caught in the light
Above: Vertical searchlights form Albert Speer's 'Cathedral of Light' at a 1937 Nazi rally at Nuremberg.
THE STORY OF MODERN WAR cannot be found solely in ideological struggles and ethnic divides, or in the witch's brew of ignorance, fear and anger writ large, or even in the baser human instincts of aggression and dominance. For the story of modern war has also been the story of the progression of the technology developed in the never-ending pursuit for military advantage.
In World War II, radar was one such technology, and it allowed an outnumbered -- and near collapse -- English fighter plane force to overcome wave after wave of fierce German attacks in the Battle of Britain, the first modern battle campaign fought almost entirely by air forces.
But part of that too was a different technology: a 60-inch parabolic mirror which could focus a brilliant beam of light miles upwards...
...allowing any intruder aloft in the night sky to be seen from the ground.
Above: Searchlights sweep the sky at the premiere screening of 'The Sands of Iwo Jima' in Los Angeles in 1949.
WITH THE WAR'S END came a booming business in the selling of war surplus items. And at least one of those items spawned a new industry: the outdoor advertising searchlight. Known as a staple of glittering movie premieres, they were equally ubiquitous at sales, carnivals and any event seeking a flashy dash of special attention.
Why Father Gregory Miller of Saints Peter and Paul Church of Norwood (a separate city bounded as an enclave within Cincinnati) decided to buy one is not known. Perhaps he got a particularly good deal from a parishioner. And certainly there was money to be made: the good Reverend's searchlight would make many appearances in the coming months.
But what the Reverend couldn't have known was that the searchlight itself would become an event in the news. From an April, 1950 article in the Cincinnati Post:
What Glows On Here? Norwood Muses.
It started on a moonlight Norwood night in August, 1949.
Army Sgt. Donald R. Berger, at the controls of a searchlight owned by SS Peter and Paul Church turned its beams to 1600 mills (straight up).
Suddenly, he saw it . . . a circular glowing object caught squarely in the long finger of light...
Questions flew fast. Flying saucer? Something from Russia? Or Mars?
Nine times since then the searchlight has found the object. And still the questions go unanswered.
FLYING SAUCER STORIES have turned to old stuff since June 24, 1947, when an Iowa man reported "I saw a chain of nine saucer-like objects playing tag at fantastic speeds."
The Army couldn't make up its mind. First it said saucers were a "joke". Then it said they weren't. Then it hopped the other way again. "Aerodynamic impossibility," one of its experts said.
ALL OF WHICH FAILED to stop speculation in Norwood. William Winkler, president of the Winkler Offset Color Service and dabbler in things scientific came up with this theory:
"It's not a flying saucer. Maybe it's a base for flying saucers."
Left: A local newspaper article for the August 19th event (top) and a later photo of T/Sgt Donald Berger operating the searchlight (bottom).
CONTRARY TO THE CLAIM of the news article, the evening of August 19, 1949 -- when the searchlight was fired up for the Saints Peter and Paul Carnival and Jitney Dance -- was not 'moonlit'. For the moon was fast receding as a waning crescent, and in fact did not even appear in the night sky until an hour and a half past midnight.
Operating the 800-million candlepower behemoth -- capable of shooting a beam nearly 6 miles into the night -- would be T/Sgt. Donald Berger, assigned to the ROTC Unit at the University of Cincinnati.
Berger's relationship with the church is unknown, including if he was a parishioner. But as a volunteer he would be the man at the helm for each of the incidents in the following months.
It is fortunate for history that T/Sgt. Berger was of the mind to keep a log, with entries for each time he operated the searchlight. His entry for this occasion read:
August 19, 1949. Place: St. Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. 2015 to 2300 hours. While operating for festival, picked up object at 1585 mils elevation. The object was stationary, appearing as glowing disc. When I moved the searchlight away the disc continued to glow. Estimated range: 4 or 5 miles. The sky was clear with thin haze at high altitude. I took no action, but next day articles appeared in two local papers re object.
Unfortunately, T/Sgt. Berger didn't specify in which papers the articles appeared. One news article from the time attempted a humorous angle, a riff on the then presently-playing movie Roseanna McCoy, about the famous feud between two backcountry clans:
Comets Poised Over City? Calls Flood Weather Men
A Weather Bureau official temporarily confused by numerous requests for information, indicated early last night that two comets might be poised over the downtown area, perhaps with the intention of blotting out the so-called Cincinnati area.
Hundreds of persons called newspapers, radio stations and the Weather Bureau regarding two bright phosphorescent lights that appeared above downtown Cincinnati as a "cluster of stars" to some, as "comets" to others and as some sort of heavenly shenanigans to the great majority. The lights were seen in various parts of the sky.
Since the Albee Theater, featuring the world premiere of Roseanna McCoy, and the SS Peter & Paul Church, Norwood, which were celebrating with a festival were using searchlights at the time the heavenly phenomena were observed, it was concluded, after mature deliberation, that it was the searchlights that were seen by the star-gazers.
