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Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital

March 31, 1897

The UFO was seen the morning of Sunday, January 24, 1897. People thought a mysterious inventor was experimenting with an "airship" about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of the small city. The UFO circled for a few minutes and then zoomed away to the north.


Omaha, Nebraska Bee

February 2, 1897

Several Hastings people report that an air ship, or something of the kind, has been sailing around in the air west of this city. It was first noticed sometime last fall when it was seen floating in the air about 500 feet (175 meters) above the ground, and after standing still for about 30 minutes, it began to to circle about and took a northerly direction for about two miles, after which it returned to its starting place and sank into oblivion.

Since that time it has not been seen until last Sunday evening, when it was observed standing nearly still, a few miles west of Hastings and seemingly about 800 feet in the air.

"At first sight it had the appearance of an immense star, but after closer observation the powerful light shows by its color to be artificial. It certainly must be illuminated by powerful electric dynamos for the light sent forth by it is wonderful."

At 9:30 last Monday night (January 25, 1897) the large glaring light was seen to circle around for a few minutes and then descended for about 200 feet, circling as it traveled at a remarkable speed for about two miles and then slowing up it circled for fully 15 minutes, when it began to lower and disappear as mysteriously as it had made its appearance...A close watch is being kept for its reappearance."

On February 5, 1897, the Omaha Bee reported that the UFO had been sighted again, this time at Invale, a tiny farm town 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Hastings, near the Kansas state line. The UFO was seen by people returning from a prayer meeting.

"It (the UFO) seemed to be conical-shaped and perhaps 30 to 40 feet in length, with a bright headlight and six smaller lights, three on a side, and seemed to have two sets of wings on a side, with a large fan-shaped rudder," the Bee reported. The Invale witnesses claimed to have heard rumbling engine noises and the voices of the "airship's" occupants.


"Early Airship Rumors Flew in Vincennes Sky"

From The Valley Advance

Vol. 16

No. 28

Vincennes, Indiana

SOURCE: The Valley Advance

March 18, 1980

By Richard Day
Byron R. Lewis Library staff member

Unidentified flying objects are nothing new for the people of Vincennes. In 1897 a mysterious airship passed over the city twice on the night of Friday, April 16.

According to the Vincennes Morning Commercial, the airship first appeared about nine o’clock, traveling along the extreme eastern portion of the horizon: A sphere of golden light was first seen in the vicinity of the Union Depot, from down in the city. Those near the ship claimed they could clearly see the dark lines of its car, although no passengers were observed.

Many reputable citizens witnessed the flight. From his home on Burnett’s Heights, Sam Judah said he could plainly see the ship with its fluttering wings, its movements resembling a side wheeler steam-boat, sailing through the air with incredible velocity. From his doorway, where he had gone to look at his thermometer, Col. Ewing saw the light, which he at first thought was a falling star, but as it moved so slowly, soon became convinced that it was the inevitable airship. Ewing watched it for about four minutes.

Anton Simon noticed a ball of fire, moving in a north-westerly to southeasterly course, which he later realized was an airship.

Victor Schonfeld, somewhat of an expert observer, having made airships and balloons, a life-long study, and having even made several ascensions in his time, testified that this was a genuine airship.

Among many others who saw the airship were Col. M.P. Ghee, Thomas Eastham, Judge DeWolf, Will Mason, Scott Emison, Jesse Foulks, all highly reputable witnesses. The airship first passed rapidly overhead in a southwesterly direction. An hour and a half later, it was seen again, passing over the northern portion of the city, traveling in a northwesterly direction: The last time it seemed to pass directly over the fairgrounds (present-day Gregg Park) and traveled more slowly than in its first swift passage straight over the city.

It is thought that the navigator turned his flying machine around and started back, or that the ship landed near the city and started back. Some say voices could be heard in the airship, and one gentleman, who saw it from Burnett’s Heights says he could see a man moving about in the ship and that he appeared to be adjusting the machinery. The Commercial concluded: Other cities have seen the airship and now Vincennes is strictly ‘up to date'. In fact, the Vincennes encounter was only one of some 200 sightings made by thousands of people in 19 states, during our nation’s first UFO flap of 1896-1897.

In his article, Close Encounters of the Earliest Kind, in the December, 1979 issue of American Heritage magazine, Ron Genini described the beginning of the flap in (where else?) California, in November of 1896. There were elements of hoax in some of the accounts, but many people believed they saw something. Many of the eyewitness accounts agreed that a traveling light or airship moved against the wind at an altitude of from 50 to 2,000 feet. It was cigar- or egg-shaped, with wing-like propellers or fan-like wheels revolving rapidly . . . and a doubly powerful arc light at its bottom center.

Soon, hoaxters got into the act, claiming to have ridden the flying machine, or to have talked with its crew, or even to have invented it. When some of these hoaxes were exposed, newspapers became skeptical, questioning the veracity or sobriety of witnesses, and making the airship the butt of jokes. After the excitement died down on the West Coast, the airship reappeared in the skies of the Midwest and South in April, 1897.

In the first chapter of his book The UFO Controversy in America, David Michael Jacobs details the many sightings over Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Omaha, Kansas City, Dallas, and many other cities and towns.

Colored or intensely bright white lights were the most characteristic feature of the airship descriptions; in many other particulars the descriptions agreed with those from California--a cylindrical, or cigar-shaped body with a propeller or propellers.

As Jacobs points out, the first modern airship or dirigible was built in France in 1898, but there is no record of any American inventor producing an airship at this time. And the speeds attributed to the mysterious airship--estimated at up to 200 miles per hour--far exceeded anything possible at the time. Again, there were some hoaxters, and again the newspapers were skeptical.

In Vincennes, the evening Western Sun, having been scooped by the morning paper, wrote a kind of tongue-in-cheek parody:

"The Air Ship Sails the Azure Depths like a Tongue of Light; It Floats through Space Leaving Multitudes of Worshipping People on the Earth Beneath - Supposed to Contain Five Passengers and to be Enroute to Jacksonville, Fla."

The Sun described the effects upon the supposed superstitious inhabitants of that aristocratic colored suburb known as ‘Idaho,’ who were scared to death.

A few days later the airship lent itself to advertising:

The airship seems to be an assured fact. But it is not attracting so much attention as the slashing prices that are being made on hardware and bicycles at Scott and Sons. Miller's Drug Store on Main Street used the airship to draw attention to its ice cream and sodas.

There was not another sighting flap until 1946. The chief difference was that while people in 1896-7 thought that the UFO’s were man-made objects, in the modern ear the tendency is to believe that they are not of this earth.

A winged ship in the sky was how the San Francisco Call described a mysterious airship seen at Sacramento on Nov. 17, 1896.

FLYING MATTRESS? -- With wings like mattress ticking, a California airship is depicted shining its light earthward. Also shown is a four-man crew in a canopied cockpit. Singing to the accompaniment of a phonograph supposedly could be heard coming from the craft.






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