The Little-Known 1949 Norwood UFO Searchlight Encounters

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
March 15, 2022
Estimated Reading Time
14 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Waves

The persistent sightings of a circular, disc-shaped object in and around the Norwood area, near Cincinnati in Ohio, are somewhat lost to better-known cases of the era. However, it is perhaps one of the most intriguing of lesser-recalled cases.

This strange object was witnessed on several occasions over the course of several months. And what’s more, these sightings often resulted in the newspaper offices of such publications as the Cincinnati Post, or the Cincinnati Enquirer being flooded with calls from excited and concerned residents.

A depiction of a UFO in a spotlight

Just what were residents of Norwood witnessing at the end of 1949?

One witness would even recall that triangular-shaped objects were seen emerging from these large, circular crafts, which is an intriguing detail given that triangular-shaped objects were, by and large, not reported as widely as they are today.

Many of these sightings resulted in photographs, and even some video footage as thousands of people were witnesses to these bizarre incidents. And these witnesses came from all walks of society, from regular citizens, members of the police or military, and Church clergy and members, as well as many members of the press.

The sightings are certainly strong enough to stand on their own right as genuinely unexplained, and despite the lack of knowledge among the wider populace of them having taken place, they prove to be some of the most important.

A Strange Sighting Over The Jitney Carnival

The incidents began on the evening of 19th August 1949 in Norwood near Cincinnati, Ohio, Reverend Gregory Miller, the pastor of St. Peter and Paul Church, was busy overseeing the Jitney Carnival on the church grounds. By chance, he had arranged for the purchase of a military-style searchlight. [1]

During the carnival, at a little after 8 pm, with Sergeant Donald Berger from the University of Cincinnati operating the searchlight sweeping it across the sky, it suddenly highlighted a solid, circular object hovering overhead. When Berger kept the searchlight on the object multiple carnival-goers also witnessed the bizarre craft.

Local newspapers reported on the incident in the editions the following day. The Cincinnati Post told their readers that “balls of fire hung over Cincinnati during the night”, even quoting a Weather Bureau official who had witnessed them that they were similar to weather balloons only they were perfectly still despite the significant wind that evening. What’s more, these object would brighten and then get dimmer several times.

This sighting was the first of many that would unfold over the following weeks.

The searchlight used to spot the UFO

The searchlight used to spot the UFO

Just under a month later, beginning at a little after 7 pm on 11th September at the St. Gertrude Church in Madeira, a strange object was spotted moving overhead at an altitude between 15,000 to 20,000 feet. After several seconds, the bizarre object disappeared straight up into the sky, as if it had been yanked up by an invisible string. It was spotted once more, this time at a much higher altitude, but disappeared shortly after.

Six nights later, again at around 7 pm, this time in Milford, Ohio, an almost identical object was spotted while testing the searchlight. As the light moved across the sky, it picked up a white, circular object hovering overhead. The searchlight was switched off to see if it was still visible, but the object could not be seen without it. It eventually sped off.

Witnesses Report Seeing Smaller Craft Exiting The Larger Object

Perhaps the most detailed and intriguing sighting occurred on the evening of 23rd October, again at St. Peter and Paul church in Norwood. Reverend Miller was with several other people, including the Managing Editor of the Cincinnati Post, Robert Linn, along with a Post reporter, Leo Hirt, and businessman, William Winkler.

The object first appeared around 7 pm and remained constantly visible. A report was made to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by Miller, with an intelligence officer taking a detailed report.

Then, at around 10 pm, the sighting took an even more curious turn. Witnesses watched amazed as several triangular-shaped objects emerged from the larger disc-shaped object. They appeared to exit the object riding along a strange beam which they then “turned out of”. One witness described the objects as being similar to the apex of an arrowhead.

They continued to fly around the sky for around 30 minutes before they presumably reentered the main object.

In total, over 50 people witnessed the events that evening.

Picture of the object in the searchlight's beam

Picture of the object in the searchlight’s beam

Perhaps amazingly, considering the wealth of witnesses and the truly bizarre nature of the event, not everyone was convinced that anything strange had taken place at all. According to an article in the Cincinnati Post, Dr. Wells, a professor of physics at the University of Cincinnati claimed all that people had seen was simply an “optical illusion”. [2] Even more remarkable were the claims of Cincinnati Post columnist, Leo Hirtl, who claimed that the small objects people had witnessed were, in fact, nothing more than geese (Miller heatedly retorted that geese rarely have taillights).

Many who were there on the ground while the sighting was unfolded, however, were not so convinced. What’s more, there were further sightings still to come, including a sighting the following evening at the very same location. One of the witnesses – the Mayor of Norwood, Ed Tepe – stated that it was clear to him that what they were looking for was a solid object, even describing it as having ridges on its exterior.

