Who Forted? Magazine

The Cleveland Lights: Strange Sights over the ‘Mistake by the Lake’

Cleveland Lights

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:

  • January 12, 2014ClevelandFifteen red balls of light were seen moving very fast in the western sky, crossing paths of inbound planes landing at Hopkins and disappearing over Lake Erie. They were witnessed from a 6th floor apartment window for approximately four minutes.
  • November 23, 2013ParmaAn “orange fireball…dripping smaller balls” moving slowly from east to west, disappearing and reappearing along a straight path, suddenly shot off and vanished.
  • October 27, 2013LorainEight deep red objects (described as looking like “Christmas ornaments”, possibly round in shape) traveled west to east across Lake Erie moving in synchronized speed as pairs of twos following a cluster of four.
  • October 19, 2013BrecksvilleA school teacher observed “20 large red spherical shapes” traveling east and getting closer together as they neared Wallings Road and I-77.
  • July 27, 2013Seven HillsA Jasmine Drive resident observed four “round orange-red balls” heading north approximately a mile above Pleasant Valley Road. They were followed by two pairs of similar lights following behind them. And unidentifiable aircraft was following to the west of the lights.
  • June 28, 2013Cleveland HeightsAt least six people witnessed five bright orange-red “dime-sized orbs” in the night sky to the east. At different times, they hovered, grew brighter, and moved west. Three of the lights traveled in a triangular formation. The lights were observed for around 20 minutes.
  • July 11, 2012Valley ViewA woman in a movie theater parking lot watched a red pulsating light heading south from the northeast sky. As it approached her location, it stopped and turned southwest, again at a slow constant speed. A “red pointy tail of light” appeared off the rear of the light as it stopped and “blinked out”.
  • November 29, 2011LakewoodA “fireball looking object” traveling straight south to north below the cloud layer crossed in front of the path of a descending commercial aircraft and disappeared over Lake Erie. A similar object, taking a similar path, was observed by the witness’ brother 3-4 weeks prior.
  • October 8, 2010Bath TownshipA pilot observed a bright orange “disc shaped craft”cross the sky from west to east at an estimated altitude of 3,000 to 4,000 feet MSL (above sea level) traveling approximately 250-300 knots. The object, estimated to be 2-4 miles away, emitted no noise and had no marker lights.

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?

A 2011 still from footage of the Lake Erie Lights filmed by Michael Lee Hill of Cleveland.

A still frame from footage of the Lake Erie Lights filmed by Michael Lee Hill of Cleveland in 2011.

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.

Just another day at NASA Glenn. Nothing to see here, folks!

Just another day at NASA Glenn. Nothing to see here, folks!

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 reportedHaunted 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?

Have you witnessed strange red lights in the skies over Cleveland? We want to hear about it! Share your experiences on FacebookTwitter, or leave your story in the comments below.

Ken Summers
Ken Summers is a historical researcher, author, and contributor/resident ghost geek for Who Forted? who started poking around northeast Ohio for hauntings just before GHI was born. After too much paradrama, he went solo with his website Moonspenders and delved mostly into researching history, leaving the super-serious "investigating" to the most staunch believers (a.k.a. "the Black Shirts"). Ken finds himself lost somewhere between "too smart to believe every legend at face value" and optimistic curiosity mixed with wishful thinking. He's had a handful of strange experiences that certainly fall under the category of "unexplained". Secretly, he wants to marry a werewolf and build a fully-functioning TARDIS.
Ken Summers
Ken Summers

27 Comments

  1. Chris Savia

    02/28/2014 at 4:42 PM

    Have they ruled out fata morgana?

    • Ken Summers

      02/28/2014 at 4:51 PM

      I would think any mirages would be near the horizon. A lot of these sightings are high above the observer. But it’s hard to rule anything out with so many reports. I think some incidents could probably be explained by fata morgana, aircraft lights, or distant tower warning lamps, but not all of them can be. As always, it’s tricky to come up with one answer for all of them.

      • Lara Kitko

        07/16/2014 at 7:58 AM

        Hi, My boyfriend and I saw this phenomenon on July 15, 2014 at 12:30am, approximately. (We were sober by the way.) We were walking on the west side of Cleveland near W.110 and Detroit, headed toward Clifton avenue. There was one orange orb in the sky and it was headed North. It did not look like an airplane or helicopter and it did not seem to carry the sound that either of those crafts would have. It was traveling fast and it stayed in one direction, headed north. It would seem that it was powered by something given the speed that it was traveling. We could not get a good picture because it was too high and moving a bit too fast but the image looked similar to the Lake Erie Lights filmed by Michael Lee Hill. Then it disappeared out of sight, still headed toward the Lake. It was not something either of us had seen before and I kept saying, “What is that!?”, “What is that!?” I then started to research this to see if anyone else has seen anything like it…and now I know it’s a phenomenon!!!

