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The crop circles of Langdon, North Dakota. There is no crop circle insurance.

This essay originally appeared in my 2016 book There Are Dinosaurs In The Fields. I’ve updated and modified it for this format.

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Then there was that one time when aliens invaded Langdon, North Dakota.

The three UFOs landed in a nearly straight line, and left behind crop circles. If you drew a line connecting the circles, it would stretch from four miles north of Langdon, a town in northeastern North Dakota that has a 55-foot tall Spartan missile erected in the middle of a city park near the swing sets, to a field about four miles southwest of the town.

map of langdon north dakota crop circles

The first circle appeared in July 2000 in Robert Ullyott’s wheat field north of the town. Mr. Ullyott found the circle while checking to see if the previous week’s dose of herbicide was doing its job. What he found, instead, was his crop pushed down into a kind of dumbbell shape, with one side of the figure flattened into concentric circles and the other solidly flattened.

Several days later, crop sprayer pilot Kevin Boe saw the second circle shortly after takeoff from the Langdon airport, the sight of such a thing no doubt disrupting his takeoff checklist. This second circle was in Randy Bata’s field, just west of town and southwest of the city airport.

A third circle was found on John Delvo’s property, two miles southwest of the Bata circles. The Delvo circle was simpler than the previous two, a pattern of concentric circles.

Mr. Bata’s crop circles were the most complex of the three sites, resembling a sort of poodle dog. Four circles, 21 to 29 feet in diameter, were connected by lines with offshoots that looked like wind indicators on an aviation weather map. This crop circle would eventually be studied in August by a researcher from the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON.

I say UFOs, but who can be sure.

It was either UFOs, menacing teenagers who didn’t have enough homework to keep them busy, mysterious winds with a knowledge of geometry, energy rebelling against physics, maybe the elevated levels of uranium in our radon-producing soil run amuck, or perhaps a parallel universe intersecting with our own. No one knew, and no one knows.

News of the visit from space came to me via my father through the Hampden Mall Cafe morning coffee grapevine.

“Any news in town?” I asked him when he came home from coffee.

“They found some crop circles over by Langdon,” he said. I was immediately interested.

“We should fly over them,” I said. “I could take some photos and talk about it on my blog.”

In those early days, most of my blog readers were family and people from the surrounding community. I felt a responsibility to report the serious news, like crop circles.

Though it was already a week or so after the event (the coffee grapevine is a bit analog and takes its sweet time getting the news out), we made our way, in dad’s Cessna 172 airplane, into the blue yonder and found ourselves doing a steep turn around what had to be the smallest, most faint crop circle ever to mark the surface of the planet. The fields were still green, and so the crops were springing back to an upright position from whence they came before aliens or nogoodniks had tried to crush them into circular submission.

I took a few photos and then we landed at the Langdon airport for a pit stop since both the need and the opportunity arose. That’s when the real excitement began.

The engine wouldn’t start, and I quickly forgot mystical crop circles in favor of watching a man—it might have been Mr. Boe himself— hand-prop the airplane.

Prop circles, I thought as I watched him stand in front with his hands on the propeller, prepared to give them a hard manual spin. I’d never seen anyone hand-prop a plane before, much less from the front right seat. Dad was a bit nervous, I think, because if things go badly when someone is hand-propping a plane, they go really badly and there are funerals and legal action.

And then that was it.

There were no more crop circles, and the morning coffee conversation turned to more earthly things like the humorous poem our town poet laureate, Luella, had written about the wheat midge.

Several years later, after I’d begun working for the newspaper headquartered in Langdon, I thought to ask my boss about the crop circles. “Was there coverage in the paper about it?” I asked. Indeed there was, she said, indicating not much fuss was made at first, but that there were a few later stories.

I went digging.

The initial story in the July 31, 2000 issue of the newspaper had been only a caption beneath a photo of Mr. Ullyott’s circle, a lopsided dumbbell-like shape, with a mere four lines of copy explaining the basics of the situation. It suggested that Mr. Bata’s circles might have appeared two weeks earlier because the grain was springing back up to a perkier condition that his swather could manage.

