Anybody who bought a ticket to a Parliament-Funkadelic concert in the mid-to-late ‘70s will tell you that their live performances were truly out of this world. Led by frontman George Clinton, its “P-Funk Earth Tour” featured lavish costumes, crazy staging, and outrageous special effects, including, the Mothership. During each concert, the band’s guitarists would “summon” the full-scale UFO prop to land on the stage. While its lights glowed and pyrotechnics went off all around it, George Clinton would then emerge from the 1200-pound spaceship dressed as a character called “Dr. Funkenstein”
Fans loved the Mothership, but it was very expensive to operate. It debuted in October 1976, and was pulled by the following summer. It cost so much that promoters had to choose some nights between the ship and paying the band—and they chose the ship. The band continued to tour in the years that followed but their newer budgets couldn’t cover the cost of the Mothership. Instead, they made jokes and allusions about George Clinton flying to shows in the UFO but landing it backstage instead. A second Mothership was built for a tour in the mid-’90s and last touched down in 1999. In 2011, that one was added to a permanent music exhibition at the Smithsonian.
But where has the original Mothership gone? The band had racked up a lot of debts by 1982, forcing their management to send the half-ton Mothership off to a junkyard in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. What happened next remains a mystery. Was it destroyed? Recycled into tin cans? Looted? Who would steal a 1200-pound fake UFO? And how?
When the Smithsonian’s historians went looking for it in the late ‘00s, they turned up few clues. They eventually settled for the replica after it was donated to the museum by Clinton. Is the Mothership sitting in your backyard right now? Let us know. We’d love to find out where in the cosmos the prop has landed.