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.
Thus began 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.
At 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.