Did the Rapture happen in Madison after all?
Do we finally have evidence of alien abduction?
Or was it the work of a clever band of artistic pranksters?
Clothing with apparent burn marks along with such personal effects as wallets, watches and keys was found Sunday on the largest hill of Olin-Turville Park, according to a Madison police report that quickly gained attention Thursday, circulating on Facebook, Twitter and media websites.
But a simple Google search revealed that people across the world undertook similar actions in response to the declaration by a fringe California preacher that last Saturday certain Christians would be transported to heaven.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain played along, writing an uncharacteristically long and descriptive report that he posted to the Internet on Thursday afternoon.
“We have not received any reports of missing people yet,” DeSpain said later in an interview.
Area arts advocates were delighted.
“How fabulous that we have such creative people in Madison. And we hope people can apply that creativity to real events,” said Anne Katz, executive director of the advocacy group Arts Wisconsin, noting that even DeSpain got in on the act. “We all need a good laugh these days.”
Karin Wolf, Madison arts administrator, said the Olin-Turville display was not funded by Blink!, a city public art program.
It started like this: A local resident called the police Sunday after seeing the items in the park on the shore of Lake Monona. The responding officer found about 30 sets of clothing.
“It was as if people had been on their backs and vanished in their birthday (suits), leaving all material possessions behind,” DeSpain said in the report. “There were wrist watches where arms should have been and sets of keys in pants pockets.”
He also quoted the officer describing burn marks on the clothing, which was spread out in a circular fashion: “All outfits ... were perfectly laid out as if the people wearing them had met with some sort of forceful and immediate action. (The clothing) had varying levels of what appeared to be burns or melting, as if exposed to some sort of intense heat source.”
The officer put on protective gloves to examine the clothing and found a kind of “business or calling card” that depicted an ark-like vessel with lines coming from it.
In the middle of the circle was a black cylinder-shaped object, which the officer called “a Beacon of Light,” that emitted a strobe-like white light toward the heavens.
The officer called for a sergeant to come to the scene to verify the findings.
Police are no longer investigating the incident, DeSpain said.
State Journal reporters Gayle Worland and Sandy Cullen and Capital Times reporter Bill Novak contributed to this report.