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UFO research pioneer Coral Lorenzen

June 2019 Newsletter: The Flying Saucer Woman Who Changed UFO Research Forever

Coral Lorenzen’s interest in UFOs began at just 9 years old, when she witnessed a mysterious object in the sky over Barron, Wisconsin over a decade before Roswell.

In an unprecedented move, the Pentagon has recently admitted to an active interest in UFOs. A secret study that began in 2007, known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), “did pursue research and investigation into unidentified aerial phenomena” until the program closed in 2012, according to the Department of Defense.

In May the Rolling Stone wrote about a “New York Times report confirming that between 2014 and 2015, Navy pilots reported ‘almost daily’ sightings of unidentified flying objects lurking in the air, including one that resembled a ‘spinning top moving against the wind.'”

In April the Navy reported they were developing guidelines for reporting UFO sightings following “a surge in what the Navy called a series of intrusions by advanced aircraft on Navy carrier strike groups,” according to the Navy Times.

A May headline from the Washington Post declares “UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact.

Declassified image of Navy pilots encountering a UFO in 2015
A recently declassified image of Navy pilots encountering a UFO in 2015

Of course, the government publicly acknowledging the existence of unidentified flying objects doesn’t automatically mean we are being visited by extraterrestrials. It’s probably just weather balloons and swamp gas. But whatever we’ve been seeing in the skies, it’s been going on a long time, and the government has been paying attention. Other notable studies predating the AATIP, sparked by the high profile 1947 Roswell incident, include Project Sign in 1948, Project Grudge in 1949, and Project Blue Book throughout the 1950s and 60s.

“I had scarcely heard of UFOs in 1948 and, like every other scientist I knew, assumed that they were nonsense,” Dr. J. Allen Hynek said about his early involvement in the studies.

Hynek agreed to participate in the investigations in hopes of debunking the sightings. But as unexplainable cases piled up, Hynek’s perspective began to change.

“The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” he wrote in 1977. “Their standing in the community, their lack of motive for perpetration of a hoax, their own puzzlement at the turn of events they believe they witnessed, and often their great reluctance to speak of the experience—all lend a subjective reality to their UFO experience.”

But the Air Force didn’t seem to be taking reports seriously, or making any real effort to identify what people were seeing. Hynek became disenchanted, as did the general public. Critics of Project Blue Book, Hynek wrote, called the program “The Society for the Explanation of the Uninvestigated.”

It was during this time that Coral Lorenzen, a young reporter for a small press in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin decided it was up to the public to conduct a proper investigation of UFO phenomena.

The General Mills UFO

UFO researchers Jim and Coral Lorenzen
UFO researchers and APRO founders Kim and Coral Lorenzen, 1955

“I turned the corner at Third and Michigan and walked toward the drugstore,” Coral Lorenzen wrote in her 1966 book Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space. “Suddenly someone called, ‘There’s the ‘flying-saucer woman’-ask her what it is!’ Third Avenue, the main street in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, was literally full of people watching the sky to the northeast. I looked up and saw it too-a silver, ellipsoid object.”

On May 21, 1952, Lorenzen, along with countless other residents of Door County, witnessed the Sturgeon Bay Flying Saucer. Coral was a writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the time, using it as a platform to research decades of UFO sightings in the area.

The object in the skies over Sturgeon Bay appeared to be metallic with a bright red glow at the bottom, according to Coral’s description in her 1966 book Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space. It was moving very slowly toward the northeast, and was visible in the area for about 50 minutes. Based on calculations from observations made in Sturgeon Bay, as well as Fish Creek 30 minutes to the north, Coral and Jim estimated the object to be 780 feet in diameter at an altitude of about 40 miles.

Many attempts to explain the sighting were made over the next few days until the General Mills Company of Minneapolis, known today for their cereal brands, took credit for the UFO. They were testing balloons designed to transport equipment in the upper atmosphere for a secret government program called Project Skyhook.

General Mills Project Skyhook billboard
“Where our balloons now float will be man’s highway of tomorrow,” Project Skyhook engineer Otto C. Winzen told Popular Science in 1948.

“Not explained was the bright light on the bottom of the object,” Coral wrote of General Mills’ claim. “It wasn’t even mentioned in the press release. The reliability of the observers wasn’t mentioned either. I had had a good deal of experience with estimating degrees of arc in the sky, and both policemen who had observed the object in Fish Creek were World War II veterans and capable observers. The General Mills statement did not attempt to discredit Mr. Lorenzen’s triangulation, nor did it mention the facts that the big balloons were considerably less than four hundred feet in diameter and were not equipped with huge riding lights.”

