it’s a great atmosphere.”
Mayor Paul Cagle has helped host Fyffe UFO Days for the past seven years. Cagle said in addition to fostering community, this event brings great publicity and tourism to the town and the county as a whole.
“DeKalb County is the second most visited place in the state. We have the opportunity here with this festival of ours to share this with the public as well as all of our local people,” he said. “Each community seems to have their own unique festival, and we are blessed to be able to have this one at this time.”
Whether it’s residents, vendors or travelers, it seems that Fyffe UFO Days has something in store for everyone. As for what happened that fateful winter in 1989, locals said it’s anyone’s guess, but some people do still believe in the town’s eclectic past.
“I would say I’m a believer. I’m the type of person who believes that anything’s out there if you look hard enough,” Gregory said.
Bennefield echoed these remarks.
“I think we think too highly of ourselves to [believe] we’re the only ones that have developed beyond technology,” he said. “I think it’s hopeful that there’s other things that are out there [or] other people that are out there. It gives us something to strive, to grow and to become better.”
Though UFOs have only recently become subject for government inquiry, many Fyffe residents have held onto their beliefs for the past 34 years. And many locals and fans of Fyffe UFO Days plan to keep it that way, as they mark their calendars for next year’s festival. Fyffe UFO Days is held on the last Saturday of every August from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Fyffe City Park. For more information on this annual tradition, visit the town of Fyffe’s website.