Sightings Continue Into The Opening Months Of 1950

On the evening of 19th November, once more in Norwood, Miller was once again sweeping the searchlight through the skies. At a little after 7 pm, he spotted the same, circular object once more. After several moments, the object disappeared as if it had simply been switched off. A minute or so later, it reappeared, although this time at a much higher altitude. It remained there for several hours. There were several other witnesses present also, including the previously mentioned William Winkler.

Around a month later on the evening of 20th December, another sighting was made in Norwood. At just after 8 pm on the night in question, Miller switched on the searchlight and almost immediately settled it on the hovering craft. To begin with, the object appeared quite a distance away. However the course of the evening it began to appear much larger in the sky before disappearing a little after 10 pm.

The next sighting occurred in the opening weeks of 1950, once more in Norwood on the evening of 11th January. Once more Miller switched on the searchlight at 7:30 pm and began scanning the sky. However, it wasn’t until 15 minutes later that he located the now familiar object overhead. It remained clear in the sky for a further 15 minutes before it dimmed somewhat – although it remained visible. Even stranger, during the course of the evening, several witnesses reported seeing “smaller objects” moving through the sky, particularly when they passed through the beam of the searchlight.

Things then quietened down for several weeks before another sighting in Norwood was reported at around 8 pm on 9th March. Miller picked up the object almost straight away when he began sweeping the skies with the searchlight. He watched as it remained motionless for around 45 minutes before two smaller objects came directly out of it. As they did so, it appeared that the disc-shaped craft moved away for several moments. However, it returned to its previous position a short time later and remained visible until around 10 pm. None of the witnesses reported seeing the two smaller craft return.

The following evening, Miller caught the object once more, this time around 7 pm. It remained visible, hovering motionlessly for around 45 minutes before moving out of the beam of light and disappearing. It reappeared 30 minutes later in the exact same position as it had been when it was first spotted. It remained where it was until around 11 pm.

This was the last recorded sighting of the string of reports in and around Norwood. Just what the object was, however, remains a complete mystery.

The Investigation Of Leonard Stringfield

UFO investigator, Leonard Stringfield reexamined the case several years later when he was a guest on WCPO-TV on a program examining “flying saucers”. Also on the show was Reverend Miller, who would approach Stringfield after the show and offer pictures and video footage of the objects. They would go to the projection room in the studio and the investigator looked on in amazement at the visual evidence Miller had mounted up.

Miller informed Stringfield that a police officer from Norwood Police Department, Sergeant Leo Davidson, operated the camera. He would state of the smaller objects that had been witnessed on the 23rd of October were visible to the naked eye and were approximately the “size of pinheads”. Unfortunately, they didn’t show up on the film. These smaller objects eventually faded from view before returning to the main disc-shaped craft.

However, Davidson also took ten close-range photographs. And two of these did appear to show the smaller objects existing in the larger craft. The two shots, though, are the subject of a possible conspiracy of sorts. They were handed over to Harry Mayo – a reporter for Time-Life magazine – who planned to run an article on the sightings. However, the story never appeared. And more concerning, despite repeated requests, the photographs were never returned.

A depiction of a searchlight

Just what happened to the missing photographs?

Stringfield began to suspect that Time-Life had entered into some kind of arrangement with the Air Force in order to confiscate the pictures. And we should note, this kind of accusation has come up several times over the decades, both in the United States and elsewhere. In short, it is perhaps not as outlandish as it might seem.

The magazine would reply to his inquiries, stating that there was no pressure from the United States Air Force and that they had not handed the photographs over to them. They would continue that they had “made a thorough check” of the offices and files, and they did not have the photographs in their possession. Perhaps strangest of all, though, was their stance that they had never been in possession of such photographs and could find no records of them.

It is certainly suspicious that they would have gone missing. Did Mayo take them, perhaps honestly assuming there would be an article, and simply discarded them when his proposition was declined? There is no evidence of this and we can, in reality, largely discard that notion. Or were they simply mailed back to Miller and become lost in the system? It would seem unlikely that such items would not be handed over personally. Perhaps an employee at the newspaper, for reasons known only to them, took the photographs for themselves, leaving the newspaper having to be evasive with their whereabouts as they realized they had “lost” them. If this was the case, however, we might have expected them to have surfaced by now, whether for monetary gain or temporary fame.

It is perhaps one of the most intriguing and perplexing aspects of the entire case.

A Connection To Wright-Patterson Air Force Base?

Given the relatively close proximity of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, not to mention the fact that the Roswell crash occurred only two years before the string of sightings over Norwood. Might these have been test flights of reverse-engineered technology? Admittedly, this is pure speculation, but it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

Or might the alleged location of the Roswell Crash debris have attracted the attention of further extraterrestrial visitors?

