From Magonia 44, October 1992.
It is hard to believe but spaceships and odd flying machines are constantly crashing onto the surface of our planet. This unusual form of pollution is not a new phenomenon and it does not seem all that rare either. At best the operators of these aerial contraptions seem to be reckless and incompetent navigators of the air, but before we protest to the government for new legislation to crack down on these menaces we had better look at the evidence.
One of the first incidents occurred in Peru, sometime in 1878. A person who described himself as “A Seraro, Chemist,” told the South Pacific Times of Callao, Peru, that he found a huge aerolite. After digging through several layers of mineral substance he arrived at an inner chamber. Inside this he found the dead body of a 4 1/2-foot tall alien and beside it was a silver plate that was inscribed with hieroglyphics. This writing indicated that the vehicle and its pilot had come from Mars. The New York Times repeated this story for the benefit of its readership but it regarded the story as a poor lie, because:
Undoubtedly, the Peruvians mean well, and tell the best lies that they can invent. Indeed, it can be readily be perceived that the heart of the inventor of the aerolite story was in the right place, and that his faults were those of the head. The truth is that the Peruvians have never been systematically taught how to lie. Very probably, if they had our educational advantages, they would lie with intelligence and affect, and it is hardly fair for us … to despise the Peruvians for what is their misfortune, rather than their fault. (1,2,3,4.)
A similar story, in La Capital, describes the discovery of an egg-shaped rock near the Carcarana River, Santa Fe, on 13 October 1877. (5) Two geologists, Paxton and Davis, drilled into this curiosity and found:
some cavities inside the hard rock. In one of them the men saw several objects such as a white, metallic hole-ridden amphora-like jar with many hieroglyphics engraved on its surface. Under the floor of this cavity they discovered another one which contained a 39 inch (1.2 metre) tall mummifiedbody covered with a calciferous mass. (6,7.)
According to Fabio Picasso a couple of trips to the site were made by ufologists in the late 1970s. They found some blocked off tunnels that might be hiding the object, though what happened to the alleged remains is unknown. Picasso traces this story back to the 17 June 1864 edition of La Pay which tells of a Paxton and Davis who made an identical discovery near Pic James, Arrapahaya province. (8)
The idea of a crashed spaceship, with chambers containing the remains of a small ‘Martian’ pilot and artefacts inscribed with hieroglyphics, obviously is a hoax or tall story. Newspapers simply used it as a filler-item and did not take it seriously.
The form of this story can be seen as the template for the famous Aurora crash case. As noted in more detail below it features a dead pilot and the obligatory hieroglyphics. Furthermore, we can see these historical cases as being templates for contemporary crash/retrieval cases. (9,10.) Since so much interest is being generated by the Roswell, crash case (the Fund for UFO Research has funded research into this case to the tune of at least 30,000 dollars), and by the British Rendlesham forest incident(s), we should at least be cautious of these tales in the light of this historical material.
The alleged Aurora crash case took place during the American 1896-1897 airship scare at the village of Aurora, Texas. (11) The story was first revealed on page 5 of the 19 April 1897 edition of the Dallas Morning News. It was written by S.E. Haydon a part-time correspondent to the newspaper and a cotton buyer. Titled ‘A Windmill Demolishes It’ . The full text went on to say that at:
Aurora, Wise County, Texas, April 17. — (To The News) — About 6 o’clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing through the country.
It was travelling due north, and much nearer the earth than ever before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed directly over the public square, and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.
The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
Mr. T.J. Weems, the United States signal service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he was a native of the planet Mars.
Papers found on his person – evidently the records of his travels – are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and can not be deciphered.
The ship was too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminium and silver, and it must have weighed several tons.
The town is full of people to-day who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens of the strange metal from the debris. The pilot’s funeral will take place at noon tomorrow.
This explosive encounter was largely forgotten until 1966. Then Dr. Alfred E. Kraus, the Director of the Kilgore Research Institute of West Texas State University, made a couple of visits to the crash site. Using a metal detector he found some 1932 car license plates, some old stove lids, and a few horse-bridle rings. There was nothing to indicate that several tons of unusual metal was still lurking anywhere in the vicinity.