The theater press agent doubtless had a name for the two "comets", McCoy and Hatfield. But, as comets, neither was the real McCoy, and both disappeared later in the night. Just another instance perhaps of the Hatfield and McCoys blotting each other out.
Its awkward grammar and purplish prose aside, the article's explanation of residents alarmed by searchlights was nonsensical -- the use of searchlights for advertising had become commonplace since the end of the war. But buried within were nuggets of useful information that, though not specific, indicated that indeed something unusual was seen by hundreds.
The August 20th Cincinnati Post was more specific:
"Balls of fire" hung over Cincinnati during the night, and witnesses speculated Saturday on what they'd seen. "One of our men who was working last night saw them" a Weather Bureau official said. "He said they looked like two weather ceiling balloons but they weren't moving. There was a wind of 25 to 32 miles an hour, so if they'd been balloons they would have moved". Another witness saw "two balls of fire" about 4 a.m. "They seemed to grow dim, and then get bright again," he said.
Two days later the incident was formally reported to the Air Force:
MILITARY SCIENCE AND TACTICS
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati 21, Ohio
22 August 1949
SUBJECT: Report of unidentified Airborne object:
TO: Commanding General
Ninth Air Force
Langley Air Force Base, Va.
1. On Friday night, 19 August 1949, Sgt. Donald R. Berger, RA 6718406, a member of this organization was operating a standard Army General Electric antiaircraft searchlight on a volunteer basis for a local group who were using the light for publicity purposes. Between the hours of 2000 and 2300 he picked up an object in the light beam in the sky which presented an unusual appearance and was not readily identifiable.
2. This subject appeared to change color in the light beam from a sort of phosphorescent appearance to a bluish color if held in the light and when the beam was removed the object remained visible with what has been described as a luminous appearance.
3. The object was North but slightly East of Cincinnati at an elevation of 1585 mils or approximately directly overhead. Judging from the atmospheric conditions and the range of light, the object appeared to be at an altitude of 4 to 5 miles and at about the same range. It did not seem to move but remained as far as could be determined approximately stationary for the entire period of the three and one-half hours Sgt. Berger observed it.
4. This phenomenon, whatever it was, was seen by several hundred people in this city, a number of whom called it to the attention of Sgt. Berger while he was operating the searchlight. A notice of this incident although not released by military personnel appeared in at least one daily newspaper of this city.
Lt. Col. CAC
The letter was then passed on to Project Grudge, the Air Force's investigative body for such incidents and the predecessor to Project Bluebook with a cover slip...
Brief: B/Ltr from Dept of M.S.&T., Univ of Cincinnati, subject "Report of unidentified Airborne object," dated 22 August 1949
OAF 00.92 (22 Aug 49) Ist Ind HP
HEADQUARTERS NINTH AIR FORCE, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia
TO: Commanding General, Air Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, ATTN: MCIAXO-3
FOR THE COMMANDING GENERAL:
JOHN L. BROOKS
ASST. ADJ. GENERAL
...and on September 12, 1949, it was date stamped, and promptly filed away.
THE LACK OF ACTION by Project Grudge was not surprising, for the covert objective of those in charge was to 'debunk' all such reports, and the incident occurred at just the same time that Grudge filed its report concluding that all such incidents were the result of misidentification, hysteria, hoaxes and psychopathological imaginings.
But back at nearby Norwood -- Grudge was located less than 50 miles away at the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton -- the incidents, according to T/Sgt. Berger's log, continued apace:
Sept. 11, 1949. Place: St. Gertrude Church, Madeira, Ohio. 1915 to 2315 hours. Picked up object at 15,000 to 20,000 ft. at 1620 mils elevation. The object disappeared within a few seconds, traveling straight up. I picked it up again at much greater altitude. Then, when I changed carbons I lost it again until 2115 hrs. As soon as it reappeared, I phoned Wright-Patterson Field. The sky was clear with no visible clouds or haze. Several thousand people also saw object.
[Note: Madeira is 5 miles east and slightly north of Norwood]
Sept. 17, 1949. Place: Milford, Ohio. 1900 to 2000 hours. Testing the searchlight about dusk, I had it set at 1600 mils. I could see an object which looked like a white glow. When I turned the light off, I could see nothing. I did this several times. As soon as it became dark I turned on the light at same elevation and caught object in the beam.
[Note: Milford is 9 miles east of Norwood]
Oct. 23, 1949. Place: St. Peter and Paul, Norwood. 1915 to 2245 hours. I turned on the light and picked up object at 1600 mils. Among those present were William Winkler, Father Gregory Miller, Robert Linn and Leo Hirtl. Reverend Miller and Linn phoned Wright-Patterson and reported object to Intelligence Officer. About 2200 hours, two distinct groups of triangular-shaped objects seemed to come out of the main disc. Each group had about five objects. They came down the beam then turned out of the beam. The same performance was repeated about half hour later. The disc was still visible when I turned out the light for the night.
