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Have you ever looked into the night sky and seen something you can’t explain? A twinkling light or a moving shape, or perhaps a line of lights moving through the clouds? Have you ever seen this in the skies over Galesburg?
Unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, have long captivated the imaginations of people of all ages and social classes. While sightings have been recorded for centuries, interest and sightings saw an uptick in the 1940s, most famously in 1947, when an alleged UFO crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Sightings continued through the ’50s and ’60s, with some being explained, while others never were.
Fifty years ago, in March 1967, Galesburg was added to the list of UFO sightings. On March 9, Frank Courson, a 39-year-old Knox County deputy sheriff, watched two unidentified objects for more than an hour. At 12:30 a.m., he watched with three men from County Road 10 behind the Deep Rock Service Station southeast of Galesburg. The men used binoculars to watch as one of the objects moved from above the Gunther Construction Co. radio tower southeast of Gates Rubber Co. toward Monmouth. The second similar object was seen about 1:15 a.m.
Courson was considered a credible witness, as he had long worked in police and security fields and was also a pilot. He described the objects as about “30 to 40 feet in diameter, circular with a hazy red light coming from the bottom.” He also said a white light around the object would grow brighter and the red light would begin to pulsate. The objects were also said to be surrounded by a blue haze. He was not the only witness, as about 15 people at the Colonial Inn Motel and others in Galesburg reported seeing the objects, too.
It turned out not to be the first UFO seen that week by Courson. On March 6, he had seen an object estimated to be 2,500 to 3,000 feet away in distance through binoculars. It was similar to what was seen on the 9th, and Courson claimed it emitted a bright beam and he heard a hissing sound like air escaping from a tire. This occurred about 4:30 a.m. from the Interstate 74 overpass on the Henderson-Wataga blacktop. He also claimed he saw a 5-foot-wide rim spinning rapidly around the object.
On Jan. 15, Samuel S. Westfall, a resident of Mobile City Trailer Court, reported seeing an object and claimed to be hit in the arm by something fired by the object. Another sighting on Feb. 11 saw the object southeast of Gates Rubber Co., as was Westfall’s sighting. What hit Westfall was a tiny piece of bright yellow wood.
Courson’s object was also seen 35 miles away in Henry County by a Henry County deputy sheriff.
Two professional UFO investigators showed up in Galesburg to follow up on the UFO claims. They men believed Courson’s claim on the 9th and researched the sighting.
The next night, numerous folks watched the skies, including 15 carloads of people along County Highway 10. With binoculars, CB radios and hot coffee, they watched. They reported seeing a red light around a radio tower and a white light that quickly moved across the sky.
The Register-Mail also reported that a garment bag, inflated with hot air from a candle, floated over the sky and was found on the ground in the morning. The identified object was photographed for the newspaper.
On the 18th, the newspaper reported that a DuPage County farmer wrote the Knox County sheriff’s office after the sightings, claiming that UFOs were using his field as a landing strip. No one took him seriously, however.
Alas, Galesburg’s UFOs were evidently not extraterrestrial life, but something more earthly. While the Galesburg sightings made newspapers across the country, soon the answers did as well. On March 13, two guards at Butler called police with a UFO sighting. Two large kites soon landed on the southwest edge of town. Attached to the kites were battery-powered light bulbs. Two bulbs were on each kite, which were made of red plastic. The lights flickered on and off as the wind moved the kites, likely resulting in the reddish glow and flickering lights seen above Galesburg.
But this does not explain every aspect of the sightings. What did Courson and others see? Was it the kites? A different man-made object? Were their eyes playing tricks? Or did they really see the real thing? Many still want to believe.
Talbot Fisher is weekend reporter for The Register-Mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on twitter at @TalbotFisher16.