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UFO Fest is out of this world for true believers, skeptics alike
It was on July 8, 1947, when the Roswell, New Mexico, Army Air Field announced that it had come into possession of a flying saucer.
Almost 70 years later, speculation and conspiracy theories about the event still persist, even though the very next day, on July 9, the Air Force announced that it was actually a weather balloon. The front page of The Oregonian that day read "Airmen End Excitement Over Object."
But the quick backtracking by the government is something that UFO experts continue to challenge. Those experts and others are out in full force to celebrate the milestone year, including at the 18th annual McMenamins UFO Festival, May 18-21 at Hotel Oregon in McMinnville.
There will be plenty of speakers and experts to offer their insights on the subject of aliens and UFOs, including a hypnotherapist, alien abduction expert, Air Force veterans and more.
One speaker is James Clarkson, a 65-year-old UFOlogist and former police officer who believes the subject of UFOs and aliens are as important as any other modern political issue, "even if the importance is not realized in my lifetime," he says.
Formerly a police officer and detective sergeant for 20 years in Aberdeen, Washington, he has studied UFOs for 30 years.
He says the crash in Roswell is the beginning of the modern era of UFOs. Not only was there the famous Roswell crash, but sightings of flying discs in other areas as well, including over Portland.
Two days before the crash in New Mexico, The Oregonian reported on its front page: "Air Liner Crew Confirms Flying Discs Over State." They were pilots of a United Airlines plane flying from Boise, Idaho, to Portland, who were left shaken after the sightings.
But those cases aren't what spurred Clarkson to get involved.
One night in particular during the 1970s, while he was a military police investigator, Clarkson says he was talking to a desk sergeant and saw a card that said National UFO Reporting Center. After inquiring about it, he was told it was where they report UFOs. Thinking it was odd on a military base, Clarkson says he filed it in the back of his mind. Faint curiosity later was ignited into a passion in the late '80s following media coverage of a sighting in Alaska, Clark says.
Taken aback by so many media accounts and unsatisfying explanations by government officials, he was compelled to call the phone number of the National UFO Reporting Center, based in Davenport, Washington, and told them "I don't want to report a UFO. I want to get involved."
Decades later, he's now investigated more than 800 cases and even wrote a book 10 years ago called "Tell My Story: June Crain, The Air Force and UFOs." Clarkson says Crain was a witness to events at Roswell.
He says out of every 10 UFOs, two are what he says are "true UFOs." The bulk of the reports are manmade phenomena or there is not enough information to really know what it is. It's actually rare cases, he says, when someone deliberately tries to perpetrate a hoax.
"I use exactly the same kind of skills that I used as a police officer," he says, when asked how he separates what he observes as truth from the crazy. "I have 20 years of training in that field." Clarkson says he worked as a fraud investigator and on child abuse cases, affording him valuable investigative skills.
"I look for people who just ... try to describe their experience without embellishing it."
He's familiar with the typical jokes made among a group of friends or acquaintances — people in tin foil hats and little green men. "Which is what sadly happens most of the time when the media presents the subject," Clarkson says. "Right after that, though, is when it gets good. There's always one person who has seen something, or someone they know and trust has."
With all of his intensive studies and investigations, one would think Clarkson has his own experience with a UFO or alien to speak of. But he's not afraid to admit that he hasn't, although it's a great hope.
"I'd like to go from the realm of investigative logic to certainty of actual experience," he says.
But his biggest frustration? Surprisingly, not that young people don't believe in aliens — in fact, he says, it's quite the opposite. He says youth are too cynical — they believe, but aren't doing anything about it.
"If you ask a young person if UFOs are real and the government is lying, they pretty much will say, 'Well duh, who doesn't know that?'
"I wish people would take an active interest in it and keep seeing the truth," Clarkson says.
And when it comes to Roswell, he still believes there's more to the story.
"Something extraordinary happened in Roswell, and it wasn't a weather balloon."
For more: www.UFOFest.com