Not many people know this about Cindy duPont, but she’s a true believer.
She has been since a Thursday afternoon in 1976 while driving on Interstate 20 between Columbia and Camden. What she saw that day changed her life, she said.
“It was a disc, a typical flying saucer,” moving slowly a couple hundred feet above the roadway, as wide as both lanes, she remembers.
It had no windows, but an iridescent dome, sort of like a bubble.
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“It crossed right in front of me and kept right on going,” said duPont, now 66 years old. “So I blinked a couple times and kept right on going.”
She called what is now McEntire Joint National Guard air base near Columbia, she said, and a man told her they hadn’t flown any aircraft in the area.
She rushed home to tell her husband, and he “just kind of listened and said, ‘Oh, OK. Where do you want to go to dinner?’”
“I’m the least likely person” to believe in something like this, duPont said. “I’m a devout Christian, an evangelical Christian. I’m ultra-conservative.”
But duPont is confident of this.
“I’ve never seen Jesus. ... But I have seen a UFO.”
She retired in 2013 as the owner of Round Robin, an upscale women’s clothing store on Devine Street in Columbia. Since then, she’s been involved with the local chapter of the international Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON.
As the assistant director for MUFON in South Carolina, duPont has helped organize Columbia’s first UFO conference.
This Saturday from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, MUFON will host a trio of speakers well-known in the world of UFO enthusiasts: Jan Harzan, the international director of MUFON; Kathleen Marden, MUFON’s director of experiencer research and the niece of Betty and Barney Hill, who purportedly were abducted by aliens in 1961; and Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist and proclaimed expert on the famed 1947 Roswell, N.M., UFO incident.
The conference is free to attend.
“We wanted it to be educational, entertaining and introduce people to the concept of Ufology” — that is, the study of unidentified flying objects — duPont said.
For duPont, publicizing this weekend’s UFO conference is sort of her “coming out” moment.
“Most of my friends don’t know this about me,” she said. “I’m hoping nobody would look at me differently. I really don’t feel that it conflicts with my Christianity. ... I don’t tell lies.”
Despite somewhat of a stigma attached to belief in alien visitations, extraterrestrial matters and trust in UFO sightings is quite normalized in our culture, said Barry Markovsky, a sociologist and professor at the University of South Carolina, where he teaches a course called “Sociology of the Paranormal.”
Conferences such as the one being held in Columbia this weekend are comfortable gatherings that tend to reinforce and legitimize their beliefs, Markovsky said. But speakers at these events might ignore what Markovsky said are easily explained misperceptions.
There tends to be an emphasis on quantity of evidence, rather than quality, at gatherings like these, Markovsky said.
“There’s thousands and thousands of UFO sightings, and (most) can be debunked,” Markovsky said. “The other 5 percent will never be debunked because nobody has the information needed to investigate it.”
For the record, Markovsky said, “I would bet my life that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.” Most scientists would agree, he said.
He’s just not convinced that it’s actually visited Earth.
“The chances are remote — but not zero — that we have actually been visited,” Markovsky said. Although, “I could be wrong.”
Perhaps 10 unidentified aerial objects are reported to MUFON each month in South Carolina, mostly from coastal areas where military exercises are often done, duPont said. The vast majority of sightings can be explained as aircraft or stars or something else known, she said.
But about 5 percent of sightings remain unexplained, she said. And many more possible UFO sightings likely go unreported, she added.
As a field investigator for MUFON, duPont follows up with people who report UFO sightings or encounters. She asks people questions about the location and size of the object they saw and whether they were under the influence of any substances or medications when they saw it.
She’s investigated 116 sighting cases in the state.
According to MUFON’s online tracker, two potential alien incidents were reported in South Carolina just this week: one in Simpsonville and one in North Augusta.
There’s no doubt in duPont’s mind that aliens exist and have visited the earth. One of her main curiosities is why. “I want to know what their agenda is,” she said. “I just hope they don’t want me for dinner.”
“I believe. That’s all I can say,” duPont said. “I’m not asking anybody to believe with me.”