Oct. 24, 1949. Place: St. Peter and Paul. 1915 to 2100 hours. Set light at 1600 mils. The object appeared immediately in the beam. ATIC agent and Lou Gerhart with me at the time. Held object in beam for about half hour until covered by clouds.
Of those present at the October 23rd sighting, there were two witnesses of note: Robert Linn was Managing Editor of the Cincinnati Post, and Leo Hirtl was a Post reporter. Especially intriguing are the notations that calls had been made to Wright-Patterson on two occasions, and that an 'ATIC agent' had been present for one incident.
But the witness who would propel Air Force action was William R. Winkler, who took it upon himself to write to the Air Force Chief of Staff:
Winkler Offset Color Service
108 West Central Parkway
Cincinnati 10, Ohio
PHONE: MAin 4343
October 28, 1949
General Vandenburg [sic, correct spelling is Vandenberg]
Army Air Corps
We have been using one of your army surplus searchlights here for advertising purposes. At different times recently we have picked up an object at altitudes over 30,000 feet which we speak of as a flying saucer - it is not a flying saucer or anything like it - according to the popular conception.
I have been trying to obtain an interview with Wright-Patterson officials but they are not interested - which leads me to believe you are aware of its identity.
On Sunday Oct. 23 certain objects appeared close to this large disc under circumstances which I consider alarming and serious.
I have been very careful to keep a record of all weather conditions and have made sketches on the spot which convey all details fresh in mind.
If by any chance the Air Corps does not have knowledge of the character of this object you may be sure someone has quite a jump on us in the department of aircraft - aircraft basing and launching or possibly radar extension.
I would appreciate an interview with a responsible officer with advanced scientific background and a knowledge of recent aircraft development.
There have been local members of FBI, one or two antiquated Colonels and amateur scientists blustering around [illegible] the issue and offering ridiculous solutions, but this is too serious in my mind to stop your investigation on such advice.
Wm. R. Winkler, Pres.
Please forgive this hand written letter. My secretary has gone for the day.
The letter was then forwarded via channels from Vandenberg's office to Grudge:
DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE
HEADQUARTERS UNTIED STATES AIR FORCE
Washington 25, D.C.
[date missing or faded away]
SUBJECT: Flying Disc.
TO: Commanding General
Air Materiel Command
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
ATTN: [illegible acronym]
Forwarded as a matter pertaining to your Command.
BY COMMAND OF THE CHIEF OF STAFF:
JAMES G. EARNEST, JR.
Lt. Colonel, USAF
Executive, Collection Branch
Air [illegible] Division
Ltr dtd 28 Oct 49 w/
And this time, Grudge finally sat up and took notice.
Above: William Winkler's October 28, 1949 letter to General Vandenberg.
THIS WAS THE TYPICAL modus operandi of Grudge. Under the direction of Colonel Watson at ATIC, Grudge had -- unknown to the upper chain of command -- been purposely inactive when it came to investigations, with one exception: when pressure was applied from without. This time the order had come down as the result of a letter to the Chief of Staff himself, and the matter could not be overtly ignored.
But in no apparent hurry, it took until December for a reply to go out:
[date stamped DEC 6 1949]
Mr. William R. Winkler
President, Winkler Offset Color Service
108 W. Central Parkway
Cincinnati 10, Ohio
Dear Mr. Winkler
Your letter to General Vandenburg [sic], dated 28 October 1949, has been forwarded to this Command for necessary action.
As a result of your telephone call on 26 October, this Command has taken steps to investigate the phenomenon you described.
If you have not yet been contacted, you may expect to be contacted soon regarding this matter.
A.J. HEMSTREET, JR.
Lt. Colonel, USAF
Chief, Technical Analysis Division
In the meantime, T/Sgt. Berger had continued to make entries in his log:
Nov. 19, 1949. Place: Norwood, Ohio. 1830 to 2245 hrs. At 1915 hours the beam of the light flashed on the object. Guiding the light back on the object, it then disappeared immediately. About a minute later I picked it up again much higher. The elevation was between 1605 and 1610 mils. Many witnesses, including William Winkler. Sky was covered with low broken clouds. At time objects appeared much brighter.
Dec. 20, 1949. Place: Norwood, Ohio. 2015 to 2200 hours. Turned light on at 2015 and picked up object immediately. At first it was faint and small. As haze cleared, object brightened. At 2130 it got much brighter and spread out almost as large as beam, then disappeared. Present were D.A. Wells, Dr. Paul Herget, two OSI members, Father Miller, the mayor of Norwood and Reginald Myers.