    • CoraxSays

      03/01/2014 at 2:26 PM

      The Whole Mistake by The Lake Theme Was Unnecessary. There Is An International Airport In Cleveland and an Airstrip Right Behind Cleveland Browns Stadium. Air Traffic Is Non-Stop 24/7 In That Area……..Also I Refuse To Tweet This Article Because Of The Negative Pot Shot You Took At The City Of Cleveland, Ohio

      • Ken Summers

        03/23/2014 at 10:58 AM

        If you can’t make a few jibes at your own hometown, what can you make jibes at? Maybe unnecessary capitalization? :)

        • Allan Seese

          09/06/2014 at 2:52 PM

          We can take it, you can slam us again for things from decades ago for the world to see. If you don’t like it here, don’t come hear. All this is getting a bit redundant. You obviously don’t know about our city or haven’t looked in 40 years. Good job for being ignorant.

    • victoria leighton

      07/21/2014 at 4:58 AM

      Four of us witnessed the lights on Saturday, July 19, 2014. Standing outside our lakefront home in Euclid, several (at least a dozen,)red balls traveled north-easterly over the lake, all in the same trajectory before dissipating into a cloudless sky. We assumed they were luminary balloons, but we did not witness a launching pattern.

  2. Jim

    03/03/2014 at 8:03 PM

    Most of these sightings of red or orange balls or orbs are probably Chinese lanterns.

  3. Coppertop

    03/04/2014 at 6:20 AM

    I had no idea Cleveland was such a center of weirdness. Looks like I’ll have to take a visit sometime in the future.

    In any case, I’m surprised no one’s started yelling out “SWAMP GAS” for this one, especially considering how polluted the Cuyahoga River seems to be.

    • EmmSeven20

      03/05/2014 at 12:34 AM

      Actually the river is quite cleaner than it was in the sixties and seventies, so there’s not much of a chance of swamp gas claims anymore!

      Definitely put this place on the map to visit. Also don’t miss out on: The area home to the urban legend of the Melonheads (Kirtland, Chardon), the Gore Orphanage (if you’re into haunts) and my absolute favorite, Helltown, in Boston Township (not too close to CLE but worth the drive). Helltown may really be the scariest and weirdest of all things strange in Ohio, though some say it’s all BS. All I know is, from what I’ve read about that place there’s no way in hell I would drive through that area, even with my full arsenal. Even DURING THE DAY.

    • Ken Summers

      03/13/2014 at 12:09 AM

      EmmSeven20 is right; there’ve been may new regulations and efforts to clean up the river over the last decade (because the fire still has a lasting impact on how the river is viewed by many), and it is much, much cleaner than it used to be. It’s not drinking water, but it’s not toxic sludge anymore either.

      I’ve been on investigations at “Gore Orphanage” (a.k.a. the Swift Mansion foundation) a few times. And I live just a mile from “Helltown” so I’ve been there more times than I can count. It used to be fun and scary, but now it’s just locals and police keeping kids from roaming there at night. I’ll say that most of it is BS, but not all of it.

      You know what? Since I’m a local, I think I need to tackle writing an article about it here at WF? very soon! Just don’t expect me to spill the beans about the actual hauntings that no one talks about… until I get this book finished, at least. ;)

  4. Mark

    03/23/2014 at 9:12 AM

    FYI, the locals don’t “lovingly” call Cleveland the “Mistake On The Lake”. Only ignorant buffoons who have never been there and listen to others talk about call it that.

  5. Ken Summers

    03/23/2014 at 11:02 AM

    I did say “some of us”, not all.

    But then again, my first childhood memory of downtown was walking down the sidewalk in front or the Terminal Tower and having a certain well-known street preacher lean right down in my face and scream, “THE LORD DIED FOR YOU!!”

    Perhaps it skewed my perspective a little. Or perhaps I think no city is perfect nor should it take itself seriously.

    After all, our new slogan is: “This is Cleveland.”

    Catchy. lol ;)

  6. BoboTaco

    03/28/2014 at 1:59 AM

    Of course, Dick Goddard is an alien!

    • Ken Summers

      03/28/2014 at 4:48 AM

      Exactly! I could see through his “have your pets spayed of neutered” plot the whole time. THE WHOLE TIME!