The General Mills website mentions the balloons, and the stir one caused in 1947 when something “glowing an angry red” was witnessed over Minneapolis. Many residents called the University of Minnesota, jamming their phone lines for an hour, asking if there was a flying saucer in the sky or if it was “the beginning of the end of the world.”

UFO Over Barron

Something crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Whether it was an alien spacecraft as many UFO researchers believe, or merely a weather balloon, it sparked a new public awareness of seemingly extraterrestrial objects in our skies, and reports flooded in for years after.

But UFO reports didn’t begin with the Roswell incident.

In the decades preceding the notorious crash in New Mexico, there were many documented UFO sightings that defied explanation. Mysterious things were flying over our heads long before top secret government aircraft began causing a stir in the 1940s and 50s. And, since Wisconsin ranks as the second highest state where you’re most likely to have a close encounter, it makes sense that the future of UFO research would begin here.

UFO sightings at Benson's Hide-a-Way in Dundee, WI
A binder full of UFO photos at Benson’s Hide-a-Way, Wisconsin’s “UFO Capital of the World”

“The beginning of the mystery of UFOs was, for me at least, on a sunny summer day in Barron, Wisconsin, in 1934,” Coral wrote. She was just nine years old when she and two friends watched an object she described looking like “an open umbrella without the ribs or spurs” glide silently through the sky and vanish over the horizon.

“Barron in 1934 was a small town of about 1500 population. Airliners were rarely if ever seen, it would be safe to say weather balloons were never seen and, indeed, even a small monoplane was an event in that area. The ‘thing’ was in the west-southwest when I first noticed it. I called it to the attention of my two playmates, and one said she thought it was a parachute. Its color was a glowing white. The object was about as large as a dime held at arm’s length, there were no ropes or lines suspended from it—and, therefore, no parachutist.

“It made no sound as it wobbled in a northwest direction across the clear, cloudless sky. It wasn’t going fast—rather, it was poking along at a leisurely rate of speed and with a rather strange motion, that has been described in recent reports as ‘undulating.’

“We watched the object for perhaps twenty seconds. Then it appeared to go over the horizon, or perhaps it came to rest north of Barron in the vicinity of a body of water referred to locally as the ‘Upper Dam.’ I went home and told my father, who made inquiries, and the matter was dropped. No one had seen the object we three children had watched, and there was no news of a parachutist landing north of the dam.”

Coral’s sighting predated the 1947 Roswell crash and the resulting UFO flap by 13 years.

“There was only one explanation for the thing I had seen,” Coral wrote. “There might be intelligent life on other worlds, and their ships were the strange things people had reported in the heavens from time to time through the years.”

Arial Phenomena Research Organization

1952, the year Coral and many others witnessed the massive silver object float silently over Lake Michigan, was a busy year for UFO sightings. And as quickly as the reports were coming in, the government was dismissing them with what many believed to be poor investigations and worse explanations. Coral, still haunted by what she saw years earlier, realized there needed to be an organized way that amateur researchers could investigate UFO sightings and exchange information.

Coral and Jim founded the Arial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) that year. It was the first group of it’s kind.

In his book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry, Hynek wrote that while APRO had among its number members who were “overenthusiastic and uncritical persons enamored of the idea of UFOs,” he stated that it was not a “crackpot” organization. APRO had “many serious members, many of whom have considerable technical and scientific training.”

Already known as the “flying saucer lady,” Coral soon found herself in the perfect position to track down information on local sightings.

Related Posts

“In the fall of 1952 I started doing news correspondent work and feature writing for the Green Bay Press-Gazette,” Coral wrote, “and consequently I met a lot of people who were of great assistance to me in tracking down early, unpublished sightings in Wis­consin.”

Coral recorded numerous strange occurrences, including a number of brightly lit objects moving in formation over a minister’s farm in 1910, and a silver globe-shaped object with light emanating from within over Lake Michigan.

Coral dedicated her life to researching the UFO phenomenon. Her enthusiasm for the truth forever changed the way UFO reports were investigated, as today’s modern UFO research groups owe their existence to APRO.

In 1969, APRO members started the Midwest UFO Network, now known as the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON. Among them was Allen Utke, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wisconsin State University, who became the first director of MUFON. The group is still active today, with chapters in every state, some 3,000 members, and more than 390 field investigators actively investigating reports of unidentified flying objects.