Beneath that brief summary of interstellar visitation was a three-column filler article entitled “Kids—don’t forget to wear your life jacket.”

The paper devoted a fair chunk of ink a month later to tell about a 34-year old woman from Denver who drove up to Langdon, 19 hours straight, to investigate. Human interest stories are always in style; it’s much more interesting to read about real people.

The woman and a traveling companion—who called themselves croppies—were convinced the crop circles were legitimate because of the pattern seen in the pushed-down grain and that there were periodic stalks of still-standing grain. Though they could not get magnetic readings because the batteries on their equipment failed, they were convinced that the circles were not the result of kids in need of a spanking. One of the investigators developed a headache while in the crop circle and they had also discovered a ladybug with singed wings near the circle. And somewhere near the end of the article, when the reader was fairly incredulous but still trying to keep an open mind, the investigator let slip that the circles communicated with each other and that you could will crop circles into existence.

The filler newspaper article below this was entitled “Safety Talk: Keep children out of grain transport vehicles.”

“I’m not sure how well that article played,” my boss told me when I asked about some of the claims made by the croppies she’d interviewed for the article. “But we had the space to fill that week.”

I continued my research and found, a few years later in March 2002, that a TV crew from Burbank, California had contacted the newspaper. They wanted information on the crop circle event for a documentary they were doing. The newspaper ran an article explaining the interest the general public had for such things (at least, in California), and also attempted to refresh the community’s memory of the incident. Many things had happened since the circles had appeared, such as death and taxes, and memory of the crop circles had likely faded.

My boss let slip that she had some research that “some sort of UFO-ologists” had left with her.

“Really?” I said. “I’d love to see it.”

“You can have it. I’m never going to use it again,” she said, pulling a file from her cabinet.

There are fewer things that I like better than collecting pseudo-paranoid paperwork to add to my files. This was during the era where the television show “The X-Files”, that paragon of paranormal paranoia drama, was just winding down, aliens and government conspiracies were finding their legs, and tinfoil sales were up. The Space Aliens restaurant franchise was sweeping North Dakota, too, and I guess I just wanted some street cred, and some files, to call my own.

I went through the file, starting with a December email from the BLT Research Team, Inc. to the newspaper. The email provided a summary of the data collected in August 2000, one month after the crop circles had appeared. A researcher with MUFON—a retired high school chemistry teacher from Long Prairie, Minnesota—had come to Langdon to collect samples and measurements and send them to BLT.

I had difficulty focusing on the seriousness of the data, my mind unable to disassociate “bacon lettuce tomato” from the equation, trying to remind myself that BLT plus MUFON plus independent investigators (like the ladies from Denver) meant that a whole lot of farmers were not only having their crops crushed by some sort of metaphysical beings, but also by people traipsing around wanting to dig up bits of soil.

The email explained the findings from the Bata circle formation.

“You’ll see from the report that in this case we could not determine, conclusively, that this particular event involved the energies we regularly document as having been present at many of these events—the energy system leaves tell-tale signs in the plants and soils.”

I wondered about the usage of the word “conclusively” in any documentation regarding crop circles. But I read on.

“We did find node-length increases in the sampled plants (as opposed to the control plants taken out in the field away from the formation), but the degree of increase was in the same range as that which could be expected from natural recovery processes when plants are downed (called phototropism and gravitropism).”

The next paragraph admitted that the researcher had not gotten to the circles soon enough after they appeared, and that using the node length measurement in this case would be futile. The report explained the importance of measuring node length.

“What seems to be going on in the crop circle situation is that the microwave component of the energy system heats up the moisture on the inside of the plant stems, causing them to soften and fall over, and this steam—when it escapes from the stem—stretches the nodes, thus giving us elongated nodes as a result.”

That made sense, though I realized I didn’t actually know what a node was.

Included in the file was a 1998 scientific paper that was referenced in the lab report, entitled “Dispersion of energies in worldwide crop formations”, by W. C. Levengood and Nancy P. Talbott. Ms. Talbott was the one who had emailed my boss at the newspaper to summarize their findings. Flipping through nine page report, I found a photo of nodes, those joints on the stem of a grain plant. One photo showed the control plants while another showed the nodes from plants found in a 1996 crop circle near Logan, Utah.

