What happened when LIFE Magazine photographer Ralph Crane had a close encounter with an extraterrestrial convention?
In 1947, alien enthusiast George Van Tassel moved to the Mojave Desert of California, USA, to live in a subterranean home under a giant boulder. There, he set up a a restaurant, airstrip, and extra-terrestrial research center, nicknamed 'the Integratron'.
The giant rock, named Giant Rock, was reputedly a sacred site for local Native Americans, and was previously the home of another eccentric, Frank Critzer. It was the perfect place for Van Tassel to gather fellow space-travellers to reveal the secrets of the universe…
One night in 1952, Van Tassel was supposedly woken by alien from the planet Venus, and invited on board a space ship. He was then telepathically given a technique for rejuvenating the human body. He decided to spread this secret knowledge.
From 1953 to his death in 1978, Van Tassel held the annual Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, which became the must-visit event for international travellers seeking something beyond our world. In 1957, the renowned photographer Ralph Crane visited the convention for LIFE magazine.
By 1953, the world had plunged into the Cold War. The development of atomic weapons meant that the next war would be one of total annihilation. In this feverish atmosphere, people from all walks of life were ready to believe anything.
Crane captured the 1957 event with the keen eye of a reportage photographer. His images show the variety of devoted attendees, representing the breadth of society, that travelled to this desert gathering seeking out hope in the stars.
At its height in the late 1950s, the convention attracted over 10,000 visitors. For anyone who attended, there was overwhelming evidence of extraterrestrial life in the form of photographs, written testimony, rumours, and secret documents…
Famous contactees and UFO witnesses gave lectures on their experiences. Some even came equipped for a close encounter…
For others, it was a social event that reinforced the bonds in the burgeoning, loose community. They found comfort in sharing space with others who had similar thoughts and experiences.
Like any convention, a devoted audience offered a great opportunity to sell merchandise. Pamphlets, songs, pin badges, and t shirts were all available. Purchasing these would allow people to literally 'buy into' the community.
In the end, the contactees, ufologists, seekers, and believers may not have found aliens or the secret to rejuvenation, but in the middle of the desert, under the night sky, in a warring world, they did find each other.