Jim and Coral Lorenzen at APRO headquarters
Jim and Coral Lorenzen at APRO headquarters after they moved to Tuscon, late 1960s

Have you seen a UFO or had an alien encounter?
Please share your story for an upcoming feature.

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

June Observances

June 23 – Cult of Weird turns 9
June 23Pink Flamingo Day
June 24Flying Saucer Day

From the Cult of Weird Community

Share your oddities and weird adventures by tagging your photos #cultofweird

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Bearded female saint Wilgefortis in Prague

This sculpture in the Loreta church in Prague seems to depict Jesus in drag, but it is actually St. Wilgefortis, the patron saint of women seeking to be liberated from their husbands. According to the story, Wilgefortis was a teenage noblewoman from Portugal. Her father had promised her to be married to a Pagan king, which she wanted nothing to do with. She took a vow of virginity and prayed to God to make her repulsive so the king would not want to marry her. God answered her prayers by giving her a thick beard. The king called the wedding off, and her father, deeply angered, had her crucified.

Previous Newsletter: Curious objects from the Cult of Weird collection #1

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Do you have alien abduction insurance?

Alien Abduction Insurance: Are You at Risk?

If you live in a high UFO area, you may want to consider insurance for abduction, impregnation, and death by aliens.

Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997, passed by Earth on March 22 of that year. Concealed in it’s tail, according to a religious group known as Heaven’s Gate, was a spacecraft waiting to take their souls to another “level of existence” or an “evolutionary kingdom above human.”

The group was lead by a man named Marshall Applewhite, or “Do,” as his followers called him, who believed his bodily “vehicle” was inhabited by the same alien spirit which belonged to Jesus. All Do and his followers had to do was shed their physical shell and ascend to the comet as it passed.

In October 1996, just months before the 39 members of the “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” donned their matching Nike Decades and consumed lethal amounts of phenobarbital with applesauce and vodka to facilitate their transformation, the group reportedly purchased alien abduction insurance from London firm Goodfellow, Rebecca, Ingrams and Pearson Ltd. (GRIP). The policy would pay out $1 million for up to 50 members of the group in the event of abduction, impregnation, or death by aliens.

Heaven's Gate cult UFO recruitment flier
Heaven’s Gate recruitment flier

Heaven’s Gate was preparing to exit Earth aboard a passing UFO. It was probably a good idea to have some security in place in case that didn’t go as planned. But what about the average Earthbound human? Are we at risk?

Apparently so.

On Christmas Eve of 1996, GRIP reported, an Enfield man was “kidnapped” by aliens with triangular heads. That may seem difficult to prove, but the transparent alien claw left behind was enough for GRIP. The company announced they paid their first alien abduction claim.

Suspicions soon began to mount, however, forcing GRIP to admit the claim was little more than a publicity stunt.

But that didn’t matter. By 2000 the firm had sold 37,000 alien abduction policies, The Telegraph reported.

“I’ve never been afraid of parsing the feeble-minded from their cash,” managing partner Simon Burgess was quoted in a 1998 SF Gate article.

Heaven's Gate Away Team patch
A member of Heaven’s Gate shows off their Away Team patch

Insurance companies will write policies for some odd things, like the vocal cords of a professional singer, the nose of a winemaker, or the penis of a porn star. But what if you’re maimed by a ghost? Or unexpectedly become a werewolf? Or, God forbid, you experience a virgin birth? Immaculate conception, it seems, is a big concern among women named Mary.

Don’t worry, GRIP has you covered.

“The Royal Falcon Hotel in Lowestoft, England, for example, insured its staff and customers against death and disability caused by ghosts, poltergeists and other abnormal phenomena,” a newsletter article from Geico (which does not cover ghosts) stated.

UFO Abduction Insurance Company
Beam me up, I’m covered.

Florida-based UFO Abduction Insurance Co. was the first to offer alien abduction insurance, covering abductees as early as 1987. Owner Mike St. Lawrence said he first heard about the phenomenon when the book Communion by Whitley Streiber was published.

“I checked my homeowner’s policy to find out if I was covered for a risk like this, and I wasn’t,” St. Lawrence said in a 1999 interview with Tampa Fox news.

So he decided to fill that gap in the insurance market, and you can still get covered today.

For a single lifetime premium of $19.95 you get a $10 million policy providing psychiatric care and sarcasm coverage (limited to immediate family members, who provide at least 70% of the heckling), as well as a double indemnity clause in the event the alien insists on conjugal visits or regards you as a food source.

But what happens in the event you are actually abducted?