Again, the named witnesses were intriguing. Dr. Wells was a physicist at the University of Cincinnati, and Dr. Herget was a professor of astronomy there. Frustratingly, the two members of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) went unnamed, but three days later OSI Special Agent Stewart filed his investigative report:
[Note: names blacked out on the declassified copy of the report are included in brackets, when known]:
HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
OFFICE OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS
REPORT OF INVESTIGATION
PROJECT GRUDGE; Sighting of Unidenti-
fied Objects on 23 October 1949 at
Cincinnati, Ohio by [William R. Winkler]
23 December 1949
REPORT MADE BY
HARRIS L. STEWART
SPECIAL INQUIRY - UNCONVENTIONAL AIRCRAFT
None, this is an initial report.
Investigation requested by Lt Col A.J. HEMSTREET, JR., Chief, Technical Analysis Division, Hq AMC. On 23 October 1949 [WILLIAM R. WINKLER] sighted an unidentified flying object over Norwood, Ohio. Object was picked up in a searchlight beam. T/Sgt [DONALD R. BERGER], Cincinnati, Ohio, operator [Note: "OFF DUTY" penciled in] of the searchlight, has picked up the object in the searchlight beam on seven separate occasions at three separate sites. Searchlight beam has always been vertical and sky conditions have been practically the same on each occasion. [Blacked Out], Physics Department, University of Cincinnati, stated that he considers the object to be an atmospheric phenomenon.
1. This investigation was requested by Lt Colonel A.J. HEMSTREET, JR., Chief, Technical Analysis Division, Intelligence Department, Headquarters, Air Materiel Command, Dayton, Ohio, in a Routing & Record Sheet, dated 5 December 1949, inclosing a copy of a letter from [WILLIAM R. WINKLER], Cincinnati, Ohio to General VANDENBURG [sic], Headquarters, USAF, dated 28 October 1949. [WINKLER] advised in this letter that on different occasions, while using an Army Surplus searchlight for advertising purposes, he had picked up an unidentified object in the beam of the light. The object was last picked up on 23 October 1949, at which time certain smaller objects were picked up in the light beam along with the original object.
AT CINCINNATI, OHIO
2. On 16 December 1949 Mr. [WILLIAM R. WINKLER], Cincinnati, Ohio, was interviewed and stated that on the evening of 23 October 1949 he and Technical Sergeant [DONALD R. BERGER] were operating a War Surplus 800,000,000 candle power searchlight at the Saints Peter and Paul Church, 2420 Drex Avenue, Norwood, Ohio for advertising purposes at approximately 1915 hours. The searchlight, when vertical, picked up what appeared to be a circular luminous object which occupied approximately 25% of the center of the beam. The object appeared to be beyond the tip of the beam. The object was kept in the searchlight from 1915 to 2245 hours. At approximately 2130 hours a string of small indefinite triangular objects appeared to emanate from the large object, dived down the searchlight beam towards the light, and then turned out of the beam towards the south-east and disappeared. [WINKLER] stated that the appearance and the descent of those objects was accompanied by a high pitched whistle or whine. He advised that there were two groups of objects. He estimated that there were twelve to fifteen objects and the size of those diving objects was approximately three times the size of a fighter aircraft. At the time of this occurrence [WINKLER] was studying the main object through a telescope. The telescope was a 20x prismatic telescope with a 40x eyepiece. He stated that he believed that he had a much better sight of the diving object than anyone else present but that all in the crowd of some fifty people who were present saw the diving objects. He estimated the height of the main object at more than 35,000 feet. He further advised that at a previous sighting of the object at Milford, Ohio on 17 September 1949 he and [BERGER] triangulated the height of the object by using the searchlight beam as 67 miles or better. This triangulation was crudely done and little attention was given to taking exact measurements. [WINKLER] was present at two later sightings of the object on 24 October 1949 and 19 November 1949. The object was picked up for approximately thirty minutes on 24 October 1949 and then was lost due to being covered by clouds. On 19 November 1949 [Blacked Out] attempted to take some pictures of the object but nothing appeared on the negatives.
In a second interview on 21 December 1949 [WINKLER] stated that he and BERGER had operated the searchlight on the preceding evening, 20 December 1949, and had picked the object up with the light at approximately 2015 hours. The object remained in the beam of light from 2015 to 2130 hours, at which time it disappeared for approximately ten minutes and then was picked up again in the same position. At approximately 2200 hours the object grew faint and then disappeared. It was not picked up again before 2230 hours when the searchlight was turned off. [WINKLER] is of the opinion that the object is a space ship from another planet. He advised that he has no other explanation for the object.
3. Mr. J.B. SCOTT, Official in Charge, Weather Bureau, Greater Cincinnati Airport, Covington, Kentucky, was contacted on 15 December 1949 and, after reviewing the weather files for 23 October 1949, stated that there had been a thin overcast at 15,000 to 16,000 feet and another thin overcast at 25,000 to 30,000 feet; visibility was better than 15 miles.
