BELLEVILLE, Wis. — One of the few certainties in the aftermath of the mysterious lights seen in the night sky more than three decades ago sits in front of a former hog barn on Highway D.
Bill Wolf's 1976 Chevy Camaro is masked with silver metal panels salvaged from old washing machines and dryers. The top entry hatch is from an old grill and a 3-foot section of an aluminum extension ladder has been installed to make getting to and exiting the driver's seat a little less cumbersome.
A series of dinner-plate-sized port holes ring the turret but the brakes are bad, so the low-slung vehicle hasn't left the yard in a few years.
Since the late 1980s, Wolf's homemade UFO has been a star of parades, has appeared in at least one book and even made a cameo in a Wisconsin Lottery commercial. It's not uncommon for passers-by to stop, take a few photos and admire his work. In recent years, it's been joined across the road by four of the octopuses that for years spun to attract customers to Octopus Car Washes.
"As fast as a Camaro," Wolf told the Wisconsin State Journal when asked how fast his 9-foot-wide ship can travel. "It was just slapped together in a couple of weeks. Whatever we had laying around. It's awfully wide, so you've got to be careful when you go down the road because you're taking more than your lane."
It's doubtful that Wolf's vehicle will appear in this year's UFO Day parade on Oct. 27. The day, organized by the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, will feature a pancake breakfast, craft show, book sale at the library, dog show and a beer fest. The Dam Bar will hold a saucer toss at 11 a.m., while an alien costume ball is set for 8 p.m. at Schwoegler's Sugar River Lanes.
The genesis of the day was spawned in 1987 when several people, including local law enforcement, observed mysterious lights in the January sky just west of the village. Investigators were later brought in, media descended and an all-out frenzy ensued in this community of what is now 2,385 people that straddles the Dane and Green county line.
And as Wisconsin residents tend to do, a festival was formed that October as a way to celebrate and have an excuse to drink beer, grill up a few brats, have a parade and attract visitors. They do it in Monroe for cheese, in Gays Mills for apples and in Warrens for cranberries. Manitowoc has had Sputnikfest for decades after a piece of a Soviet satellite crashed in 1962 just north of the city's downtown. Elmwood in northwestern Wisconsin has had its own UFO festival since 1978 after a series of sightings in the Pierce County community located along the Eau Galle River.
A parade is one of the centerpiece events of Belleville's UFO Day and will have about 30 entries, according to Mark Schwoegler, one of the organizers and, for the past 25 years, owner of the village's lone bowling alley. He doesn't believe in UFOs but admits that he saw something about 10 years ago in the night sky shaped like a cigar.
"It's up and down depending on the year," Schwoegler said of the parade entries. "We're going for a big push this year. We're trying to get more alien-themed things going. It has turned into a Halloween thing a lot so we're trying to get some more aliens in it."
But for at least one person, UFO Day has been a nearly lifelong experience and, at least to her, very real. And this is where this story about a UFO fest takes a serious turn.
As part of the event, a lecture series will be presented in the auditorium of the high school. The speakers include Don Schmitt, a world-renowned UFO investigator who lives in Hubertis near Holy Hill. He has written 15 books on Roswell, is a co-founder of the Roswell UFO Museum, has helped produced 35 documentaries and was part of the investigative team that descended on Belleville in 1987.
Also on the docket is Stephen Spyrison, a dentist from Freeport, Illinois, and a regular speaker at paranormal, spiritual and metaphysical conferences. His range of interests includes crop circles, religion, Atlantis, intelligent life forms and ancient cultures.
The most interesting speaker will undoubtedly be a real estate agent from New Glarus.
Sherry Wilde grew up on a 160-acre dairy farm, attended a one-room schoolhouse near Blanchardville and lives in a Parade-of-Homes-worthy house built in 2003 located in a 200-acre, rural subdivision she developed in the 1990s northwest of New Glarus. Wilde, 68, is divorced, estranged from her two daughters and lives alone with her dog, a 13-year-old Maltese who is deaf and going blind.
And since she was about 8 years old, Wilde said she has had regular contact with aliens — she's been in their ships, had them visit her in her bedroom and has seen them while driving, including one incident at Highway 92 and what is now Legler Road southeast of Belleville. She believes she has nearly 30 hybrid children born to aliens after her eggs were harvested on several occasions and continues to have meetings with Da, a gray alien who has been her primary contact through the years.
She has spoken at conferences about her abductions, has appeared in several YouTube videos and in 2013, wrote a 212-page book, "The Forgotten Promise: Rejoining Our Cosmic Family," about her life of alien experiences.
"I don't care what people think of me," Wilde said while sitting at her kitchen table with Schmitt. "It's just a crazy life. I just don't know what to do about it. I am this person."
Wilde said she was unaware of her abductions until 1988. After the UFO sightings in Belleville, she approached Schmitt, who was in Belleville in June of 1987 to announce the results of the investigation into the sightings. Less than a year later Wilde traveled to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies in Chicago to undergo hypnosis, which revealed to her a series of abductions. She later met with psychologists who she says all agreed that she was "mentally sound." Further hypnosis sessions, she said, revealed more memories of abductions. In the following years, she said she encountered more visits from aliens.
"Everything that Sherry has experienced is at that next level," said Schmitt, who speaks all over the world. "There's something there. But it's not revealing itself to us. We're still without answers with what we're dealing with."
Schmitt, who was quoted in Wisconsin State Journal stories in 1987, described then that the sightings were part of a flap, researcher talk for a high concentration of UFO sightings. The first was on the night of Jan. 15-16 from Glen Kazmar, a Belleville police officer, who from between 8:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. witnessed lights over Quarry Road. On March 6 of that year, Harvey Funseth, a surveyor for the state Department of Transportation in Madison, said he was driving home to Belleville when he noticed four oblong objects in a formation in the sky. A few days later, Lavonne Freidig, of Belleville, said she saw an object shaped like an airplane fuselage with no wings.
"It just hung there. I watched it and watched it," Freidig told the State Journal. "It was really strange."
About 200 people gathered in June of that year in the gymnasium at Belleville High School to hear the results of the investigation by Schmitt and his center. They ruled the sightings "as genuine UFO sightings."
Wilde believes the UFOs carried those who regularly visited her, something that continues to this day. She's convinced of their existence, has no physical proof but admits her story is something she wouldn't want to make up because of what it has done to her life.
"If you want attention, this is not the way I would suggest getting it," Wilde said. "You can't have a normal life."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Wisconsin State Journal.