A successful claimant (with a properly completed form) would be entitled to $1 per year for 10 million years, paid out annually on April 1st. The form asks questions about the aliens, where they’re from, what type of spacecraft they’re driving, and a description of the abduction. The signature of an authorized alien who was on board the UFO during the incident is required.

Abductees are limited to one occurrence per policy, however, so if you are a “frequent flyer” you will need to purchase multiple policies.

Alien abduction insurance
Alien abduction insurance certificate

But what about, say, reincarnation? Yes, you could buy coverage for that, as well.

“While it’s still true you can’t take it with you,” the company notes, “now you can leave it here and come back and get it.”

But what if you were to come back as an animal? Or an insect? Don’t worry, the $10 million payout doubles “if you return as a lower life form.”

How’s that for peace of mind?

For every fear, rational or otherwise, it seems there’s an insurance policy to exploit it.

“Some academics have concluded that early insurance companies got rich by exploiting fear of ‘body snatchers’ among the urban poor of Victorian England’s disease-ridden cities,” The Telegraph wrote. “An explosion in the sale of penny life policies coincided with the 1832 Anatomy Act giving hospitals the right to claim for medical experimentation the bodies of anyone whose family could not afford a proper burial.”

The Alien Abduction Insurance Co. isn’t out to scam anyone, though. “You can’t get what we do,” St. Lawrence says about the tongue-in-cheek nature of his company’s policies, “unless you get what we do.

The members of Heaven’s Gate, having departed for TELAH (The Evolutionary Level Above Human) were found dead on March 26, 1997. GRIP suspended sales of alien abduction insurance for fear that they may actually have to pay the claim.

But it didn’t last long.

“Greed got the better of us and we resumed them,” Burgess said.

GRIP has never paid an alien abduction claim. While it’s unclear how many claims they may actually receive, I think it’s safe to say no one has ever been able to provide sufficient proof to get their payout.

UFO activity in Dundee, Wisconsin

I Visited a Local UFO Hotspot During the Annual Gathering of Tinfoil Hat Enthusiasts

UFO enthusiasts have been gathering in this Wisconsin town for 30 years to share their experiences and catch a glimpse of something strange in the sky.

There are three small Wisconsin communities that claim to be the UFO capital of the world, but the most compelling is the unincorporated town of Dundee about 20 minutes from Cult of Weird headquarters.

10,000 years ago, the last glaciers tore through the area, leaving behind a devastated landscape that is now the picturesque Kettle Moraine State Forest. When the glaciers receded, they left behind a 250-foot pile of sediment called Dundee Mountain. It’s not an actual mountain, but it is the highest point in the area.

And locals will tell you there’s something suspicious going on there.

Related: Mark Borchardt’s UFO Daze documentary

Strange lights and unidentified objects witnessed in the sky over Dundee Mountain and nearby Long Lake have left residents puzzled for decades. So much so, in fact, that in 1988 tavern owner Bill Benson and some friends decided to host a gathering for those who had experienced something in the area.

Bill’s bar, Benson’s Hide-a-Way, is the self proclaimed UFO headquarters. It sits on the north shore of Long Lake, providing a clear view of Dundee Mountain’s tree-covered peak to the south. The bar is a kitschy backwoods nightmare, and that’s why it’s amazing. The walls are covered in images of little green men. A model of a UFO hangs behind the counter. A small grey figure with large black eyes floats in a jar of cloudy liquid. It is said to be from Area 51.

30 years since the first gathering was held, the annual UFO Daze event seems more like an excuse to wear goofy aluminum foil hats and drink the spiked green alien punch, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on. Behind the bar Bill keeps a binder of photos documenting unexplained activity in the area, from blurry lights in the sky over Dundee Mountain to the bizarre 1995 occurrence when a large patch of reeds in the lake near Benson’s became flattened and interwoven so thickly that residents could walk on it without falling through into the water.

A crop circle in the lake.

Photos UFOs in Dundee, Wisconsin
Photos of UFO activity around Dundee Mountain and Long Lake

Last weekend Cult contributor J. Nathan Couch and I set out to uncover the secrets of Dundee’s UFO activity at the 30th annual UFO Daze. We didn’t succeed, exactly, but we did see a few aliens (inflatable ones tied to boats) and some pretty amazing tinfoil hats.

