Close Encounters: A priest and a mysterious U.F.O. sighting

Americans were seeing things in the sky during the summer of 1947. A private pilot, Kenneth Arnold, was searching for a missing Marine Corps plane near Mount Rainier, Wash., when he saw nine “extremely shiny” objects “shaped like saucers” flying at 10,000 feet. Around that same time, a rancher in Roswell, N.M., found debris scattered across his land. Soon the Air Force’s 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Air Field agreed among themselves that the rancher had found a crashed flying saucer—before announcing that the discovery was really a weather balloon. (The Air Force later revealed it was part of a secret program to monitor Soviet nuclear tests.)

The public was confused, curious and a little afraid. At St. Joseph’s Church in Grafton, Wis., something crashed into the lightning rod on the church roof. The Rev. Joseph Brasky went outside and found a warm metal disc, 18 inches in diameter, with “gadgets and some wires.” The mysterious craft looked like a circular saw blade.

It was.

Father Brasky, like many other practical jokers that summer, wanted to have a little fun at the expense of the media. Hoodwinked reporters were subjected to his collection of trinkets, including “bass bottles”—beer bottles outfitted with the head of a fish—and Fish Tales, his self-published book of angling stories. But though many unexplained sightings were proved to be hoaxes, they continued beyond that summer. Something, it seemed, was in the sky.

In April 1949, the Rev. Gregory Miller, the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Norwood, Ohio, wrote to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati with two requests. The parish school needed an expansion. Also, the nuns who taught at the school had been living at nearby Regina High School, but their quarters were “becoming crowded,” and they needed a new residence at the parish. Father Miller had a plan to deal with both challenges: He would hold a festival that August to raise money for the building fund.

The Saints Peter and Paul Jitney Carnival was approved for Aug. 19 through 21. The Sensational Kays and The Three Milos, two famous high-wire acts, were booked. There would be free entertainment—but also “fun for a nickel.” An Army surplus searchlight, owned by the parish, was used to attract crowds. The light was operated by Sgt. Donald R. Berger of the University of Cincinnati’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.


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