It’s UFO Days around Elmwood, Wis., this weekend, the 40th year of the celebration of a rash of UFO sightings that earned the area the nickname, “Valley of UFOs” for a time.
We don’t get many news stories anymore about UFO sightings, nor do we have many colorful local personalities anymore who have the nerve to propose the building of a landing strip for UFOs.
So, here’s to you Tom Weber, the former Chippewa Falls, Wis., businessman and Minnesota native in the late ’70s who had a plan to raise $50 million for the project.
He needed $25 million to buy the land, and another $25 million to operate the facility, which included a circle 300 yards in diameter. Buildings housing scientists and radio and computer tracking devices would be placed nearby, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Town officials liked the idea; they were just happy that anybody gave a rip about a town in the middle of nowhere.
But the people who help make life boring, piped up, too.
“The whole thing lacks logic and any depth of real thinking about it,” declared Rev. James Thunstrom, then the pastor of the Elmwood United Methodist Church. He considered it all “a misguided effort to seek answers or help from spiritual forces other than God,” the Tribune reported. He left town during UFO Days each year.
Weber, apparently, was in no mood to be dismissed by such talk.
“I guess you could say something has been tried before, but at what magnitude? I feel it`s unfair to mention us in the same sentence with efforts by groups that wear white robes and chant,” he said.
Weber raised a few bucks, enough to open an office in Chippewa Falls and get a telephone installed and print up a few T-shirts.
All of this, of course, sprung from the April 1976 UFO sighting, a report of which in [former NY Times reporter] Howard Blum’s book, Out There, also reminds us how much we miss this sort of thing in the news business:
It all began when George [police chief George Wheeler], out on an evening’s patrol, noticed an orange glow near the quarry at Tuttle Hill. “Looks like we got a fire out there,” he radioed in. “I’m going to investigate.”
When he drove to the crest of County Road P, he was high up enough to have an unobstructed view. To the north, over a flat hilltop alfalfa field, there it was. “My God, it’s one of those UFO’s again,” he shouted into the police radio. But when he started to describe the craft, he was very calm, under control.
“It’s huge,” he explained over the radio to Chief Helmer’s wife, Gail, who was working as a dispatcher that night. “Bigger than a two-story house.” And he went on that it was silver-colored, perhaps 250 feet across, and that a bright orange beam glowed from its domed roof. The light was so powerful, he couldn’t look straight at it. It hurt his eyes.
And just as he was describing this light, the craft started to rise. That was when he heard the loud whooshing noise. And, before he realized what was happening, a blue ray shot out from the craft. The ray hit the squad car.
The police radio instantly went dead. The chief’s wife was yelling on the other end, “George, can you hear me? Are you all right?”
But George couldn’t hear her. The car was a wreck. Its lights were out. Its points and spark plugs were ruined. And Officer Wheeler was unconscious.
David Moots, a dairy farmer, was driving the babysitter home when he noticed the squad car, its lights off, sitting in the middle of the road. He went over to investigate. He looked inside and saw George Wheeler sprawled across the front seat.
“George, you OK?” he asked.
The police officer didn’t stir. Moots repeated his question.
This time George tried to move. He leaned forward from his seat, and then fell back. He didn’t have any strength, and he looked white as milk.
“What’s wrong, George?” Moots asked. He was really worried.
It took the officer some effort, but he finally managed to speak. “I’ve been hit. Get me to a radio.” His voice, Moots noted, was shaking, full of fear.
“By a car?”
“No,” George Wheeler answered very slowly and distinctly, “by one of those UFO’s.”
The only objects in the sky this weekend will likely be paper plates, dropped from an airplane bearing coupons for local businesses as part of the UFO Days festival.