Read about it here: Searching for aliens at the 30th annual UFO Daze

UFOs and alien ancounters at Giant Rock

Giant Rock: Alien Encounters and Eternal Life in the Mojave Desert

An extraterrestrial encounter at Giant Rock inspired George Van Tassel to build the life-prolonging “time machine” he called the Integratron.
Aliens and UFO encounters at Giant Rock
Giant Rock

In rooms excavated beneath this massive boulder known as Giant Rock, a man named George Van Tassel claimed to receive the blueprints for eternal life through psychic communications with extraterrestrials.

Located in the Mojave Desert near Landers, California, Giant Rock is a massive, 7 story tall chunk of granite thought to be the largest freestanding boulder in the world. The rock, in the middle of a dry lake bed, was a sacred site to Native Americans, who called it “Great Stone.” Barbara LaGrange writes, “The fabled Giant Rock had attracted the first native nomads hundreds of years before settlements rose from the dusty ground. The granite stone and surrounding ground had been held as holy ground by the Native Americans. It is reported that the Hopi knew of this rock and joined other tribes across the desert to convene and celebrate the coming seasons. Shaman drew spiritual strength for the tribes through this rock. It is also said that the magic in the rock represents the heart of Mother Earth.”

Years before Van Tassel was communing with aliens there, a German immigrant and prospector named Frank Critzer dug out a home beneath the rock where he lived year round. Possibly due to Critzer’s short-wave radio hobby and the antenna he mounted on top of the rock, he fell under suspicion of being a German spy in 1942. A police raid was mounted on the subterranean home and Critzer was killed when something (it was rumored to be a canister of tear gas) ignited his cache of dynamite used for mining.

Van Tassel, an acquaintance of Critzer’s who had once visited his Giant Rock home, leased the land from the Bureau of Land Management, and moved his family out there in 1947. Van Tassel was a successful flight test engineer for Lockheed International, Douglas Aircraft, and Howard Hughes. He reopened an old airstrip nearby and built a diner for fly-ins.

UFO convention at Giant Rock
UFO convention at Giant Rock

In an article entitled George Van Tassel’s Amazing Integratron at Giant Rock, Kathy Doore writes, “Van Tassel believed the rock’s crystalline structure possessed great channeling power by virtue of its piezo-electric characteristics.” In 1953 Van Tassel began to conduct weekly mediations in Critzer’s rooms under the boulder. During one such session he claimed to be awakened by an extraterrestrial from Venus named Solganda who brought him aboard a space ship. There the alien telepathically taught him techniques to extend life. The next year Van Tassel began work on the Integratron, a “time machine for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity, and time travel” that he claimed was a modern version of the Tabernacle of Moses. He said it would “recharge energy into living cell structures, to bring about longer life with youthful energy.”

Van Tassel held the first Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention on March 1, 1954, and thousands of contactees continued to gather at Giant Rock annually for the next 23 years to share their stories of alien encounters while proceeds funded the Integratron.

Van Tassel died just two weeks before completing the Integratron. Important pieces of the machine, including it’s copper wire core, disappeared shortly after.

Giant Rock

Alien pancakes

Alien Pancakes: A Bizarre Breakfast Encounter with a UFO

One of the most peculiar encounters with a UFO involves aliens serving breakfast in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

There is no story of the unexplained more bizarre, more outlandish, more “Wisconsin” than the one I am about to relate to you.

At 11:00 AM on April 18, 1961, Joe Simonton was sitting in his rural Eagle River home enjoying a late breakfast when he heard a commotion outside. When he investigated he witnessed a flying saucer “brighter than chrome” hovering above his house. The craft eventually landed in his backyard. The saucer opened up. Sitting inside were three mute aliens which Joe described as “Italian looking.”

Joe was given a large container, and somehow discerned that these strange creatures wanted water. When he returned with the liquid, one of the aliens was cooking pancakes on a flame-less cooking appliance. The creatures gave Joe the pancakes, saluted him, and flew away south, into legend.

Despite the incredible, even silly, details of this story, it was investigated by the United States Air Force, and is listed in their files as “unexplained.”

If you’re wondering, Joe tried one of the pancakes, which he said “tasted like cardboard.” He gave the other two cakes to a Vilas County ufologist. I’m not certain whatever became of these tasteless culinary oddities.

Shortly following this incident, several more sightings occurred. The entire ordeal is covered in great, entertaining, detail in Jay Rath’s book The W-Files (1997).

Joe Simonton holding one of the alien pancakes served to him by occupants of a UFO in Eagle River, Wisconsin
Joe Simonton holding an alien pancake. From the Vilas County News-Review, April 27, 1961.

J. Nathan Couch is the author of Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?, a fascinating investigation into the historical origins of goatman legends across the country.