LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't too long ago that the Pentagon pretended Area 51 didn't exist. They removed it from all maps and wouldn't admit the name was ever used. Today, Area 51 is known all over the world, in part because of stories that first aired on Channel 8 back in the late 80's.
Now, a new chapter in the lore of Area 51 is about to open -- an interactive exhibit at the Atomic Testing Museum.
For better or worse, the 1989 interview with a then-unknown scientist named Bob Lazar put Area 51 on the map. Prior to Lazar's allegations that he was hired by EG&G to reverse engineer flying saucers -- taking them apart to figure out how they worked -- few people outside of Nevada or shadowy world of black projects had ever heard of Groom Lake or Area 51. All that changed in an instant.
Since those first stories on Channel 8, Area 51 went global, featured in several major movies, all over TV and books, inspiring countless lines of merchandise, the creation of the ET Highway, and even a minor league baseball team. Every major news organization in the world has covered the story, and now a new chapter -- Area 51, the Museum Exhibit.
"The terminology, the whole mythology of Area 51, as well as the reality as we know it from the people who worked there, combined for the first time in a museum," said Brian Wignall.
"It's going to be an immersion exhibit. They really become a part of it," said Atomic Testing Museum Curator Karen Green.
Green and Wignall drenched themselves in all things Area 51 for months, learned about Lazar's missing background and Element 115, the larger history of secret UFO studies by the government, as well as the suppressed history of top secret projects like the U-2, A-12, and SR-71 spy planes that were developed at Groom Lake.
The exhibit experience begins much like a visit to the real thing, with ominous warning signs and the cammo dudes checking clearances. Visitors will get constant reminders about the importance of keeping secrets. Real life employees couldn't even tell their own families what they did. Early in the experience, there are hints of exotic mysteries to come.
"This is a sample of actual petroglyphys found, not made up, that relate to UFO activity from Native American history," said Wignall.
On the day of our sneak peek, the staff was slammed with last minute ideas and additions. After a brief glimpse of a spindly humanoid, we turned a corner and ran into trouble -- man in black stops us. Apparently MJ 12 and the New World Order don't want us to show you the rest of the exhibit. Its creators disbursed what may or may not be disinformation.
"Like Area 51, there are a lot of top secret portions because there are surprises everywhere, things that combine the myth of the pop culture with people talking about the science and technology," said Green.
You don't have to be Fox Muldur to figure out the exhibit will touch on the saucer tales of Lazar and its roots in the Roswell crash and Hangar 18. But it also hits the now-declassified heroism of the Roadrunners, pilots and technicians like T.D. Barnes whose work at Groom Lake kept our nation safe and our enemies confused.
If not for the UFO stories that swept the world, hardly anyone would know about real life, beyond-the-fringe, sci-fi adventures at the place known as Dreamland, where work is still underway, everyday.
"Don't like to talk about it? Lockheed Martin is still in the business of doing things for the Department of Defense. Some of those are black programs. Some may or may not be underway at Area 51, so you wont talk about it publicly," said Atomic Testing Museum Director Allen Palmer.
Palmer is proud that the whole project was designed and built using in-house people and resources. Even the museum gift shop has adjusted, bracing for a new breed of visitors whose merchandise interests lean to the exotic.
The exhibit opens to the public next Monday.
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