That the UFO enigma didn’t start in 1947 with Kenneth Arnold’s Mt. Rainier sighting is fairly obvious to anyone who has read any UFO literature. The same, or very similar, phenomena has taken a variety of forms over the past hundred years or so. In the 1930’s Scandinavia was home to the so-called ‘Ghost Fliers’ which John Keel wrote about in his book Our Haunted Planet. These Ghost fliers would perform a variety of maneuvers which would seem to defy conventional wisdom; flying at night with no lights, flying in dangerous weather conditions, or killing their engines and seeming to glide before having the engine turn back on. Some time later you had the Ghost Rockets in Sweden in the mid to late 40’s which were whipping and zipping throughout the skies. Micah Hanks has recently written a book which discusses Ghost Rockets in detail, appropriately titled The Ghost Rocket Mystery.
These mysteries are all well and good, representing strange objects occupying our skies for reasons completely unknown to us. Today however I would like to turn the clock back and look at a mystery which occurred some 30 or 40 yrs before the coming of the phantom planes, when our skies hosted another kind of technology that seemed to be just outside of what conventional technology might have allowed. I’m speaking about the great airship mystery of the 19th century, and some in the 20th century, which flew all over parts of the US, Canada, and eventually made its way to Europe.
Jerome Clark discusses the Airship mystery in his, oft cited by me, Unexplained!. He points out something that I think is worth noting;
An outbreak of airship reports occurred along the border of Germany and Russian Poland in early 1892. As would be the case with later airship scares, the Germans were thought to have developed advanced aircraft that could fly against the wind (unlike balloons) and hover for extended periods of time. No such aircraft existed at the time
This idea that, so far as we are aware, no aircraft like those that were reported existed really fascinates me. It’s an idea which we will return to at the end of the post. For now, let us head to California in 1896 where the great airship flap is about to begin. Clark continues;
Beginning in mid-November 1896, numerous witnesses in both urban and rural portions of the state reported seeing fast-moving or stationary nocturnal lights assumed to be connected to airships. Daylight sightings typically were of a device that “somewhat resembled a balloon traveling end on ... and with what appeared to be wings both before and behind the [bottom] light,” as the San Francisco Call of November 22 put it, or of a “great black cigar with a fishlike tail … at least 100 feet long” with a surface that “looked as if it were made of aluminum,” as the Oakland Tribune of December 1 had it. In some cases, observers reported seeing propellers.
Not surprising to anyone, in his book New Lands (which I read in Steinmeyer’s version of Fort’s The Book of the Damned.), Fort took an interest in sightings of supposed “mystery airships” (as he referred to them) and in one instance he remarked about something which I found rather amusing;
Upon the 28th of April, 1897, Venus was in inferior conjunction. In Popular Astronomy, 555, it is said that many persons had written to the Editor, telling of “airships” that had been seen about this time. The Editor writes that some of the observations were probably upon the planet Venus, but that others probably related to toy balloons, “which were provided with various colored lights”
Evidently, Venus has always been to blame for strange things spotted in the sky! Fort goes on to relate newspaper accounts of an interesting aspect of this phenomena. Fort shows readers;
The first group of our data, I take from dispatches to the New York Sun, April 2, 11, 16, 18. First of April - “the mysterious light” in the sky of Kansas City - something like a powerful searchlight. "It was directed toward the earth, traveling east at a rate of sixty miles an hour."
About a week later, something was seen in Chicago. "Chicago's alleged airship is believed to be a myth, in spite of the fact that a great many persons say that they have seen the mysterious night-wanderer.
A crowd gazed at strange lights, from the top of a downtown skyscraper, and Evanston students declare they saw the swaying red and green lights." April 16—reported from Benton, Texas, but this time as a dark object that passed across the moon. Reports from other towns in Texas: Fort Worth, Dallas, Marshall, Ennis, and
Beaumont—"It was shaped like a Mexican cigar, large in the middle, and small at both ends, with great wings, resembling those of an enormous butterfly. It was brilliantly illuminated by the rays of two great searchlights, and was sailing in a southeasterly direction, with the velocity of the wind, presenting a magnificent appearance."
Along with the reports of these airships were reports of their, mostly human, “secret inventors”. Whenever an airship was sighted, it could almost be guaranteed that someone would step forward having claimed to have met the inventor of these crafts. In his, newly republished, book Operation Trojan Horse John Keel relates a story of one such person who claimed to have met the pilot of the airship. Keel says;
A San Jose, California, electrician named J. A. Heron claimed that the airship pilots enlisted him to make some repairs on the machine. He was taken to a desolate field north of San Francisco for the job and was rewarded by being taken on a flight to Hawaii. He said the craft made the 4,400-mile trip in twenty-four hours. His wife later told reporters that he had been home in bed on the night of the alleged trip.
While I don’t rule out the possibility that people could have made these craft, after all the craft seemed to be just within reach of the technology of the time, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support this idea. What are we dealing with in this case then? Are they all hoaxes? Some of them certainly were, it seems that the Aurora, Texas “crash” of an Airship is widely regarded as a hoax. It is also known that there were liar’s clubs and so it’s likely that some of the stories were probably made up. However there seems to be an underlying phenomena that a large number of people experienced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
One theory for what these “airships” are, is that the Non-Human intelligence which has been interacting with humanity since recorded history (whether they be Ultraterrestrials, Extraterrestrials, or Cryptoterrestrials) have, overtime, adapted their conveyances in such a way as to shape our perception of them. This idea is largely the premise of Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse. The other idea is that perhaps, not entirely unlike a rorschach test, we are projecting our expectations onto a relatively malleable phenomena which is shaped based upon the viewers perception.
I haven’t decided where I land on this issue just yet. I fluctuate between the last two theories I mentioned, and perhaps the reality is somewhere in between the two. The only thing which I can say for certain is that the airship mystery is a fascinating footnote within the overall history of UFOs and Fortean phenomena.