This is another installment of “Into the Archives,” a series that looks back on stories from the Belleville News-Democrat archives.
In July 1947, something happened in Roswell, New Mexico. Some say an alien aircraft crashed in a field. Others claim a government weather balloon fell from the sky. Whatever happened, it heralded the beginning of the modern obsession with lights in the sky that continues 70 years later.
You don’t have to travel to New Mexico to see unbelievable things. The three UFO sightings examined in this story occurred in Southern Illinois.
In a July 2017 interview, Melvern Noll described the object that he saw on January 5, 2000, in Highland. “I thought it was a bright star,” Noll said.
Then, it came down from the sky and Noll realized that it was something else. “To me, it looked like a two-story house. It was the size of a football field,” Noll said.
“It was two different floors. It had big windows — three on the lower deck and three on the top deck. Way up on top, there was like a penthouse with a dim light in it. Underneath, it had red lights in a diamond shape,” Noll said.
It flew very close to where Noll was standing. “If somebody had looked out one of the windows, I could have seen it,” Noll said. No one did.
Noll could see neither wings nor engine on the enormous craft. It cruised silently through the air.
As it flew away from him toward Lebanon, Noll said it looked like a triangle.
He went immediately to the Highland police station to file a report. Noll was concerned the authorities wouldn’t take him seriously, but they did.
Area police officers from Lebanon, Shiloh, Millstadt and Dupo saw the object, too.
The police radio calls to dispatch were recorded. Here are parts of that recording:
Police dispatch: “Just received a call from Highland PD in reference to a truck driver (Noll) that stopped in. He said there was a flying object in the area of Lebanon. ... Could you check the area?”
Lebanon police officer Ed Barton: “Did they say if the truck driver was DUI or anything?”
Police dispatch: “She said he was serious.”
Barton: “Just a quick question. If I happen to find it, what am I supposed to do with it?” ... “Be advised. There’s a very bright, white light east of town... and it keeps changing colors. I’ll go over there and see if maybe it’s an aircraft. Doesn’t look like an aircraft though.” ... “That’s affirmative. It’s not the moon and it’s not a star.” ... “Would you contact Scott Air Force Base and see if they have anything flying in this area please?”
The object traveled west and was spotted by Shiloh police.
Shiloh police officer David Martin: “I see something but I don’t know what the heck it is.”
It continued west toward Millstadt.
Millstadt police officer Craig Stevens: “I’ve got that object in sight also. It’s huge.”
Police dispatch: “What does it look like to you?”
Stevens: “It’s kind of ‘v’ shaped.”
The UFO was then seen by Dupo police. Shortly after the Dupo police spotted it, the object flew away.
Noll said he was ultimately grateful for the sighting. “I feel like I was meant to see it,” Noll said. “I just don’t know what it was. And life goes on.”
Police dispatch contacted Scott Air Force Base that night about the object in the sky. Officials said that they knew nothing about it.
We’re here to say that this phenomena exists. We examine the facts.
Sam Maranto, the state director of the Mutual UFO Network of Illinois
At 2 a.m. in March 1967 on a farm about 4 miles west of New Baden, Leona Boeving saw a UFO in a field near her house.
In a Belleville News-Democrat story by reporter Michelle Meehan from August 9, 1992, Boeving said, “It was like the full moon was cut in half standing on the ground.”
“It had a bright white light on top and then a whole row of little red lights at the bottom. There were these metallic things around it, like strips of silver,” Boeving said.
She woke her daughter, Marilee Black, who was staying with her.
In a July 2017 interview, Black said, “Yes, I remember it. All I have to do is close my eyes to picture the thing.”
“It was round and large even from where we stood in the house. It was something I had never seen before,” Black said.
She could not see anyone inside it, only the bright lights coming from it.
They watched it for a few minutes. “Then, my mother opened the window. All of a sudden, it lifted up and went south. If it made a sound, we didn’t hear it,” Black said.
Terrified, Boeving and Black remained in the house until morning. “It was just scary,” Black said.
When they explored the field, Black said the heat from the object left burn marks on the ground. “Nothing grew there for quite a while,” Black said.
Boeving called Scott Air Force Base, which is about 7 miles from the farm, for an explanation.
Black said, “They knew nothing and could say nothing about it. I guess it didn’t fly from the base.”
