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In the heart of Volunteer Park (a subsect of Tinley Park’s Park District) lies the origin of a strange phenomenon where Illinois residents widely reported witnessing unexplained lights in the sky during the early 2000s. While what eventually was dubbed the “Tinley Park Lights” was allegedly seen across many neighboring cities in south suburban Chicago, Volunteer Park is home to one of the lights’ earliest sightings. Since 2004, the Tinley Park Lights have gained somewhat of a cult following due to the mysterious circumstances from which they appeared. 8180 175th St serves as a starting place of sorts for the legend since it is one of the very few named sighting locations related to the lights.

A photo of a pitch-black sky with three round orbs of bright light in a triangular shape. In the bottom right corner, a camera's clock displays "10:58 PM".

Origins as reported by Patch

In an exclusive documentary created by digital news-site “Patch” [1], coproducer and native Tinley Parker Mike Newren recounts the summer night he spent at Volunteer Park with a cohort of his peers when the Tinley Park Lights first appeared on August 21, 2004. Newren (amongst a group of other witnesses in the documentary) details the night where a triangular pattern of bright red orbs seemed to appear in the sky above the village of Tinley Park. Another key witness in the case, T.J. Japcon, further clarified in his testimony that the lights contained a multitude of colors, ranging from “amber” to vague yellowish-green. Along with its color, the triangular formation of the light orbs raised curiosity and concern amongst local residents, most of whom agreed the nature of the lights was related to an Unidentified Flying Object(s)-- commonly known as a UFO. For those who dissented from the extra-terrestrial theory, the lights became an isolated investigation separate from the masses; rather than the mystery lying in potentially supernatural origins, skeptics were focused on finding what they considered the true nature of the lights as a hoax. 

The argument surrounding the lights and their origin gained a new layer of complexity when, on Halloween night of 2004, the lights seemingly returned for a second mass sighting. Witnesses like the aforementioned Japcon documented the incident on film, pictures and video snippets used to support both sides of the debate: those who faithfully swore the lights were a sign of alien life and those who ardently searched to disprove the former. Skeptics offered different hypotheses for the lights, including but not limited to balloons, shots from a flare gun, stray lanterns, &c, though none have been proven as an irrefutable explanation for the lights.

News Coverage (+ History Channel Appearance)

In the years following the first mass sighting of the Tinley Park Lights, various media outlets reported on the phenomena. Major news channels such as NBC [3] used the village’s story as a case study in their 2008 “Close Encounters” report, while publications like Chicago Magazine [4] reviewed the mass sightings in conjunction with other well-known UFO spottings during the spring of 2007. Some considered the Tinley Park Lights to be nothing more than local folklore, while others found merit in the lights as an example of real-life science fiction. Regardless of the audience’s varying opinions, the media coverage of the lights served to propagate the debate and bring more attention to the odd occurrence. 

Arguably the most mainstream coverage of the Tinley Park Lights came in late 2008, with its inclusion on the second season pilot of the History Channel’s “UFO Hunters” [5]. In the episode, aptly named “Invasion: Illinois”, the show’s main cast dedicated the 44-minute entry to a deep dive of Tinley Park, its reported sightings, and possible explanations regarding the lights. Though the program did not fully conclude the lights came from an extra-terrestrial source, research proved that the triangle of lights seen in Tinley Park seemed to be the same set reported around the same calendar week across the world, from Australia to British Columbia to the apparent Midwestern United States. The History Channel additionally posited that, if the Tinley Park Lights were from a solid object, it may exceed one thousand feet in length.


Tinley Park Today

Despite the initial major report dating back 17 years, the Tinley Park Lights remain a source of answerless questions and a grandiose sense of mythos in an otherwise typical Midwestern village. Over the past two decades, the case has garnered the attention of MUFON: the Mutual UFO Network [6]. The state director of MUFON’s Illinois sector, Sam Maranto, took a special interest in the case and participated in a number of interviews for various websites and publications, including Patch. Though no definitive explanation has been found for the lights, Maranto has joined the casual coalition of Illinois residents who maintain that the Tinley Park Lights are not merely due to any force of nature-- or, at least, any force of nature found on this planet.

[1] Sheikah, Yasmeen. “The Lights: A Documentary Diving into the Tinley Park Lights Phenomenon of 2004.”, August 25, 2021.

[2] Lynnton Fuller, Leslie. “‘Tinley Park Lights’ Still a Southland Mystery.” Tinley Park, IL Patch, June 10, 2011.

[3] “10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape.” NBC News, May 18, 2008.[4] Ruby, Jeff. “Do You Believe?” Chicago Magazine, May 27, 2007.

[5] “UFO Hunters Season 2 Episode 1 | HISTORY Channel.” The HISTORY Channel, October 29, 2008.

[6] “MUFON – Mutual UFO Network.” Mutual UFO Network | Home, 2021.