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Originally published July 13, 2007
Mark Hohmeister: Roswell reminds us of the unknown
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Sixty years ago this week, the 509 Bomb Group in Roswell, N.M., issued a news release saying that a "flying disk" had crashed on a nearby ranch.

Later that same day, July 8, 1947, there was a retraction. Oops. Did we say flying disk? We meant weather balloon.

Since then, there have been reports of mysterious metals and autopsies on aliens. In 1995, an Air Force report said it was part of a secret program, Project Mogul, using high-altitude balloons to monitor Soviet weapons programs. And the aliens were probably just crash dummies.

Whatever, the crash did for Roswell what some say a zoo could do for Tallahassee. It put the town on the map. Roswell just celebrated the anniversary of the "incident." There's a McDonald's that looks like a UFO. Arby's posted a sign saying: "Aliens welcome." The city's Web site features comic book covers and an animated green creature. And Roswell is accepting bids on a multimillion-dollar UFO amusement park.

It gets very silly. But to many people, there is "something out there."

My parents used to sit by a reservoir in Connecticut to watch the sunset. One evening, a light caught their eye.

"It was very bright and moved," recalled my mother, who doesn't use the term UFO when describing it. "It wasn't a plane. It was just a strange thing in the sky that we couldn't place."

In-laws on my wife's side of the family once saw lights follow them for miles on a desert highway.

In 1966, a UFO followed the plane of Florida Gov. Haydon Burns for about 40 miles over North Florida. Among the witnesses was The Miami Herald's Bill Mansfield, who later became editorial page editor of the Democrat.

There's the Jimmy Carter UFO Incident, when the yet-to-be-president and several others saw a UFO in Leary, Ga., in 1969.

Heck, even the Bible (in the first chapter of Ezekiel) gets into the act. After a glowing light zips out of the North, the writer says, "As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. Their rims were tall and awesome, for the rims of all four were full of eyes all round."

Here in the Big Bend, with a much lower profile than a president or even the Bible, Kelly Freeman operates his one-man Florida UFO Network. If you see something unusual, you can call his hot line (875-3569), and he'll send you a report form to fill out.

He has received recent reports from Jacksonville, Naples and Altamonte Springs. He also got a call from what sounded like a scared youngster from the outskirts of Tallahassee, who had seen a white oval, but the boy didn't leave a name or number.

"Things are picking up right now," he said. "I'm not sure what's going on."

On YouTube, a video posted in March purports to show a bright light sitting in the Tallahassee sky for at least 10 minutes (search on YouTube for Tallahassee and UFO).

Freeman said he hadn't seen that video and dismissed it with, "I don't really do lights in the sky. It's got to be something more significant than that."

Freeman, 54, has been researching UFOs since the 1970s.

"Most who are doing it have had their own experience," he said.

The one he recalled was in 1995 in Midway. He was driving to work about 6:30 a.m., a route he had taken for years, when he saw 13 amber lights in the shape of a disc, hovering. He saw it to his left, but when he turned the car around, it was gone. "It freaked me out," he said.

Talking about UFOs can be a bit delicate. "I'm working on a column about UFOs" was often followed by a short "Ha!" from co-workers.

Last year, a Wakulla High student won $250 in the Tallahassee Skeptic UFO Contest sponsored by the Tallahassee Chapter of the Center for Inquiry. His winning entry was a "photo" of a UFO buzzing the Turlington Building.

It can be a bit like talking about religion, a subject best avoided in polite company.

You have those who have seen and believe. And you have those who mock what they view as absurd, unprovable and, basically, a waste of time.

That doesn't faze Freeman.

"I don't care what people think," he said. "They're a fact of life. They're out there."

Contact Mark Hohmeister at (850) 599-2330 or

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