by Michael Huntington
The Mississippi River town of Grand Tower, Illinois has a reputation for being a strange and unusual place. Time Magazine, no less, once dubbed it “The Unluckiest Town in America” due to constant flooding disasters and economic hardships common to living in a flood plain. But, it is also known as a regional “Twilight Zone” because of it’s long history with all shades of paranormal wierdness. You name it, they have a story about it: ghosts, haunted houses, Bigfoot, unexplained sounds, bizarre electronic phenomena, cursed lands, two-legged dogs (I know it, because I saw it), creepy ritual activity, etc. In fact, the weirdness goes far back beyond even the town’s founding – back to when the local natives viewed the giant rock feature that jutted out of the Mississippi (The Grand Tower) as an off-limits sacred/mystical place, to when the Conquistadors erected a cross atop the rock to mark their explorations (and to ward off evil?), to the numerous massacres of settlers and natives, to when the coves around Grand Tower were occupied by river pirates that camped along the ridges of the Devil’s Backbone and attacked shipping from the top of the Devil’s Bake Oven. There is a tree that looks like the Grim Reaper that sits atop this “Devil’s Kitchen,” right next to the giant gas pipeline that comes out of the Bake Oven to span the Mississippi, right next to the ruins of a house haunted by the spirit of a girl named Esmerelda. There is a hint of sulfur in the air. Weirdness, indeed.
Today, however, we mark the weirdness that was alleged to have taken place on March 22nd and April 16th, 1973 when a large, doughnut-shaped UFO was observed hovering above Grand Tower’s Central Illinois Power Plant, possibly siphoning off some power before being chased off by American military jets. While not a major story unto it’s self, the Grand Tower Incidents are considered to be part of the large wave of UFO activity that was taking place about 60 miles southwest – around Piedmont, Missouri – known as the Brushy Creek Wave of 1973.
Here is the story according to a National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) report:
730322 9:15 PM. GRAND TOWER, IL. Cl.
Oscar Wills, 57, was an operating engineer at the Central Illinois Public Service Company’s power generating station on the Mississippi River at Grand Tower, Illinois. He was on duty when another employee, Willis Hughes, a turbine operator, telephoned from his home in Grand Tower to ask Wills to check on something that was hovering over or near the station’s 66,000-volt transformer yard. Wills went out the north door of the power generating station and immediately saw an object approximately 1,500′ high over the yard. He estimated the object’s size at 25′ in diameter (250 yards away). He described the object as a ring of lighted panels or windows with definite spacing between windows, each emitting pulsating light varying from a dark red-to-orange-to-white sequenced in a clockwise rotation like a theater marquee. The pulsations gave the impression the object was spinning clockwise, but the window separators remained stationary. Wills said the object was doughnut-shaped, or more like a wedding band, since only the lighted panels were visible. Wills walked to within 150 yards of the transformer bank, viewing the object with great curiosity. Then he became a little apprehensive and decided to return to the Power Plant and ask two other employees on duty to come out to witness the phenomenon. As he retraced his steps, the object which had been hovering directly over the transformer bank, started moving directly toward him, and passed over his head. As the object darted noiselessly past the northwest corner of the building, he lost sight of it for a moment as the Plant building obstructed his viewing area. He walked rapidly around to the west side of the Plant, facing the Mississippi River, and noted the object was now hovering directly over the middle (No. 2) of the three water pumping station buildings. He walked up to the ramp to the pump station house and on to the sea wall protecting the Plant from the river. He was now again directly under the object. Wills said it would take a circular object 5′ in diameter at arm’s length to cover it at this point. After watching for 7 to 8 minutes, the PA system called Wills back to the telephone within the Plant. It was Willis Hughes, who wanted to know what Oscar could see from his vantage point. Willis cut the conversation short so he and the other two men could go out to view the object. The object was gone. In 25-30 minutes 3-4 jets made 8-10 sweeps of the area about 2-3 minutes apart. The nearest base is is Scott at Belleville.
An excerpt from the May, 1974 FATE Magazine article “The Brushy Creek UFO Scare” by Jerome Clark recounting the Grand Tower Encounters:
Grand Tower, Ill., the Illinois-Missouri border, is almost 60 miles northeast of Piedmont but the UFO Oscar Wills sighted the evening of March 22 sounds very much like those from Brushy Creek. Wills, an operating engineer at the Central Illinois Public Service Company’s power generating station on the Mississippi one and a half miles from Grand Tower, first saw the object when fellow-employee, Willis Hughes called from his home to say something was hovering over the transformer yard.
“I went out by myself to take a look,” Wills recounted in an interview with FATE, “and there it was, hovering about 1500 feet in the air and about 200 yards from me. It was a round saucer-shaped object about 25 to 30 feet in diameter. It looked like a high-intensity red light with a lot of lights coming out of what seemed to be portholes. The lights were flashing and causing a spinning effect. I couldn’t see any image of its bottom, which may have been concave, I’m not sure. I kept walking and got to within 100 yards of it. I looked at it for two or three minutes until it darted behind the power plant almost like a blur. I went north of the power plant to see where it had gone and found it hovering over a water intake pump on the other side of the station. I stood there for a couple of minutes and watched it.” Wills’ vigil was interrupted by a phone call from another employee (not Hughes) who wanted to know what was going on. By the time Wills got off the phone and enlisted two other men to go outside with him the UFO was gone.
Wills then called Hughes who informed him the object had flown across the river and disappeared into the Missouri hills. Within minutes, however, Wills and his crew saw four jet planes making passes over the plant area as if searching. “The most amazing part,” Wills says, “is the way this object moved rapidly with no effort and perfectly silently. I just can’t get over that. I don’t know what it was but I know this much: we don’t have anything like this.” Wills claimed that a nearly identical object appeared over Grand Tower nearly a month later, on the evening of April 16.