4. On 21 October 1949 [sic, probably should be 21 December 1949] the weather sequences for the preceding 24 hour period, 20 December 1949, were checked at the CAA Flight Advisory Service, Provident Bank Building, Cincinnati, Ohio and revealed that the Greater Cincinnati Airport Weather Station, which is located approximately 20 miles from Norwood, Ohio, reported a thin overcast at 30,000 feet and a visibility of better than 15 miles during the period from 1800 to 2400 hours. The report from Dayton, Ohio for the same period was a thin overcast at 25,000 feet with a thin layer of broken clouds from 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Visibility was reported at better than 15 miles. The following are the weather sequences for the period from 1930 to 2330 hours Eastern Standard Time as reported by the Weather Station at Greater Cincinnati Airport, Covington, Kentucky:
- 1930 - Estimated 30,000' thin overcast, visibility better than 15 miles, temperature 59°, dewpoint 50°
2030 - Estimated 30,000' thin overcast, visibility better than 15 miles, temperature 59°, dewpoint 45°.
2130 - Estimated 30,000' thin broken clouds, visibility better than 15 miles, temperature 57°, dewpoint 42°.
2230 - 30,000' thin scattered clouds, visibility better than 15 miles, temperature 55°, dewpoint 43°.
2330 - Estimated 30,000' thin broken clouds, visibility better than 15 miles, temperature 55°, dewpoint 42°.
5. Technical Sergeant [DONALD R. BERGER], Cincinnati, Ohio, was interviewed on 22 December 1949 and stated that he operates the War Surplus searchlight owned by the Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. [BERGER] is assigned to the ROTC Unit at the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. He stated that he has picked the Subject object up with a searchlight on seven separate occasions in and around Cincinnati, Ohio. He first sighted the object while operating the light at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio, on 19 August 1949; it was picked up at approximately 2015 hours and remained in the beam until 2300 hours. The object was a stationary luminous disc and [BERGER] estimated the height of the object to be four to five miles. He advised that the sky at this time was clear with a thin layer of haze at a high altitude. The second sighting of the object was on 11 September 1949 at St. Gertrude's Church in Madeira, Ohio. The object was picked up at approximately 1915 hours at an altitude between 15 and 20,000 feet. The object disappeared within a few seconds and was not picked up again until 2115 hours. [BERGER] advised that he telephoned the Operations Officer, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio immediately after sighting the object the second time. [BERGER] advised that the sky was clear with no visible clouds or haze.
[BERGER] further advised that the third sighting of the object was at Milford, Ohio on 17 September 1949. He turned the light on to test it at about dusk (1900 hours) and picked up the object, which looked like a white glow in the center of the beam. He then turned the light off and could see nothing. He did this several times, picking up the object each time. He turned the searchlight on as soon as it became dark and object was in the beam and remained there for approximately one-half hour and then was covered by clouds.
The fourth sighting of the object was on 23 October 1949 at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. BERGER stated that he and [WINKLER] turned the light on at approximately 1915 hours and picked the object up immediately. They called Father [GREGORY MILLER] [Blacked Out] explained the latter, upon seeing the object, telephoned Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, and reported it to the Intelligence Officer. [BERGER] advised that at approximately 2200 hours two distinct groups of triangular shaped objects seemed to come out of the main disc, each disc consisting of approximately five objects. These triangular objects dived straight down the beam several thousand feet and then turned off the beam and disappeared. The same thing was repeated about one-half hour later. The disc was still visible when the light was turned off for the night at 2245 hours.
On 24 October 1949 the object was sighted for the fifth time at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. Light was turned on at approximately 1915 hours and the object immediately appeared in the beam. The object remained in the beam for about one-half hour and then was covered by clouds.
The sixth sighting of the object occurred on 19 November 1949 at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. The light was turned on at approximately 1830 hours. At 1915 hours [BERGER] saw the beam of light flash on the object. He put the light on the object and it immediately disappeared. About a minute later he picked the object up again. [BERGER] stated that [WINKLER] was present at this sighting, and took some pictures of the object. The film, when developed, failed to reveal anything.
The last sighting of the object was on 20 December 1949 at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio. [BERGER] stated that he turned the light on at approximately 2015 hours and picked the object up immediately. At first the object was very faint and appeared to be much smaller than usual. The object later became much brighter. At approximately 2130 the object appeared to get much brighter and spread out almost as large as the beam and then disappeared. In a few minutes the object was picked up again in the same position. At approximately 2200 hours the object became faint again and then disappeared.
[BERGER] further advised that all sightings of the object the beam of the searchlight had to be in a vertical position in order to pick up the object. When the beam of the searchlight was moved from the vertical, the object disappeared. [BERGER] stated that when the beam was moved off the object, the object appeared to remain in the same position as a dim glow.
