Forty years ago today, for a brief but interesting time, Washtenaw County became the flying saucer capital of the Midwest.
It started when a Dexter farmer named Frank Mannor and his 18-year-old son, Ronald, told the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department that a strange flying object appeared and landed in a swampy area at Quigley and Brand roads.
Frank Mannor, 46, told authorities that night that the two went out in search of the object moments after they saw it touch ground. He said it appeared to be brown, with a “quilted” effect on the surface. It was flat on the bottom and cone-shaped toward the top, with two small lights on the outer edges emitting a glowing blue-green color that intensified and turned red at times. When it became brightly lit, the entire object was light yellow, with the light running horizontally between the two outer running lights.
According to the police report, Mannor said: “We then heard the sound of a whistle – something like a rifle bullet makes when it ricochets off something. Then this object went up in the air, passed directly over us and disappeared.”
Patrolman Robert Hunawill of the Dexter Village Police Department reported then that he saw what appeared to be the same object after he parked his car near the area. He said it suddenly appeared over his patrol car at a height of about 1,000 feet, that it had white and red lights on it that at times had a bluish tinge, and that it hovered over the car before continuing sweeps over the swamp.
Hunawill reported that he watched the object for a few minutes before it was joined by three others that flew in formation, with one set of two flying high above the other two. They then disappeared into the sky.
Professor J. Allen Hynek, a Northwestern University astrophysicist who consulted with the military, came to Dexter to investigate, and then reported his findings at the Detroit Press Club.
“It was like a mob scene,” said Bill Treml of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor News reporter who covered the story. “Then (Hynek) said: ‘As near as I can tell, what we’re seeing is swamp gas.’ ”
“I remember (Mannor) saying, ‘I was in the Army and we were down in Louisiana and there was swamp gas all the time; this was not swamp gas.’ ”
Treml is convinced the Mannors and Hunawill saw something that night.
“Frank Mannor wasn’t a nut case,” he said. “He wasn’t a guy who had wishes of grandeur. He was just telling what he saw. I’m sure he didn’t dream it up. He died thinking that was some kind of UFO, either Air Force-connected or from another planet or something.”
Treml said he thinks that something was manmade.
“I’m sure the Air Force has secret files about all their experiments with rockets or whatever,” he said. “Sometimes the high officials are so stupid, they think, ‘This will create a panic.’ That’s their alibi for not saying, ‘Hey, we had a rocket ship go round the moon, or something come down.’ Each administration continues the charade.”
Douglas Harvey, Washtenaw County sheriff from 1965 to 1972, agrees with Treml that the Mannors clearly saw something.
And he’s never believed the government’s official stance on what that something was.
“Dr. Hynek was sent in from the U.S. government. He came into my office. We went out to the site where supposedly this object came down on the ground. Dr. Hynek in the car said, ‘There is something. We just can’t put our finger on it. We’ve been investigating this for quite a while.’ ”
They returned to Harvey’s office, where Hynek asked to use the telephone in private.
“He was on the phone for quite a while, which I found very enlightening,” Harvey said. “He came out and I said, ‘Well, Dr. Hynek. What do you think?’ He said, ‘It’s swamp gas.’ He tells me one minute he has no idea what it is. And then he makes one phone call to Washington and comes out and gives a statement that it’s swamp gas. Very strange.”
“And then the Mannor family really caught a lot of flak, which was very unfortunate.”
He said soon after that, a man who was out running in Brighton reported a sighting.
“And then that was it,” Harvey said. “It just kind of died away.”
Harvey doesn’t know what to think about it.
“They did see something,” he said. “I’ll believe this to the day I die. Somebody has kept something quiet, and nothing more ever materialized. So we don’t know if it was the government experimenting, or was it really a UFO. I don’t know.”
Harry Willnus of South Lyon, the former state director of the Mutual UFO Network, has investigated the sightings and wrote a feature article about it for UFO (UK edition) magazine two years ago.
Willnus has a copy of the police report from that night, and said there’s no way that it was swamp gas.
“For instance, it mentions that the object was observed to rise to an altitude of approximately 500 feet, and then return to the ground,” he said. “Swamp gas doesn’t do that. It only goes off the ground a few feet. It mentioned when it took off, it sounded like a rifle shot in a canyon. Again, swamp gas doesn’t do that.”
So what was it?
“We can’t be sure,” he said. “It was, I think, either a craft that came from off the earth, an extraterrestrial, or some kind of one-dimensional device. And I’m starting to use the word multiverse rather than universe … Some kind of one-dimensional craft, perhaps, that came into our realm and then left.”
Willnus, who is retired from teaching in the Romulus school district, worked for a while as an investigator for Hynek after Hynek started The Center for UFO Studies.
“We haven’t solved the mystery,” Willnus said. “This case is 40 years old. We still don’t know the answer, and yet it still continues to occur, with sightings every day around the world.”
Jo Collins Mathis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-994-6849.