It was Stringfield’s belief that the sheer size of the object alone – one that could seemingly accommodate several smaller vehicles – suggests it is very much an alien craft. What’s more, according to his research, military jet interceptors were sent to investigate. As Stringfield points out, given the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base would have had information of such a military vehicle in the region, why would military jets be scrambled in the first place. The airspace over the Cincinnati region would just simply be put off-limits.

What’s more, a particularly intriguing sighting that occurred over Wright-Patterson the day before the final two sightings over Norwood (which we will examine shortly) would almost certainly prove both the personnel and the high-ranking officials were unaware of such an operation.

Richard Haines’ Analysis Of The Case

Research Scientist Richard Haines would examine and evaluate one of the photographs captured of the Norwood UFO, as well as the specifics of the case. And he would highlight several areas of concern, particularly with details that were not noted at the time. [3]

For example, he would state the top of the object was “either missing or not illuminated to the same degree as is the lower portion of the object”. This suggested, claimed Haines, that the object itself was “not self-luminous”. In short, the illumination was very likely to be from the reflection of the beam against the object, which, whatever it was, was not glowing under its own power (although Haines stressed that this was not clear). This doesn’t mean the object is not potentially an unknown vehicle, but that it was not projecting its own light. We might consider that if the reports of smaller objects exiting the vehicle are accurate, then this might be by design.

Haines also draws attention to the fact that Berger, who largely operated the searchlight appeared in photographs in his uniform. This, to Haines, suggested that he was there not as a volunteer to assist Miller, but on “official Army duty”. If he was, why would that be? Might the suggestion that the object witnessed was some kind of top-secret military vehicle? Or might the military have had prior knowledge of the UFO’s appearance, and if so, how, and what were their goals of using this potential prior warning?

Haines also highlighted a certain lack of clarity on whether the object remained constantly still or whether the searchlight was moved to keep it in its glare (he would highlight that Berger’s statement, for example, said that he kept the disc in the spotlight for an hour but did clarify if the object was moving during this time).

Haines points out that this is an important detail that required clarification as if the object hovered in the same place for close to 60 minutes, it would almost certainly dismiss that it was a military aircraft as there was nothing (known!) at that time that achieves this. Haines would also point out that, from a terrestrial perspective, the only aerial object, at the time, that could hover in the same place for such a long time would be a tethered helium balloon. However, the chances of this being the explanation for the object are unlikely due to the fact that would almost certainly have been sightings of such an object rising into the air during the day.

In short, the Norwood UFO incidents appear to be a combination of missed opportunities for information, suggestions of suppression of evidence, and ultimately a cover-up, and elements that remain unexplained and unanswered.

Other Similar Sightings Months Previously

It is perhaps worth our time examining some of the other UFO sightings in the state of Ohio at the time. [4]

Although it took place several months before the strange sightings around Norwood began, an incident just north of Dayton at around 8:30 pm on 10th February is worth of our attention. On the night in question, a United States Air Force pilot, Captain Roger Croseclose, along with a student pilot, Lieutenant Ray Adams, were flying at just short of 8,000 feet when they noticed a distinctly white object with a strange blue glow around 1,000 feet above them. They each watched it for around five seconds before it broke into two separate parts and “disintegrated”.

On the morning of 3rd May, at around 9 am in Sidney, a local store owner witnessed a bright, shiny object moving overhead. It eventually appeared to land on a nearby footpath in the distance. The witness did not approach the object, however. The following day, at around 6:30 pm just outside of Maplewood, a local woman reported a similar flat, silver disc moving through the sky. She claimed that the early evening sun reflected brilliantly off its surface.

Only two days later back in Sidney at around 8:30 am three men witnessed a bright object moving silently overhead. They recalled that the object appeared to be round or circular, but that it was so bright, it was hard to see the actual shape of it. It remained in sight for around two minutes before finally disappearing into the distance.

The Glowing Object Over Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Perhaps of even more interest is a sighting that occurred over Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 8th March 1950, the day before the last of the sightings over Norwood. [5] According to the Project Blue Book report [6] around “mid-morning” on the day in question Trans-World Airways pilot Captain Kerr was bringing his plane to land at Dayton Municipal Airport when he and his copilot suddenly received notification of an unknown object in their flight path from the control tower. They were asked to locate it, which to begin with, they couldn’t. Then, they saw for themselves a glowing object, much brighter than a star, hovering ahead of them. What’s more, it disappeared and reappeared as the clouds moved across it and cleared, suggesting that something solid was definitely in front of them.

The pilots reported what they were seeing to the control tower. However, by that time, operators at the airport had also noted the object, themselves having received around 20 reports of the aerial anomaly.