In the same year Donald B. Hanlon and Jacques Vallee took an interest in the case. (12, 13.) As a result of this a friend of Dr. J. Allen Hynek visited the site. (14) He found that judge Proctor’s farm had been transformed into a small service station, which was owned by Mr. Brawley Oates. Although Mr. Oates was neutral in his opinion about the incident he did send the investigator to Mr. Oscar Lowery who lived in the nearby town of Newark.
Mr. Lowery revealed that T.J. Weems the alleged ‘authority on astronomy’ had been Aurora’s blacksmith, Jeff Weems. Even more damning was the fact that Mr. Lowery, aged 11 years-old at the time of the crash, remembered nothing of the incident. Furthermore, there had never been a windmill on the site. So even if the spaceship had existed the windmill had not! Mr. Lowery’s conclusion was that the whole story had been created by Haydon.
Undaunted Hynek’s investigator went to the cemetery where he thought the pilot might have been buried. This was scrupulously maintained by the Masonic Order, and none of their records mentioned any Martian grave.
The story of the Aurora crash now seemed to be destined to rot in the obscurity of UFO investigators’ files. Not surprisingly, the case failed to remain buried for long. On 21 June 1972, Hayden C. Hewes, Director of the International UFO Bureau, Inc. (IUFOB), said that his organisation decided to:
Determine if the event did occur;
Locate any fragments;
Locate, if possible, the grave of the UFO astronaut. (15)
This research fired Bill Case, an aviation writer for The Dallas Times Herald, into a frenzy of activity. Beginning in March 1973, he published a series of articles that created a worldwide interest in the case.
In the very first article he quoted the previously reluctant crash site owner, Mr. Brawley Oates, as saying that he thought there was some substance to the story. Indeed, he said that in 1945 he had sealed a well that had been beneath the windmill. As he worked on this task he found several metal fragments. He said:
The pieces were about the size of your fist. But we didn’t think and simply junked them. Later we capped the well and drilled a new one, then we built a brick wellhouse on the site.
Next to this was placed a chicken coop. Thus, this historic location was hidden in a very rustic disguise.
By mid-1973 Bill Case had obtained three eyewitness accounts of the crash which Flying Saucer Review writer Eileen Buckle regarded as ‘the most convincing evidence that an unidentified flying object crashed at Aurora in 1897′. (16)
At Lewisville Nursing Home, 98-year-old Mr. G.C. Curley’s memory of the event was obtained. His statement appeared in the 1 June edition of The Dallas Times Herald:
We got the report early in Lewisville. Two friends wanted me to ride over to Aurora to see it. But I had to work. When they got back on horseback that night they told me the airship had been seen coming from the direction of Dallas the day before and had been sighted in the area. But no one knew what it was. They said it hit something near Judge Proctor’s well. The airship was destroyed and the pilot in it was badly torn up. My friends said there was a big crowd of sightseers who were picking up pieces of the exploded airship. But no one could identify the metal it was made of. We didn’t have metal like that in America at that time. And they said it was difficult to describe the pilot. They saw only a torn up body. They didn’t say people were frightened by the crash. They couldn’t understand what it was.
Then, 91-year-old Mary Evans said in a UPI report:
That crash certainly caused a lot of excitement. Many people were frightened. They didn’t know what to expect. That was years before we had any regular airplanes or other kind of airships. I was only about 15 at the time and had all but forgotten the incident until it appeared in the newspapers recently. We were living in Aurora at the time, but my mother and father wouldn’t let me go with them when they went up to the crash site at Judge Proctor’s well. When they returned home they told me how the airship had exploded. The pilot was torn up and killed in the crash. The men of the town who gathered his remains said he was a small man and buried him that same day in Aurora cemetery.
Charles Stephens, an 86-year-old resident of Aurora, added that his father Jim Stephens had seen the spaceship plummet from the sky.
