To suggest that Northeast Ohio could be witness to the next mass UFO sighting does not officially make you a member of the tin-foil hat crowd. If you believe even just a few of the witnesses, Cleveland and its surrounding communities might already be a hotspot.
During the previous two years, the Cleveland UFOlogy Project, considered the oldest of its kind on this side of the globe, has documented 20 credible sightings. The 2005 documentary Dan Akroyd: Unplugged on UFOs highlighted the peculiar lights over Lake Erie near Eastlake, where witnesses reported their latest sighting just this past June. Earlier this year, an "orb" was videotaped over the Key Bank Tower during a peace rally, and the incident made it on the CBS nightly news.
The hype continues: Literally hundreds of thousands have downloaded Internet videos of Northeast Ohio UFOs. The Cleveland Office of Homeland Security has investigated. And one of the Eastlake UFO witnesses says he's signed a contract with a History Channel for a documentary.
"If you take all of the people in Ohio who are interested in this subject, I bet half of them are from that part of the state," says Central Ohio-based William E. Jones, state director for Ohio MUFON, or Mutual UFO Network. "A lot of folks up there have seen things over the years. More people are interested up there. I don't know why."
Sam Phillips has long been a fixture of Cleveland's music scene. He's an accomplished drummer and "hand snapper," and appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show. When interviewed for this story, however, he was homeless and sleeping at the homes of friends and family. Phillips taped a strange light spinning and hovering over the Key Bank Tower on March 10, during a peace rally.
"This is not about me," says Phillips, who admits he has become obsessed with what he saw that night. "There's a pattern here. There's a riddle here. And I want answers. I want an explanation."
He believes it wasn't coincidence the sighting took place over a peace rally. During the sighting, he recalls saying that our "brothers and sisters are going to come down from the universe and humble our ass."
Phillips' story, however, is but a sidebar in the current wave of Northeast Ohio UFO mania. Taking center stage is Lake Erie, and Michael Lee Hill of Eastlake.
Hill, like Phillips, is a musician. In 2001, Grammy-award winner and guitar legend Steve Vai picked Hill as the winner of a national guitar contest. Hill is gregarious, upbeat and likeable. He's unconventional and complex. He's certain that the UFOs he has seen are targeting him.
"I've had contact my whole life," he says. "I remember asking my mother, "Why do Santa's elves keep visiting me?'"
The recent visitations started in earnest five years ago, not far from the coal-burning power plant, he says. While walking on the beach, not far from his home, Hill said he witnessed a top hat-shaped craft hovering and pulsating over the shoreline. This same area is also famous in UFO lore for a 1988 encounter documented by the Coast Guard.
Hill started taking a video camera to the lakefront. Since then he's captured scores of bright lights that appear to hover over Lake Erie. He's uploaded many of his videos to YouTube, and those caught the attention of David Sereda, who directed the Akroyd documentary. Hill created the music for Sereda's latest project, From Here To Andromeda. Hill also says he recently signed a contract for a History Channel project, but the channel did not return Free Times' calls.
"I really do consider myself a spiritual messenger; I know it sounds freaky," says Hill, adding that the UFO filmed over the Key Bank Tower is one of the same orbs he captured over Lake Erie. "There's a huge story unfolding here. I think they're absolutely sending us a message. I believe they are here to help us become a galactic society."
At the other end of the spectrum is Eastlake resident Gary Strauss, who says adamantly, "I'm not one of those UFO people." He's a chemist and a supervisor at a local laboratory. He's lived in his home on the lake since 1984, in the same neighborhood as Hill, though they've never met.
Early on the morning of June 21, Strauss and his son saw four bright lights, shaped like the tip of a Sharpie marker, high above the water. The lights were in a line parallel with the shoreline, positioned at 11 o'clock and 30 degrees above the horizon.
Then one vanished. Then another. Soon all four were gone. Suddenly, they reappeared in the shape of a diamond. Then they went flat again. This went on for more than an hour.
He called the Eastlake police and they dispatched an officer. Strauss remembers the officer saying, "What is that?"
The following day, his son checked the Internet for lights over Lake Erie and found one of Hill's videos. He recalls his son shouting, "That's it! That's what we saw!"
But unlike other Lake Erie witnesses, Strauss doesn't believe the lights are extraterrestrial. He guesses they're the result of government or aerospace industry experiments with new technology. "They're bouncing radar off some type of object," he speculates. "Some form of radar reflection technology. I'm just making an educated guess."
Nevertheless, he's intrigued.
"I look outside a lot more. I want to see it again," says Strauss. "This time, I'm going to have my camera." But he rejects the suggestion that it's anything more than curiosity: "No. I'm not obsessive. Absolutely not."
The Eastlake police actually had two witnesses that night. A detective, who asked not to be named, told the Free Times that he too saw the lights, but from a different vantage point.
The Eastlake police asked the Cleveland office of Homeland Security to look into the sighting, and the detective says he was told later that on the night of the sighting, the Canadian Coast Guard was near the opposite side of the lake searching for a man who had been reported missing. A Canadian Coast Guard helicopter dropped flares, connected to miniature parachutes, over the water. Later it was discovered the man had drowned.
Strauss finds this implausible, believes the lights appeared in a straight line, then vanished, then reappeared in a diamond formation.
The Bush administration reportedly has funneled billions to the aerospace industry to develop space-based weapons under the guise of missile defense. Secret military space-plane programs are believed to have been revived as well.
Another possibility are LAGEOS, or Laser Geodynamics Satellites. Publicly, the government says two are in orbit, and both are roughly the size of a basketball. They are made of brass and partially covered with a retro-reflection material that returns light in the direction it comes from, similar to a road sign.
There's also NASA's Glenn Research Center at the Plum Brook site in Sandusky. The site is home to the world's largest space environment simulation chamber. That chamber will test NASA's new spacecraft, Orion, which will take the US back to the moon. Recent upgrades to the Plum Brook site will also allow it to test "next- generation lunar landers, robotic systems, and military and commercial aircraft," according to NASA's Web site.
"So here I come walking out of the TV station one night in November maybe a decade ago after our early evening newscast," says Ted Henry of New Channel 5. "In perfect formation there were five large objects flying smoothly in my direction. It was stunning.
"What I saw was the undersides of five flat objects flying in exact formation. The front two were enormous, maybe the size of several football fields, and the three trailing were smaller, flying in a slightly irregular pattern."
"What do I think they were? All I can really tell you is what I saw."
Henry has talked about his sighting many times on the air. He puts the experience this way: "One thing is certain, for people who see something in the sky, as I did over Cleveland years ago, it can be a life changing experience.
Cleveland Northern Ohio UFO
Cleveland Northern Ohio UFO