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UFO museum to feature panel discussions

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An alien figure is bathed in green light as a UFO model emits smoke Wednesday in an exhibit at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, 114 N. Main St. The museum is preparing a new exhibit on close encounters that will complement a panel discussion at July’s UFOlogist Invasion. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The International UFO Museum and Research Center will feature a panel discussion on alien abduction at its UFOlogist Invasion in July that will be complemented by its latest exhibit update.

The exhibit on close encounters is currently under construction and will take up three panels of the south wall of the museum’s exhibit space. Museum Director Jim Hill said it should be complete in about three weeks.

The exhibit will feature the stories of people such as Travis Walton, who is the “most favorite” speaker of attendees of the museum’s UFOlogist Invasion, said Karen Jaramillo, deputy director of the museum.

Walton is author of “The Walton Experience,” which was adapted for the 1993 film “Fire in the Sky” about his alleged 1975 abduction while he was working as a logger in Arizona.

The exhibit will also feature the uniform of Charles Halt, who was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force in 1980 when he led a patrol investigating an alleged UFO in the Rendlesham Forest in England.

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Halt and Walton will be part of a panel discussion during the UFOlogist Invasion, which takes place during the city’s UFO Festival July 2-4. Other panel members include Thomas Reed, whose story of a 1969 alleged abduction was featured in an episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries,” and Kathleen Marden, author and UFO researcher whose aunt and uncle, Betty and Barney Hill, are believed to be the first documented alleged abduction.

The museum’s speaker events will be ticketed this year due to limitations under public health orders.

The museum library’s space used for the event will be able to have only about 58 spectators due to COVID restrictions, Jaramillo said. Because of that, the events will also be livestreamed. Ticket information for both the in-person and livestreamed events are expected to be on the museum’s website in about a week.

The new exhibit is part of a master plan to update the museum’s original exhibits. Pegboard and matted photographs have been replaced with professionally designed displays.

“We’ve got one more phase to do. The three exhibits to the east of the big new one that’s going in, and that’s probably going to be early fall,” Hill said.

“Most of this has been going on for the past year and a half. When we were closed we could really get a lot done,” he said.

The museum closed for about three months starting in mid-March 2020 due to the pandemic and had to close for two weeks last fall when an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The closures dropped the museum’s attendance for the year, but Hill said visitors have returned, with March’s attendance almost meeting March 2019.

Typically, March brings between 1,000 to 2,000 people a day, Jaramillo said. The museum didn’t quite reach that this year but had better numbers than it anticipated, Jaramillo said.

“We were not expecting all the spring breakers, but they came,” Jaramillo said.

“Last weekend we had 2,000 in one day and 1,500 the day before,” she said.

Sales in the museum’s gift shop for March were also up by about 9%, Hill said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.