crop circles recently appeared in a
field of oats west of Chippewa Falls
in the town of Tilden.
Paranormal investigator Chad Lewis of
Eau Claire, who examined the circles,
estimates there's a 50-50 chance
they're part of a hoax.
County spirals lead examiners in
and story suggestions arrive in our
newsroom every day. Rarely, however,
does the phone ring with a report of
possible otherworldly phenomena.
That’s what happened Monday when
paranormal investigator Chad Lewis
called to say he was examining crop
circles in a Chippewa County field.
I knew it wasn’t a crank call.
Lewis, of Eau Claire, has a local
(and even national) reputation for
investigating ghosts, UFOs and other
paranormal goings-on. He holds a
master’s degree in applied
psychology, has written two books on
the paranormal and is finishing a
third, hosts a periodic program on
Community Television and co-hosts a
two-hour talk show called “The
Unexplained” on low-powered radio
station Wolf 108 (WLFK-LP 107.9) in
Eau Claire. (The show runs from 10
p.m. to midnight Mondays.)
My job usually involves mundane
mysteries — Who will win the
election? Will the Legislature pass
the bill? — so I couldn’t resist
the chance to see something that
might be, if you’ll pardon the
corny expression, out of this world.
Circles called ‘clumsy’
I found Lewis and fellow
investigator Terry Fisk in the
middle of a waist-high field of oats
west of Chippewa Falls in the town
of Tilden. They had spent more than
four hours trudging around the hot,
muggy field examining the flattened
grain taking measurements. Some of
the oats, crushed in spiral patterns
around the circles’ centers,
already had begun to spring back up,
suggesting to Lewis the circle had
been made days before.
Three circles were inscribed in the
gently sloping field. The middle
circle was 64 feet, 5 inches in
diameter while those that flanked it
were 53 feet, 8 inches and 55 feet
in diameter, respectively. The
circles were linked by two
5-foot-wide paths about 30 feet in
Lewis had been tipped off to the
circles by an e-mail from a Chippewa
Falls teen who said he noticed the
circles as he drove by but claimed
he hadn’t walked out to take a
closer look. This story sounded
suspicious to me: I knew I was
looking for crop circles, but I
almost missed them. From the road I
could only discern their faint
edges, which didn’t look
particularly circular. In addition,
Lewis hasn’t been able to contact
the tipster to verify his story.
Lewis also is skeptical. He figured
there was a 50-50 chance the circles
were a hoax.
“It’s very clumsy around the
outside,” he said, indicating
their ragged edges. “Most of the
formations that are in geometric
shapes are clean.”
Lewis was intrigued, however, by the
damage to the plants. Usually,
plants in crop circles are bent —
not broken — close to the ground,
he explained. Here, the oats were
violently broken 6 or 7 inches above
“It looks like something really
tore these up,” he said.
He’s also curious how potential
hoax He’s also curious how
potential hoaxers got into and out
of the field without leaving marks.
Another investigator, who visited
before Lewis, said there was no path
through the grain leading to the
Lewis and Fisk scanned the area with
a Geiger counter, which measures
radioactivity, and a TriField meter,
which measures magnetic, electrical
and radio activity. They also took
samples of damaged and undamaged
plants, which will be sent to a lab.
Skeptics say crop circles, which
have appeared around the globe since
the 1970s, are the work of hoaxers
working with ropes and boards.
Others claim they are created by
UFOs, unexplained electrical
activity or government conspiracies.
In his research, Lewis tries to
strike a balance between the cynics
who laugh off all paranormal claims
and gullible folks who believe
everything they see and hear.
“My first reaction is let’s rule
out the possibility of a hoax,” he
“As Terry likes to say,” Lewis
added, “we like to keep an open
mind, but not so open that our
brains fall out.”
Still, Lewis admits he was excited
to find crop circles so close to
home. While they’ve appeared
elsewhere in Wisconsin — including
Mayville, Port Washington and Wausau
— never before has Lewis seen them
in the Chippewa Valley.
The farmers who own the land,
Francis and Shelley Swoboda, fall in
the cynical category.
“It’s definitely not very
paranormal,” said Shelley Swoboda,
who examined the circles Monday
The Swobodas figure the circles are
the work of teen vandals with too
much free time, like those who often
leave messes in a nearby gravel pit.
Mostly, they’re upset that some of
their grain is ruined and worry next
year’s crop might be crowded out
by the weeds already creeping in.
That’s not to say they don’t
have a sense of humor, which Francis
Swoboda demonstrated when he called
his insurance agent.
“He said, ‘Do we have any
insurance on aliens?’ ” Shelley
Giffey, a Leader-Telegram staff
reporter, can be reached at
833-9205, (800) 236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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