True UFO believer hopes you, too, will see light
REEDS SPRING, Mo. — Bob White is convinced his story deserves a grand stage, that his most-prized possession should be displayed before a national audience.
It should draw tourists from all over the country, he figures, and be a major attraction for people who want to see an artifact that White swears was retrieved from a UFO in 1985.
Instead, White's find is in tiny Reeds Spring in southwest Missouri, secured in a locked display case at the back of a converted video rental store. Here at the Museum of the Unexplained, a small, fledgling operation that during a recent morning went more than three hours without a customer.
White can't figure it out.
All he wants to do is find some believers. He wants people to quit snickering and looking at him like he's crazy. He wants them to listen to his story, to take a hard look at his metallic artifact, to give him a chance.
“This,” White said, “is the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life.”
The odds are stacked against him, no question about it. He and his partner at the museum, Robert Gibbons, have been rejected and ridiculed. White estimates he has spent more than $60,000 traveling to conferences, starting the museum, having the artifact tested and retested.
And yet he forges on.
“I'm 73 years old,” White said. “I don't have much longer.
“What I'd like to see before I'm gone is the national media get their heads out of their …” White paused, choosing his words carefully, “… out of the sand. I'd like to see the national media and everybody else realize that what I have is real.”
Scientists theorize that the “UFO” lights White said he encountered could have been nothing more than a falling star, that his artifact could be space debris. Some scientists who have tested the object, or arranged for a laboratory to test it, said there was nothing extraterrestrial about it.
People have questioned White's motives, even his sanity.
“I've been called every name you can think of,” he said.
For his part, White doesn't wear outlandish clothes, and he looks as if he could spend the winter months as a department-store Santa Claus. He comes across as a plain-spoken, level-headed guy who is every bit as homegrown as his Kansas City roots.
And if he's doing this for the money, well, that plan was a miserable failure.
The museum, about 13 miles north of the glitzy Branson strip, might as well be in another world. There are no neon signs pointing the way, no twinkling lights outside the front door. Rather, it's sandwiched between the Humane Society thrift shop and the Sunrise Cafe on Main Street.
Visitors pass the crumbling concrete steps, the “Flying Saucer Parking Only” sign. Inside, three donation jars sit in various locations, and the attached notes say, “Your generosity supports this museum.”
On this day, the jars have gathered layers of dust but not so much as a quarter.
“Business is slow,” White said. “We're barely getting by.”
But White isn't going anywhere.
This has become his passion, his mission. His life was forever changed during that spine-tingling encounter, he said, and he's got the souvenir to prove it.
“Once it happens,” White said, “it's something you'll never forget.”
Ask White whether he believed in unidentified flying objects prior to 1985, and he scrunches up his nose.
“Never,” he said. “Not a bit. I was the biggest skeptic in the world.”
That all changed overnight. Here's how he remembers it:
White and a friend were driving from Denver to Las Vegas on a desolate highway near the Colorado-Utah border. It was 2 or 3 a.m., he said, and White was sleeping in the passenger seat of the car. At one point, his friend woke him up and pointed out a strange light in the distance. White didn't think much of it and went back to sleep.
Then his friend woke him up again. This time, White said, the lights were practically blinding.
He got out of the car and stared, dumbfounded. The object was about 100 yards in front of him, he said, “and it was huge … absolutely huge.”
White was paralyzed, not with fear but with awe.
In time, he said, the lights bolted toward the sky. He said that they connected with a pair of neon, tubular lights — “the mother ship,” White guesses now. And just like that, he said, the entire contraption zipped eastward through the Colorado sky and disappeared.
“What I saw,” White said, “was not of this earth.”
As the craft flew away, White said, he noticed an orange light falling to the ground. A locator probe? Something that simply broke off?
It was red hot when he reached it, he said, but in time it cooled enough to pick up. White shoved the object into the trunk of the car, and he and his friend headed off to the nearest all-night diner.
“The strongest thing they had was coffee,” White said, chuckling. “We wanted more than that.”
White didn't say much publicly about his encounter when it first happened. A comedian and a singer, he was trying to earn a living in show business.
“I didn't want anybody to call me a UFO nut,” he said. “I was afraid it might hurt my career.”
So he packed up the artifact and forgot about it, at least until the mid-1990s. Around 1996, after his nomadic show business career had ended in Branson, he decided to seek out answers.
The object is about 7½ inches long and shaped like a teardrop. It has a coarse, metallic exterior and weighs less than 2 pounds. It looks a bit like it could be a petrified pine cone and is composed primarily of aluminum.
White has had the item tested several times.
The Nevada-based National Institute for Discovery Science in 1996 sent a sample of the object to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
“The metallurgical analysis was pretty mundane,” said Colm Kelleher, a scientist who runs the day-to-day operations of the National Institute for Discovery Science. “We didn't find any evidence that it was extraterrestrial.
“Now you can make the argument that we didn't spend $1 million and look at every conceivable option. We didn't cover every base.”
Gibbons, whose background most recently includes work as a senior technician in the interconnect technologies division of Northrop Grumman in Springfield, is quick to point that out. He said it was the first test conducted on the artifact and wasn't very thorough. A later test, he said, was conducted by a laboratory in California and showed that the object's strontium isotope levels were “virtually the same” as those found in meteorite samples from Mars.
A scientist at the California laboratory, who asked that his name and that of the laboratory not be used, disagreed.
“It didn't show any extraterrestrial signature,” he said.
Meanwhile, skeptics abound.
Sgt. Gary Carpenter, who works at the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., said it was not uncommon for NORAD to get calls about strange lights and unidentified objects.
Not once, he said, has the object been identified as an alien spacecraft.
“Usually it turns out to be space debris from a satellite that's decaying, or it's in the realm of naturally occurring, celestial lights,” he said. “It could be something like a falling star. It could be contrails, the things you would see trailing an aircraft.”
But White and Gibbons are undeterred, proclaiming that White has twice passed polygraph tests about the encounter and the artifact. Capt. George Larbey, who is in charge of the criminal investigation and drug units for the Greene County Sheriff's Department in Springfield, conducted the first polygraph test in 1998.
“I believe he found an object that fell from the sky,” Larbey said. “As far as the UFO goes, I don't know if I'll go there, but in his mind, that's what he believes he saw.
“There was no reason for me to believe he was intentionally fabricating any aspect of his story.”
This year alone there have been 16 alleged UFO sightings in Missouri reported to the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle. There have been 10 in Kansas, including one in Olathe in March in which the person filing the report said, “There was a threat present.”
White and Gibbons still hope to tap into that market.
White opened the Museum of the Unexplained with visions of turning it into a destination. He wasn't looking to get rich — according to the Missouri secretary of state's office, the museum was registered as a nonprofit organization in August 2000 — but hoped to spread the word about his experience.
But the museum has struggled, unable to tap into the Branson spin-off crowd and secure a niche audience of its own. Only 2,800 people went through the doors that first year, when admission was free, and the museum hasn't been able to replicate those numbers since.
These days, patrons age 12 and older pay $5 to stroll through about 2,000 square feet of space. There's a keyboard, for example, from the movie “Men in Black II” in which the shift key doesn't capitalize or decapitalize but translates from English to alien. Other exhibits are little more than newspaper articles or passages from the Internet.
Such exhibits are nothing but ambience, White concedes. The focal point is the artifact, and White takes no chances with its safety. Motion detectors, closed-circuit TV, and window and door alarms protect it at all times. White packs it up in a gun case every day at 5 p.m., and the object never spends the night at the same place two nights in a row.
You can never be too sure, he figures, even in a town with just 465 residents.
“I'm happy for them that they're having a good time, but I guess I'm just not into that kind of thing,” said Kacee Cashman, the Reeds Spring city clerk since 1998. “I really think they've been accepted, but everybody's kind of taking it with a grain of salt.”
Everybody, of course, but White and Gibbons.
They have a Web site about White's experience — www.hardevidence.com — up and running, and Minnesota-based Galde Press said it was planning to publish White's book this summer. A member of the museum's board of directors recently purchased a 42-foot transit bus from the city of Dallas, and White and Gibbons hope to take it to Kansas City and other cities across the country.
White has told his story on radio shows nationwide and was featured on a segment of the TV show “Extra” in 2000. He recently was flown back to the site of the original encounter by a TV crew from England, and that segment will be broadcast this fall. “I don't know what I have to do to prove this is the truth,” White said. “You can't make this stuff up.”