Your neighbors have seen them.
Your friends have seen them.
Some have reported seeing them. Perhaps you have seen them, too. After all, more have seen UFOs than care to admit — never mind file a report. If the database held by the National UFO Reporting Center in Washington State (est. 1974) is any measure, the first official sightings in Illinois began in the mid-1920s, when a farm boy near Moline spotted an otherworldly “disc.” The Illinois chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (est. 1969 on the western border with Missouri) knows of stories of “airships” in the Midwest dating to 1896. But the majority of sightings are more recent.
You might even say, it’s a boom time for UFOs in Illinois.
During the past year alone, someone in Spring Grove reported a large flying Tic Tac-like craft traveling rapidly toward Wisconsin. In early June, a flashing, red-and-white flying something was reported high above Winnetka, at roughly the altitude of a plane, but then “started to descend before going below the tree line and out of sight.” In March, a “solid ball of white light” was seen moving fast over Dixon. In May, a diamond-shaped object was spotted above Chicago, stopping, changing course, vanishing. Around Easter, “two blue glowing triangles” were observed loitering over a Meijer in St. Charles.
And those are just four picked randomly out of dozens of reports from Illinois.
Though to judge by the data collected by the Mutual UFO Network and the National UFO Reporting Center, Illinois UFOs haven’t changed much since we first saw them. We see them while reclining in our backyards and farms, admiring the stars on a summer night. We see them while driving to work in the morning. We see them while walking the dog. We see them while strolling by the lake. We see them in snowstorms, and from the window seat of planes over O’Hare. When U.S. intelligence officials released an eye-popping study recently about the government’s ongoing attempts to identify “unidentified aerial phenomena,” the only certainty we could take away was this: We all see the same stuff. Orbs. Discs. Strands of lights. Triangles. Dancing triangles.
Even mysterious Tic Tacs are fairly common.
What was new about that study was the government’s posture toward UFO sightings, the remarkable concession that it can’t explain everything being seen. The report was seen as inconclusive, so inconclusive that intelligence officials are expected to update it by Thanksgiving. It considered known U.S. technology, the technology other nations have, weather balloons, swamp gas. Of the 144 cases examined for the report, 18 objects appeared to move using a technology that neither the government nor its adversaries were known to possess. No evidence of otherworldly beings was offered (and only one deflating balloon was identified from the 144 cases). But those 18 red-flagged flying objects required “additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize.”
Meaning, we don’t know what they are because, technologically, they’re beyond us.
As former CIA director R. James Woolsey put it recently, he’s no longer as skeptical as he was a few years ago. Other former government officials said that if the public were shown the entirety of U.S. classified knowledge, many would turn to religion for comfort.
This change in tone comes partly because every one of those 144 cases in the report (all sourced within the past couple of years) came from a combination of government-approved sources, professional pilots and military personnel. See, you and me and the farmer’s weird kid, we see something weird and we say something — but it’s dismissible.
Because, frankly, we’ve been seeing things for a long time.
Historically, Illinois has been a relative UFO lightweight — at least compared with the Area 51 wastelands of the Southwest or the misty forests of the Pacific Northwest. But even we have greatest hits: The Tinley Park Lights of 2004, the mysterious football field-sized triangle of Southern Illinois in 2000; in 2006, a dozen United Airline workers at O’Hare reported a disc above the airport that abruptly climbed, punching a perfect hole in the clouds. Sam Maranto, director of the Illinois chapter of MUFON, said there are UFO reports near the North Shore Naval Station that stretch back years. From 1999 to 2001, the Rockford area became a hotbed of sightings. There are even enough UFO reports from the wider Chicago metro area to generalize: We see triangular formations.
Then again, we see a lot of things.
A mysterious point of light is also popular. In fact, to pick through the databases of MUFON and the National UFO Reporting Center — the nation’s two primary gathering spots for data on everyday UFO sightings — is to be reminded of just how common it’s been is for Illinois residents to see UFOs.
Arlington Heights, 1972: A UFO the size of “a small car” descends at a stop sign, hovers over the hood of a vehicle, backs up, remains still for three minutes, then zips away.
Decatur, 1980: During a snowstorm, “a dark object” flying “very low” in the middle of a road, at roughly 5 m.p.h., and making no noise, is watched casting a kind of searchlight.
Rockton, 2001: A large “burnt orange egg” hovers for 30 minutes above an open field.
Oak Lawn, 1946: “5 silver discs” in a V-formation, in daylight, shoot toward Indiana.
