By Associated Press, 08/17/96
PAULDING, Ohio (AP) - Things haven't been the same for this farming village since a local pilot looked down from his plane and saw a circle of mashed plants in a wheat field. The circle measured 93 feet in diameter.
The July 4 discovery - one of many reported around the world since the late 1970s - has attracted thousands of people from all over the country.
Some of the newcomers believe such crop circles are messages from outer space. Others say they're the work of mischievous Earthlings.
``I like to read about UFOs and stuff like that. That's why I came. But I was shocked to see so much interest in a crop circle,'' said Jim Gillen, 42, of Toledo.
Also shocked was Joe Nickell, an investigator with The Skeptical Inquirer, a nonprofit group that investigates and debunks paranormal claims such as UFOs, haunted houses and crop circles.
His group investigated circles for two years in the early 1990s and came to one conclusion: ``They're all hoaxes - 100 percent of them.''
He is amazed that some people believe otherwise.
``They need to get informed. They need to get a life,'' he said.
Circles of flattened plants in otherwise normal crops began appearing in England in the late 1970s, and evolved into more elaborate geometric designs.
They became a magnet for New Age types, who brought along crystals and pendulums and claimed the circles possessed healing powers. By the late 1980s, they were the rage in England, and sightings soon spread to other countries.
Some believed the circles were formed by the wind. A few opined they were formed by UFOs. Others said they were created by brief, intense bursts of microwave radiation from outer space.
But in the early 1990s, drinking buddies Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted that they created the first circles in England as a joke.
They admitted they would sneak into fields at night, using boards to flatten plants into patterns.
Many circle enthusiasts refused to believe them.
Paulding ``is no hoax,'' said Nancy Talbott, 57. She got interested in circles nearly 10 years and now is spokeswoman for BLT Research, of Cambridge, Mass., which has several teams of volunteers who investigate crop circles.
She wouldn't elaborate on why she is so sure the circle near this northwestern Ohio town isn't a hoax.
BLT Research's main researcher is William Levengood, a former University of Michigan physicist who owns a consulting company.
Levengood said he has conducted extensive studies on plants and seeds found in and near the circles, and says some show gross abnormalities, possibly caused by microwave radiation from some unknown source.
Talbott bristled at the suggestion that circles are the work of pranksters.
``The press lumps crop circles in with other anomalies - UFOs, hauntings, every other damn thing. It's stupid,'' she said. ``The press presents the idea that crop circles have to be either fakes or UFO-related. Why the hell aren't they asking what the real cause is?''
James Beuerlein, an Ohio State University agronomist, studied the Paulding circle and goes along with the hoax theory.
It looked, he said, as if someone used their feet to squash the wheat.
``Everything I saw could be attributed to man's activity,'' Beuerlein said.
On the other hand, Chris Rutkowski, an astronomer at the University of Manitoba near Winnipeg, Canada, has been cataloging circles for years and isn't sure they're all fakes.
``There's always a possibility that some of it may be real. ... I don't discount that, although I question why aliens wouldn't just communicate with us outright rather than drawing 50-foot pictures.''