By Jennifer FealsEXETER — On Sept. 3, 1965, Norman Muscarello rushed into the Exeter police station blown away by the hovering craft with five red flashing lights he had just witnessed. Following his report, a series of similar stories throughout the area began emerging.
This year on Sept. 5, a series of events will kick off at the very spot Muscarello shared his story, the Exeter Town Hall, as part of the first Exeter UFO Festival which will celebrate incidents in Exeter and the surrounding area.
The free event — which will include talks from researchers and authors in the "ufology" field, events for children, a 1960s Rock & Roll Dance and more — is being coordinated by the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, members of the local business community and locals with interest and experience in the field. Through the Exeter Kiwanis Club, it will also benefit local charities such as the Head Start Program.
Local historian and festival coordinator Dean Merchant said the UFO Festival will show what "an out of this world opportunity" Exeter is.
"My vision, and particularly right now because we are in a poor economy, is for people to have a day of fun, family activity. A day for people to have a good time and a fun distraction, a nice party day," he said.
"Also, the research is coming from very respectful authors and researchers who are thought provoking. It's a chance to talk to people of great expertise, ask questions. It's really a learning experience."
The Exeter UFO Festival sprung from a series of stories Merchant wrote for Seacoast Media Group featuring locals who had UFO experiences. He then heard of festivals in other "active" areas of the country and thought Exeter would benefit from a similar event. In Roswell, New Mexico — an incident involving the recovery of materials near Roswell in 1947 — the city's UFO Festival drew 30,000 visitors in 2008 generating millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses.
The Exeter UFO Festival branched out from there, drawing interest from local businesses, residents and even those around the country. Kathleen Marden of Stratham, the niece of Betty and Barney Hill — who were the subjects of one of the most famous and early documented alien abduction incidents — is the author of "Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience" and has signed on to MC the event.
As a UFO researcher, author and lecturer, Marden has helped Merchant recruit five speakers to visit the festival. While each will speak on a specific topic, the speakers will also join near the end of the day for a panel discussion.
"I think it is important to get the word out about scientific evidence, that's my goal," Marden said. "As a scientific ufologist, I do this in as objective and unbiased manner as I possibly can. Everyone who will be speaking at the festival is a scientific investigator. That is what is important, to give the general public the opportunity to understand the science behind the phenomenon."
Peter Robbins, a freelance investigative writer and public relations ambassador for Roswell will look at the ridicule surrounding UFOs and why they need to be taken seriously.
"There is an opportunity to educate the public as to the reality of the subject," he said. "Those of us who study these things maintain that a very serious sequence of events happened in the (Exeter) area in the 1960s and deserve the acknowledgement."
After experiencing the success of the Roswell UFO Festival, Robbins is "delighted" that Exeter will have a similar event and said it could prove to be an asset to the community.
The festival could bring more service to local hotels, merchants and restaurants, he said. "This can absolutely be one more bullet in Exeter's gun of helping to build tourism year round," he said.
In addition to the speakers, a UFO/ET children's art show will be held at the town hall and children will be welcome to draw aliens throughout town with chalk, participate in an alien costume contest and a downtown alien parade. Some of these festivities are tentative and will rely on volunteer support. If interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce at 772-2411.
Linda Anason, owner of The Yellow House Art & Tiques Gallery, will help children of all ages create a UFO at Founders Park. The UFO will be made free-form out of recycled green plastic bottles and Christmas tree lights, she said.
"I'm hoping it's just a beautiful weekend and people will come out," she said. "Maybe there is going to be some story telling going on."