The validity of all three statements was undermined by Hayden Hewes who said that when his organisation checked them they were found to be false. Mr. G.C. Curley was actually called A. J. McCurley, who had been a teacher in Oklahoma at the time of the incident. Charles Stephens denied that his father had seen the crash, and Mary Evans said, ‘They wrote that up to suit themselves. I didn’t say it this way’. (17)
In 1966 nothing more than scrap metal had been found at the crash site but during May 1973 a person from Corpus Christi called Frank Kelley found some unusual metal fragments there.
Hot on the trail of this lead Bill Case noted in the 31 May issue of The Dallas Times Herald that samples had been sent to the North Texas State University, the American Aircraft Co.’ and the National Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada.
According to Dr. Tom Gray of the North Texas State University, three of the fragments given to him consisted of common metals. But the fourth sample looked ‘as if it had been melted and splattered on the ground’. He went on to say that:
First analysis shows it to be about 75 per cent iron, and 25 per cent zinc, with some other trace elements. But it lacks properties common to iron, such as being magnetic. It is also shiny and malleable instead of being dull and brittle like iron.
In support of this analysis the American Aircraft Co., said that one of the seven samples given to them was unusual because it too was shiny and non-magnetic.
According to Hayden Hewes, his group was unable to find Frank Kelley, and he believed that all the fragments he found was composed of ordinary iron. It was his contention that they were merely used to get the maximum publicity for the story.
The Aerial Phenomena Research Organisation (APRO) was also highly sceptical about the claims surrounding the metal fragments. They said some of them were just bits of aluminium alloy with no special qualities. Another reason for their scepticism was the fact that the metal allegedly left in the ground for 76 years looked in too fine a shape for this to be true.
In contrast, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the National Investigations Committee for Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) thought there was an element of truth in the case.
Members of MUFON using metal detectors even found a grave in the local cemetery that gave similar readings to the metal given to Dr. Tom Gray. This encouraged the elusive Frank Kelley to speculate that the body of the spaceman was clothed in a metal suit.
On the heels of this discovery came the revelation that the grave had a tombstone with a cigar-shaped vehicle drawn on it. That the drawing could easily have been caused by a scrape from a metal object did not discourage anyone. Someone, or some group, thought the ‘tombstone’ was valuable because early in the morning of 14 June 1973, it was stolen. In addition, the thieves dug-up the metal fragments that had apparently caused the earlier metal detector readings.
Meanwhile Hayden Hewes and IUFOB had been trying, through proper legal channels, to exhume the body. This legal action, the publicity, and the crowds of visitors, did not please the Aurora Cemetery Association. Their attorney, Bill Nobles, said ‘We have no desire to stand in the way of scientific research’. Butwhen IUFOB persisted in wanting to locate and retrieve the body, he told them in a letter dated 18 March 1974:
Please be advised that as in past instances the Cemetery Association feels obligated to resist any attempt to disturb the Aurora Cemetery grounds by any third parties seeking to investigate the alleged airship crash in 1897, and to reaffirm our position that any such attempt will be resisted with whatever means are available to the Association.
Even a request by IUFOB to examine the grave with a radar detection device was turned down by the Association. (17)
None of the people involved in this story came out of it very well. If we return to the original 1897 report we might ask why S.E. Haydon concocted the story in the first place. The answer is that Aurora needed to attract tourists and business. By 1897 it had become the largest town in the county and had a population of about 3000. Unfortunately its prosperity was declining due to the effect of cotton crop failures, the bypassing of the railroad, a downtown fire and a spotted fever epidemic. By the 1970s Aurora had a population of less than 300.
It might be thought that such a fantastic story would have attracted as much interest in 1897 as it did in 1973 – it is not every day that a spaceship drops out of the sky! The reason it was ignored was due to the hundreds of phantom airship sightings appearing in the press at that time. Alongside the Aurora report the Dallas Morning News of 19 April 1897 diligently recorded a long series of sightings and encounters.
The newspaper files of the period contain several horrifying accounts of meteors crashing into the earth, causing damage to property, animals’ and humans. Ignoring them, the April 1897 newspapers hold many airship crashes that have not received much attention from ufologists but are equally valid (or should I say invalid?).
