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The Norwood Searchlight Incident:

This is a little known case. But it constitute a stunning evidence in UFO history. Not only many photographs and films have been captured, but there are thousands of independant and reliable witnesses, including members of the Catholic clergy, the press and the police.

The case:

On August 19, 1949, during the Jitney Carnival at the St. Peter and Paul Church in Norwood, Cincinatti Ohio, Reverend Gregory Miller, pastor of the church had purchased from army surplus, an 8 million candle power searchlight. Sergeant Donald R. Berger of ROTC of the University of Cincinnati would operate it. During the height of the festivities, at 08:15pm, Sgt. Berger's sweeping searchlight suddenly flashed across a stationary circular object in the sky. Reverend Miller and later others joined in and observed. This was only the beginning.

Photographic and film evidence:

Norwood 1949
Norwood 1949

Above: Scenes from Norwood Searchlight incident. On left is Sgt. Donald Berger and the 8 million candlepower searchlight which he was operating when he discovered the "space platform". Photo courtesy Cincinnati Post. On right is one of a series of photos showing the searchlight beam illuminating the object which was computed to be 10,000 feet in diameter.

Davidson took ten "still" photographs of the large disc-shaped object that flew in and out of the searchlight beam 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. These two pictures were last seen by Time-Life correspondant Harry Mayo, who had prepared a feature story for Time, which included the two photos. But Mayo's story and Miller's photos were not used in Time or Life and in spite of requests by Reverend Miller of Mayo and his publishers, these two photos were never returned.

Norwood 1949

Reverend Miller took several photographs. He also took several films which show the object in the searchlight beam.

The filmings were done on request of Reverend Miller, by cameraman Sergeant 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.

Smaller triangle shaped objects seemed to come out of the larger main disc and fly around independently, about five objects to a group. They came down the beam and then turned off. The light beam BENT toward the discs when they were not in the path of the beam.

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".

The case, continued:

The sighting is stunning in several aspects:

On October 23, 1949, again on the church's grounds, about 50 persons witnessed the phenomenon. Using a telescope, William Winkler, a businessman, said he observed one of the two groups of five smaller objects leave the parent object describing them as "triangular". Rev. Miller and his brother, Rev. Cletus Miller, agreed they were shaped "like the apex of Indian arrow heads". Robert Linn, Managing Editor of the Post, admitted later in an interview that he saw the searchlight beam "bounce off some definite object" but said the smaller objects were "something like bits of paper". However, Linn was concerned enough to join Reverend Miller in reporting the incident to Intelligence at Wright-Patterson AFB.

While no one among the thousands of Cincinnatians, including the experts, who saw the object, could guess its identity, Harry Mayo of the Post wrote a feature article April 6, 1950 under the headline, "What Glows on Here? Norwood Muses". At the close of the article, Mayo wrote, "Dr. D. A. Wells, professor of physics at the University of Cincinnati, and Paul Herget, U.C. professor of astronomy, took a look. Said Dr. Wells: "In my opinion its an optical illusion". Said Professor Herget, "It's not a fake. I believe it may be caused by the illumination of gas in the atmosphere. We need an explanation to squash people's fears."

The same Dr. Wells was there with camera and protractors and in discrete company of two 0SI members. 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 report by Sergeant Berger:

Seargent Berger, who operated the searchlight on the first night of the sighting, cleverly realised this was a most unusual phenomenon and so decided to keep a written log of every occasion that the object made itself visible. This is his diary, as it was reproduced by Leonard H. Stringfield, CRIFO chairman and editor of Orbit Magazine:

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.

September 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, travelling 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.

September 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.

October 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 (Managing Editor, Cincinnati Post) and Leo Hirtl (Post reporter). 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.

October 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.

November 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.

December 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 (Un. of Cincinnati physicist), Dr. Paul Herget (Un. of Cincinnati astronomer), two OSI members, Father Miller, the mayor of Norwood (K. Ed Tepe) and Reginald Myers.

January 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.

Witness reports:

The Mayor of Norwood, R. Ed Tepe, now deceased, told in 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 a unbiased report of his observations, firmly believed that the object was a solid round body. "It had ridges or ribbing, which were very discernible". Tepe also said that "when the searchlight beam moved away, the target was lost".

The Post, a Cincinatti newspaper, on August 20, 1949, had an article titled "Balls of fire hung over Cincinnati during the night", and the article quoted a Weather Bureau official: "One of our men who was working last night saw them. 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 mentioned in the article saw "two balls of fire" about 4 a.m. "They seemed to grow dim, and then get bright again."

Another source says the Cincinnati Enquirer was called about the Norwood object and while they did not publish the story of the night's activities, they did admit receiving reports of unidentified lights in the sky - and beyond the vicinity of Norwood.

One photograph has been reproduced in "Inside Saucer Post. . .3-0 Blue," by L. H. Stringfield, Cincinnati, 1957. L.H. Stringfield thoroughly investigated this case for the NICAP.

Short discussion:

The weather balloon explanation has been ruled out because on the first occasion at least, the object was totally motionless, while a 25 to 30 mph wind was blowing.

Another explanation attempt indicated that a local theatre also used a searchlight on the first night, and that the two beams might have crossed and created a luminous phenomenon. This explanation is easy to dismiss, since it does not account for the duration of the sightings for months, for the smaller objects ejected by the larger one, not does this explain the numerous visual sightings over the area.

No consistent other explanation attempt has been proposed. Among the most ridicule dismissal, there was the suggestion that the searchlight illuminated a "gas" in the atmosphere, and the suggestion that "it was geese".


I point out that this is a stunning series of sightings who have received very little attention, and no plausible explanation. The number of witness, the corroboration by photographic and filmed evidence, make it hard to dismiss. Unfortunately in those early days of "flying saucers" interest, no sophisticated data gathering was publicly done, which is a pity when one considers the very impressive details in the accounts.

Anyway, there is only one rational explanation to he events: non-human flying devices were observed.


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This page was last updated on May 5, 2005.