  7. Matt Horn

    04/20/2014 at 6:49 PM

    April 20th, 2014 at approximately 2100 I witnessed something strange in the sky northwest of North Ridgeville. At a glance I thought it was mars but the object made me do a double take. Upon closer observation I found the object to be approximately three times the size of what Mars would be normally seen by the naked eye. I would describe the object as being a pulsating fireball. After observing the object for approximately two minutes, it disappeared. I am a man of science and would expect there to be a logical explanation for the sighting.

    • Ken Summers

      04/20/2014 at 7:22 PM

      Thanks for bringing your VERY recent observation to our attention, Matt! (Since I’m writing this only an hour after it happened.) Could you tell us how high above the horizon it was, or at least a general idea of what part of the sky it was in? Was it stationary or traveling (and in what direction)?

      I’m pretty sure all Cleveland suburbs are in some part in the flight path for Hopkins, but the pulsing red glow of landing lights generally doesn’t just disappear, unless it’s behind cloud cover. I’m approximately 10 miles or so (give or take a few miles) from N. Ridgeville, but since I can’t see any stars it’s hard to tell the current visibility.

    • Ken Summers

      04/21/2014 at 7:48 AM

      There is one meteorological report made to AMS around the time of your observation in Youngstown. I’m not sure how similar it is, though.

      http://www.amsmeteors.org/members/fireball/view_fireball/?fireball_id=45757

  8. PATRICIA C.

    05/05/2014 at 5:24 PM

    On May 2,2014 I saw a red orange fireball traveling from west to east at 9:45 p.m.It was low in the sky and was gone after about 30 seconds when it disappeared over my apt.in Parma.I know what planes and helicopters look like in the sky and this was not that.It made no noise.I am 62 yrs old and have never seen anything like this before.

    • Ken Summers

      05/08/2014 at 1:01 PM

      Thanks, Patricia! Could you tell the approximate size of it, or at least how large it appeared relative to anything else?

      • PATRICIA C.

        05/08/2014 at 2:23 PM

        It appeared to be about 10 ft across and on the same level as my apartment which is 6 floors.

        • Ken Summers

          05/09/2014 at 8:49 AM

          Oh my. I think we can safely rule out the reflection of air traffic control lights across Lake Erie, then!

  9. Kelly M.

    06/21/2014 at 8:13 PM

    Tonight, approx. 10:30 pm, my son and I saw the same red ball of light in the skies. I live in Lorain, off of East Erie Ave. Standing in my back yard, the lake is to my West. The light was approx. off the coast of Sheffield Lake, so it was to my north east. My son and I watched the light for a few minutes, it was moving slowly, no particular direction and no noise. After a few minutes it disappeared. As we turned to go back in the house, we were facing south west, we saw the light again moving slowly south west. How it traveled that far in a few seconds is strange, just suddenly disappearing and re-appearing. Approx. 15 second later it disappeared from sight. I couldn’t tell you approx. how big it was or how high in the sky it was. But the skies were clear as I could see constellations. There was no noise from aircraft, fireworks, etc.

  10. Jo T.G.

    06/23/2014 at 10:09 PM

    In the sky, during sun set, on the western horizon of the Cleveland sky, I witnessed a three orange lights formation that was first close to each other and then in perfect formation created a triagular points formation that accelerated outwardly in to a large triangular formation. In the center of the triangle a similar orange “fireball sphere” appeared and then multiple smaller round lights flew out of it and flew in speeds and agles and stopping in and instant. Some spheres flew towards the earth and others flews sideways. This lasted ten minutes or so, then all lights lined up under center fireball sphere and went inside of it. Finally triangle formation retracted and got smaller in distance. Then they all flew to space and dissapeared.

  11. wendy

    07/04/2014 at 7:59 PM

    July 4th 2014…. in Gatineau area Quebec … we saw two red orange lights in the sky at around 10pm and they were about 5 minutes appart…. very weird

  12. Albert Dutzik

    07/14/2014 at 9:11 PM

    After seeing strange erratic lights moving in a incredibly fast, close, triangular pattern around 10:00pm on July 15, 2014 over the waters of Lake Erie over the city of Norteast, PA., I was brought to this link immediately after googling, “erratic lights over Lake Erie”. This wasn’t a continuously illuminated orb as the Lake Erie Lights described, rather were pulsating in a triangular pattern and continuously appeared and disappeared in Eastern, Western and Central parts of the sky. I could not describe it as a satellite, commet or conventional aircraft by these observations so I looked it up online. I am also not drunk or high and have a sober witness. Anyone else see strange pulsating lights over Erie or Northeast, PA.?

  13. Cobb

    09/13/2014 at 5:59 PM

    I saw 3 of these last night 9/12/14 at approximately 9:30 PM
    The first appeared off to the south east and went towards the west and then two more appeared in the eastern sky and followed the same path

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