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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, November 2019

Texas Active In 1890s "Airship" Wave

by: Rick Hilberg

Back in the 1960s, many UFO researchers began to explore various newspaper archive collections and happened upon a treasure trove of old eyewitness reports from all over the West and Midwest describing mysterious airship-like contraptions roaming the night skies during late 1896 and 1897. In fact, the reports were so numerous that it caused such a sensation that newspapers all over the country gave these reports sensational front page coverage. Naturally, various individuals were only too happy to claim that they had knowledge of these revolutionary flying machines and their numerous "secret inventors", none of whom ever came forward with any hard evidence of their spectacular flying machines.

It all started quietly in late September of 1896 in San Francisco, when reports of strange lights over the Pacific Ocean began to trickle in to newspapers there. These lights drew the attention of local astronomers who immediately tried to connect them to various astronomical sources. When the lights were no longer seen the whole matter was quickly put to rest.

The first real mention of a structured flying machine was made during the first week of November when the household staff of San Francisco Mayor Sutro sighted a "strange object" around dusk one evening hovering just offshore over Seal Rock.

While the coming darkness obscured features of the thing, a powerful light was seen on it as well as a row of lights down its side. But it suddenly flew away toward the east, passing overhead at an estimated 500 feet.

When told of the incident Mayor Sutro thought his staff seemed "full of wonder" over the incident. However, this too was forgotten for the moment, and only recalled after the reports of "airships" in the Sacramento area later in the month would touch off the sensation that would last more than a year. There is absolutely no doubt that many of the newspaper stories from that time were either deliberate hoaxes by the so-called witnesses, and many more were nothing more than inventions by newspaper writers hoping to boost the sale of their papers. But the fact still remains that many still surviving eyewitnesses were located and interviewed by diligent UFO researchers during the late 1960s after these newspaper stories were unearthed after so many years. Thus some do indeed deserve to be taken seriously.

The state of Texas was particularly hard hit by the airship wave during 1897 when newspapers all over the state began reporting on sightings by their local citizens. Here's just a small sample of what I have on file from various Texas newspapers during that time:

Childress, Texas, April 17 - The much talked-of airship was seen here last night about 1:16 o'clock. The Rev. J. W. Smith was the first to discover the curious aerial monster.

He thought at first that it was a shooting star, but after watching it a moment or two, saw that it was not.

It soon disappeared, traveling in a westerly direction. The Rev. Smith thinks that it must have been 2,000 feet high and traveling very fast.

Longview, Texas, April 20 - Last night about 9:30 the Post correspondent and family, on returning from church, saw the so-called airship.

A bright light, seemingly about the size of Venus, moved swiftly to the northwest, disappearing beneath the horizon.

In a few minutes, it reappeared...The light emitted a series of intermittent flashes, of a steel color. No car (cabin) was seen.

Atlanta, Texas, April 19 - There was considerable excitement here today, caused by a visitation last night by the mysterious airship.

It was first seen by Jim Nelson, a farmer...His attention was attracted by a peculiar noise and, looking up, he discovered the mysterious aerial traveler.

It seemed to be descending straight to the earth with great rapidity and Mr. Nelson's hair stood out with fright...

But within two or three hundred feet of the earth it paused for a moment...then moved off at a rate of speed about equal to that of an ordinary passenger train.

The Atlanta Dispatch reported that the airship was sighted by other area citizens when it sailed over the city at 5 to 15 miles an hour. Most described it as cigar-shaped, and some said it had long fins on either side.

Things got considerably weirder the next week with this report in the Houston Daily Post of April 28:

Merkel, Texas, April 26 - Some parties returning from church last night noticed a heavy object dragging along with a rope attached.

They followed it until in crossing the railroad it caught on a rail. On looking up, they saw what they supposed was the airship.

It was not near enough to get an idea of the dimensions. A light could be seen protruding from several windows, one bright light in front like the headlight of a locomotive. After some 10 minutes, a man was seen descending the rope; he came near enough to be plainly seen. He wore a blue sailor suit, was small in size.

He stopped when he discovered parties at the anchor, and cut the rope below him and sailed off in the northeast direction. The anchor is now on exhibition at the blacksmith shop of Elliott & Miller and is attracting the attention of hundreds of people.


Just what did those folks see way back then, and it could somehow be related to the advent of the "flying saucer" stories that would also cause a sensation during the late 1940s? 

Attachment shows a newspaper editorial cartoonist's take on the airship craze of that time.


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