6. Dr. [Blacked Out], Cincinnati, Ohio, [Blacked Out] of the [Blacked Out], University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, was interviewed on 22 December 1949 and he stated that he was present at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Norwood, Ohio, on the evening of 20 December 1949 when the object was sighted. Dr. [Blacked Out] would make no statement as to the exact nature of what he saw but stated that in his opinion the object was due to an atmospheric phenomenon. He advised that in his opinion the appearance and disappearance of the object with movement of the beam was due to the refraction of the light beam by either haze or a lower layer of thin clouds. He stated that he believed the object itself to be the light of the beam striking a high layer of thin clouds. He stated that the fact that the object appeared to remain in the same place when the beam was moved off of it might be due to latent retinal image caused by staring at the spot for long periods of time. He reserved opinion on the reported diving objects due to the fact that he had not been present when the occurrence took place. He based his explanation of the nature of the object on the fact that the appearance and disappearance of the object on the night of 20 December 1949 coincided with the reported high cloud conditions from the Greater Cincinnati Airport Weather Bureau.
EXHIBIT A - Copies of drawings made by [William Winkler] at the sighting of the object on 23 October 1949.
Above: Sketch included in OSI report.
UNFORTUNATELY, AGENT STEWART'S report -- rather than seeking answers -- left only more questions in its wake.
The first question being the reason for the lack of witness interviews. In the times of Project Sign -- the predecessor to Project Grudge, which had investigated incidents far more seriously -- the OSI investigator was expected to prepare a report complete with interviews of all locatable witnesses, with follow-up investigations expected (usually detailed at the end of an OSI report under the heading 'UNDEVELOPED LEADS'). Here Stewart interviewed only three witnesses, although T/Sgt. Berger's log identified at least seven others, including Norwood Mayor R. Ed Tepe, Cincinnati Post Managing Editor Robert Linn and reporter Leo Hirtl, and of course Father Miller, who had been part of it from the beginning, and who had personally phoned Wright-Patterson after witnessing one incident. And as will be taken up next, there were pictures to be had as well.
But the most intriguing question was the lack of any mention of his own presence at the December 20th sighting. If he was not one of the two OSI agents listed as present in T/Sgt. Berger's log, then who were the two OSI men there, and was it just mere coincidence that a physicist and an astronomer from the University of Cincinnati were there at the same time? And did what they see have any influence on the content -- particularly in what was left out -- and the abrupt notation of 'CLOSED' at the end his report?
In the end, all that can be said is that Special Agent Stewart's report, despite its manifest deficiencies, became the one and only official (declassified) investigative report to be found in Grudge files.
Though the matter would not end there.
Above: Photograph of one incident, from the files of Leonard Stringfield.
IT IS DUE TO THE EFFORTS OF LEONARD STRINGFIELD that the Norwood incidents are known today. He was founder and head of one of the earliest private groups investigating the UFO phenomenon, and it was indeed providential that -- although he didn't develop his interest in the UFO phenomenon until a year or two later -- he resided in Cincinnati, and was able to personally interview some of those involved.
It is to him, for instance, that we know of the contents of T/Sgt. Berger's log, which continued even after the official investigation was marked 'closed':
Jan. 11, 1950. Place: Norwood, Ohio. 1930 to 2115 hrs. Turned on light, but didn't find object until about 1945 hours when haze blew away. Observed it for about 15 minutes, very clearly, then it dimmed. It was called to my attention that some smaller objects were passing through the beam. I saw at least two objects several times. Also present were William Winkler and M/Sgt. K. Ekleberry, M/Sgt. John Savage and Sgt. W. Pflueger of the Air National Guard.
March 9,1950. Place: Norwood, Ohio. 2000 to 2200 hours. About 2000 I picked up object with the light. About 2045 hrs. two small objects came out of the disc and it looked as if the disc was pushed out of the beam. In about ten minutes, the disc moved back into the beam. The sky was clear. Eleven people were present.
March 10, 1950. Place: Norwood, Ohio. 1900 to 2300 hours. Caught object in beam at 1600 mils. At 1945 hours the object moved up and across the beam and disappeared. Half hour later, object reappeared in beam in same position. Object stayed in beam until I turned light off for the night. Present were Father Miller, Capt. Wilks, K. Myers, Wm. Winkler and others. Capt. Wilks phoned Wright-Patterson Field. Capt. Wilks watched the object with glasses while I moved the light.
And it is because of Mr. Stringfield, that more pertinent facts were revealed:
(I)t was not until 1952, while appearing as a guest on a special "saucer" program on WCPO-TV, that I got a proper perspective into the case. Among the program's participants, which included local saucer sighters, was Rev. Gregory Miller who reviewed Sgt. Berger's log and described his own observations. Also present was Harry Mayo, City Editor of the Cincinnati Post, who wasn't talking because of laryngitis, and Leo Hirtl, a Post columnist, who honked skeptically at saucers because he thought that the small objects seen on the eventful night of October 23 were "geese". Tempers flaring, Rev. Miller reminded Hirtl that geese do not have tail lights, and I, not to be outdone, put in my interplanetary two cents worth. After the program, and with the cast once again becalmed, Rev. Miller called me aside. From his side pocket, he handed me several photographs. "They'll show you the object in the searchlight beam", he said, "If you and your wife have time I'd like to show some movies..."
