LEOMINSTER — Speakers at Saturday’s UFO conference in Leominster say they have identified exactly what is behind those unidentified objects in the sky.
The first iteration of the New England UFO Conference drew about 270 people, according to conference director and Leominster resident Steve Firmani. The event was held in the City Hall auditorium and attendees filled the seats on the ground floor. A handful of others went to the overflow-balcony seating area.
Firmani was glad to see conference attendees stick around to talk to each other during breaks between speakers.
Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella gave brief opening remarks, saying he’s not a full-on believer in UFO’s but does have an interest in the subject.
Some of the conference attendees were more willing to talk than others. One woman, Loralee from Charlton (she declined to giver her last name), said it was her first UFO conference and she was having a great time. But a man who accompanied her declined to speak at all, simply saying, “I’m not here.”
“I think they did very well getting high-profile speakers,” said Loralee. She said she’s seen many of them on television shows before and was pleased to interact with other people with an interest in UFOs.
“I’m a total believer, I’d had personal experiences and my personal experiences led me to know that they are real.” she said. She declined to go into details. She said the talks have helped her validate what she believes.
Jeffrey Epro, 12, of Leominster was wearing a black shirt that read, “I want to believe.” He’s an enthusiastic UFO buff and took detailed notes at the conference. He said he has to pick a topic for a yearlong science project at school and wanted to find ideas there.
“I’m thinking of writing a short book on aliens and UFOs,” he said.
His father, Brian, said he finds everything interesting, but Jeffrey was the driving force behind their attendance. He said his son writes his own files on UFOs and his favorite TV show is “Ancient Aliens.”
“I’m not one of the kooky ones, I’m one of the sane ones,” said Susan McNeill Spuhler, an event volunteer and a former Leominster resident. She lives in Westford now, but said she’s aware of multiple UFO sightings in Leominster.
Spuhler, an engineer and president of the Boston Dowsers group, said the attendees got a real treat by being able to pay a low cost to see high-quality speakers from the national UFO conference circuit. Among them were authors Stanton T. Friedman, Kathleen Marden and Peter Robbins.
Travis Walton, the alleged abductee behind the book and movie “Fire in the Sky,” was also a speaker, along with his alleged witness, Steve Pierce.
Marden is the niece of Betty and Barney Hill, a New Hampshire couple who claim they were abducted and studied by aliens in 1961.
During her talk, she introduced her aunt and uncle, both now deceased, as civil-rights activists. Betty was a social worker and Barney was a World War II Army veteran and postal worker.
Marden said that on Sept. 19, 1961, the couple were returning from a vacation when Betty told Barney she saw a light in the sky. They pulled over to view it several times, eventually concluding that it was a space craft.
At their last stop, Barney Hill said he saw figures that were “somehow not human” leave the craft wearing shiny black uniforms. The couple said the craft made a buzzing or beeping sound and took them. They found themselves in their car, about 35 miles down the road, and it felt like only a few moments had passed when in fact several hours had passed.
Marden said the couple, while under hypnosis several years later, recounted a detailed narrative of being abducted, examined and probed by the aliens.
She said after the abduction her aunt saw more UFOs and started to see poltergeist activity at her home.
Marden said her own childhood home was haunted, with doors seemingly opening and closing on their own. She said she has personally encountered UFOs and they have touched down at her grandparents’ farm.
She said 88 percent of abductees report their homes appear to be haunted after their abductions.
In a telephone interview Thursday, UFO skeptic and author Robert Sheaffer had a different take on the incident. He said Betty Hill was fantasy-prone and would report seeing UFOs all the time, even when other people were with her that could identify them as ordinary things such as airplanes.
He said during the 1970s, Betty Hill spent time with a fellow UFO enthusiast who later reported that she couldn’t tell the difference between a streetlight and a landed UFO.
Marden’s account said Betty Hill had no interest in UFOs until the abduction while Sheaffer said it was an ongoing interest. She said her aunt and uncle were each tested and found to be psychologically normal.
Sheaffer said the popular abduction narrative seen on TV, movies and books is an American phenomenon. It has some popularity in the United Kingdom and is gaining ground in continental Europe, but is absent in places like Asia.
He said UFO beliefs are popular in Mexico, but there it only takes the form of sightings. Abductions are unheard-of.
“It doesn’t fit into their culture at all,” he said. Sheaffer said most abductions can be explained as sleep paralysis, where people have waking dreams but can’t move. He said their minds fit the aliens they see in popular culture into the experience.
He said the big problem with UFO claims is that people see things they can’t explain, such as a light in the sky, and assume they come from aliens. He said it would be more prudent to simply say they are unknown when there isn’t enough evidence, and to always check for mundane explanations first.
“The police can’t explain a certain percentage of murders and bank robberies. That doesn’t mean that extraterrestrials are killing people and robbing banks,” said Sheaffer.
Follow Michael Hartwell at facebook.com/michaelhartwell or on Twitter or Tout @Sehartwell.