Getting his UFO groove on: Chad Lewis focuses on the folklore, not reality, of the paranormal
It has been noted, now that so many people have high-definition video cameras in their pockets at all times, that UFO evidence hasn't really skyrocketed. One would imagine that the sightings that used to be so vividly described would now be accompanied by crisp, clean video evidence, but this hasn't been the case. Some people feel that this dearth of proof is actually proof of the nonexistence of extraterrestrial visitors, at least in the classic flying-disc form.
Chad Lewis, a UFO researcher and author based in the Eau Claire, Wis., area, isn't bothered. For him, it's not that stories of aliens or sasquatches or weird hellmouths in country graveyards are to be disproven or proven — it's about the stories themselves, and about what they tell us about the people who lived in a particular place and what their beliefs may have been at the time that any given supernatural event is purported to have occurred. Lewis isn't looking for the truth in the way that Scully and Mulder did on “The X-Files.” He's just interested in collecting the stories and telling them to others.
Lewis is a busy guy — he's constantly on the road, driving from one small Midwestern town to another, giving lectures and checking out sites where strange things are said to have happened. He stopped in Duluth in August, where he gave a talk at the Depot that drew a couple handfuls of curious people.
“I blame my interest in the weird and unusual on my home state of Wisconsin,” Lewis said. “I grew up in Eau Claire, which is not too far from one of the three UFO capitals of the world that Wisconsin claims to have. Three different cities all claim to be the UFO capital of the world, here.”
He related this information without remarking how this is logically impossible, but by noting it so clearly, the implication is there. But he's not looking to determine which city is the true UFO capital. He's just demonstrating that he was raised in an area where the bizarre was beloved.
It was as he was finishing high school and readying to head off to college to study psychology — which he holds a master’s degree in — that he got the UFO bug. He wanted to find out, as he said, “Why people believe in the strange and unusual, and why some people don't. I was studying psychology, looking at human perception and belief systems, and I started lecturing about it.”
Lewis said people at his lectures would come up to him afterward and relay tales of haunted houses, of creatures in the woods.
“It really just started from there,” he said. “I ended up doing my master's thesis on student belief in the paranormal.”
The road from psychologist to UFOlogist was a short one, for Lewis. He soon realized, though, that he couldn't spend his time hunting for hard evidence of supernatural events. “I think you quickly realize that that's not the way things work,” he said. “If you don't, you'll burn out. I know so many investigators that don't do it anymore, because they're just tired of never coming to a conclusion, never collecting a great piece of evidence.”
“For me, my whole take on the paranormal really shifted a while back to seeing the folklore in it and looking at how these things move and progress over the years,” Lewis said. “I talk to seniors, and they tell me a version of a story, and I talk to high-school kids, and they tell me a different version of the same story. I love that.”
“It's really about the adventure, as well,” Lewis said. “I love hitting the back roads, stopping at mom-and-pop motels, interviewing people. For me, the idea of whether these things are true or not has taken a back seat.”
Lewis was brought to Duluth this past summer by the St. Louis County Historical Society's “Lunch With the History People” monthly lecture series. Julie Bolos, manager of administrative services for that organization, said that Lewis' work is valuable as a collection of oral histories.
“Every season,” Bolos said, “we strive to schedule themes for our 'Lunch with the History People' series that will intrigue and educate our audience. Our speakers’ backgrounds vary as much as their subjects, but they all have a passion for history. Each presentation discloses another facet of the past just waiting to be revealed and remembered.”
“Chad Lewis rivets attendees with legends from the mysterious side of history, which is always fascinating,” Bolos said. “Reports of UFO sightings and aliens are a part of history. These accounts go back many years, in this area and across the United States. History is documented by researching and recording these reports.”
Bolos said that Lewis is “an excellent speaker who is well-received by our audiences. He researches stories from news reports and captures the personal accounts of individuals. Chad does not tell you what to think. He shares his findings and allows guests to form their own opinions.”
“For a long time, historical societies kind of shunned this work,” Lewis said. “It's history, whether it's true or not.”
Tony Bennett is a Duluth freelance writer and entertainment reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune. He wrote this for Duluth.com magazine.