Needless to say, I accepted Rev. Miller's offer with enthusiasm and with the least of persuasion he got the studio's attendants to run the reel in the projection room. While Rev. Miller commented freely, Dell and I watched the screen in amazement as the giant stationary disc appeared, glowing intensely in the sweeps of the searchlight's beam.
Cameraman for the movie, on request of Rev. Miller, was Sgt. Leo Davidson of the Norwood Police Department. Filming most of it on October 23, he used three rolls, 25 feet each and a Hugo-Meyer F-19 3" camera with telephoto lens. Commenting on the smaller objects, Davidson said, "they were visibly the size of pinheads but they didn't have the intensity to register clearly on the film". He pointed out, however, that to the naked eye, he and all others present saw two groups of five small objects leaving the parent object, each, with halos, brighter than the searchlight beam. Said Davidson, we watched each group fade out of view".
Davidson also took ten "still" photographs using a Speed-Graphic camera with a 14 inch Wallensach telephoto lens. Two of these were exceptional shots, said Davidson, showing both the parent object and its brood.
Above: First page of William Winker's Nov., 1950 letter to Vandenberg.
BUT FOR WILLIAM WINKLER, the saga continued well beyond the last recorded entry in T/Sgt. Berger's log, either unknown to or for other reasons left unmentioned by Stringfield:
Nov. 27, 1950
General Vandenburg [sic]
I'm taking time out while weather bound in a downtown hotel to write you concerning an old subject.
In Oct. 1949 I asked you to investigate an object we had located over Cincinnati.
You sent a Captain
James St Harry Stewart 5th District O.S.I. to investigate. At first he was very interested or seemed to be. We tried to have him see the object personally but could never contact him at the right time. After a few weeks he told us not to bother him further. We thought perhaps he had discovered it to be a secret U.S. project.
The object of this letter is not to pry into things military and secret - I do not want to know what the thing is or who it belongs to but I do want you to know, or at least investigate it [illegible].
To refresh your memory:
We have a surplus anti-aircraft search light and use it to advertise various affairs. The object appears to be a disc or ball and was picked up by the light accidentally in Aug. 1949, in the center of the sky directly overhead and at a tremendous altitude.
If the atmospheric conditions are right the disc can be found in this same spot almost at will - it has been missing for long periods of time under what appears to be ideal conditions from the ground.
Until Nov. 11, 1950 the disc has been stationary.
At times it seemed to gain altitude but never move to one side or other. However on Nov. 11 when discovered it circled the light three times then returned to it's normal position.
There are many witnesses to be found if you care to have any of them questioned - including a Mr. James R. Paisly of the O.S.I. He saw it in March 1950.
I will list a few facts concerning the object.
1. After finding object the light is locked in position.
2. The disc must be traveling at the same speed as the earth's rotation.
3. Stars move in their orbits behind it.
4. Altitude triangulated at 68 miles. Temp. at that distance from earth is slightly under 212° F.
5. Size tremendous even if altitude were 68,000 ft.
6. B. 29 bomber pinpoint by comparison - observed through 60 power scope lying below cirrus overcast under disc.
7. On Oct 25 1949 two strings of smaller objects [illegible] dive short distance down light beam, seeming to be ejected from larger disc.
8. Nov. 11, 1950 Object still in same spot - circled light beam then assumed original position.
Wild guesses for object being over Cincinnati:
1. Disc tied to magnetic field of earth.
2. Isogonic zero passes very close to city.
3. Strong magnetic field 60 miles above earth*
* John Hopkins naval research
The included picture was taken in March 1950.
Have you investigated thoroughly?
Please acknowledge letter.
Wm. R. Winkler
Supt. Herbeck & Held Printing Co.
1117 Wolfendab St.
Winkler's belief that the temperature at 68 miles up (the lower thermosphere) was 212° F was probably based on popular science articles of the time, while modern understanding is that the very high temperatures in the thermosphere are variable according to solar activity and time of day.
The reference to 'isogonic zero' refers to the fact that on very few points on earth does magnetic north (as seen on a compass) align with true north. The degree of variation between magnetic and true north is measured by its isogonic line and given as degrees west or degrees east. Interestingly, though it has now changed, an agonic line (what Winkler referred to as 'isogonic zero') did in fact run through the Cincinnati area, as measured in 1905 and through the 1970s.
The reply to Winkler was typed and sent 3 days later from Vandenberg's office (note: the file copy does not include any stationery heading):
30 November 1950
Mr. [William R. Winkler], Supt.
Herbeck & Held Printing Co.
[1117 Wolfendab Street]
Dear Mr. [Winkler]
I am in receipt of your letter of November 27, 1950 addressed to General Vandenberg. I want to assure you that the information you furnished will be given due cognizance by the proper agency of this Headquarters.
Executive to CS/USAF
Above: Last page of Project Blue Book Norwood file.
