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.
The Pentagon has admitted to an active interest in UFOs in recent years. 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 2019 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.'”
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 headline from the Washington Post declared “UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact.”
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 and APRO founders Jim 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.
“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.
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 after they moved to Tuscon, late 1960s