For example, on the same day as the Aurora crash, 17 April 1897, Sam McLeary was travelling next to the Forked Deer River near Humboldt, Tennessee, when he came across an object that had crashed into some trees. Part of the craft was fixed into the ground and the rest of it was still lodged in the trees. The newspaper report claimed that:
The larger portion consisted of a thin shell of bright white metal about 100 feet in length by 30in diameter, running to a point at each end. A tubular rib extends along each side and from this is suspended a framework carrying the machinery, with enclosed compartment for passengers or crew. The solitary occupant was unable to tell his story for though the weather is not cold his body and his water barrel were solid blocks of ice. The machine had evidently reached too high altitudes, and its manager had succumbed to the pitiless cold and for want of his control had fallen to the earth.
Its engines were of strange and unknown construction. Screw propellers above and at each end and horizontal sails or wings at each side seem with the buoyant skill to combine all the principles of sea and air navigation … This much has been ascertained from observation and meagre notes found on board, but who or whence the solitary captain has not yet been discovered. (19)
An even more intriguing sky craft exploded to the west of Lanark, Illinois, at 4.0 am on 10 April. This woke the inhabitants of the town who saw a bright ruby light shoot into the sky. The light got dimmer but it encouraged about 50 men to dress and ride out into the snowstorm to see what it was. It did not take them long to track it down to Johann Fliegeltoub’s farm which was half-a-mile to the west of the town. Here they found the frightened farmer’s family being shouted at, in a foreign language, by a person dressed in strange clothes. Nearby was the wreck of the airship and the mangled remains of two bodies. A third of the craft had driven itself into the ground. The ship:
was cigar shaped and made of aluminium, about thirty feet long by nine feet in diameter, and the steady red glow came from an immense electric lamp that burned upon that part of the strange craft that projected from the ground. There were four side and one rear propellers on the machine, with a fin-like projection above it, evidently the rudder. An immense hole was torn in the under side of the ship, showing that an explosion had occurred, caused probably by a puncture from a lightning rod on the Fliegeltoub barn, as one of them was slightly bent.
The strange creature who in some marvellous manner escaped from the wreck, is now unconscious. He or she is garbed after the fashion of the Greeks in the time of Christ, as shown by stage costumes, and the language spoken was entirely unknown to any one here, though most people are familiar with high and low Dutch, and even one or two know something of French and Spanish.
The remains of the two persons who were killed were taken to the Fliegeltoub barn and straightened out on boards. It is firmly believed here that the airship was that of an exploring party from either Mars or the moon… (20)
In the next report, filed by General F.A.Kerr, we are informed that by the afternoon Herr Fliegeltoub was charging a dollar a head for anyone who wished to see thewreckage in his barnyard. General Kerr only had to flash his press card to gain admittance, but within a few moments the import of the spectacle bore down on his mind. To steady himself he injected himself with a grain and a half of morphine, and swallowed three cocaine tablets. These soothed his jaded nerves and he was able to note that the previous report described the craft accurately. Inside it:
was divided into four apartments, one large or general room containing the machinery of the ship, the principal part of which was a powerful electric dynamo, and there was also a tank of air compressed into a liquid. There were windows of heavy glass on each side of the room. Two of the other apartments were fitted up as sleeping rooms and the third was a bath room. There were many bottles of little pills in a cabinet in the large room, evidently condensed food. (21)
The crowd was awestruck by the proceedings. I myself, to whom nothing is strange, returned to Lanark and securing a room at the hotel, sat up all night smoking opium and eating hasheesh to get in condition to write this dispatch
Walking from the ship to the Fliegeltoub house the reporter had to take a few more drugs. Here he:
found the unknown wanderer lying on a lounge, and I approached and examined him closely. He was about medium height and of athletic build, with long curled hair, dark brown in colour, and an extremely handsome face. He wore a white tunic reaching to his knees, and on his feet were sandals strapped with tin foil-wrapped braid. The tunic was embroidered with a coat of arms over the breast, a shield with a bar sinister of link sausages and bearing a ham sandwich rampant.