IN 1952, PROJECT BLUE BOOK replaced Grudge, and that July William Winkler made one last try for attention, personally visiting Wright-Patterson and talking with the duty officer, Captain James. James took down a full report, including the fact that he had been given four photographs, noting: 'Photos 1 & 2 were taken with a Graflex and 3 & 4 by a 16mm movie camera.'.
Two days later, at the suggestion of Captain James, Winkler would follow-up with a letter to Blue Book chief Ed Ruppelt, which included these passages:
My first thought was of some reflection trick caused by various layers of clouds or ice particles causing a lens effect, or a special atmospheric condition causing a reflection.
This was disproved by noting the contrasting viewing conditions. It was seen between towering thunderclouds just after a storm, through thin broken fast moving layers of stratus clouds in March, clear cold starlit nights and hot hazy nights.
I can't think of any condition under which a reflection will not move if you move the source of light.
We could move our searchlight 10 or 15 degrees to the right or left and still see the object dimly in the same spot. Or we could shine the light in the extreme top of the object or cut it in half. None of these things could be done if it were a reflection of the light itself.
In the photographs I left with Capt. James I tried to show this relation of the object to the light beam.
By the way, I sent the negs from which two of those pictures were printed to a Col. Barber of Air Intel. Wash. D.C. in 1949. I received no answer and no negs in return.
The other negative is in Cincinnati. I can't think of the man's name but if you want it a little inquiry can turn him up. He also has movies of the object which may be very useful to you.
According to Leonard Stringfield, the two best pictures taken by Sgt. Leo Davidson (of the Norwood Police Department) were given to a correspondent for Time and Life magazines, for a purported story. But the story never appeared, 'and in spite of requests by Rev. Miller... the photos were never returned'. In 1955, with the permission of Miller, Stringfield tried to retrieve the photos, including writing to the Air Force on the suspicion that the photos had surreptitiously made their way there. The Air Force wrote back stating that those photos were not in its possession, and 'we have made a check of our correspondence as well as our photographic file and can find no reference to such photographs'.
Left unmentioned were the four photos referenced by Captain James in his July, 1952 report. Today the declassified files contain only one very poor photocopy of a single picture, its source unreferenced in the file.
In 1957, Stringfield had the final word on the subject. In noting that the April, 1950 Cincinnati Post article titled 'What Glows On Here?' (reproduced in part above) concluded with the words of the two University of Cincinnati witnesses -- physicist D.A. Wells ('In my opinion its an optical illusion') and astronomer Paul Herget ('It's not a fake. I believe it may be caused by the illumination of gas in the atmosphere') -- Stringfield wrote:
While I cannot publish Herget's exclamation while he viewed the object on December 20, 1949 because of a confidence entrusted me, I can say that Herget's reactions and utterances indicated anything but indifference. Nor can I publish, for the same confidence, the actions and behind-scenes maneuvers of Dr. Wells which are veritable guideposts pointing to and confirming some of my conclusions toward saucer secrecy. I can say, however, that Dr. Wells was there with camera and protractors and was in frequent hush-hush huddles with two 0SI members also present. Computations of the object's size were made and then confirmed by Dr. Wells. Like something out of Gulliver's Travels, the size was approximated to be 10,000 feet in diameter.
The Mayor of Norwood, R. Ed Tepe, now deceased, told me during an interview in 1954 that he also was present during the computing and heard Dr. Wells confirm the object's approximate size. Tepe, who gave me a clear-cut unbiased report of his observations, firmly believed that the object was a solid round body. "It had ridges or ribbing" he said, "which were very discernible". Tepe also said that "when the searchlight beam moved away, the target was lost".
Left: Decades later, a researcher posted a photograph purportedly representing a still from Sgt. Davidson's 16mm film. The still was represented as having been kept for decades in a private collection. In the picture, the light appears to bend towards the object.
MORE THAN SIXTY YEARS ON, the questions about the Norwood searchlight incidents remain.
Was there some object repeatedly caught in the beam of T/Sgt. Berger's light?
Or was it in fact the result of -- as the people at Grudge stated all such things were -- a case of misidentification, hysteria, hoax or psychopathological visions?
And what happened to the pictures -- the seven given by William Winkler to the Air Force (two negatives sent to Col. Barber in 1949, one print included in the 1950 letter to Vandenberg, and four prints delivered personally to ATIC in July 1952), as well as the two given by Reverend Miller to Time-Life? Why is there only one poor photocopy left in the declassified files?
And what is to be made of the ATIC and OSI personnel, logged or otherwise purported to have viewed some incidents personally, none of which is to be found mentioned in available declassified files?
In the end, as always, any 'answers' to such questions come down to mere suppositions heavily influenced by personal belief...
...while the truth -- like something imagined to be caught in a searchlight -- is seen only in glimpses, and moves on.
1. Leonard Stringfield's memoirs, Inside Saucer Post... 3.0 Blue can be found in the UFO Books Online section of the Saturday Night Uforia library.
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