By Anne Valente
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
Melvern Noll wheeled his GMC Sonoma pickup into the parking lot of Fun Land of Highland. It was 4 a.m. on Jan. 5 and dead quiet in the small Illinois town some four miles south of I-70 in Madison County. Fun Land has been Mel Noll's enterprise these last 12 years, operating for all but the winter months, offering the folks of Highland wholesome diversion with its miniature-golf course, go-kart track and video games. Noll, 66, coming off an overnight run to Bloomington -- he's also a part-time truck driver -- had stopped at his business on the way home that frigid morning, worried that the pipes might freeze. He stepped out of his pickup and started toward the office/snack bar/arcade room when something caught his eye. "I happened to look toward the northeast," he says in a down-home country dialect, "and seen, like, a bright star and never thought too much about it, just 'That's awful low for being a star.'" He went into the office for a bit, checked the plumbing and returned to his truck: "I looked up and there it was, just like a big house floating in the air, with windows in it and a bright light on the inside, like there might've been a big room in there."
Although it is difficult to judge the size of an airborne object at a distance -- there's no point of reference by which to gauge -- Noll estimates that the craft was "about the size of a football field." The object was moving slowly, perhaps 50 mph, some 800-1,000 feet above him and off to the south, providing a view of its side and bottom as it passed along a stand of trees. "I just couldn't hardly believe my eyes what I was seeing up there," he recalls. "I mean, there was no noise, nothing! And I was looking for wings and couldn't see no wings on it. I thought, 'What in the heck is it?'" Noll stood on the parking-lot gravel contemplating this strange sight for five minutes or so: "I just kept watching it, and at one point it seemed like it slowed down and I had the feeling it spotted me down here, and it scared the heck out of me. Then it kept a-going toward the southwest." The last he saw of the craft, a mysterious and silent behemoth, it was sailing silently past the Oberbeck Grain Elevator.
When Noll walked in to the Highland police station and told them about the UFO, he felt compelled to add that he hadn't been partying. The dispatcher, Nancy Edwards, reassured him: "I believe you. I can see it in your face that you saw something." Edwards then got on the horn and notified a St. Clair County police dispatcher, who in turn began a round of contacts to patrol officers in various jurisdictions.
Nothing much was shaking in Lebanon at 4:11 a.m. when Officer Ed Barton received the call from St. Clair County dispatch. Barton, who at first scoffed at the dispatcher's request to look for a flying object in the shape of a "two-story house" with white lights and red blinking lights -- "If I find it, what am I supposed to do with it?" -- soon changed his tune when he spied a "very bright white light just east of town." From the time he first saw it, "and that was a good five, six miles away," says Barton, "it looked like two large -- very large -- bright white lights so close together it looked like they were almost touching, with rays of light emitting from them." Barton switched on the cruiser's overhead lights, driving south on Route 4 in the general direction in which he'd seen the craft. "I was going rather fast," he says, "because I thought at first it was a plane going down."
Getting an occasional visual on the craft through the trees, Barton turned on Route 50, heading eastbound about three miles into the village of Summerfield. And there it was. "Just imagine an elongated, narrow triangle, but massive, so big it blotted out the stars that would've been above it," Barton says. "And on each of the corners of this thing were these round, bright white lights, so bright I had to squint to look." It had been stationary, but then it began to move. "That's when I noticed it was coming toward me, and so I pulled off the road, turned off my overhead lights, turned off my squad car."
All the witnesses saw the object at different distances and different angles. Barton had one of the closest views -- by his reckoning, it was some 200 feet away and about 1,000-1,500 feet in the air. Barton's proximity helps discount the theory that the craft was an airplane. "I was a military brat 21 years -- my father was active-duty Air Force -- so I'm familiar with both foreign and domestic aircraft," he says. "It got to where I could usually identify an aircraft just by the engine noise, and when this thing went over, it made zero noise. I mean, that's what really caught my attention -- no noise whatsoever."