3 cities claim to be the UFO capital of Wisconsin. Which one is it?
Wisconsin has its share of “capitals.” There are the semi-normal – Mercer, the loonie capital of the world, and Park Falls, the ruffed grouse capital – and the odd ones: Mount Horeb, the troll capital of the world, and Norwalk, which has a sign that proclaims itself . the capital of the black squirrel (from what we can guess).
But three cities – Belleville, Dundee and Elmwood – claim an alien title: UFO Capital. While it might seem like a tourist gimmick today, the headlines have their roots in alleged sightings. And all three cities have annual UFO events to cement their status.
Here’s a look at how their complaints stack up, in order of first known contact.
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Benson’s hideout on Long Lake near Campbellsport is central to this unincorporated town’s fame. He even says it on the bar’s sign: UFO Headquarters.
In addition to alien posters, inflatable green men, and other props, owner Bill Benson has something he says people come from all over to see: an alien in a jar. Benson claims someone found it in a cave near Roswell, New Mexico, and gave it to him.
Benson’s interest in the paranormal began in 1947, when he said that a crop circle appeared near his home, according to Wisconsin Frights. He also said he saw lights and strange objects in the sky.
Benson encourages guests to share their own UFO sightings, and he has a binder of photos of them – some captured on nearby Dundee Mountain, a kame that rises 250 feet above the surrounding land and that some think it is an epicenter for some strange activity.
For more than 30 years, Hide-A-Way has held a UFO Daze event every July (July 17 of this year) to swap stories and watch for UFOs, which are said to have been seen in the night sky during past events.
One of the first reported sightings in this small town about 35 miles west of Eau Claire was in 1975, when Elmwood Police Officer George Wheeler reported seeing a fiery red ball the size of a football field cross the sky.
More sightings followed over the next decade, including one by Wheeler in 1976. His second encounter was this one – one encounter. According to a 1976 Associated Press article, when Wheeler went to investigate what he believed to be a hilltop fire, he found an object he described as a blazing orange object, 250 feet in diameter and two stories high, hovering in above the ground.
Wheeler’s radio died as he was reporting the incident, and he was found barely conscious, his car with burnt out spark plugs and ignition points. Wheeler said a blue-white light from the UFO hit him, giving him a severe headache a few days later.
He wasn’t the only one to see or experience something that night. A resident near where Wheeler was found also said they saw the flaming ball, and a few people said their televisions were off for 10 minutes at that time.
“There are a number of signs in the county where further sightings have been made,” Pierce County resource officer Ed Hass told The Sentinel Journal in 1999.
The city celebrates its connection to the alien with a UFO days festival the last weekend of July.
Like Elmwood, this town’s claims of UFO sightings have police backing.
In January 1987, several people – including law enforcement officials – in this small town on the Dane-Green County border reported seeing mysterious lights in the sky.
Don Schmitt and Richard Heiden, investigators at the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, a private UFO research group founded by a professor of astronomy at Northwestern University, investigated the incident. Schmitt and Heiden, who are from Wisconsin, concluded that these were “legitimate sightings, based on the credibility of numerous witnesses, the lack of air traffic in the area that night, and radar confirmations.” according to a 1994 Milwaukee Sentinel article.
Schmitt told the Sentinel that an FAA station in Aurora, Ill. Picked up the objects on the radar and tried to establish voice contact, but was unsuccessful.
Skeptics, including an astronomer, said the sighting was simply a star in the constellation Orion, which can appear different colors when low on the horizon. But witnesses denied this claim.
“There was no way he was a star,” said Glen Kazmar, a Belleville police officer who was one of the first to see the UFO at the Sentinel in 1994.
There were more unusual sightings over the following months. The city has looked into the sightings and now hosts UFO days around Halloween every year. The festival in the past has included a parade, saucer launch, and alien costume ball.
Manitowoc Sputnik Meeting
Manitowoc encountered something from space on September 6, 1962, when a 20-pound piece of the Russian satellite Sputnik IV crashed into the street outside the Rahr-West Art Museum. Police were again the first on the scene to find the large chunk of space debris. Manitowoc sent it to NASA and the Smithsonian, who ultimately sent it back to the Soviets. The museum has a replica inside. Outside, a metal ring on Eighth Street near Park Street marks the spot where he was found. The city celebrates its brush with the space race with a festival, of course. Sputnikfest, with costume contests and an alien drop, usually takes place in September.