November 17, 1896, in Sacramento, California, hundreds of people reported seeing
a brilliant light in the night sky. R. L. Lowery, a former employee of the Sacramento
street-car company, was near the Sacramento Brewery when his attention was drawn
not by the light, but by a voice from above him. Someone shouted “Throw her up
higher. She’ll hit the steeple.” Lowery looked up to see a brilliant light encased
in what seemed to be a glass globe. Above the light was a bicycle-frame appearing
apparatus, on which two men were seated. Above that was something he described
as ‘a sort of mezzanine box’ with several more people in it. Above that was a
huge cigar-shaped object he couldn’t see clearly in the dark.
what has come to be called ‘The Great Airship Mystery.’ In 1896 and 1897 what
had to be a lighter-than-air craft—a dirigible—was seen by credible witnesses
in California, Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa,
Kansas, Colorado, what became Oklahoma ten years later, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas,
Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. There were only 45
states in the union in 1897. This phenomenon was seen in over one third of the
states and over Indian and Oklahoma territories, which later became the state
of Oklahoma. There were isolated but unconfirmed reports of ‘something unnatural
in the sky’ in several of the Mountain West states, but the details are very sketchy.
about 5:30 AM, April 11, 1897, Walter McCann, a newspaper distributor, was gathering
his wares at the Chicago railroad station when he saw, clear in the morning light,
the mysterious cigar-shaped object with the ‘car’ below it that had been reported
all across the Pacific Coast and in the Midwest. He grabbed a box camera his son
won in a newspaper subscription contest and shot two photos of the object. The
printed photograph was examined by an etcher—a person who made blocks for illustrations
in newspapers—and pronounced genuine. The Chicago Times-Herald produced a pen-and-ink
drawing taken from the photo. The object in the drawing—the photo itself has apparently
disappeared—looks very much like Graf Von Zeppelin’s L-1 and L-2 airships from
the early 20th century, though the gasbag is far too small to have lifted a gondola
as large as the one that appears in the drawing. All the same, the drawing shows
what many people on the West Coast and in the Midwest described seeing in the
air for over a month.
April 13, 1897, in Denton,
a man ‘stargazing’ with a pair of powerful field glasses spotted a dark object
against the moon. At first he assumed it was a meteor that had not yet hit earth’s
atmosphere, but then realized it was moving much too slowly. He described the
object as being about fifty feet long, cigar-shaped with two large ‘mugs’ sticking
out from either side, a ‘beak’ like a ship’s cutwater at the front, and a large
rudder or steering sail at the rear. Where the ‘beak’ joined the main body of
the object there was a light that ‘paled the moon’ in its brilliance. Along the
body of the thing there were more lights, which he assumed meant windows. No smoke
was visible from the object. It moved slowly, in a southeasterly direction, for
about twenty minutes, then accelerated ‘to terrific speed’ and vanished from sight.
The sighting was confirmed by a lady in Denton
who, though she possessed no field glasses, described a very similar object moving
in the same direction at slow speed, then suddenly accelerating. Both individuals
were apparently well-known to the editor of the newspaper which published their
accounts, whom he described as reputable persons “whose reputation for truthfulness
cannot be assailed.” While there may have been earlier sightings of the object
in Texas, this is the first reported one.
nights later, on April 15, Attorney J. Spence Bounds of Hillsboro
was returning from Osceola, in the southwestern part of Hill County, after having
been called out to write an ‘emergency will’ for a dying Hill County pioneer.
At about 9 PM he stated he and his horse were frightened by “a brilliant flash
from an electric searchlight which passed directly over my buggy.” He described
the object to which the searchlight was attached as “in shape something like a
cigar.” Beneath it he described ‘something similar to a ship,’ which was attached
to the cigar-shaped object. He witnessed the thing disappear behind a hill near
the town of Aquilla,
a little southwest of Hillsboro.
As he got within a mile or so of Hillsboro,
he saw the object rise from behind the hill and take off in the direction of Dallas
at a speed he estimated at 100 mph.
that same night Patrick C. Byrnes, a telegraph repairman for the T&P railroad,
was working near Putnam Station, east of Cisco,
repairing broken lines. When clouds covered the moon and he could no longer see
to work, he got on his bicycle and headed for Cisco.
As he passed the Delmar siding about five miles from Cisco,
he saw a brilliant light in a field to the side of the tracks. He knew there were
no houses there, so he decided to investigate.
Byrnes not only saw the mysterious object up close, he got to talk to the presumptive
captain of the flight crew. According to Byrnes the craft was about 200 feet long
by 50 feet wide. It had ‘snail-shell-like’ appendages at the nose and tail. Inside
them were ‘powerful gasoline engines’ which apparently operated large fan-like
propellors to move the craft. Two more of the devices were attached to the side
of the ship and were used for steering. The machine had landed to make repairs
to its searchlight. According to the ‘captain,’ the machine would be taken into
the Ozarks from further testing. When tests were complete it would be loaded with
‘dynamite bombs’ and flown to Cuba in order to bomb Spanish forces in aid of the
then-floundering anti-Spanish uprising on the island.
April 17, at Aurora, Texas,
an aerial vessel of some sort allegedly crashed into a windmill on the property
of one Judge Proctor, destroying not merely the vehicle, but the judge’s windmill,
watertank, and garden. The one occupant was killed. A local ‘expert’ proclaimed
the occupant to be ‘a Martian.’ Allegedly the ‘Martian’ was buried in the Aurora
cemetery the following Sunday, which happened to be Easter.