Black has seen nothing unexplained since that time and is fine with that. “I don’t ever want to see it or anything like it again,” Black said. “It was frightening; it really was.”
In the 1992 BND article by Meehan, Boeving is quoted as saying, “There were a lot of people who, to this day, think we were crazy. But I’ll tell you, I was the biggest non-believer there was. I probably still would be — if I hadn’t seen it myself.”
Sam Maranto, the state director of the Mutual UFO Network of Illinois, said people are reluctant talk about these kinds experiences because of possible public embarrassment. “Ridicule and censorship is a problem with this,” Maranto said.
MUFON, an international organization that was established in 1969, studies and collects evidence about UFOs. “We’re here to say that this phenomena exists. We examine the facts,” said Maranto.
Yes, I remember it. All I have to do is close my eyes to picture the thing.”
But facts can be hard to find, especially from professionally trained witnesses like police officers and military officials. “Professionals in the community are the last ones who want to talk about this,” Maranto said.
Pilots who admit to seeing a UFO must pass a medical examination to continue flying afterward. A mark is made on the pilot’s permanent record. “Nobody wants to jeopardize their career,” Maranto said.
He believes that because of this stigma, not everyone who sees something comes forward. “Yes, these things do take place and, yes, they do exist. They are seeing something,” Maranto said.
Mass sightings, events that are seen by 100 people or more, encourage witnesses to come forward. “The benefit of these types of sightings is that people from different walks of life interpret the same thing,” Maranto said.
In a BND article from July 6, 1997, reporters Mike Fitzgerald and Scott Sievers documented a mass sighting.
“Whatever its origins, some (St. Clair) county residents have reported seeing a bright blue object the size of a basketball sailing from east to west across the sky between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Friday night (July 4),” wrote Fitzgerald and Sievers.
Reports came from multiple communities across the metro-east including Belleville, Fairview Heights, Mascoutah, Trenton, Troy, Hamel, Prairie Du Rocher and Greenville.
Terry Meyer, of Belleville, thought the blue light he saw near Mascoutah was a rocket from a Fourth of July display, but then it didn’t behave like a firework. Meyer said, “It was so bright it lit up the whole woods. It came down and quit at the edge of the woods.”
JoAnn Robinson of Fairview Heights was with a group of 5 adults and 4 children when she saw the lights from a different location. Robinson said, “Everything was bluish-green.” Like Meyer, she thought it was a firework because of the holiday. “But instead of going up, it was going sideways. It didn’t explode,” Robinson said.
In a follow-up BND article by Sievers on July 7, 1997, residents who reportedly saw the lights on or around the night of July 4 included Patricia Fohne of Trenton, Jim Chadderton of Belleville, Frank Shewmaker of Greenville, Debra Baglin of Troy and Lisa Summer of Hamel.
Some cited mundane explanations for the blue lights. Chadderton said it was most likely a helicopter.
Baglin said, “I’m personally assuming that it was a meteor.”
Others weren’t so sure. Fohne said, “It’s Roswell, New Mexico, at my house. The whole yard lit up. There was no boom. There was no sparkle. I don’t know what it was.”
Summer said her husband, uncle and cousin’s husband saw the blue light and yelled in surprise. “We turned around and it was gone,” Summer said.
In a final BND article about the blue lights by reporter Brian Brueggemann on July 8, 1997, the phenomena was dismissed by area experts as a meteor.
Witnesses remained unconvinced. Meyer said: “But that light was so low to the ground inside the clearing. That’s the part that baffles me.”
Robinson said: “Does a meteor go from east to west, at the same level, not going down? I don’t know what it was.”
In 1997, the BND contacted Scott Air Force Base about the blue lights. Spokesperson Lt. Col. Janet Reese is quoted in the article: “We don’t investigate them. We don’t deal with unidentified objects. We didn’t have any aircraft up in the late evening.”
In July 2017, the BND contacted Scott Air Force Base about the three UFO sightings examined in this story. Officials didn’t immediately respond.
At a glance
Experts supplied other possible explanations for the blue light seen by multiple Southern Illinois witnesses on July 6, 1997, including:
- A blue sprite — A type of upward lightning that moves rapidly.
- A ball of lightning — A lightning ball, sometimes blue or orange, that moves erratically.
- An aircraft.
- A piece of space debris that burned like a meteor as it entered the atmosphere.