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40 years and over 40 sightings: investigating the unidentified at UFO Days

Bill Johnson, former UW-Stout professor and UFO investigator, said he wants those who are skeptical about the supernatural to "keep an open mind." Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia

For 40 years Elmwood has celebrated UFO Days and approximately 40 UFO sightings have been reported from the small town since the early 1970s.

But to keep the younger generations in-the-know about Elmwood's past sightings, retired professor and former UFO investigator Bill Johnson presents a talk on UFOs for the festival.

When Johnson was visiting UFO days in 2014 and a teenage girl selling T-shirts couldn't tell him why they celebrate UFO days, he recognized the need to keep alive the actual accounts of the witnesses who first saw the aerial phenomena, he said.

This year Johnson will present his investigative information at the Elmwood Auditorium at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, July 28 with a speech and PowerPoint presentation titled "UFOs and Elmwood - A Legacy."

However, Johnson, who became an aerial phenomena investigator in his mid-20s, was eager in a recent interview to explain that the label "UFO," which stands for Unidentified Flying Object, is a "presumptuous" term.

"Are they really flying like an airplane or a bird? Can't say, really. Could be some sort of entity passing through a dimension," Johnson said. "From a purely scientific standpoint, the term 'UFO' is a stretch."

To refer to them as UFOs is common, Johnson said, and went on to describe the sightings in Elmwood.

The first few, both reported in 1975, were experienced by police officer George Wheeler and another by Carol Forster, a school teacher, who also had three children in the car with her during the encounter.

"It's always a glowing orange ball, it's always traveling alongside of the vehicle or hovering over the vehicle and then going straight up," Johnson said, "Although the first one that George told me about was a cigar shape, which is also common UFO shape."

Although he is not an official psychologist, Johnson used psychology to determine credibility in witnesses' accounts by studying witnesses' body language and facial expressions.

He said he never passed judgment on someone, but had the ability to guess what was or was not a valid experience.

"Picking up on how people are reacting to what they say or what they think they saw (is important)," Johnson said.

Most people who boast about their experience are usually a farce, Johnson said, and those that really did see something are more timid about telling the details.

Others don't speak out because they fear ridicule, like Forster who was made fun of by talk show host Geraldo Rivera on television, according to Johnson.

Since the mid-1970s, other reports have come out, but not as many people formally report anymore because the sightings have become commonplace in the town, Johnson said.

"It's gotten to be such commonplace that people will say, 'Yeah, you know, I was driving around and the car kind of quit and the radio's preset stations changed to a different station. I just sat there for a minute and started it up again.' It's not a big deal anymore and it's not as intense as it was in the mid-70s," Johnson said.

As investigators and researchers do, Johnson looked for commonalities in the evidence between the accounts and the relationship between the sightings and the geographical location.

Johnson examined the locations of the sightings and what might constitute Elmwood as a hotspot destination for the phenomena, even more so than the infamous Roswell, New Mexico where only one alleged crash was reported.

In the descriptions of the supernatural objects, the objects were commonly spotted near a power line. Johnson said many might think because Elmwood is in a valley that there is enough reason for a supernatural being to land. But unlike Spring Valley or Plum City, Elmwood has a large power plant.

"There may be a relationship between electrical power and somehow the geology of the place that is a positive feature for whatever it is (UFO). I'm just guessing at it," Johnson said.

Johnson said he did not have a substantial scientific reason why there may be sightings near power lines or the plant, but he said he thinks the energy lost during transmission is something the objects might need and use.

"Almost 50 percent (of energy) is lost from the generating plant to point of use. That's an appreciative amount of energy that could be used," Johnson said.

In 1975 Wheeler lost power in his car after closely encountering the phenomena the first time. Johnson said the mechanic he spoke to had to replace every spark plug in the patrol car along with the starter and the coil. The battery was burned out and Wheeler was found unconscious in the front seat, Johnson said.

Johnson said further investigations might happen in Elmwood, and would likely take place between February through March which is when many more sightings have occured.

Sightings may be continue to be reported and filed, but Johnson said nothing is being done by the government as it has never really invested time or money in more investigations.

Although Johnson has never seen anything like a UFO in his time, he said he never hopes to.

"I have no credibility as an investigator. People will say, 'Oh you investigate them, you wanted to see one'," Johnson said.

The general public can hear more about Johnson's investigations during the 40th annual UFO days Saturday, July 28.

While UFO Days is one of the most unique festivals out there, Johnson said, the people of Elmwood want others to "come have fun with them, don't make fun of them."

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