John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Is it because of O’Hare? Asian lanterns? Hallucinations due to overripe Chicago hotdogs?
Chicago conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one: a dynamite map of UFO sightings.
Made by New York’s Max Galka, it presents more than 90,000 reports of paranormal activity in the United States dating back to 1905. (And here’s every sighting since 1933, mapped, in case you’re curious.) Smack dab over Illinois is a dense zone of unexplained encounters, plotted in bright-jade blobs like arterial spray from the Predator.
Here’s a closer view with widely reported sightings shown in bigger circles. Galka pulled the data from the National UFO Reporting Center, a decades-old organization now operating out of an old Air Force missile base in Washington State:
Six of the 10 most widely spotted UFO events have hailed from Illinois, according to Galka. These include the Tinley Park Lights, a mysterious procession of three glowing objects in 2004 that “maintained a steady pace similar in speed to a dirigible,” according to a witness. (They might’ve been the same Asian sky lanterns people set loose over San Francisco.) There’s the reappearance of the Tinley lights in 2005 as a “frigging massive” structure “as big as the Tweeter Center,” claims one dude, and also a red-hued flotilla in 2001 that an observer likened to “ancient language/symbols.”
In an analysis, Galka says his “initial thought was that it must have something to do with O’Hare Airport, the busiest airport in the U.S. through most of this period.” But if so, Chicago’s hub must be up to something weird, because Galka found no such correlation at four other super-busy airports in the country. (He did notice sightings have a weak link with the Fourth of July, meteor showers, and rocket launches.)
It seems Illinois’ attraction to little green men remains a mystery. But if you’re so inclined, you can dig through the map for answers, because Galka has appended each data point with recollections from observers. These are a few of the more-intriguing stories from Illinois, which can bear a resemblance to Erowid trip reports:
Melrose Park, July 14, 2004: it was a dull day, eeriely calm with no wind , nor calling from birds. they clouds are what drew our attention outside, which, looked like nothing ive ever seen before, bubbles, erupting downward like spheres, followed by uprising lines that resembeled a fire shortly later. We did not see this ufo with our eyes, because we were focusing on the clouds. I was taking pictures of the clouds, and as i went over them, i noticed a strange silloette of a black triangle, and thought to report it here.
Blue Mound, September 19, 2004: I was riding my four-wheeler outside my farm house, i was next to my grain bin, and i looked towards the field which was just done from being cut, and i heard a loud humming noise, i looked into the skies, and i see a silver cigar shaped thing, i could see black dots on it and it was traveling very fast and taking perfect 90 degree turns, it then stopped for a few seconds then a bright blue light was in the sky, while the blue light was shown my four wheeler shut off, and didnt turn back on for another 10 minutes, and then the UFO dissapeared.
Petersburg, November 28, 2009: It was just past 10:50 p.m. when my friend started pointing northwest in the sky and yelling "What is that?!" We all looked up and noticed three brownish objects gliding through the sky, forming a perfect triangle. For a second, I thought they might be birds, but they were way too still and uniformly spaced. They were also way to low, dimly lit, and fast to be any sort of aircraft I know. The triangle itself blended with the sky behind it, but my friend said he would see the stars behind it disappearing when the triangle passed under them.
Grayslake, January 17, 2007: The object was saucer- disk shaped and very silver, the sky was clear and its definition crisp, no movement at all; it appeared as if someone held up a silver plate in the sky…. Its been a few weeks now and I decided that I have to tell someone who could possibly make sense or use of this, I am trying to reconcile the fact that I really don’t believe in UFO’s with seeing this thing, this just won’t go away, silver saucers don’t just float in the sky and its starting to mess with my mind, I am a very rational logical person not given to superstition or the like so I pass this information on to try to lay it to rest.