Sunday, September 6, 2009

Town holds first 'out of this world' UFO fest

They came in peace — and had the T-shirts to prove it.


"Aliens rule."



"Pine Bush, N.Y."

"We come in peace."

Plus, of course, the official Exeter UFO Festival shirt — a popular buy during the inaugural event — with a little green man celebrating Exeter's "out-of-this-world community."

If a UFO decided to hover over downtown Exeter on Saturday it would've found a welcoming crowd.

Among the hundreds of visitors to the free all-day fest were adults with glittery tinfoil headbands, kids with painted alien faces and at least two full-bodied green and red monsters in the forms of Bryn Richards, 8, and Molly Warriner, 10, both of Exeter.

"We wanted to be with our own kind," Warriner said, deadpan. "We've gotten a lot of stares."

"It's been fun," said Richards.

Richards' aunt, Michelle Popplewell, timed her visit from Minnesota for this first UFO event.

"I think it's wonderful how people can talk about it comfortably in a safe environment," Popplewell said.

She, her sister Andrea Richards and the two monsters joined the others who packed Town Hall for Kathleen Marden's lecture on her book, "Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience."

"I liked the first-hand experience she had with her aunt," Popplewell said of Marden, who is the niece of famed New Hampshire UFO abductee Betty Hill.

Earlier in the day on Saturday, Peter Geremia spoke about the Sept. 3, 1965, "Incident at Exeter" that put the region on the map as the "East Coast Roswell."

Over at Founders Park, children transformed flat rocks into spaceships, were read stories from books such as "Commander Toad and the Space Pirates" and "Easy-To-Make Spaceships That Really Fly" and created their own UFOs out of recycled material strewn about the park.

Thomas Muscarello, 8, of Exeter, is the nephew of Norman Muscarello, who was a teenager back in 1965 when his story became part of the "Incident at Exeter."

Thomas' mother, Bonnie, said the boy and his father go outside all the time looking for UFOs.

On Saturday, Thomas used coffee canisters, two soda cans, tinfoil, duct tape and a cookie cutter to create his own spaceship from "Planet X," which "landed" next to a much larger spaceship created by a team of kids and adults.

He had only been there an hour, but so far Thomas was enjoying the festival.

"Probably I would want to go to another one," he said.

Rita Podalsky of Kensington, one of the festival volunteers, said she became involved when organizer Dean Merchant of Stratham asked her if she believed in UFOs.

Not only does she believe, she said, she and her husband and daughter had a sighting 25-30 years ago at their own home.

That home on Osgood Road, part of "UFO Alley," was marked on maps handed out at the festival for self-guided UFO safari tours.

And on Saturday Podalsky wore an official festival T-shirt while helping to put together children's event supplies at Founders Park.

"I think it's incredible," she said. "The kids seem to be having a really fun time. I hope it takes off like the Keene Pumpkin Festival as a yearly thing."

About a dozen kids and adults marched in a parade from the park to Town Hall, following sidewalks filled with chalk drawings of spaceships and aliens.

Sharon Taylor of the Weeks Public Library in Greenland led the parade down Water Street, singing about galaxies and calling "live long and prosper" to bemused sidewalk patrons.

Kitty Mervine of Antrim, N.H., walked behind the children in the parade. She runs a site called to help people who believe they've been abducted by aliens.

"Abduction went from nice to bad right here in New Hampshire," Mervine said.

Before Betty and Barney Hill, she said, aliens were nice and friendly. After the Hills reported their sighting it was the start of the "grays," Mervine said, with the media, books and Hollywood leading people to see aliens as frightening.

In terms of this first UFO Festival, Mervine said the lectures seemed well attended, but she was disappointed in the other events, with a lot of "silly" mixed with the serious.

Provident Bank didn't seem to mind getting silly.

Next to Town Hall, a sign outside the bank offered "intergalactic exchange rates with U.S. dollars," with 1 "Quid" equalling $12.50.

Inside the hall, fans crowded around the Water Street Bookstore table to buy or order UFO books, plus check out the UFO drawings designed by local children, with sales proceeds going to the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce's Children's Fund.

By the bandstand, the Kiwanis Club of Exeter was selling food, and a New England UFO Research (NEUFOR) van was parked with silver star-shaped balloons on the roof.

Joe Cambria of NEUFOR said once the group heard about this free first event they decided to offer support, not knowing how it would be.

"It's going absolutely fantastic," Cambria said early Saturday afternoon. "It's been beyond our expectations. We've given out almost all of our printed material. The experiences and stories people are sharing with us have made it all worthwhile. We really hope they do this next year."

Jason Miller and Henrik Strand, both 14, of Exeter, approached Cambria to discuss collaborating with a new group they are forming, called Center for Extraterrestrial Research and Analyzation (CETRA).

The teens share an interest in UFOs and said they've experienced phenomena first-hand.

Miller, who wore a CETRA shirt, spoke of an occurrence just last month before a laser show in Atlanta. Strand, who is working on a CETRA Web site, spoke of unexplained patterns and footprints by his home.

"Our goal is to spread the word," Miller said. "There are too many nonbelievers. It's going to affect our future."

On Saturday, they were just happy to support the first Exeter UFO Festival.

"I think it's really good to broaden people's perspectives," Strand said.

"I think it's going to get better and better every year," Miller said. "I can't wait for next year."


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