When she was 14, Cheryl Ann Gilmore asked her science teacher if she could tell the class about the shiny, saucer-shaped craft she and a cousin saw in the skies over Fresno, Ohio.
“Everybody laughed, and he even laughed,” she said.
The kidding about her sighting continued all through high school in the Buckeye State.
Today, at 67, the St. Matthews resident has developed a thick skin toward the skeptics as she leads a team of 25 people who investigate statewide reports of unidentified flying objects.
“Thousands and thousands of people are seeing things that can’t be explained. I can’t say that I believe in UFOs. I just know there is something interacting with the people of this planet,” she said.
The tale of UFOs in South Carolina begins a new chapter when the state hosts what’s billed as the world’s first comprehensive exhibit on unidentified flying objects, alien abductions and encounters. The show opens April 4 on the Grand Strand.
“There’s a good audience for it in Myrtle Beach,” said Brian Bouquet, president of The Event Agency, a California ad and marketing company that developed the exhibit.
Since 1939, more than 900 reports of South Carolina UFOs have been logged at a center in Davenport, Wash., that tracks such sightings.
“It is sometimes difficult, or even impossible, to know for certain whether they are accurate,” said Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center.
“However, I make an honest effort to screen out, or label, obvious hoaxes, cases of mistaken identity, and other reports that appear to have nothing to do with alleged sightings of seemingly authentic UFOs,” he said in an e-mail.
The Myrtle Beach exhibit will include galleries that showcase ancient alien encounters, the military’s role in modern sightings and pop culture’s fascination with extraterrestrial life.
An “alien abduction experience” that sets the mood with bright lights and fog will be featured.
“It’s super-cool,” Bouquet said.
The show is planned for Broadway at the Beach across from Margaritaville.
Gilmore, director of the Mutual UFO Network of South Carolina, said she was not familiar with the exhibit. “I’m hoping that it’s going to be something factual, photos from sightings,” she said.
Another alien-themed attraction, the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, has drawn national attention as a quirky roadside attraction. Jody Pendarvis said he started building the 48-foot-wide double-decker saucer in 1994.
He was not a believer in UFOs until 1999 when he saw two globe-shaped objects between Bowman and Orangeburg. “I can’t really say if it was a spaceship, but it was a ship of some kind,” he said.
Anonymous local reports of UFOs are posted at Davenport’s website, www.UFOCenter.com.
On Dec. 19, a James Island resident saw multiple UFOs, some triangular, others circular.
In October, a Charleston resident described seeing a large, triangular-shaped craft.
“I was very startled and, quite frankly, afraid after it left my field of vision,” the person wrote.
A Mount Pleasant resident saw “three orbs” moving in triangle formation over North Shellmore Boulevard on Nov. 22. “The craft seemed to slow and stop near the square at I’On and then moved on.”
Bouquet has not seen a UFO but said the probability of alien life is very interesting.
“The real story is the witnesses,” he said.