A depiction of bright, blurred lights

Is the sighting at Wright-Patterson connected to the searchlight sightings?

Following a scrambling of calls to multiple aviation authorities, not least the Air Force, four P-51 jet interceptors were launched in pursuit of the strange, glowing craft. Radar operators, who also had the object on their screens vectored the jets toward the object. However, by the time they were at an approximate altitude of 15,000 feet they found themselves in heavy cloud.

At this point, radar operators confirmed the jets were rapidly closing in on the target. Fearing a collision, with each other, the planes broke formation and separated. They continued to climb, though, and the cloud continued to grow worse. Perhaps of more concern, ice was beginning to build up around the plane. They continued upward until radar operators warned them they were almost on the object. Then, fearing they would hit it square on, they descended to just below the clouds and circled directly below where the object should be.

They circled several times before the radar operators reported their signal was fading. The jets ultimately returned to base. By the time the clouds had cleared, whatever the object had been, it was now no longer there. In a rather hastily arranged conference later that afternoon, it was ultimately determined that what had been seen that morning was nothing more than the planet Venus. However, the pilot disagreed with this, stating that even if this was the case, then the same planet would have been visible the next day – which it wasn’t. Besides, we should note that planets don’t often show up on radar screens.

Further Corroborating Statements

There is also the report from Captain Robert Howe at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base he was informed as early as 7:45 am by the control tower that an unidentified object was “high over the field”. He also stated that the pilots of the TWA flight had described this object in great detail as being solid with a “slender body” and at an estimated altitude of around 10,000 feet.

Perhaps of even more interest is the sighting of George Barnes, a control tower operator at Dayton Tower, who it would appear witnessed the object with his own eyes. According to his statement, at around 6:50 am, he saw the object moving in the direction where it would eventually be spotted by the TWA pilots. He focused on it because of the sheer speed with which it moved across the sky, leaving a distinct vapor trail. Then, whatever it was, it came to a sudden stop. At this point, Barnes alerted his colleagues to the anomalous object, urging them to bring binoculars with which to view it. Those who did view the object described as being sphere-shaped and it appeared to be made of shiny, reflective material.

It remained in one place for several minutes at which point they notified the pilots of the incoming TWA plane.

Other witnesses from the control tower would also give statements as to what they had seen. The chief traffic controller, Sherman Seydler, for example, noted how the object appeared to be “thin when it turned” although he couldn’t be certain if this was a trick of the reflection of the sun. Mr. Stevens of the Weather Bureau, who viewed the object from the control tower at around 7:30 am stated that it appeared to him to be a “luminous disc”. What’s more, it clearly “ascended into the wind”. By contrast, Stevens’ colleague, Mr. Fordham, felt certain that the object was nothing more than a weather balloon (this despite it clearly moving against the wind, according to Stevens).

Whether the object sighted over Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was the same as the one that had been seen over Norwood for several months previously remains unknown. The overall description of it matches very well, however.

Another Little-Known Case That Could Prove To Be Of Importance

The multiple sightings of a nine-month period in and around Norwood, Ohio remain unexplained today almost a quarter of a century after they occurred. Whether they have been forgotten due to the apparent successful attempts to suppress the incident or whether they were lost among the better-known UFO sightings of the early days of the Modern UFO Era is also open to debate.

The sighting could very well be one of the most important in history – perhaps especially so if the two photographs claiming to show the smaller objects exiting the larger disc-shaped craft are discovered. Such photographic evidence would not only corroborate the accounts of the many witnesses in the Norwood sightings but also force us to reevaluate what we know of the early years of the modern UFO sightings.

We know that waves of UFO sightings exploded around the world in 1950 (quickly followed by increasingly active waves in 1952, 1954, and 1957). Were sightings such as these in the late-1940s merely a precursor to what was to come? Were they some kind of extraterrestrial reconnaissance missions designed to assess both the terrain and our overall response?

While there are holes and missed opportunities with the Norwood Searchlight encounters, it is reasonable to conclude that something very strange, to say the least, most definitely occurred over the skies of southwest Ohio during the last half of 1949 and the opening months of 1950. For now, we wait and see if the missing photographs and any potential lost witness statements help to shine more light onto this fascinating series of sightings.

The short video below is a brief history of UFO sightings.


1 The Norwood Searchlight Incident, NICAP
2 The Norwood Searchlight Incident, Ufologie
3 The Photo Analysis, Norwood Searchlight Incident, NICAP
4 1949 UFO Chronology, NICAP
5 Three Aircraft Spot UFO / Radar Track At ATIC, NICAP
6 Wright-Patterson UFO Sighting, 8 March 1950, Project Blue Book Report, NICAP

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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