I guess the nodes were longer, since the researches were telling me it was so, but I could not conclusively tell that they were longer from the gritty photocopied image. I went back to the email and kept reading.

“The Bata crop formation was very interesting in some of the details documented...the lay of the downed crop was very unusual, with a lay ACROSS [sic] the pathways which connected the circles. We’ve never seen this before. Also, all of the circles had a radial lay (crop laid from the center of the circles out to their edges), which is only rarely seen.”

I pulled out a diagram that the MUFON investigator had made of the Bata circles. They’d discovered a small “dumbbell” set of circles west of the formation, and the investigator had carefully measured and drawn the entire crop circle formation, indicating the lay of the wheat with arrows.

map of north dakota crop circle

Thumbing through the investigator’s written report, I noticed he said that John Boe had discovered the Bata circles, not Kevin Boe. While he could find nothing conclusive, he did find “significantly increased amounts of magnetic material in soils” in and around the formation, with higher levels just outside of the formation. The investigator felt this agreed “quite closely with a model formulated from the physics of centrifugal forces acting on the magnetic particles within the rotating plasma system.”

Ye gads.

As a local reporter, I was most concerned about whether it was John or Kevin who had discovered the circles, since that is the kind of detail readers would call and hammer you on.

At the end of the report, which had been compiled by from the MUFON investigator’s data by Mr. Levengood, a bold addendum again pointed out the highly unusual aspects of the Bata crop circles: the horizontal lay of the wheat across the straight pathways that connected the circles seemed to make the researchers giddy, as well as the radial lay.

But the big excitement?

The entire formation occurred in a field which did not have a single tractor line and no obvious path led to the area.

Here’s where I’d like to tell you I went traipsing about the region under cover of darkness and tin foil to discover the real secrets behind the circles. But I didn’t. I was years too late and we are a practical people up here. Tales of the strange and unusual have their work cut out for them to get us to take serious action. Even when the Weekly World News announced they’d discovered the doorway to hell near Starkweather in the June 18, 1996 edition, folks in the area were non-plussed.

“Those steps don’t lead to hell,” one farmer said. “That’s just a Masonic vault.”

Indeed, the cement vault was little more than a partially buried box, built in the very late 1800’s, with traditional Masonic markings on it. The most unusual feature, it seems, was a symbol from the Egyptian Book of the Dead found on the rear of the vault.

A newspaper reporter from Velva said that it was built by a Danish farmer who had strong “Masonic-Rosicrucian” beliefs, and had decided to model his creation on the Temple of Jerusalem as described in Freemasonry. It seems that this was just one of many doorways to hell located around the world, and it stirred about as much interest as the crop circles, though if you do some shallow research online you’ll find many jokes made about how finding a doorway to hell would be a step up from living in North Dakota.

The Weekly World News, however, suggested that religious assassins were being sent into the hellmouth to kill the devil. “The strike force plans to enter the hellhole early next month” the faux newspaper reported, and there again some farmer was going to have tourists trampling through his fields to see a pointless Masonic vault.

I made a half-hearted attempt in a conversation with dad—trying to be as quick to make assumptions as I thought a paranoid person ought to be—to connect the crop circles in Langdon first to Nixon’s Pyramid (a.k.a. the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex) at Nekoma, and then to the cattle mutilations in my grandpa’s herd.

Dad mainly just rolled his eyes at my thoughtless conclusions. I don’t blame him. In the slow, humid days of summer, connecting the paranormal dots is confusing work.

Mutilated cattle, a doorway to hell, and crop circles: your basic trifecta for a good family vacation.

No doubt theories of the crop circles were discussed at the Hampden Mall Cafe coffee table. My guess is that more than expressing concern about what caused them was the likely frustration of the mystical world being a general rural nuisance and wreaking havoc in an otherwise good crop.

There’s hail insurance, but no crop circle insurance.


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