Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.

The truth is out there

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst issued a statement Tuesday encouraging Iowans to "forget Area 51 waste at the Pentagon is out of this world."

The combat veteran's point was to let Iowans know about the need to consolidate unneeded and underused warehouses in the Department of Defense.

Or was it?

Could the esteemed member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services be waiving us away from extraterrestrial travel on the desert terrain near Rachel, Nevada?

People planned to "storm Area 51" at 3 a.m. Friday. The U.S. Air Force in turn reminded the public that Area 51 is an open training range: "The U.S. Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets," we're told.

If by "assets" they mean Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in space helmets, I'm ready to believe them.

Sorry, senator, we did our own investigating. Let's call it a probe.

In the April 6, 1978, "Wolves Tale" (a high school student page in the Lake Park News), student photographer Pete Takash spotted "something glowing" above the horizon on the dubious date of April 1, and went to investigate. A few miles west of Harris, the "something" he saw was hovering.

"Fortunately, Pete had his camera and was able to snap a quick photo before the craft vanished," the photo caption goes on to say. The photo in the digitally-scanned page was a little blurry. Maybe suspiciously so?

Just two years earlier, Spirit Lake High School students heard about UFOs from Terry Mitchell (no relation), who was, apparently a "ufologist." He designed his own flying saucer based on "pieces of information from many sources," so we're inclined to believe him. UFOs are often seen around water, electrical storms and power lines, he told the students. Earth's rockets need many of the same resources!

The 1976 Spirit Lake students then heard what I'm sure were charming anecdotes about mutilated hogs and cows no signs of struggle, drained of all their blood, no footprints nearby. In the end he told the students "none of it is conclusive."

More recently, the Associated Press picked up on a series of calls about "a bright light in the sky" on Oct. 19, 2011, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. National Weather Service officials there keep northwest Iowans up to date about tornado watches and snowstorms.

But they weren't ready to take a stroll down Paranormal Lane following the bright light sightings almost eight years ago.

"We have no confirmation and no information at all about what it was," said Todd Heitkamp, who still works as a meteorologist in Sioux Falls. National Weather Service Agency technicians said the flash of light was "likely a meteor."

Heitkamp's understanding of the event suggested the light was seen throughout the Upper Midwest.

"Speculation would say 'yes' (it was a meteor)," he said at the time. "But that would be pure speculation and in my years of government, I know we shouldn't speculate."

Yes, we're circling that concept with a Sharpie.

In the end, the fiction part of science fiction finds its way closer to home: A bright light in the sky was part of the plot in a season one episode of "The X-Files" that brought paranormal investigators to "Lake Okobogee National Park in Sioux City." Viewers could see Iowa's "mountains" in the background.

Heitkamp said the National Weather Service will leave any additional theories to the likes of Mulder and Scully.

"That's just not our area of expertise," he said, in 2011.

Sorry, senator, we'll need to leave that to Friday's visitors to Area 51.