The UFO phenomena is so embedded in the contemporary American psyche it’s no wonder they would pop up on singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens‘ album Illinoise. The two minute first track, titled “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois,” ponders the meaning of a mysterious three-lighted craft spotted over the state in May 2000: “Or what it was, incarnation / Three stars / Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes.” The incident, sometimes referred to as the Millstadt Incident, is described in detail on this curious website, and is notable for the number of apparently credible witnesses which included a truck driver, police officer, and high school teacher.
Another contemporary UFO sighting notable for its large and diverse collection of witnesses is referred to by Ufologists as the “Phoneix Lights Incident.” For two days in March, 1997 triangular lights were seen in the Phoenix area, drawing national media attention: it was featured on the evening newscasts of the big three television networks, as well as in a 2-hour 2005 Peter Jennings documentary. At least one book and documentary have been created about the incident, which witnesses describe a large object perhaps a mile across moving eerily slowly across the desert. An amateur video shown by news programs at the time, is available on Google video. As is common with UFO incidents, photographic or other evidence remains scant beyond some grainy amateur photos and videos. Nonetheless, a skeptical Arizona Republic columnist found the number and character of the accounts persuasive when he spoke to a number of witnesses one year later, concluding in a widely re-posted column, “Even if you regard their accounts dubiously, as I do, they raise legitimate questions.”
The folklore surrounding the incident also includes the usual twists: one particularly good bit of footage was lost when it was confiscated in a “men in black” encounter, and a military tipster, who was reported telling the National UFO Reporting Center two F-15s were scrambled to investigate the object was “re-assigned to Greenland” and never heard from again. The preponderance of unattributed, hearsay, and speculative evidence of UFO incidents on the web makes investigation by skeptical people difficult at best; even the Wikipedia article on the Phoenix incident leaves much to be desired.
For those new to the UFO world, this article “The Strange Relationship of the U.S. Government and UFOs” provides an overview of the major incidents of American UFO history describing the Roswell Incident and lights spotted over Washington in 1952. The article appears on the website of a group called the Coalition for Freedom of Information, and the website also contains a good list of links to some of the more reputable UFO groups and websites. It is perhaps no coincidence the first UFO sightings coincided with the early Cold War period. In the late 1940s, Americans were newly aware of the size and power of the Federal Government, watching the rapid development of the military-industrial complex, and wary of any threat to the newly won peace – either real or imagined.
> National Institute for Discovery Science “Illinois UFO Sighting Report”
> CNN, 6/19/1997: “What were those lights in the Phoenix sky?”
> The National UFO Reporting Center maintains a database of UFO reports, searchable by place, time, and shape of UFO
> UFOEvidence.org contains a collection of material on UFOs collected from around the web