first week of November 1896, the entire household staff of the mayor of
San Francisco turned out to view a dark, tubular object hovering offshore
from the mayor's ocean-side home. The precise form of the object
could not be determined because it was dark, however, the people could
clearly see a powerful light beaming from one end of it and a row of smaller,
horizontally spaced lights down its side. After nightfall, the mysterious
craft moved toward shore and rapidly passed over the amazed witnesses at
This was among the first
reports of several hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of these strange
flying machines sighted in the years of 1896 and 1897. The press
quickly dubbed the object the "airship" as it continued to
By the end of November,
sightings were reported by residents down the entire coast of California.
Bakersfield and Los Angeles reported repeated visits by the "mysterious
adventurer," as one newspaper called it. On the 28th of
November 30th marked
the last time the airship was seen that fall. As abruptly as it had
appeared, after four weeks of almost nightly meandering and continuous
attention from the press, it was gone. A puzzled nation futilely
The Midwest was undergoing
severe spring floods when the airship next appeared to claim a share of
the news. It was seen over flooded Omaha on March 29, 1897.
The next day it was reported over Denver. In the days that
The newspaper articles
were similar to those of the previous fall. Then, in the middle of
April, a new type of story began to appear about the airship. A report
sent by telegraph to the Chicago Record from Champaign,
"When just south of Bouseis Grove the craft became unmanageable and came down
(Signed) W. J. Wilkinson
Two nights later the
reports had shifted to Texas. The ship was seen swiftly moving over
Childress at 1:16 a.m. The following is perhaps the most widely known
of the airship stories. It appeared in more detail in the Dallas
"Aurora, Wise County (Texas) April 17th. About 6 o'clock this morning (theThe pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
Mr. T. J. Weems, the U. S. Signal Service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives his opinion that he (the pilot) was a native of the planet Mars.
Papers found are written
in unknown hieroglyphics. The ship was too badly wrecked to form
any conclusions as to its construction or motive power.The town is full
of people today who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens
Even this was not the
end of the airship. Jim Nelson, a farmer who lived near Atlanta,
Texas, was nearly frightened out of his wits by it the next day. He saw
the ship descending toward him from the sky. While still several
A Houston Daily Post correspondent, returning from church with his family on the night of the 18th, saw the airship move across the sky in first one direction and then another. It was described as "steel colored" with intermittently flashing lights.
According to the New
York Herald an airship was over Sisterville, West Virginia, at about 9:00
p.m. on the night of the 19th. "It hovered in the darkness over the
little town and began flashing at least two very brilliant
It had red, white, and green lights along its sides and end.
A Lansing, Michigan,
newspaper had reported on the 17th that the airship had landed near Williamston,
Michigan, earlier in the day. The story this time took a far different
"A strange man, if he might be called one, was in charge of the ship. WhileUndoubtedly, the most intriguing tale to come out of the airship wave of 1896-7 was datelined from Topeka, Kansas, April 21, 1897. It was presented in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat as an actual affidavit drawn up and signed by Alexander Hamilton, a prosperous farmer and former member of the U. S. Congress. The account stated how an airship had carried off a heifer from Hamilton's Kansas farm on Monday, April 19th.
At 10:30 p.m., Hamilton was awakened by noises from his cattle. With his son
The next day a local farmer found the head, legs, and hide in a soft field with no trace of tracks around. He took the remains to town where Hamilton later identified his brand on the hide.
These highly detailed
crash and contact stories are only the more interesting of the many that
appeared in the week following the publication of the Champaign story.
It would be naive to accept them all as true. It may be
The period during the
late 1800s and early 1900s is called the age of "yellow journalism."
The term is an acid connotation on the shady tactics used by many publishers
and editors of that era to sell their products.
The "airship rustler" story at one time was widely repeated and hailed in UFO circles as being true. It was accepted by writers and readers alike simply because of the fact that it was widely reported, and because it was printed in a reputable newspaper as an affidavit.
But minor checking of
the facts of the matter disclosed quite another story. The clerk of the
District Court at Yates Center, Kansas, where Hamilton supposedly drew
up his affidavit, could find no trace of the document when the
A Kansas historical
society vouches for Hamilton's existence and his respected position in
the area, but not for his airship experience. In fact, the historian
said that he had a local reputation for being a creator of tall
The UFO rustler story
is a tale best smiled at for its originality, but should never be passed
on as a bona fide UFO report from yesteryear. The same is true for
all of the ones given here and a many others more mundane and
The Aurora story has
been and is still being investigated by UFO groups. But the fact that some
aspects of the story are true (such as the people and places in some cases)
is not reason enough to accept it in its entirety. The
The authenticity of
the Michigan story is suspect also. No later mention of the event
was noted in that newspaper, even though from the paper's own account the
craft seemed to be still on the ground at presstime. That being
Most probably it was
the fever of yellow journalism that gave various reporters the impetus
to create these wild stories. And it was the telegraph that enabled
their quick and wide-spread dissemination. Imagine that the first
The Michigan landing story and the Texas crash both supposedly took place on the 17th-the very next day after the publication from Champaign about a crash. The Kansas rustler story was datelined April 21, only five days after the first story.
It wasn't the airship that went from place to place, or rather, crash to crash, as it was the germ of the idea.
A clincher to the acceptance that these alleged crashes and landings, plus others of that period, were all hoaxes is that never were they given banner headlines-even the first time out in their home-town newspapers. Surely, such a happening would have deserved that much locally? Interestingly, few of the more spectacular stories were repeated by other newspapers. This is not to be construed that the old-timers didn't know what hot news was-a Martian was still a Martian even in 1897!-but that reporters had some savvy of how their fellows operated and they weren't about to perpetuate the tales.
But what of the airship itself? Was it an actual nuts-and-bolts machine roaming the heavens, or was it entirely the invention of the brazen newspapers? Or is there a middle ground?
One common aspect of most of the airship sightings reported in the newspapers can be helpful in substantiating its reality despite the lack of integrity displayed by some reporters.
Even in the first days
of the airshipis appearances in California, and especially later in the
Midwest, the reports were fairly consistent as to what was seen, when,
and where. The day after its nocturnal visits to several
The newspaper reports
of the airshipis sudden appearances and disappearances also support its
reality. If it were pure invention, it is unlikely that the sightings
would uniformly start and, especially, end. Some newspapers could
be expected to carry-on their manufactured reports of sightings and thus
scooping their competitors with a continuing barrage of exclusives long
after the others had tired of the game or had run out of new twists.
That didn't happen. The less sensational sighting reports died among
that at the same time.
The mysterious airship reports
of 1896 and 1897 must all be viewed as suspect. That is not to say they
should be thrown out as worthless. The basic evidence seems sound
and indicative. And, of course, the similar sightings