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UFO museum preparing for visitors

Juno Ogle Photo Finishing touches are still being put on a diorama where visitors can take photos at the entrance to the exhibit area of the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

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When visitors from far away are allowed inside New Mexico’s museums again, the International UFO Museum and Research Center will be ready with some new things for them to see.

The museum has been closed since March 19 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the staff has remained busy. All 16 staff members have remained on the payroll, helping fill online orders from the gift shop and working on new exhibits and displays. The gift shop reopened June 8 for in-person business, drawing about 400 people a day, Karen Jaramillo, deputy director of the museum, said.

The goal has been to be prepared and ready to open whenever the governor gives her approval, Jim Hill, director of the museum, said Thursday.

“It would take us overnight to be completely ready as soon as they say ‘go,’” Hill said. “We’ve got all the enhanced sanitation, a lot of sanitation stations around, screening.”

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Visitors to the gift shop must wear masks and their temperature is taken when they enter the building.

And when visitors can come for more than just the gift shop, they will see the continuation of a multi-year update, Hill said.

“In late 2017, we started working on a master plan to start getting the exhibit area upgraded. The past year and five months we’ve spent right at $500,000 on the exhibit area,” he said.

Only a few sections of the museum’s original pegboard and matted picture exhibits remain, replaced by professionally designed and interactive displays on the alleged 1947 crash of an unidentified flying object near Roswell and information about UFOs and related pop culture.

“Since we were closed, we could do a lot of different things that would be really difficult if we were open,” Hill said.

The most notable to the public is the removal of the signs from the marquee on the front of the building, revealing the museum’s original signs from 1996.

“They were handpainted, but they’ve been covered up for years, so they haven’t weathered,” Hill said.

“It’s kind of neat, but that canopy is photo-opped a lot,” Hill said, so the museum decided to replace the worn vinyl signs with new ones, which are scheduled to arrive this week.

Inside, visitors will see a new entryway into the exhibit space. One wall will feature large screens with maps showing where visitors have come from. Tablets will let people enter their name and ZIP code. Hill said the museum might postpone putting those into use due to COVID-19, however.

Opposite the maps, a new diorama depicts a crashed flying saucer in the desert where visitors can pose for photos with alien figures.

Inside, newer exhibits detail the alleged events of July 1947 and the Air Force’s official explanation. Touch screens offer audio and visual additions to the text.

An interactive children’s educational exhibit is planned to run along the lower part of the exhibit space, Jaramillo said.

A new lab scene displays alien figures the museum has had, and the “alien autopsy” display has been moved from the end of the exhibit space to the middle, where it will eventually be expanded.

“That’s going to have more depth and something that tells the story so people understand it’s not just a photo-op, it actually has some history,” Hill said.

Future exhibits will explain the scale of close encounters with aliens and show more props and artifacts the museum has, including the uniform of a U.S. Air Force member who was at the alleged 1980 UFO sighting at Rendlesham Forest in England.

“He was wearing the uniform the night he walked up to the UFO. He just donated that,” Jaramillo said.

While much of the design and construction of the exhibits have been done by a Texas company, Hill said the museum has done business locally whenever possible.

“We’ve done everything else we can to go local in terms of the project manager, all the painting contractors are local,” Hill said. “A fair amount of the cost of this whole project is going to be local.”

Once the exhibit space upgrade is complete, Hill said the lobby will be expanded and then the library will get an upgrade.

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