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Benson's UFO headquarters in Dundee, Wisconsin

Dundee, Wisconsin: UFO Capital of the World

The small Wisconsin town in the heart of the Kettle Moraine State Forest has a long, weird history of UFO sightings and other mysterious phenomena.

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.

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“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?
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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

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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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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

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