Today, it is not that hard to find stories of strange lights in the sky or even of people experiencing with what they believe to be aircraft from another world. One can find documentaries or television shows about these sightings at almost any hour of the day.
It isn’t even hard to find these stories closer to home. The local newspaper has covered them for decades. If you have a Rockford Public Library card, you can even find them right at home by logging on the website and looking under Research It. Yes, that was a plug for the library. www.rockfordpubliclibrary.com.
Some of the more documented sightings seem to have multiple witnesses. For instance, several people saw strange lights in the sky during the first half of the year in 2001. These cases got a lot of news coverage, not only locally but even internationally. They were even listed on the National UFO Reporting Center and discussed as far away as London.
Dozens of people spotted bright, orange circles flying in vicinity of Newburg and Mulford Roads. Jack Dickerson was quoted in a newspaper article from February 13, 2001. Jack stated that he was driving toward home around 9:30 in the evening when he joined others who had pulled over to the curb of East State Street. They all noticed seven orange lights that started in a T shape but changed to form a cluster. The witnesses all stared upwards as the lights continued to hover over the area for at least 15 minutes. Everyone described the same incident including the fact that these lights had no sound as they hovered and then moved away. Air Traffic Controllers at the Greater Rockford Airport were interviewed about any sightings on this particular night. They reported that nothing unusual was spotted.
Another case from November 1957 was compelling for two reasons. First, the sightings were spread over several counties in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin and included multiple witnesses. Second, many of the reports came from police authorities across several jurisdictions. In McHenry County, a deputy sheriff reported seeing four or five objects in the sky. He stated that these objects had lights that changed color. At the same time as this report was sent to headquarters, two other sightings were called in from miles away. These reports claimed that they also saw a cigar shaped object with lights that flew slowly over their vehicles causing their engines to suddenly stop.
These stories were so widespread that two Air Force planes were sent to explore them. One took off from Truax Field near Madison and the other from O’Hare Field near Chicago. The reports from the pilots came back with nothing unusual spotted.
Three squad cars in Rockford reported similar sightings during the same evening. They described it as a “fiery red cigar shaped thing.” The policemen reported that they followed “the mysterious spaceship” to the little town of Winnebago before returning to Rockford.
While today’s sightings are often explained away as weather balloons, experimental aircraft, and even satellites, as one travels back into Rockford’s history for more of these claims the usual explanations fall away. The timing of these next two stories make them most intriguing.
More research into unexplained lights in the skies over Rockford leads us back to August 27, 1916. Hundreds of people in Rockford witnessed lights in the sky in the northwest part of Rockford. These lights were so bright that many thought that a large part of the city must be on fire. These lights were observed over several hours during the evening. Local telegraph offices reported problems with their equipment during the same time as these sightings. No scientific explanation was ever found.
The earliest report found by this author dates back to April of 1897, long before airplanes were making their way across the sky. On Saturday, April 10, 1897, two brothers, Elisha (labeled as Captain Thayer) and his brother Frank Thayer were arriving home at 1140 N. Church Street in Rockford. They had been out to dinner and were returning around 8:30 in the evening. They were standing on their porch as Elisha finished his cigar. Elisha was just about to toss the cigar away and enter the house when he noticed strange lights moving in the sky. The lights were moving in a southwesterly direction. The sight of the lights startled Elisha so much that he called his brother back outside.
The men watched as the lights moved quickly over the city. There were four lights on the object: two green and two white. This sighting was also witnessed by many other Rockfordians before they moved out of the area. Reports came from several other cities in Illinois over the next few weeks and matched the description turned in by the Thayer brothers.
The series of reports during this time first appeared in Kansas and spread their way across the Midwest including Iowa and Nebraska before appearing in the skies over Illinois. They were deemed the “Kansas Airship” by the reporters and called “an eerie nocturnal visitor.” These sightings went on all over the area for several months before fading away. As one can imagine, discussion and searching for an explanation for the “queer pilgrim of the night” as the paper called it, went on for much longer. One local scientist suggested that it was a star that had reached a closer point to the earth in its orbit. Though some Rockford citizens were satisfied with that answer, Captain Elisha Thayer, who considered himself an amateur astronomer, stated that what he had witnessed was definitely not a star.
Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol.