At Pa. conference, UFOs are no alien concept

Kathleen Marden talks about her aunt and uncle, Betty and Barney Hill, who said they were abducted in 1961. The slide shown is of an artist's rendering of aliens examining Betty Hill.
Kathleen Marden talks about her aunt and uncle, Betty and Barney Hill, who said they were abducted in 1961. The slide shown is of an artist's rendering of aliens examining Betty Hill.
Posted: October 10, 2010

Karyn Dolan couldn't have been more pleased to be addressing a room full of like-minded believers.

"I love going to conferences," she told the nearly 200 people who had gathered Saturday morning in a meeting room of the Sheraton Hotel in Langhorne to hear her presentation: "UFOlogy vs. Paranormal Research, Completely Different or Two Sides of the Same Coin?"

"Nobody rolls their eyes at me," she said. "Nobody thinks I'm crazy."

The audience murmured and nodded in solidarity.

To be a member of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, or to attend one of the conferences like this one that the nonprofit group sponsors every few months, is to know the sting of ridicule.

"A lot of people do believe in UFOs and ghosts but don't want to admit it," said Dolan, host of Through the Keyhole, a weekly radio talk show also available via the Internet.

A healthy agnosticism she understands. But she is tired of all the behind-her-back whispering that she's half a bubble off plumb. Whenever she hears a news report about a sighting, she said, "it is always accompanied with a chuckle. It really annoys me."

Addressing one of the themes of the daylong conference, she spoke of the impossible standards that nonbelievers (otherwise known as debunkers and pseudo-skeptics) set for evaluating the evidence of otherworldly phenomena.

Decades of research have produced solid proof in the form of soil samples and radar disruptions, photographs and corroborated first-person accounts, Dolan said, yet the public continues to ignore reality.

"They will look at a sharp photo and say it's a fake," she said. "Then they'll look at a blurry photo and say it's not a good one. Eyewitnesses are generally ignored, despite their validity in criminal cases."

Nevermind, said John Ventre, state director for MUFON. The truth will make itself known.

"We're getting closer to disclosure," he said, referring to the commonly held belief among members that the U.S. government is concealing the facts and perhaps the physical evidence about extraterrestrial contact.

"Other than a sitting president coming forward and saying this is a real phenomenon, I don't know what else we can do."

Other than hold conferences in which the open-minded can share their knowledge and help spread the word in the hope that eventually the scales will tip, the public will apply pressure, and the secrets will at last be shared.

"You'd be surprised at the people who come to these conferences," said Debbie Dudzinski, 56, an accountant from Valley Forge. "They're not your stereotypical alien freaks."

This was Dudzinski's third UFO conference, she said, and although her family members would never come along, "they don't hold it against me."

She has explained to them that for centuries, even millennia, people have been reluctant to believe visionary thinkers.

"I always thought how Einstein and Galileo were considered 'out there' in their time, then later proven to be correct," she said. "Some things can't be explained, and that's the interesting part."

The morning session covered a wide range of topics: If you are abducted by aliens, should you pray to Jesus as some have suggested, or does that constitute a Christian-centric bias? Has the mutual suspicion among UFO researchers and those who believe in ghosts, spirits, faeries, and/or demons impeded progress in both fields?

And what is the truth behind the case of Betty and Barney Hill, abducted in September 1961 under a waxing gibbous moon in the White Mountains of New Hampshire?

"A lot of us believe that the more research you do, the more documented proof you collect, the sooner we'll have disclosure," said Bob Gardner, chief investigator for MUFON in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware.

Gardner, 43, lives in Northeast Philadelphia and works as an usher supervisor for the Eagles. He became a UFO investigator in 2008 after studying the MUFON manual and passing a test. To qualify, he said, candidates must understand basic scientific principles, soil analysis, and wind currents.

Of the dozens of UFO sightings he looks into every year, Gardner said, about 20 percent are legitimate. The rest, he said, are unfounded. People misconstrue meteors or satellites, dry lightning, or merely figments of their imagination.

Reports of UFO sightings in China have resulted in eight airport closures recently. Speculation about the source of the strange light points to missiles, strobes reflecting off the side of a plane, or illuminated kites, although alien spaceships have not been ruled out.

"You've just got to open your mind," Gardner said.

Few of those in attendance were willing to identify their place of employment for fear that their bosses would reprimand them. Management, said MUFON's Ventre, is concerned that any association with UFOs or the paranormal will tarnish the reputation of a serious business.

Unlike festivals where you can buy blow-up alien dolls and enter foil-hat-making contests, this conference had gravitas. Still, it attracted the inevitable share of odd ducks.

"Do you know anyone who can test these?" one man asked, opening his palm to reveal three pinkish nuggets.

"These are not from Earth. They are harder than diamonds. I shattered a Craftsman hammer on this."

He crouched and placed one on the floor.

"And they balance. Look."

The nugget fell over. After several attempts, he twisted it like a top.

"When they spin they look like liquid."

Not wanting to insult the man, a UFO investigator pretended to be impressed.

"I don't believe a word he said," the investigator whispered later. "You get all kinds of people."


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@philllynews.com.

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