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Lights In The Sky

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The Michigan "Swamp Gas" Sightings Of 1966

By James Donahue

A lot of people saw the multi-colored lights in the night skies over lower Southern Michigan during a six or seven-day period in the early spring of 1966. Among them was a personal friend, District Judge Donald Goodwillie, while standing in the back yard of his home at South Haven and looking out over Lake Michigan.

They were dubbed "Swamp Gas" sightings after Project Blue Book sent Dr. J. Allen Hynek to investigate the sightings. He concluded that the sightings were caused by swamp gas.

The many citizens, including police officers and my judicial friend who saw the lights could not accept Hynek's explanation. They didn't then and I doubt if they would today.

As a news reporter, then operating a bureau office at South Haven, I spent time with other towns people, staring into the night sky and attempting to capture a glimpse of the lights that were being reported from South Haven, at the far western shores of Southern Michigan, to Ann Arbor, in the far Eastern end. Of course we saw nothing.

Goodwillie had an amazing story . . . something quite astounding for a District Judge to even be admitting that he observed in those days. Most people liked to remain anonymous because of the "crazy" stigma attached to people who claimed they were seeing flying saucers, or UFOs passing overhead. It implied that we were being visited by alien ships, and, of course, that was impossible. At least the Christian indoctrinated society in which we lived concluded this. So when we saw such stuff, we tended to keep our mouths shut.

I think Judge Goodwillie was so excited by what he saw, he just had to tell the story. He said the thing appeared to be mammoth in size, was shaped like a cigar, and strung with lights of various colors from one end to the other. He said it passed silently directly over his house, and where he was standing.

He said there was absolutely no sound. Just this giant cigar-shaped lighted object drifting slowly overhead. He said he watched it until it disappeared behind a bank of trees and buildings. And that was it. One sighting to be remembered for a lifetime. One sighting to be told to news reporters, and to be included among the many other stories of sightings being told that week across the state.

In Washtenaw County, deputies Bushroe and Foster said they saw a bank of four lighted objects moving in a straight line "at fantastic speeds, and make very sharp turns, dive and climb, and hover with great maneuverability." for about an hour.

Police in nearby Dexter and Livingston County said they saw the same four objects doing the same maneuvers described by the Washtenaw officers.

In Milan, Sgt. Nuel Schneider and Deputy David Fitzpatrick said they saw two "top-shaped" UFOs doing what they said were incredible aerial acrobatics. They said the objects would hover, fall, then rise again, seemingly defying gravity. Their lights would go dim, then brighten again as they became active.

Perhaps the most incredible sighting, observed by several people, occurred in a swamp near Dexter on March 20. Observer Frank Mannor said this object was a "domed, oval-shaped object with a 'quilted' surface" which landed in the swamp. This thing had multi-colored lights in the center and on each end. Mannor said he was accompanied by two deputies into the swamp to get a closer look. He said that as they approached, the object rose up, drifted right above their heads and then quickly disappeared into the night sky.

A third officer, Robert Hartwell of the Dexter division, said the UFO buzzed his car as it approached the area.

While he took ridicule over his swamp gas explanation, you might be interested to know that Hynek apparently had a change of heart after this experience. He eventually became one of the foremost UFO proponents who created the phrase "close encounters of the third kind." He acted as a consultant in the film by that name, and even appeared in the movie.