It was during the 1950s that Ed Kojder was drawn into the growing discussion of whether life on Earth was unique. Flying saucers, UFO sightings and other phenomena have been reported by millions of people across the globe, and for Kojder, it's tough to ignore those numbers.
"Definitely," Kojder, a Forest Park retiree, said of the possibilities. "Because millions of people can't be wrong."
More than 20 believers and skeptics gathered at the Forest Park Public Library recently to hear one of the state's leading experts on unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. Sam Maranto is the president of Illinois Mutual UFO Network, a chapter of the country's largest organization devoted to understanding what it is that people may be seeing in the sky. Maranto was in Forest Park on Nov. 25 to discuss sightings in the Chicago area.
"We're not alone," Maranto said. "We were never alone."
The UFO investigator focused his presentation on a pair of 2004 sightings just south of the village in Tinley Park. On Aug. 21 and Oct. 31 of that year, dozens of witnesses reported seeing a triangulation of white lights in the night sky. Video footage and photographs of the event came pouring in, and news media in the area reported on the sighting.
A cable television program featured on the History Channel, UFO Hunters, recently leaned on Maranto's information to produce an episode titled "Invasion Illinois."
"This sighting didn't just begin here," Maranto said of the 2004 event. "It took place for a couple days around the world."
According to Maranto, and included in the television show's account, similar incidents were reported on Aug. 19 in St. Paul, Minn., where the lights were observed for more than six hours. People in Texas, Canada and Australia also reported seeing a triangular light pattern shortly before or after witnesses in Tinley Park made headlines.
Chris Lison, a Berwyn resident, counts himself among the believers that there are objects in sky that are not being piloted by anyone here. He does not believe, however, that aliens from another galaxy are behind it all. Lison said he suspects that at some point in the future, humans will master time travel and the unexplained objects we're seeing today may be a product of the future.
He decided to attend the discussion, his first on the subject, after spotting a sign outside the library during his daily commute. Lison said Maranto's presentation was "fantastic."
According to Maranto, the possible explanations for UFOs-aliens and time travel included-are limitless because both space and time are infinite. There is so much that we don't know about the universe, he said.
Audience members milled about afterward and debated the merits of Maranto's presentation. One woman, responding to a more skeptical audience member, said, "I don't believe in the Bible. How can you believe in the Bible and not believe this?"