WARREN, Minn. -- Forty years after the Marshall County UFO Incident, the county’s historical society is commemorating the event that still has curiosity-seekers from around the world visiting its museum.
The Marshall County Historical Society will present “The UFO Incident” at the museum at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 27.
The spotlight that night will shine on a bronze-colored early-1970s Ford Ltd. sheriff’s department car with a shattered windshield and bent antennas. On loan from Marshall County for the past 40 years, commissioners on Aug. 21 donated the patrol car to the historical society.
The famous car was driven by then-Marshall County Sheriff’s Department deputy Val Johnson. He reported at 1:40 a.m., Monday, Aug. 27, 1979, that he drove into a ball of bright light, 8 to 12 inches in diameter.
Johnson, who was on patrol about 16 miles from Stephen, Minn., that morning reported afterward that, upon waking up 30 minutes after driving into the circle of light, hovering 3 to 4 feet above the ground, he had burns around his eyes. His patrol car also was damaged: A headlight and the windshield the car were smashed, the two radio antennas were bent and the clock on his dashboard matched that of his watch: 14 minutes slow.
Dennis Brekke, former Marshall County sheriff who was Johnson’s supervisor, said last week that he received about 200 phone calls from people from across the globe in the two weeks after the incident. Investigators were called in, but didn’t conclusively determine what happened. Forty years later, Brekke hasn't made up his mind, either.
“I’ve never made a decision on that,” he said.
Whether it was a UFO strike or something else that night, interest remains high.
“There are people from all over the United States who come just to see the car,” said Sherlyn Meiers, Marshall County Historical Society director. “This summer’s been crazy with interest in the car,” she said, speculating that the interest may be piqued by the Storm Area 51 Raid event that’s been publicized on social media.
“People want to learn about the car and they want to tell stories of what they’ve seen,” Meiers said.
“There was a lady who was here who said she was driving on the night of the incident, heading to Grafton when she saw the same light,” Meiers said. “Two weeks ago a mom and dad and their two kids came from Duluth just to see the car. Then they were going to drive out on the highway to see where it happened.”
The interest from the public gave Meiers, who coordinates events for the Marshall County Historical Society, the idea to hold an event at the museum to commemorate the famed UFO incident.
During the event, Johnson’s patrol car will be raised on a platform and lit underneath. Also, an account of his story will be read. Besides Brekke, others invited to attend the event include the dispatcher who took Johnson’s call, one of the men who investigated the incident and three members of MURON, billed as the world’s largest UFO research organization.
There also will be a “spaced out” costume contest for children and souvenirs for sale.
Meanwhile, Warren Mayor Mara Hanel has proclaimed Aug. 27 “UFO Day” and the town’s cafes are having space-themed food specials during the day.
The Tuesday night event has drawn a lot of attention from the media and Meiers said she has received several phone calls from people with questions about the UFO Incident program.
“I’m getting a little nervous because I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “It could be 50 people or it could be 500.”
Meiers believes the event will be worth the trip to Warren.
“The kids are all talking about Storm Area 51. I say ‘Why go so far?’”