On the first Wednesday of each month a small band of people from around the state come to the Hamilton Township Public Library to talk about big mysteries in the sky. It’s an activity that the members of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania UFO Study Group have been doing for nearly 30 years.

“I wanted to find other people who have had experiences as I have. I thought that we could get together in a location that would be good to share our experiences,” says founder and coordinator Pat Marcattilio, a life-long area resident who now lives in Hamilton.

The first meeting — September, 1984 — focused on unidentified flying objects (UFOs), but today the group embraces other less conventional yet popular topics. “We now include people who have investigated ghosts and haunted houses and parapsychology and metaphysical subjects,” says the organizer.

The range of topics was on display at a recent meeting. After Marcattilio invited people to talk about their recent paranormal or unexplained experiences (and one man told of an encounter with a haunted gas station), self-professed certified cognitive skills practitioner Laurie Cart presented a talk on electromagnetic fields and their relationship to health. Her support included the research of Albert Roy Davis, a scientist who studied the effects of magnets on health.

But UFOs are still the major interest for Marcattilio, who recalls an experience that has stayed with him. “I saw some UFOs in the sky. So I decided to find other people who wanted to share their experiences, too. My first one was in 1963. I saw this bright star that I thought was a satellite going across the sky. It took five minutes. I called my wife outside and for five minutes we watched it moving. Then it made a right-hand turn and suddenly took off in seconds.”

That sighting was in the backyard of Marcattilio’s apartment on South Clinton and Beatty streets in Trenton, where he lived with his newlywed wife, Patricia.

Trenton native Marcattilio’s early years were in the Chambersburg section of the city, down the street from his grandparents’ delicatessen. His milkman father later moved the family to Atlantic Avenue next to the Woodlawn Pool swim club, where uncles would jump the fence for midnight swims. Marcattilio attended Holy Angels School, Trenton Catholic Boys High School, and Trenton Junior College.

After marrying in the early 1960s, he moved to Hamilton and started a family. Following an 11-year stint as a drafting engineer, he worked for Prudential Insurance, and then as a mail organizer for the U.S. Post Office in Hamilton. He is now retired.

Marcattilio credits a neighborhood friend for introducing him to flying saucers. “A buddy got me interested in 1955. He was a ham radio operator. He was in eighth grade and later became an electrical engineer, studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked at Cape Kennedy. He told me every time we shot a rocket up that UFOs would follow it during the first orbit around the earth. Then it would shoot off. Every time they shot up a rocket, (the UFOs) were news headlines.”

The future UFO meeting coordinator, who claims to have one of the largest collections of UFO books in the region, credits that same friend for lending him the first book that he read on UFOs, “Flying Saucers from Outer Space.”

Written by retired American Marine Corp major and aviator Donald E. Kehoe, the book was a follow-up to Kehoe’s book-length expansion of his True magazine article that shares the same name, “Flying Saucers are Real.” A writer for the Saturday Evening Post and Weird Tales, Kehoe has also written the book “Flying With Lindbergh” (about the famous aviator), the pulp fiction stories “Through the Vortex” and “The Mystery of the Singing Mummies,” and tales of a blind World War I vet who developed supernatural abilities.

Marcattilio’s interests were also piqued when his ham operator friend became the ears for stories, seemingly from space. “He would get people to talk from around the world, people from all across the country and California seeing strange things. It was real interesting to us. So we joined NIAP (National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomenon) and ARPO (Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization). We got reports from them on things from around the world,” he says.

His interest in potential space visitors is linked with another fascination, the natural world. “When I was in eighth grade I was always excited about astronomy and would lie on the picnic table to watch the stars. Later I would take my children out and we would stargaze. I love talking about the planets and learning about how far away they are,” says Marcattilio, who for the past decade has been attending the monthly meetings of the Princeton Amateur Astronomers. He also likes to imagine what life might be like on other planets, wondering if habitants looked like butterflies or preying mantisis.

The question of extraterrestrial life leads to the thought of potentials and claims. “I look up and know that stars have planets and one of the planets probably has life on it. We have eight planets. We definitely know one has life. We know that Mars had life. We have photos of glass tubes that go in the ground. NASA has photos of the glass tubes. There are the moons — Ganymede on Jupiter and Titan on Saturn — that may have life on them. One of them probably has life. That’s a lot of life flying around us.”

Sometimes, according to Marcattilio, that life stops flying, lands on Earth, and leaves behind bewildered humans.

“At our meeting we started getting people who had been abducted, and they started telling their stories. They would have dreams of aliens waking them up, taking them out of the house through the roof, and examining them on a table. I know a lot of people have been abducted, but they’re afraid to talk about it.”

When asked how he knows that people with such claims are telling the truth, he replies, “They don’t have any proof except that they were violently traumatized and that they were scared out of their skin. When they tell about it you can see the terror in their eyes. That’s how I know that they’re telling us the truth.”

Marcattilio says that one of the problems with the discussion on such phenomenon is that there are forces at work thwarting it. “The government doesn’t put anything on TV about UFOs. They don’t want people to know that there’s life out there. They don’t want us to know that there’s life on the moon watching us.”

He says that in the past there was more discussion, but that has quieted. “When we were going to the moon, people were excited, and people were looking up at the sky. In the 1980s it got exciting.” Then, he says, there was the 1990s Roper Report that discussed abductions and, according to a New York Times article, the “widely criticized” document “suggested that nearly 4 million Americans reported experiences akin to alien abduction.”

