KELLY, Kentucky (Reuters) - A farm family's gunfight nearly 60 years ago with Little Green Men - suspected alien invaders - is being celebrated this weekend by hundreds gathered near a replica of their flying saucer said to have landed in rural Kelly, Kentucky.
At the Little Green Men Days Festival near the site of the incident on August 21, 1955, adults sang gospel songs as kids got their faces painted to look like space invaders.
"There was hysteria all over the place," Geraldine Stith, daughter of one of the earthly combatants, recounted her father telling her of the night-long fight at their now-demolished farmhouse.
Newspapers at the time reported a bizarre story of a gun battle erupting between the farmhouse occupants and as many as 15 little men who had landed a spaceship in the southern Kentucky town amid corn and soybean fields along Route 41.
Descriptions in 1955 newspaper articles provided blueprints for the 38-foot-diameter (11.6-meter-diameter), 2-1/2-ton flying saucer parked on Saturday at the entrance to the festival grounds as well as for the 2-foot-tall (60-cm-tall) stuffed alien dolls on its ramp and in the cockpit.
"All I can say is something happened," said Joann Smithey, country store proprietor and festival committee co-chair. "What? I don't know. It's a big universe."
The festival's website - www.kellygreenmen.com - takes no sides in the incident, which was ignored for many years by the village of 200 people but is now embraced as a way to build unity while funding a planned community centre with a computer lab for school tutoring, a firehouse and an anti-bullying campaign.
The festival inevitably turns into a debate over whether the battle in which seven people used firearms to fend off aliens trying to swarm their farmhouse is fact, fiction or a mixture of both.
"We may not know exactly what happened that night, but we are determined to celebrate the occurrence," says a statement on the website of the festival, now in its third year and located on pastureland close to the site of the farmhouse.
MONKEYS? OWLS? A DRUNKEN FANTASY?
Some debunkers attribute the sensational tale to consumption of an alcoholic concoction locals call "panther juice" or some other type of liquor. Others insist the "aliens" were monkeys escaped from a carnival or horned owls or even an angry cat.
Many say it's a harmless and fun tall tale worth celebrating.
"I don't know if it was Little Green Men, but they thought it was," said former Green Beret Master Sergeant Frank Brown, who helped initiate the celebration after retiring from nearby Fort Campbell.
"If it's real in their mind, then it's real. And to that family that night, those Little Green Men were real," he said.
One elderly couple, Marcum and Alma Brite, drove 30 miles (48 km) from their home in Madisonville, Kentucky, to stroll the festival where vendors peddled funnel cakes and country crafts as well as books and DVDs detailing the Kelly incident.
"I haven't ever seen one of them (aliens), at least not yet. If I did, I'd probably shoot at them," said Marcum Brite.
Doug Oller, 44, travelled the 80 miles (130 km) from Paducah, Kentucky, to sell $5 Little Green Man latex masks and other handcrafted items demonstrating his otherworldly passions.
"I've always been interested in the Little Green Men," said Oller, who also works as a valet at a casino. His biggest sellers, however, aren't alien items, but zombie dolls. "'Walking Dead' stuff is going good right now."
At the edge of the field, kids climbed on inflatable attractions, including a flying saucer, and played with U.S. Army Frisbees given away by Sergeant First Class John Wylie, 40, a recruiter who each year comes to the festival to spread the word that Uncle Sam also needs people to dress in green - specifically army fatigues.
Wylie said he believed the farm family's account and sees the celebration of alien invaders as a welcome diversion.
"I don't want to believe we're the only life forms out there," he said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)