Cleveland is known for some pretty weird things. The city is the home of the Torso Murders, investigated by Elliot Ness himself, and just north of the childhood home of Jeffrey Dahmer (who drank with several people I’ve met before who described him as a “nice, quiet guy”). And strangest of all, the Cuyahoga River earned its nickname “the Burning River” from the dozen or so times it literally caught fire from being so polluted. Perhaps this is why some of us locals lovingly refer to it as the “Mistake by the Lake”.
Yet there’s another strange local oddity that keeps appearing and still mystifies those who are fortunate enough to see it. Known as the Lake Erie Lights, or Cleveland Lights, strange colored balls of light appear at irregular times in the night sky near the city. While many colors are reported—even color-changing lights—it seems the most common experience is seeing red or orange lights (sometimes described as fireballs). Sometimes flying solo, sometimes in a triangular pattern or even appearing in clusters of over a dozen, the Cleveland Lights.
To give you a better idea, here is a partial list of some recent sightings in the Greater Cleveland Area, beginning with the most recent:
What exactly are people seeing in the night sky over Cleveland? Low-temperature ball lightning? Model airplanes? Alien spacecraft? Maybe even the disembodied souls of Cleveland meteorologists trying desperately to understand Ohio’s unpredictable weather? Or could it be top secret aerospace technology being tested over the Great Lakes?
Interestingly enough, while most people focus on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as being the government installation for space and UFO weirdness, people completely forget about NASA’s Glenn Research Center (formerly known as Lewis Research Center) south of downtown Cleveland in Brook Park, Ohio. Not only is it in close proximity to many “red light” sightings, it’s also where rockets and specialty aircraft are tested and where the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project was headquartered (think antigravity propulsion and ruminating on the idea of a “warp drive”). Then, or course, there’s the interesting fact that only 30 miles south, there’s a Lockheed Martin facility in Akron, Ohio.
This does not mean that NASA Glenn is harboring some form of Roswell wreckage or reverse engineering alien technologies. According to the Coast Guard, what people are seeing are the red flashing aircraft warning lamps on radio towers and wind turbines near the shores. Yet this doesn’t account for the heights and movements sometimes experienced by witnesses. Even beacon lights on aircraft aren’t always a suitable explanation, as these lights blink regularly and are seen on takeoff and landing from nearby Hopkins International Airport on a nightly basis. Most Clevelanders are quite familiar with seeing airplane lights in the sky, though we can’t rule out this misidentification in all cases. And yes, there have been people who’ve captured the lights on video:
Strange red lights flying around Ohio might not be such a new phenomenon after all, though. As early as 1867, reports of “Wizard Lights” appearing like a “vessel on fire” over Lake Erie were reported. Haunted Ohio series author Chris Woodyard recently wrote on her blog about an unexplained red light witnessed in northwest Ohio known as the “Phantom Light of Deakin’s Woods” (a two-part post). Though believed to be a ghost or phantom, the reports sound somewhat similar to modern-day red light sightings in some aspects… except for the fact that they occurred in 1924. Could those bright red lights above the trees 90 years ago be somehow related to modern-day sightings around Lake Erie?