When asked why the U.S. government would squelch such information, Marcattilio replies, “They don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid. They don’t want you to know that there are people up there. They can’t control the sky. The Air Force can’t control everything. They’re not ready to announce that yet. So they keep it hidden. They don’t allow anyone to write about it. They don’t put it on TV anymore. I think they’re afraid.”

That distrust of the government was an attitude readily shared at the recent group meeting. As attendees watched YouTube videos of flying saucers, individuals wondered aloud how the government could ignore such evidence. Interestingly, this distrust of government reflects a 2011 Gallup Poll that said 81 percent of American distrusted the government.

Of course, any discussion of government denial and flying saucers leads to the Holy Grails of saucer lore, Roswell and Area 51. Of that encounter, Marcattilio says, “I think there was a crash with aliens at Roswell, and that was what woke up the government. They took (the craft) back to Area 51 and are trying to figure out how it worked out.”

According to Marcattilio the visitors are close neighbors. “There’s a group of people in Mali who say that their ancestors came from the Sirius B star. They’ve been saying this for thousands of years. But only 20 years ago astronomers discovered Sirius B. They’re coming from our neighboring stars.”

The space travelers also take trips for reasons similar to those of human beings. “You know how you get bored with TV? So they get bored in their world. Earth’s an exciting place. We’re always fighting and killing. There are floods and earthquakes. It’s very exciting on earth. It’s an exciting place to be.”

While Marcattilio and his fellow members lack empirical proof regarding their beliefs, their general sense (as well as that of the meeting) seem consistent with common thought. In 2005 the Princeton-based Gallup Poll found that “about three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief” and that 57 percent believe in more than one. That poll listed extrasensory perception and ghosts as the most popular choices.

Other items, the survey notes, did “not necessarily reflect paranormal beliefs,” including the belief “that extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past.” The conclusions were consistent with a 2001 poll.

Other surveys come to similar conclusion. As reported in 2011 by NBC News, “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50 percent of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80 percent believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon.” That distrust exists despite statements of belief in U.F.O.s or extraterrestrials by prominent national figures such as U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and comedian Jackie Gleason, who claimed that President Richard Nixon took him to see the bodies of dead aliens.

Even if no extra-terrestrials were to exist, statistical information notes that the belief in them gives credence to psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s idea stated in the title of his 1958 essay, “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.” Jung’s argument is that images of unearthly visitors in machines are consistent with the human creation of images of descending deities and angels, figures that appear in the imagination during times of anxiety or stress (such as the Cold War era).

Additionally the prevalence of people who harbor conspiracy theories may be a genuine human response. As a Psychology Today article notes, “so far only a handful of studies have looked at the personality of conspiracy theory believers. This research has found that believers tend to be lacking in trust and higher in levels of anomie — the feeling that things are generally getting worse — when compared to people with low levels of conspiracy beliefs.”

Marcattilio believes that people who come to the meeting are sincere, and he is willing to listen. “I can’t think of any case of anyone coming in as a hoax. When people take time to come to our meeting they are always trying to be truthful about what they experience and what they saw. Some of them have been hurt, some of them traumatized, and some of them are excited because of something they saw in the sky.”

The coordinator’s involvement with UFOs and his investigation of abductions have earned him a nickname, Dr. UFO. He got the name, he explains, after he was dealing with people who had been abducted and had implants to control and direct thoughts when the extraterrestrials want to meet them. He took several of the abductees to New York City, where they met with Whitley Strieber, author of the bestselling book on abduction “Communion: A True Story.” In New York, he says, the abductees received MRIs that showed implants used to control thoughts. Afterward, Marcattilio’s associates gave him the nickname.

Marcattilio, who seems to enjoy that appellation — he put it on his license plate — says he once had an encounter of a very earthly kind. He was pulled over by a New Jersey State Police officer who, upon seeing the plate, stopped the car so he could report his own encounter with a UFO.

In addition to the monthly meetings, with the next one scheduled for Wednesday, February 6, at 7 p.m., the group is organizing a two-day UFO-Paranormal Consciousness Congress on Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, at the Hilton Garden Inn on Route 130 in Hamilton. Past conferences, formerly held in Bordentown, have attracted 100 to 130 attendees.

This year’s events include an appearance by James Penniston, who had a close encounter of the seeing and touching kind. That was during the Rendlesham Forest Incident when the U.S. Air Force was using the facilities in England in the early 1980s. Retired U.S. Air Force Major George Flier will be on hand to talk about topics such as the 1978 shooting of an alien at Fort Dix, NJ, and UFO researchers from Virginia will share their recent studies.

There will also be an exhibition from Marcattilio’s archives. “It’s a big pictorial, a big art exhibition with photographs and reports. Quite a few people have drawn ETs, so I have a lot of their drawings. Sometimes from them we find the star system where (the aliens) came from.”

For both the monthly meetings and the conference, the coordinator hopes that people will attend. “We would like to invite all the public who would like to be educated about UFO and the paranormal, and who want to spend some time with us to learn about it. We’re inviting everyone who is interested in the subject. We also speak about conspiracy. People can just come or they can contact me at drufo.org or call 609-631-8955.”

As for the scoffer, Marcattilio says, “I tell them to open up their minds. Don’t be closed minded. If you want to see (a UFO), look up to the sky and show them by giving them a sign. Sometimes it happens. They show themselves to people who are open minded.”

New Jersey-Pennsylvania UFO Study Group Hamilton Township Free Public Library, 1 Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. Way, Hamilton. First Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. 609-581-4060. No registration required, but Marcattilio can be contacted at www.drufo.org or 609-631-8955.

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