A few minutes after I entered the room he awoke and sat up. Immediately everyone fled from the room except myself. After looking around for a minute he said in a language that I at once knew to be Volapuk, “Where am I?” I answered, “Near Lanark on the earth” and he said he was glad to be there and asked how it happened.
I explained the circumstances to him and we had a long conversation, a report of which I reserve for another dispatch, but in brief he told me that he and his companions were an exploring party from Mars, who had been flying about over this country for some weeks.
About midnight he expressed a desire to see his wrecked machine and I went with him to visit it. When he saw the hole, with his fingers he bent the torn metal into its proper position, and stepping inside brought a pot of pasty looking stuff, which he spread over where the rent had been. He then ran hastily to the barn, picked up the bodies of his companions and carried them to his ship. Stepping inside he pulled a lever which set the propellers whirring, and the machine dragged itself from the ground. The operator then reversed the machinery, and shouting a farewell to me slammed the door and the airship rose rapidly into the air and finally disappeared into the night, though the red light was for a long time visible.
The crowd was awestruck by the proceedings. I myself, to whom nothing is strange, returned to Lanark and securing a room at the hotel, sat up all night smoking opium and eating hasheesh to get in condition to write this dispatch. (21)
We should warn our readers not to try this at home! Obviously the story was meant as a joke at the expense of the airship spotters, but it does have the detail and tone of “classic” contactee stories of the 1950s. The reporter, like the contactees, is the only person brave enough or privileged enough to talk to the alien; the being has superhuman strength; advanced techniques to repair the craft; the craft is a spaceship for the purpose of exploring planet earth; the alien takes away all the physical evidence.
Lanark was the venue for another crash story only a few days later. At 3.35am on the morning of 12 April, the local telegraph operator heard a sound like a cyclone and looking out the window he saw a huge object slowly landing. The wings of the ship gently flapped and it would have settled without incident if the rudder had not demolished the wing of a frame house. After observing this the operator rang the alarm bells. Then:
Soon after its landing a man not more than two feet in height came out of the ship. He wore an immense beard of a pinkish hue and his head was ornamented with some ivory like substance. He was heavily clothed in robes resembling the hide of a hippopotamus. His feet were uncovered near the ankles, but lashed firmly on the soles were two immense pieces of iron ore. About his neck was a string on which were 234 diamonds.
When asked where he came from he made no reply, being apparently deaf. He said nothing and made motions, indicating he wanted something to eat or drink. He drank two buckets full of water and ate three sides of bacon, after declining to takeham, which had been tendered for him. A short time after three other persons, similar in stature and similarly attired, came out of the air ship by means of long peculiar ropes, which reached to the ground. They could not speak or hear. One carried a staff of gold. (22)
Special trains were packed with expectant people including at least two ex-governors and 56 newspaper reporters.
Unfortunately, a short note from W.G.Field of the Lanark Gazette timed at 3.10 pm on 12 April, succinctly stated that, ‘The air ship story is a fake.’ (22)
In the state of Iowa two crashes into bodies of water occurred. The first incident was reported by John Butler and recorded in the 13 April editions of the Iowa State Register and the Evening Times-Republican. Although both carry the same account the dateline is different, so the incident either occurred at 11 p.m. on Friday 9 April or Saturday 10 April. It was on one of these nights that the citizens of Rhodes saw a bright light coming from the southwest. Crowds came out to see the heavenly vision and:
It soon came so near that the sound of machinery could be heard, which soon became as loud as a heavy train of cars. All at once the aerial monster took a sudden plunge downward and was immersed in the reservoir of the C.M. & St. Paul railway, which is almost a lake, covering about eight acres of land. No pen can describe what followed. The boiling lava from Vesuvius pouring into the sea could only equal it. The light was so large and had created so much heat that the horrible hissing which occurred when the monster plunged into the lake, could be heard for miles, and the water of the reservoir was so hot that the naked hand could not be held in it. As soon as the wreck is raised out of the water a full description of the machine will be sent.
