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In addition to the local news, WXPR Public Radio also likes to find stories that are outside the general news cycle... Listen below to stories about history, people, culture, art, and the environment in the Northwoods that go a little deeper than a traditional news story allows us to do. Here are all of the series we include in this podcast: Curious North, We Live Up Here, A Northwoods Moment in History, Field Notes, and Wildlife Matters.These features are also available as a podcast by searching "WXPR Local Features" wherever you get your podcasts.

A Northwoods Case for the X-Files

During WXPR's Curious North road trip in June, Shane B. asked us this question at our stop in Crandon: There was an X-Files episode in the 1st season that was in Townsend, WI. Was it actually filmed here?

For this week's A Northwoods Moment in History, Gary Entz answers Shane's question and also tells us about a real UFO incident that occurred in the Northwoods back in 1961.

During the first season of the television show the X-Files there was an episode called “Fallen Angel” that purportedly was set in Townsend, a small town in Oconto County, Wisconsin.  The episode, which dealt with a UFO crash, was not filmed anywhere in Wisconsin.  The entire first season of the X-Files was filmed outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.  In addition, the story is a complete fiction and never happened.  This is disappointing because a real UFO incident did occur in the Northwoods and could have been the basis for an X-Files episode had the showrunners known about it.

On a Tuesday April 18, 1961, Joe Simonton, a sixty-year-old plumber from Eagle River, was sitting down to his breakfast when he had his own personal Close Encounter.  It was late morning when Simonton claimed he saw a bright silver saucer hovering over his property.  The saucer was 12 feet from top to bottom and about 30 feet in diameter.  Rather than land, it continued to hover just above the ground as a hatch opened and a man got out.  He was dressed in a black two-piece suit and looked, according to Simonton, like an Italian.  There were two others who remained inside the ship.  The man who had stepped out handed Simonton a silver two-handled thermos-type jug and indicated that he wanted it filled with water, which Simonton did.  He returned the jug to the man, at which point one of the men inside the craft reached out and handed Simonton three small pancakes that were 1/8-inch-thick and 3-4 inches in diameter.  The men returned to their ship and closed the hatch.  Simonton watched as the saucer rose in the air.  As it moved away, Simonton took note that there were exhaust pipes about 6-7 inches in diameter protruding from the rear of the saucer.

Simonton kept the incident to himself for a few days, but by Saturday he concluded that it was important enough to report to the local authorities.  This brought on an onslaught of formal investigations, including the United States Air Force and the National Investigating Committee for Aerial Phenomena.  The pancakes were taken for chemical analysis and found to be of ordinary, earthly origin.  Simonton and his story were dismissed.  Nevertheless, Simonton had no reason to pursue a hoax and openly regretted telling anyone what he saw as the demands from reporters disrupted the routine of his life.  Plus, Savino Borgo, an Eagle River insurance agent, independently corroborated Simonton’s account by claiming to have seen a flying saucer go past about a mile from Simonton’s home at the same time.

It is easy to look at a story like Simonton’s as a humorous absurdity, but in official Air Force records it remains an unexplained phenomenon worthy of the X-Files.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear.

Do you have a question about history in the Northwoods? Submit it to our Curious North series below.


In addition to being a historian and educator, Gary R. Entz serves on WXPR's Board of Directors and writes WXPR's A Northwoods Moment in History which is heard Wednesdays on WXPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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