Batavia, 2010: A UFO crash! (Note: The keepers of these databases often leave the names of witnesses off the report for privacy’s sake. Plus, anyone can report anything, so actual investigations are a matter of triage. The observer of the Batavia crash pleads for urgency from the National UFO Reporting Center: “You need to get off your lazy ass and find out what came down over Batavia.”)
To be fair, they were busy.
In the past year alone, MUFON has had 122 reports from Illinois, and that’s down from the 141 received in 2017. This year, so far, it’s had about 50 reports. The National UFO Reporting Center — which has 21 reports from Illinois since January — has collected roughly 3,000 sightings from Illinois that date back to the 1940s. And that number is probably low, said director Peter Davenport, who’s been reassembling years worth of old data that was accidentally dumped during a recent computer meltdown. He sounded very, very exhausted when we spoke: “I can’t keep up with the UFO workload anymore. I can’t. I’m a one-man operation, I run this out of my house and if we had a staff and a budget then we could handle more cases, but I’m just getting endless calls these days. And they’ve gotten more dramatic. Used to be distant lights in the sky. Now it’s chevrons, boxes, triangles — now it’s overt (unidentified objects) where they used to be concealed. Since November, I’ve especially had more pilots from airlines filing reports.”
The databases maintained by MUFON and the National UFO Reporting Center are the scrappy, homegrown descendants of the defunct bureaucracies once tasked with UFO investigations. Such as Project Sign (initially “Project SAUCER”), Project Grudge, and most famously, Project Blue Book, which was shut down in 1969. “Blue Book was really all about appeasing the public,” said Maranto. “Its whole mission was gather and quell.”
One of the leading forces behind Project Blue Book (which was headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton) was J. Allen Hynek, who started as a staunch debunker of alien craft but eventually came to sympathize with the citizens he investigated. He went on to become chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University and founder of the Center for UFO Studies in 1973. It was based in Hynek’s home in Evanston, though continues today on the Far North Side, under the direction of Mark Rodeghier, a statistician and former volunteer for Hynek (who died in 1986). “For a long time, though Hynek was an investigator for the Air Force, he never really investigated much in Illinois, partly because the quality of reports weren’t great. We joked about a Hynek Effect, that relatively, there weren’t enough UFOs reported in Illinois because they knew Hynek was at home, ready to investigate.”
Before the internet, there were scant places to report sightings. Generally, if you saw an unidentified anything and needed to say something, you called police. And police would often patch you through to MUFON or the National UFO Reporting Center. “A lot of 911 facilities — same with calls to federal agencies like the FBI — often just send those calls through to us,” Davenport said. However, since the rise of online UFO forums, “all bets have been off,” Rodeghier said. He maintains a basement office in Norwood Park full of case studies and still gets about one unsolicited report a week, but he doesn’t keep a running database and gathering place to file UFO reports. “The waters have become more and more muddied,” he said, and the explosion of satellites and drones in the sky doesn’t help.
“Lots of chaff these days,” Davenport agrees.
Poking through local reports, the holes in these stories can be big, round and pulsing.
Dec. 20, 2020: “I noticed what I thought was a shooting star. I instantly thought no way, I’ve never seen a shooting star my whole life. ... All of a sudden the light disappeared like it went behind a curtain and the tail followed behind. ... It possibly opened a portal ...”
June 1, 2021: “Looking up at the sky from my hot rub (and saw) what looked like a low-orbiting satellite traveling from west to east. ... I should also mention I live near Midway.”
The new government report — by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and titled “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” — takes pains, in its first lines, to caution: “The limited amount of high-quality reporting on (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions ...” Which makes sense to Rodeghier: “In general, and since the beginning of UFO sightings, the US has led the way in UFO organizations and reports but not necessarily in research on UFOs or the quality of reports themselves.”
In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best idea for the feds to come out with that UFO report just before July 4. That said, the report has been appreciated by the wider community of private UFO researchers — its concessions to the unexplained, Rodeghier said, “that’s a positive for this field,” Maranto said the admission of not having the technical know-how to understand everything seen (photographed and recorded on video) may be a game changer. Davenport was disappointed by the report; it didn’t offer enough of what the government knows. But overall, they agree — you’re left with big questions.
So, as of last check:
Springfield, 9:50 p.m., June 23: An orb. It’s captured on video for four minutes. It strobes, and glows red, hovers a bit, travels in one direction, then changes course abruptly. “I never saw a plane do this,” the witness says, “and I heard no sound from it. Four days earlier the National UFO Reporting Center received an almost identical report from just outside Joliet. And less than a week before that, it received a similar report from McHenry. Same kind of orb, same movement, nearly identical pictures.
Could be a drone. Could be more.
Keep watching the skies.