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    An alternative way to explore and explain the mysteries of our world. "Published since 1985, online since 2001."

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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, October 2021


The Midwestern "Airship" Wave of 1897 - Part 3

by: Rick Hilberg








From the St. Louis Star of April 13, 1897 on page two.br />
Galesburg, Michigan. April 13 -br />
Henry Sommers and a friend report this morning that they witnessed last night what appeared to be the explosion of the airship. It was accompanied by a heavy report as of thunder and the scattering of light. Immediately thereafter the machine, which had been visible in the heavens, disappeared from view. This morning, near the scene of the alleged explosion, were found a mass of wire that appeared to have been connected with electrical machines and a piece of a light propeller wheel that must, when intact, have measured twelve feet in diameter.br />
Carpenters employed on a new house found small pieces of bone scattered on the roof. br />
From the St. Louis Post - Dispatch of April 14, 1897 on page seven.br />
The mystery deepens. Though the majority ridicule the idea that anything beyond the natural has been seen, yet the thousands who viewed that strange light Monday night are as strong as ever in their faith that something has happened above the clouds that man has not yet accounted for, and they become indignant when their word is questioned. There is hardly an establishment downtown but that has one or two employees who witnessed the aerial visitor Monday. They were all on the lookout Tuesday night and saw nothing. Perhaps this non-appearance is explained by the following special dispatch received Wednesday morning from Girard, Illinois:br />
"The airship was distinctly seen here last night by P F. McCraner, William Street, Frank Metcald and Ed Steeples. McCraner is night operator at this place and when he came on duty at 6 o'clock the operator at Carlinville called him up, said the airship had passed over Carlinville in the direction of Girard and advised him to be on the lookout. "McCraner stepped outside and fifteen minutes later saw what he believed was the airship passing over this town in the direction of Nilwood. It was rapidly approaching the ground. McCraner asked the day operator to hold the wire for him and calling to Street, Metcalf and Steeples, who were standing near, he started on the run down the railroad track. They were following. As they went, they saw the strange craft drop to the ground behind a clump of trees about a quarter mile distant. Before they could reach the spot, the ship was seen to rise, ascend to a great height and disappear to the north. They were so near where it rose, they could see persons in the boat and could also distinguish a large letter 'M' on the side. All the men agree the craft was cigar shaped and had oars or wings extended.br />
"They continued on, to the spot where it had alighted, and saw distinctly the imprint of a man's feet. Their footprints did not lead anywhere and it was evident they were made by someone who had just jumped out of the ship to repair some of the machinery on the outside.br />
"McCraner says he is willing to make affidavit to the above statements. When he returned to the wire, he told operators up and down the line what he had seen. "He repeated the story in full this morning to the Post - Dispatch correspondent."br />
A reporter for the Post - Dispatch called the Western Union Telegraph office in St. Louis Wednesday morning and asked Day Chief Spencer about McCraner.br />
"He is our night operator at Girard, Mr. Spencer replied, "and is thoroughly reliable. He has worked for us some time. Yes, we have heard what he saw yesterday evening and it is the talk of the office. The matter is beyond my comprehension."br />
A dispatch from Carlinville says the airship passed over that place Tuesday evening and was seen by hundreds. It was also seen at Sherman and Williamsville. br />
Samuel Maraden thinks the strange light is that shed by Venus. He writes the Post - Dispatch under the dateline of April 13:br />
"My attention was called to the 'flying machine 'last evening. At first, I concluded that it was the planet Venus, shining brilliantly through a rift in the clouds, but it changed its apparent size so I ran to get a view with my telescope, and found without a question of doubt, it to be as I had anticipated. I also noticed beyond the heavy clouds through the rift a number of fleecy clouds in rapid motion. They not only distorted the image of Venus, but caused the appearance of Venus in motion in the same manner that a number of small clouds passing rapidly over the moon causes het to appear in motion."br />
br />
Special to the Post - Dispatchbr />
Perry, Oklahoma Territory, April 14 - The airship which has created so much excitement and concern in Nebraska has made its appearance in Oklahoma. Hundreds of people declare that they have seen it in the past few days. It has been seen here by fifty people in the past two nights and is creating no little excitement. Five days ago, it was seen by a dozen men at Guthrie, and two days before at South McAlester.br />
Col. Yates, a newspaper editor of this city, says he saw it, and it seemed to be nearly a hundred feet long and one-fourth as wide. He said it went through the air toward the north, and the light, which would shine and then disappear, resembled a flashlight or a lightning bug. He also says he saw persons inside the machine. Four others were with Editor Yates at the time. br />
