Sunday, March 20, 2005

Aliens Take Over Fort Myers Museum

By Colette Bancroft
St Petersburg Times Floridian

     FORT MYERS - The building wasn't designed for spaceships.

The graceful stucco structure that houses the Southwest Florida Museum of History was built for another kind of transportation. When it went up in 1923, it was the Fort Myers depot for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad.

Since renovation in 1982, it has housed the museum's collection of artifacts from Florida's past: dugout canoes and giant shark jaws, memorabilia from wars and railroads, old photos of families with names that match those on the city's street signs.

But since January, the biggest draw in the place - the biggest draw in its history - pulls visitors to the museum's back corner. The sign at the door says, "Area 51. Warning: Restricted Area. No trespassing beyond this point."

Above it, the title is superimposed over a photo of an empty patch of New Mexico brittlebush and sage: "The Roswell Exhibit."

This exhibit has nothing at all to do with Florida. Matt Johnson, who has been the museum's general manager for four years, says he was reluctant at first to bring in the traveling exhibit, which was produced by the International Museum Institute of Texas.

"Once I got a look at the exhibit, I was more comfortable with it," Johnson says. "It's really a scholarly look at the Roswell incident. It shows both sides.

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