Not long after dusk on 13 April, another strange meteor was seen by people in Iowa Falls. As it streaked across the sky it made a whirring noise. Apparently:
The light and the dark form which seemed to follow it approached the earth at a terrible speed and parties living near the river declare that it struck the water and immediately sunk out of sight. Those who reached the point of the object’s disappearance first claim that the water was churned into a whirlpool and that for a long distance the water was seething and boiling. The theory advanced by many is that the airship while passing over this section became unmanageable and in the efforts of the people aboard to land shot downwards and plunged headlong into the river and after striking the bottom the propelling power of the ship dashed the waters into foam. Nothing can be seen from the surface and nothing has come to the surface that might indicate the nature of the ship or its occupants, and the supposition is that the occupants were killed or drowned and with them the secret of the ship. Searching parties are now being organised to search the river and if possible raise the wreck. Thousands are expected here every hour by special trains from all parts of the compass and the whole matter has caused a big sensation. The field is a green one for enterprising correspondents and the advance phalanx is expected in the morning.
Any adventurous UFO investigators might profit from dredging the Iowa river or the C.M.& St. Paul railway reservoir. Though perhaps this is not as attractive a proposition as lurking in the Aurora cemetery!
The Austin Daily Statesman of 20 April, no doubt tongue-in-cheek reported the statements of a ‘mystery man’. He proclaimed:
It is my opinion that the airship, so-called, is nothing more nor less than a reconnoitring aerial war car from warlike Mars, investigating the conditions of the United States to see what reinforcements we’ll need when the country is invaded by the allied armies of Europe, the Mars soldiers having no confidence whatever in the American jingoes as real fighters.
Asked, ‘With these soldiers of Mars cavorting around over our heads, do you think there is any danger to us of the earth?’ He replied:
I most emphatically do. Last Thursday night (15 April) one of their aerial boats exploded and scraps of steel and pieces of electric wire were found on a school house, the roof of which workmen were repairing. They heard an explosion during the night, and just before it took place the aerial vehicle was seen sailing through the air. There is great danger in venturing out these nights. What if one of these fellows from Mars should tumble out and fall on you?
Probably the best crash landing story was published in the 2 May 1897 issue of the Houston Post. In El Campo, Texas, an old Danish sailor called Mr. Oleson claimed that his traumatic encounter occurred in September 1862. He told John Leander that he had been a mate on the Danish brig Christine which was sailing in the Indian ocean when a storm wrecked it. He and five other members of the crew were washed onto a small rocky island. One of the men died of his injuries and they huddled together at the foot of a cliff as the storm continued to rage. It was then that:
another terror was added to the horrors of the scene, for high in the air they saw what seemed to be an immense ship driven, uncontrolled in the elements. It was driving straight toward the frightened mariners, who cried aloud in their despair. Fortunately, however, a whirl of wind changed the course of the monster and it crashed against the cliff a few hundred yards from the miserable sailors.
When they got to the wreckage they found that the craft was as big as a battleship and had been carried aloft by four huge wings. Furniture, and metal boxes with strange characters inscribed on them which contained food, were amongst some of the things they found in the jumbled mass.
Then they came across the dead bodies of the ship’s crew. Altogether twelve of them dressed in strange garments were found. Their bodies were bronze coloured and were twelve feet tall. They were all male bodies, and they had soft and silky hair and beards.
The stranded sailors were so shocked by their discovery that one of them was driven insane and threw himself off the cliff. The rest of them deserted the wreck for two days but hunger drove them back to it. After feasting on the ship’s strange food, they unceremoniously threw the dead bodies of the giant aliens into the sea. Emboldened by this activity they then built themselves a raft.
Launching themselves on to a now calm sea, they tried to head for Vergulen Island. After sixty hours they came across a Russian ship heading for Australia, but their adventure had taken such a strain on them that only Mr. Oleson survived to reach land and safety.
The newspaper report concluded by noting that:
Fortunately as a partial confirmation of the truth of his story, Mr. Oleson took from one of the bodies a finger ring of immense size. It is made of a compound of metals unknown to any jeweller who has seen it, and is set with two reddish stones, the name of which are unknown to anyone who has ever examined it. The ring was taken from a thumb of the owner and measures 2 inches in diameter.
