Where Lincoln turned to explain the strange

2012-11-19T09:00:00Z 2015-01-22T13:59:00Z Where Lincoln turned to explain the strangeBy NICK BERGIN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
November 19, 2012 9:00 am  • 

Bigfoot stealing watermelons out of your garden? Strange circular patterns in your wheat field? Pet goat mutilated with surgical precision?

Today, when police and the “mainstream media” refuse to listen, Nebraskans can turn to the Internet.

But in the days before the Web, when Lincolnites asked “Who ya’ gonna call?” The answer was the Fortean Research Center.

Founded in 1982, the group explored, studied and cataloged logic-defying phenomena for more than 13 years before fizzling out in 1995 and 1996.

At its peak, the group boasted more than 300 members across the globe and investigated everything from unidentified flying objects at nuclear weapon storage facilities to crow corpses hung near the homes of two local legends, Bloody Mary and Pig Man.

In the beginning

Seeing is believing, says Ray Boeche, the Fortean Research Center's founder.

Boeche became a believer at age 10, during the summer of 1965. He was playing outside when a power outage hit his neighborhood in Nebraska City. Moments later, his mother shouted from the porch and pointed to an enormous rotating disk flying from south to north.

He soon discovered he wasn’t alone. Other Nebraskans also had experienced the unexplainable.

“A lot of the things you run across have really mundane explanations,” Boeche said. “But it's that core of 5 or 10 percent of things that you can't explain, with all the available factors you have, that make you wonder, 'What is this?'” Boeche said.

Boeche spoke with a man who crashed his motorcycle on Superior Street after seeing Bigfoot run out of Salt Creek and sprint across the road in front of him. He interviewed Herbert Schirmer, the former Ashland police officer who spotted a flying saucer during an early morning shift Dec. 3, 1967, and said aliens abducted him. And Boeche examined a goat mutilated in the Dundee neighborhood of Omaha.

“I thought, 'If I'm stumbling across this kind of stuff, there has to be more out there people aren’t talking about,'” he said.

In 1981, he started the Nebraska Association for the Study of the Unexplained and a year later renamed it after paranormal researcher and author Charles Hoy Fort, who wrote extensively in the 1920s and '30s about what he called “data that science has excluded.”

The Fortean Research Center sent letters to local media and law enforcement offering to investigate odd incidents that neither had the manpower or interest to pursue.

“It waxes and wanes, but there always is this undercurrent of weird things going on,” Boeche said.

A calling

The group met regularly in basements, bookstores and coffee houses giving those with an open mind a chance to discuss -- without fear of ridicule -- strange and mysterious experiences for which science had yet to provide definitive answers.

It started with a core handful of local paranormal investigators, including Boeche, ufologist Scott Colborn and ghost expert Dale Bacon, who died March 28 after a battle with cancer.

The organization teamed up with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the early 1980s to host conferences on UFOs.

The research center also published a sporadic journal and the inspired KZUM radio show "Exploring Unexplained Phenomena."

The show, started by Colborn and Boeche in 1984, is the world's longest-running paranormal talk program, said Colborn, who continues to host it from 10 to noon Saturdays.

Nebraska Forteans were among the front-line researchers delving into the December 1980 UFO sightings in the Rendlesham Forest between NATO bases at Bentwaters and Woodbridge in England. Colborn and Boeche sought help from then-U.S. Sen. Jim Exon, a Democrat from Nebraska, to push for the release of classified documentation of the incident.

Although they procured many documents, Boeche and Colborn eventually hit a brick wall, and say that one of Exon's top staff once let slip that a large government file existed about Nebraska investigators.

“We hit something that somebody didn't want us talking about. Now, what it is, I have no idea,” Boeche said.

But in 1988, Boeche stepped down as director of the organization and enrolled in graduate school to pursue a theology degree. Colborn and Bacon took over and kept it going through the mid-1990s. Colborn left in 1995 to devote more time to family, and the Fortean Research Center soon faded into the ether.

The mystery continues

The Fortean Research Center detailed its findings in a sporadically published journal.

Its pages included UFO-related government documents, accounts of a “winged weirdie” seen over Falls City, bipedal humanoid sightings, animal mutilations, strange beasts and tales of restless spirits.

“We were covering things from all over the world,” Boeche said. “But if anything happened locally, it got reported there.”

Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the founding of the paranormal investigation organization, Boeche has released "The Collected Annals of the Journal of the Fortean Research Center," a tome of more than 660 pages.

“I feel a need to begin to compile some of my research materials into a usable form, and make them available to others, whatever small value they may hold. This is my first, but hopefully not last, offering to the Fortean research community,” he wrote in the foreword to the book. Boeche is a pastor of adult education at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln.

The journal's type has been enhanced for legibility and, where possible, Xeroxed photos have been replaced with scans of original documents and photos.

The book is available through www.lulu.com and eventually will be for sale through other outlets, Boeche said.

Reach Nick Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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