br />
From the Chicago Tribune of April 15, 1897.br />
Cleveland, Ohio, April 15 - {Special} - S. H. Davis of Detroit says that while out on his fish tug, the Sea Wing, yesterday the fishermen noticed a queer looking boat not far away. Capt. Joseph Singler, master of the tug, and Mr. Davis agree that it appeared to be about forty feet in length. It had a cabin covering about one-fourth of the deck surface. A man dressed in a checkered hunting suit and wearing a long-peaked cap was fishing from the boat. He was apparently about 25 years of age. A handsome woman sat at his side, with a boy of 10 at her feet. As the Sea Wing neared the curious craft a gayly decorated object was slowly inflated and rose to the length of the ropes by which it was attached to the boat. br />
It was a balloon, cylinder shaped, about fifty feet long. Slowly the boat rose into the air until it stood directly over the tug, about 500 feet from the water. It circled like a hawk for several minutes. Suddenly there was a splash in the water. A large sword fish had been dropped from the airship. The fish was stunned and is now on exhibition in a tank at the fire tug, Cleveland, Ohio. br />
A sail was dropped from the airship and the mysterious people were carried away by the high wind. Mr. Davis said the boat had a wheel similar to those on steamers. This, it is stated, acts as a propeller in the air as well as on water. br />
br />
From the St. Louis Star of April 15, 1897 on page one.br />
Appleton, Wisconsin, April 15. - Many persons in this city declare they saw an airship pass over last Sunday night. On a farm last night, a letter was picked up, attached to an iron rod. The letter, which was not signed, is received by some as being authentic, while others declare it a practical joke. It says among other things that the airship was erected at secluded point ten miles from Lafayette, Tenn., and the various parts of the machine were carried overland from Glasgow, Kentucky, to that point, being shipped from Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. br />
br />
From the St. Louis Post - Dispatch of April 15, 1897 on page one.br />
Springfield, Illinois, April 15. - The rumor has just started here that the famous airship has landed near here. It is said that it came down safely in sight of several persons. Three men were aboard and were uninjured by the descent. They talked freely with those who saw them. br />
br />
From the St. Louis Post - Dispatch of April 16, 1897 on page one.br />
The airship visited St. Louis again Thursday night. This time the bright searchlight was not only seen by thousands, but the object was observed through a telescope and the outlines of the craft were seen.br />
The person who caught this excellent view of the strange visitor and brought it near the earth by means of a powerful lens is Dr. Leo Caplan, the throat, eye and ear specialist.br />
Dr. Caplan is one of the leading men in his profession. He is respected by all who know him, and his word is implicitly relied on. Dr. Caplan is a dabbler in astronomy and frequently gazes at the heavenly bodies. He knows that he did not see a star. What he did see was thus related by him to a Post - Dispatch reporter Friday morning:br />
"I was walking to my home on Washington Avenue last night about 7:45 and had just turned from Garrison Avenue, when I saw a bright light almost overhead. It was northwest of the zenith. I had read the various stories in the Post - Dispatch concerning the airship, and although I was astonished at the mass of evidence that had been adduced, yet I believed the persons had labored under an optical allusion.br />
"But the moment I saw this light I realized it was something unusual and I hastened home, ran to the roof and brought my telescope to bear on the object. Before taking a sight, I noticed the light was swaying from side to side. The effect was exactly that of a searchlight that was being manipulated.br />
"The moment I looked through the glass I discovered a long black body behind the light. It was exactly the cigar shape that has been described.br />
"I thought something must be the matter with the lens and I turned the telescope on different stars and planets. There was no unnatural effect evident and I brought the glass to bear again on the mysterious visitor. At first, I could not locate the light, then I found that it had moved several degrees to the north. When I caught it again, I once more made out the cigar-shaped craft.br />
"The airship - for I am now convinced it was such - moved over considerable space in five minutes, and I followed it all the time. It took a northwesterly course, then veered to West and finally to North. Then it darted off in that direction and was lost to sight. I had the light in view fully ten minutes from the time I first saw it on the street."br />
The light was not only seen by the physician but by thousands of St. Louisans who were glancing skyward at that time, but he was the only one so far as has been heard who was fortunate enough to have had a telescope at hand.br />
A column of the Post - Dispatch could be filled with names of persons who viewed the phenomenon. All say it is no longer a laughing matter and all are anxious for an explanation.

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