TIMES, St. Petersburg, FL - July 8, 1990 pensacola DEBUNKERS vs BELIVERS Tales of another
TIMES, St. Petersburg, FL - July 8, 1990 pensacola
DEBUNKERS vs BELIVERS
Tales of another world are not alien to the national UFO convention.
by Chris Lavin
Times Staff Writer
PENSACOLA - Sitting in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, Gilbert Landis turned to the person next to him and , without a giggle, said this:
"I'm here because 10,500 years ago my wife and I made a mistake."
A few seats over, Clark McClelland from Orlando was talking about secret autopsies performed on alien creatures and Nazi scientists who escaped to secret Antarctic bases where they have been building flying saucers.
Just down the hall, a preacher lectured about UFOs and the Bible. The parting of the Red Sea, he said may have been caused by the propulsion system of an alien spacecraft.
So it went during the weekend at the national convention of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) - an annual gathering of scientists and others who belive the aliens have landed.
If this was any other year in any other city, the convention would probably drift off like a UFO, an oddity never to be heard of again. But this was Pensacola, and it seems most of the population of nearby Gulf Breeze had reported a UFO sighting in recent years.
So the conventation took on special meaning - to those who belive in the extra terrestrial and those who spend their time challenging UFO believers.
Specifically, most of the Believers and Debunkers came loaded for a showdown over photographs taken by Gulf Breeze builder Ed Walters. The photos purported to show a UFO that Walters says hovered over his home, paralyzed him with a blue beam and left him and his wife, Francis, scared and bewildered.
Since the publication of his book - titled "The Gulf Breeze Sightings: The Most Astounding Multiple Sightings of UFOs in U.S. History - Walters has been accused by Debunkers of using a model and trick photography to perpetrate a fraud.
The battling has been, well, out of this world.
"It's the wildest, most preposterious story I've ever heard," says Philip J. Klass, a longtime UFO debunker. "Just think of it. Multiple visits to the same house, little creatures, voices in his head, talking about bananas."
Yes, Walters says, it does seem odd. But he insists the evidence and sightings by hundreds of others, including a Gulf Breeze town council member, corroborate his story.
Walter's story began November 11, 1987, when he saw the UFO and snapped photographs. This encounter was close and continual - recurring through numerous sightings during the next three years.
Walters says the UFO called him "Zehass," and he recounted conversations apparently coming from the UFO. In one encounter, Walters told of hearing alien voices speaking in Spanish complaining about being fed too many bananas. "I know this sounds bizarre," Walters wrote, "and I was tempted not to tell about it, but bananas are what they were talking about."
Walters says he was hungry for an explaination of what he had seen. He notified MUFON investigators and passed his photos on to the Gulf Breeze Sentinel, a small weekly paper that reports UFO sightings.
But as word of Walters' photos spread, more and more residents of this Gulf Coast town reported seeing the UFO.
Walters soon learned a quick lesson about UFO sightings: The person who says he or she saw the UFO will be closely examined. Walters was plunged into the little-known but continuous war between the Believers and the Debunkers - both of whom questioned Walters for their own purposes.
When the analysis was done, the outcome was no suprise. MUFON investigators backed Walters and his photos, skeptics such as Klass were not convinced. "You know, Walters is a convicted felon," Klass says. "Yes, car theft and forgery. He's slick, real slick."
But Walters says his problems with the law dated back to his teen years. As an adult, he says, he has been a successful builder and a pillar of the community.
With Gulf Breeze being the hottest UFO spot in the world, MUFON decided to bring its annual conference to Pensacola. When the 600 or so MUFON members arrived Friday, they found a city split over the reality of UFOs, but unified on the economic impact of this convention.
A Gulf Breeze jewlery company had created "Gulf Breeze Sighting" watches and medallions. There were T-shirts featuring Walters' blue beam, and visitors could pay to be photographed with a life-sized statue of the Gulf Breeze alien.
But even as the conference began, it was clear west Florida wasn't going to claim a special place in UFO history without a big fight.
In recent weeks 22-year-old Tommy Smith of Pensacola has told reporters he helped Walters create double-exposure UFO photographs. And the Pensacola News Journal reported that a UFO model similar to Walters' photos was found hidden in a house formerly owned by Walters.
But in an impassioned speech, Walters said evidence proves Smith's claims are false. The model, Walters says, was found to be constructed by materials discarded from his construction business in 1989, two years after he made his initial photographs.
Debunkers, Walters alleges, constructed and planted the model to discredit him.
The new allegations have stirred MUFON to reopen its analysis of the Gulf Breeze sightings, but if the atmosphere at this convention is any indicator, don't expect investigators to undermine Walters' claim.
This convention drew a wide variety of UFO types. But virtually all shared a strong belief in UFOs and an equally strong belief that the U.S. government is hiding vast storehouses of information on UFOs and alien life.
There were scientists such as Brian T. O'Leary, a former NASA astronomer and Princeton University instructor, who says his own psychic experiences have convinced him that the United States needs a new science that can explain psychic phenomena and, perhaps, UFOs.
"I began commuinicating telepathically, I experienced moving out of my body and floating over cities, I healed myself with my mind," O'Leary said.
And then there were other Believers who lacked O'Leary's academic credentials, but had stories to tell.
Landis, for example, the 10,500-year-old San Diego resident, said NASA and the U.S. government is secretly aware of a 60-member "Universal Association of Planets" whose spaceships are Earth's UFOs.
"You know what the astronauts saw on the back side of the moon?" Landis said. "There was a refueling station and a structure that looked very much like a hotel. And the canals on Mars? Dry docks for space ships."
Landis' treatise on the history of the universe was interrupted by McClelland, who wants everyone to know that Earth is simply a giant genetic experiment being orchestrated by alien life.
But all at this convention seemed unified by a belief there is something out there and we all need to learn more about it.
Many are like George Kruse, a free-lance photographer from California who was drawn to MUFON when he discovered during a hypnosis session that he had been abducted by aliens.
"I was taken and I couldn't move," Kruse says. "They looked down my throat and inserted a needle (into me). I remember I didn't like it."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank