Photos by COURTNEY PERRY/DMN
Tinfoil hats, like the one worn by Toni Krey, 11, have joined cowboy hats as common headgear in Stephenville and Dublin, Texas. National attention has descended on the area after people have seen strange objects in the sky.
By Jeffrey Weiss
The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, January 20, 2008-DUBLIN, Texas – Anyone looking for answers about the recent mysterious lights in the Texas sky left here disappointed Saturday. But the big meeting hosted by the Mutual UFO Network delivered in plenty of other ways:
Jokers in tinfoil hats, check. Funny UFO T-shirts, check. Crop circle conspiracy theorists, check. Fresh popcorn and Dublin's real-sugar Dr Pepper dispensed by the friendly folks from the Rotary Club, check.
And even a hint of science and a sense that the cheerful mob scene might actually contribute to knowledge, if not definitive explanations.
"I think a lot of people saw the same things," said Laura Washburn of nearby Glen Rose, whose son, Shane, saw something odd in the sky on the nights of Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
The two of them spent a couple of hours among the more than 500 who packed the Dublin Rotary building, listening to others tell their stories.
"Hearing so many other people takes away the feeling that I don't want to be the only one, the one that people say is crazy," Ms. Washburn said.
The meeting was triggered by local reports of slow-moving, glowing objects in the sky the night of Jan. 8. Three men told their stories to Angelia Joiner, a reporter for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune.
"The people were so genuine and so credible," Ms. Joiner said Saturday. "You could tell they really saw something."
Plus, it was a good tale that she figured her readers would like. She was right about that. Once her first story ran, other people came forward. And once word traveled beyond the area, the world wanted to know more.
Every major news network has run stories about the lights near Stephenville. Two witnesses, plus Ms. Joiner, were remote guests Friday on Larry King Live.
MUFON was founded in 1969 and has chapters all over the U.S. The Colorado-based organization is a club for UFO buffs, but it's also a network of amateur investigators who try to evaluate every report they receive of something odd in the sky. MUFON announced last week that it would hold a meeting to interview witnesses of the Stephenville-area lights.
The first site for the meeting was a livestock sales barn. That humble location didn't sit well with the Rotarians of Dublin, about 10 minutes down the road from Stephenville.
"It's kinda like we have company coming and we need to take care of them," said Pat Leatherwood, a member of the Dublin Rotary Club. "Whether or not you believe it, you can still be nice."
Texas MUFON officials gratefully accepted the Rotarians' offer of a comfortable place to talk to witnesses. By the end of Saturday afternoon, more than 200 people had formally filed their stories.
MUFON investigators are a cross between the Ghostbusters of the movie and the amateur detectives of the Scooby-Doo cartoons. Like the Ghostbusters, they know they're taking on a task with a high giggle factor.
But like Velma and Scooby's other cartoon companions, MUFON investigators take a scientific approach. They look for clues, interview witnesses, analyze evidence. And like the teenage detectives on the TV show, MUFON usually concludes that there's nothing unworldly about the sightings it investigates.
MUFON certifies its official investigators. They're trained to recognize unusual cloud patterns, star formations, bugs flying close to the camera, light reflecting from the lens and myriad other ways an odd image can show up on a photo.
Robert Powell of Austin, MUFON's national director of research, was in Dublin on Saturday to help with the investigation. He hoped to find stories that matched – people in different places who saw something similar about the same time. But he knew many such stories turn out to be something mundane. "An unidentified flying object can turn out to be an airplane, and then it's identified," he said.
Steve Hudgeons of Fort Worth is MUFON's senior investigator for Texas. Mr. Hudgeons, 58, makes his living as a project manager for a construction company.
A few days before the big meeting, he described some of the problems his investigators would surely find. The biggest, ironically, is the massive publicity. Witnesses had a chance to hear from one another and talk among themselves. Often in such situations, people's memories shift, Mr. Hudgeons said. The other problem, he said, was that the intense media attention would pull people from the woodwork who have nothing useful to contribute.
"We are going to get people down there who have aluminum foil on their heads," he said with a sigh. "We always get that."
Which they did. They also got more witnesses in one place than MUFON had ever tried to interview. Like hooking a fire hose to a garden hose, the crowd blew out the normal careful interview process that MUFON tries to conduct about every report it gets. One woman had a story about something she saw in 1957. Others had accounts from last month or last year.
Their descriptions of the objects included an aspirin with lights around the edges, glowing orbs, a wedge-shaped row of lights and an enormous classic movie-special-effects flying saucer. Some witnesses were fuzzy about the time of their sighting.
Others weren't clear about which way they were looking. But several were able to answer many of the questions on the MUFON investigation form. Where were they at the time? Which direction did they look? Did what they saw seem to hover? Wobble? Appear solid? Have fuzzy edges?
Over the next couple of months, MUFON's investigators plan to follow up with some of the witnesses and eventually produce a report about any patterns they find in the accounts.
In the meantime, the locals are mostly having fun with the story. A Stephenville hotel has a goofy image of a green cartoon alien in a hotel suite sitting by the front desk. "He's on the fourth floor" of the three-story hotel, guests are told.
But some people are worried that the story will leave an image of their area as being filled with a bunch of UFO-seeing nuts.
Chris Baker, 37, lives in Dublin. He's seen only one unusual sight in the sky lately: "Just snow."
"I'm hoping after this weekend is over that people will start to forget about it," he said. "I don't think there is enough to it to make it a tourist attraction like Glen Rose and dinosaurs."
source and references:
The Dallas Morning News - Texas, USA
Archived UFO Articles and News Items, 2007
UFO Casebook Home Page