CLEVELAND - If you saw an unidentified flying object that defied your logic and common sense, yet you knew without doubt that you had seen something truly bizarre and unexplainable, would you tell anyone?
A local UFO group -- one of the oldest in the country -- asked people to come forward and share their experiences. Organizers said they got a great response.
"It's the first time we had an event like that, just taking reports," said Aaron Clark, co-director of The Cleveland Ufology Project (CUP).
Clark is no wild-eyed guy living in a fantasy world. He has a scientific mind. He works as a lab technician for a reputable organization. Yet the stigma of publicly "believing" in UFOs prompted even him to think twice about identifying where he works. He requested his place of employment be withheld from this story.
Still, Clark is active in the local UFO scene. Once a month, he and other people he calls credible, gather to hash out what's out there.
"The numbers of reports that keep coming in, no matter how much people want to say 'this stuff doesn't exist,' there are incredible numbers of credible people who keep giving reports," Clark said.
He points to the turnout at Sunday's meeting at the library in Brecksville, which took place on the anniversary of the Roswell incident.
CUP organized the meeting to encourage people to share what they have seen, but cannot explain. The group wants these people to know they are not crazy, and they should not feel any stigma talking about what they've seen.
The stories some people shared took an hour to tell. Most of the people who came forward to share had their UFO experiences in northeast Ohio.
CUP members took detailed reports and will be reviewing them closely in the weeks and months ahead. Clark was not ready to share what's in the new reports, but he said his group may investigate about 15 experiences, and may share some with similar organizations across the country.
"We have knowledgeable people who are capable of investigating cases. We're not affiliated with other organizations but we openly share information."
Clark has had personal experiences with UFOs, one when he was 11 years old, and another just a few weeks ago. To hear him describe what he saw as a child, one might think Clark has a wild imagination. But then one remembers, he is a man of science and methodology.
"It was a silver disc. It was humongous," Clark said. "It was the size of a house. It had three rows of lights. It came out of the clouds, came across the street, and went back in clouds. That was pretty shocking. I've never seen anything like that again."
Clark was in his mother's car, at the intersection of Broadview and Pleasant Valley roads, in July 1986 when he had that experience. He has never found anyone alive who saw the same UFO at that well-populated area, though he has searched.
Clark also saw another UFO just a few weeks ago in Medina County, where he lives. He described it as an "orange object that disappeared at dusk and there were no clouds in the sky. Originally, I thought it was the space station."
Clark checked. It wasn't the space station or an airplane. And it was too bright to be a satellite. "It was truly unidentified," he said.
CUP has up to 20 regular committed members who meet each month, on the third Saturday at Michelle Star's Yoga Studio in Middleburg Heights.
Star herself is not a member because of a full schedule, she said. But she does support the group and its effort to remove the stigma of openly sharing experiences with UFOs.
"I've seen UFOs and I believe they are around," Star said.
The next CUP meeting is 7:30 p.m. on Sat., July 21, at the Star's yoga studio, 7372 Engle Rd in Middleburg Heights. The meetings are open to the public, usually lasting under three hours, but Clark pointed out several regular members will be on vacation that week.
A larger gathering is set for Sept. 15. CUP is holding a fundraising banquet at the 100th Bomb Group to celebrate 60th anniversary of the organization. UFO author and investigator Richard Dolan will be in town to speak on the future of Ufology.
People who want to contact the group can visit CUP's website (clevelandufo.com). Members encourage first-timers to contact the group.
"We're trying to break that (stigma) down so people can feel more comfortable talking about things that they feel are strange," Clark explained. "It's really unfortunate that our society is like that, where you can't talk about it because you are afraid."
He and regular group members believe the U.S. government knows more about these unidentified flying objects than is shared with the public, and CUP hopes one day the military releases information it believes currently is held under tight wraps.
"There's a lot of evidence of unidentified objects interacting with the military and a lot of documentation out there supporting that," Clark said. "I can't even think of how many times they've scrambled jets to chase them."