Now Mr. Editor, many people believe those airship stories to be fakes. They may be so, but the story now told for the first time is strictly true. While Mr. Oleson is an old man, he still possesses every faculty and has the highest respect for truth and veracity. Quite a number of our best citizens, among them Mr. Henry Hahn, Mr. H.C. Carleton, Green Hill and S. Porter, saw the ring and heard the old man’s story.
Having looked at cases which seem to involve an extraterrestrial dimension it is worth chronicling crash incidents that suggested that the experiments of a secret inventor had gone badly wrong. Our first example, published on 1st April 1897 in the Daily News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa), tells of a bright light seen at 2.30am by a night watchman and traveller. They were at the High Bridge when they saw a bright light, that changed white, red, purple, blue, white, in the southwest. It seemed like a ball of fire with a large, dark, conical object behind it. The thing dipped into the top of trees on the Illinois side of the river but managed to pass the bridge before it crashed with a thunderous roar.
After a moment’s suspense a faint cry for help was heard, and then another still fainter, and when the watchers had recovered their frightened senses they both got into the wagon and drove hurriedly across the bridge, where they leapt out and ran to the place where the light was seen. There, in among the trees, was what looked to them like a painted boat with sails badly wrecked, while a man lay beneath groaning in great pain. He was carried to the cabin boat near by, inhabited by Henry Atwald, from Fairport, and made as comfortable as possible, he suffering such agony as to have it deemed inadvisable to remove him to town.
Our informant quickly hurried back for a physician, he only being able to ascertain that the man was Prof. De Barre, of Tuscan, Arizona, and that the strange craft was his own invention, he being on his way to Chicago and that his accident was due to the steering apparatus becoming unmanageable in the high wind.
1 April 1897, not surprisingly, was a good day for airship sightings. One was seen to crash into a large sycamore tree, on that day, in the Upper Cottonwood valley. One of the occupants was killed but the other one recovered long enough to talk about his adventures on board the airship, and that he had come from Topeka. The Chanute Tribune of 3 April 1897 indicated this was a hoax by a local gentleman, Colonel Whitley.
This type of story was not exactly new, a very similar account is contained in the San Francisco Examiner for 5 December 1896. This edition declared:
The hull of an airship is in a ditch on the ocean side of Twin Peaks, and for a time at least church steeples, clock towers and factory chimneys are safe from all but the soaring imaginations of the men who believe that “the prostrate leviathan of the air crashed down from dizzy heights and met all but complete annihilation in the bed of a foaming mountain torrent.”
The man who built this craft, a Mr. J.H. de Gear, said he had worked according to the plans of an inventor who wanted to stay anonymous. Mr. de Gear had been trying to fly the craft when a strong wind made him crash. The ship, merely an iron cylinder divested of any machinery, was conveniently close to a saloon which enjoyed a boom due to this story.
Much publicity was given to this crash case but the San Francisco Chronicle of 5 December 1896 revealed that it was a fake constructed by press agent Frank de Gear. The nearby Sunnyside Inn had paid him for his efforts at drumming up business. His brother, Jefferson de Gear, said he helped with the fake and that:
“I was simply employed as an expert cornice-maker to build the machine and put it where it was found. Yes, it was built for exhibition purposes. It took over three bundles of galvanised iron to construct it, and the thing weighed over 400 pounds. I built it in two nights and one day, and had eleven men working on it Wednesday night. I think I deserve credit for the job: it was a good piece of work.”
Another story, in the Daily Herald (St.Joseph,Missouri), of 6 April 1897 said that:
Bethany, Mo., April 5. – (Special to the Herald.) Last night about 10.30 o’clock an airship was seen coming from the southwest at the rate of about 25 miles an hour, and looked to be about one-half mile high. It stopped for a few seconds over the court house, and then moved on toward the northeast, and went out of sight. This morning two men, John Leib and Ira Davis, living six miles east, brought word to town that an airship had fallen on J.D. Sims’ farm and a man was found dead. The coroner has gone to hold an inquest.
