By their own account, there may be no good, earthly reason for Jim Weiner and Chuck Foltz to do what they plan to this weekend.
There is neither a fortune to be made nor fame to acquire.
Yet on Sunday evening before a crowd of strangers and old friends, the two longtime buddies will recount in stunning detail their recollection of the night, nearly 40 years ago, when they say they and two others were plucked from a canoe on Eagle Lake in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and taken aboard an alien spacecraft.
“Number one, we have nothing to gain by this except public ridicule,” said Foltz, 63. “Our goal would be to enlighten, inform and put some type of positive direction on this.”
At the second annual “Experiencers Speak” conference, which began Friday and ends Sunday at the Clarion Hotel in Portland, Weiner, Foltz and more than a dozen other speakers will tell their stories of close encounters. Weiner and Foltz’s will be the final presentation, scheduled for Sunday evening, in a slate of programs meant to provide comfort and understanding for a group of people whose experiences nearly by definition relegate them to the fringe.
That little of what will be said can be independently verified is of little concern to the believers, for their knowledge is firsthand, many say.
“The goal is to help experiencers come to terms with what’s happening to them, and get over their fears and get on with their lives,” said Audrey Hewins of Oxford, the organizer of the conference and whose regional group, Starborn Support, hosts monthly meetings for a few dozen people to help them cope with their abduction or close-encounter experience.
In the world of ufology — the oft-marginalized study of unidentified flying objects and the accompanying foreign beings that purportedly interact with people on Earth — the “Allagash incident” ranks among the most substantiated in the United States.
The case was the subject of a 1993 book, “The Allagash Abductions,” by longtime UFO investigator Raymond E. Fowler, which bills itself as “undeniable evidence of alien intervention” into human life. The tome is a relatively straightforward account of how Fowler encountered the four men, interviewed them and had them undergo regression hypnosis — a form of guided relaxation that purports to allow people to retrieve lost or repressed memories.
Through independent sessions of hypnosis performed years after the 1976 encounter, Weiner, Foltz, Weiner’s twin brother, Jack, and a fourth companion, Charles Rak, each recounted slightly different versions of the same, horrifying story of being used as human test subjects by an advanced, celestial race of humanoid figures who took them aboard their craft that night.
When they were asked about the experience during an interview Friday, the voices of Jim Weiner and Foltz did not not waver. Their gaze maintained a steady intensity as they recalled the brilliant orb of light that first hovered over the trees. They described a beam of light emanating from the orb and surrounding them, before they were whisked to parts unknown.
The experience aboard the craft, where they were probed and tested by four-fingered beings with almond-shaped eyes and languid limbs, appeared to have taken about two hours, according to their accounts.
But when the experience occurred, the group of four felt no gap in time. Only later, when a large campfire built to burn for hours had seemingly died down in a matter of minutes, did they realize they had “lost time,” a blind spot in their recollections that was only filled in later under deep hypnosis.
The steadfastness of their story has not deterred a legion of doubters, debunkers and verbal assailants, though. They’ve been called crazy more times than they care to remember.
Jack Weiner, 61, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and cannot easily travel from his Vermont home, said in a telephone interview Friday that his experience in Allagash refocused his career away from the arts and toward hard science and mathematics. He doesn’t care whether people believe his story, he said, and dismisses debunkers as close-minded and sometimes ignorant of the breadth of scientific knowledge.
“They weren’t there,” Jack Weiner said. “I didn’t see them there. If they want to stay ignorant, there’s nothing I can do to change them. I know differently from my own experience.”
Rak, the fourth member of the canoe party, has been out of contact with the group for more than two decades and could not be located for an interview.
But that does not deter Jim Weiner and Foltz, who are both from the Boston area, from pursuing further study and inquiry into what they believe is a global effort by world governments to systematically conceal from the public the truth about the existence of alien life.
The nay-saying crowd, Weiner said, is a product of some restrictive worldview that cannot possibly fathom that aliens exist.
“What we describe threatens them in some way,” said Weiner, who works in information technology at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. Be it social, religious or scientific beliefs, he said, “the only way they can maintain a sense of self is by denial or accusation. It’s much easier to say, ‘Oh, you’re making it up,’ or, ‘Oh, you’re crazy,’ or, ‘You’re a fraud.’ “
Joe Cambria, who operates the New England UFO Research Organization and a companion hotline for witnesses to report sightings, said he receives a steady stream of calls, the vast majority — as high as 90 percent — from hoaxsters and phonies.
“Then that final 10 percent is what’s interesting,” he said.
Skepticism is a requirement for any serious UFO inquiry, said Cambria, of Wakefield, Mass. He is even skeptical of the use of the word “abduction.”
“People are having (internal) experiences,” said Cambria, his voice rising.
“But kidnappings? Something’s been going on out there, and it’s been going on out there since recorded time. We don’t have an answer for it, but we continue to study it.”
The conference had a sold-out dinner for 60 Friday night, said Hewins, who expects more than 100 people to attend the sessions over the weekend.
Matt Byrne can be contacted at at 791-6303 or at: