What was seen in the skies over Sturgeon Bay?
“I turned the corner at Third and Michigan and walked toward the drugstore,” Wisconsin journalist Coral Lorenzen wrote. “Suddenly someone called, ‘There’s the ‘flying-saucer woman’-ask her what it is!’ Third Avenue, the main street in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, was literally full of people watching the sky to the northeast. I looked up and saw it too-a silver, ellipsoid object.”
On May 21, 1952, Coral Lorenzen, along with countless others across Door County, witnessed what came to be known as the Sturgeon Bay Flying Saucer. Coral was a writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the time, using it as a platform to research Wisconsin UFO sightings. Just a few months earlier, in January of 1952, Coral and her husband Jim founded the Arial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) to enable amateur researchers to investigate UFO reports in hopes of providing better answers than US government agencies had been. Coral’s interest began with her first encounter in 1934 when she was just 9 years old.
The object in the skies over Sturgeon Bay appeared to be metallic with a bright red glow at the bottom, according to Coral’s description in her 1966 book Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space. It was moving very slowly toward the northeast, and was visible in the area for about 50 minutes. Based on calculations from observations made in Sturgeon Bay, as well as Fish Creek 30 minutes to the north, Coral and Jim estimated the object to be 780 feet in diameter at an altitude of about 40 miles.
Many attempts to explain the sighting were made over the next few days. General Mills Co. in Minneapolis took credit, claiming it was one of their balloons they were developing for upper atmosphere research. They said they had launched one that morning, and it “could” have been seen over Door County that evening.
Jim and Coral Lorenzen
“Not explained was the bright light on the bottom of the object,” Coral wrote of General Mills’ claim. “It wasn’t even mentioned in the press release. The reliability of the observers wasn’t mentioned either. I had had a good deal of experience with estimating degrees of arc in the sky, and both policemen who had observed the object in Fish Creek were World War II veterans and capable observers. The General Mills statement did not attempt to discredit Mr. Lorenzen’s triangulation, nor did it mention the facts that the big balloons were considerably less than four hundred feet in diameter and were not equipped with huge riding lights.”
The General Mills website mentions the balloons, and the stir one caused in 1947 when something “glowing an angry red” was seen over Minneapolis. Many residents called the University of Minnesota, jamming their phone lines for an hour, asking if there was a flying saucer in the sky or if it was “the beginning of the end of the world.”
“General Mills could not reveal that it had begun working with the U.S. government to develop balloons that could carry as much as 250 pounds of equipment into the upper atmosphere,” the website states. “During unmanned ‘Project Skyhook,’ General Mills developed improved plastic balloons that seemingly scraped the stars at around 100,000 feet.”
“Where our balloons now float will be man’s highway of tomorrow,” Project Skyhook engineer Otto C. Winzen told Popular Science in 1948.
While tracking their balloons, however, even General Mills had seen things even they couldn’t explain.
The company had been unhappy with the Air Force’s treatment of the UFO reports, so they kept their file of unidentified objects to themselves until Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt and Project Grudge promised an unbiased investigation into the phenomena.
“One series of reports was especially good, and they came from a group of people who had had a great deal of experience watching things in the sky,” Ruppelt wrote in his 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, “the people who launch the big skyhook balloons for General Mills, Inc.”
“The Aeronautical Division of General Mills, Inc., of Wheaties and Betty Crocker fame, had launched and tracked every skyhook balloon that had been launched prior to mid 1952,” Ruppelt wrote. “They knew what their balloons looked like under all lighting conditions and they also knew meteorology, aerodynamics, astronomy, and they knew UFO’s. I talked to these people for the better part of a full day, and every time I tried to infer that there might be some natural explanation for the UFO’s I just about found myself in a fresh snowdrift.”
Ruppelt noted that one tracking crew had seen so many UFOs that they were no longer especially interested in them.
“What made these people so sure that UFO’s existed? In the first place, they had seen many of them,” Ruppelt wrote of the General Mills crew. “And the things that they saw couldn’t be explained.”
Door County residents, frustrated with the attempts to rationalize what they had seen, felt the same.
“I don’t know what that thing was,” one witness of the Sturgeon Bay flying saucer told Coral, “but I can tell you it was no balloon or reflection or hallucination, or any of the other explanations.”