Three 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.
Closely cropped
Chippewa County spirals lead examiners in circles
Tom Giffey
Leader-Telegram Staff
07/22/04 - Leader-Telegram
Tips 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 length.

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 the root.

“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 circles.

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 said.

“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 evening.

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 Swoboda recalled.

Giffey, a Leader-Telegram staff reporter, can be reached at 833-9205, (800) 236-7077 or tom.giffey@ecpc.com.

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