More details are given in the Daily Herald’s 9 April 1897 edition. This says that two men who were operating the craft were killed and mutilated beyond recognition. The craft that ‘resembles a cigar in shape, and has three propellers on either side’ had come to grief against Sims’ flag post. Letters found in the pockets of the victims indicated they had come from San Francisco or Omaha. The ship was taken to a warehouse in Bethany for exhibition to the curious crowds. Just when we are about to believe this story the author of the report had to spoil things by signing himself “A TRUE FAKIR”.
This story possibly inspired a report from Highland Station that featured an airship that exploded there on the night of 15 April 1897. The Globe (Atchison, Kansas) of 17 April, went on to say that the injured pilot was found and he claimed he was Pedro Sanchez of Cuba. He conveniently took the airship wreckage away the next day.
Near Philo, Champaign county, Illinois, there came a more graphic account of death by airship. A cone shaped craft was seen fighting against a heavy west wind at 10pm on 15 April 1997. The Daily Gazette (Champaign, Illinois), of 16 April 1897, continues the tale:
When just south of Bouse’s grove the craft became unmanageable and came down with a crash on Jeff Shafer’s farm, about 100 feet from where George Shafer was disking. The team took fright and ran away, throwing Young Shafer in front of the harrow which passed over him, cutting him all to pieces. In the wreck of the ship, which covered a space nearly 100 feet square, were found the mutilated remains of three persons. They were partially imbedded in the soft ground and covered with blood, so that it was impossible to identify them, but from what McLoed (Norman McLoed was a witness to this event – N.W.) could see he judged to be Japanese.
The report filed by “W.J.Wilkinson” concludes by saying that many are going to the site of the crash, and that more will be known once an inquest has been conducted. The game is given away, however, by this postscript:
The Gazette has been unable to find out who this man “Wilkinson” is, and from all accounts, there is no such man living in Philo. The names of the people he uses in the account are genuine, and those of prominent people, but it is evident that they were not consulted before the account was sent away.
I was intrigued by another crash story that sounded very promising. This related how a reporter had got to the summit of New York mountain, where he saw a fifty-foot-long cigar-shaped vessel ‘plunged deep into the mountain top.’ With the aid of ropes the reporter and fellow rescuers got to the broken ship wherethey found a badly injured old man. This was exciting news but the account in the Avalanche (Glenwood Springs, Colorado) of 4 May 1897 blows its cover by saying the man came from the North and is called “Santa Claus”, and the reporter wakes from his dream.
There are many other crash stories which have variable reliability. The Jefferson Bee of 15 April 1897 said that an airship had crashed near the town on 10 April. A terrible sound was heard and the next day a craft was found. This contained four bodies that were mashed to a pulp, despite this it was ascertained that they had two faces, and two sets of arms and legs, and they were taller than earth people. This was acknowledged to be a hoax by the newspaper staff.
A better case which received a good deal of publicity came from Pavilion township. This said that two old soldiers saw an airship in the sky followed by an explosion. The next day, 12 April, wreckage was found in the area and at Comstock township. (23)
On the 17 April 1897 a flying drugstore was seen at Park Rapids. As it went over Fish Hook Lake it exploded and legs and arms were seen to fly everywhere, causing the fish to crawl out of the lake for some peace and quiet! (24)
An abandoned cigar-shaped airship, with a broken propeller was found by Mr. Thurber, near Mead at the mouth of Dead Man Creek. (25) Someone calling himself “xxx” said an airship hit his friend’s windmill near Elmo. (26) There are many accounts of things falling from airships, and some of them are nearly as silly as the story in the Livermore Gazette of 16 April 1897. This claimed that the good citizens of the town made an airship crash so that they could use parts from it to decorate the place.
These accounts show that ufological holy grails such as Rosweil are far from being a new phenomenon. In the context of the airship wave as a whole crash cases were generally treated as a joke, but we can see that ufologists were ready to absorb such cases as the Aurora crash into the body of ufological lore because of their similarity to modern-day cases. In the airship wave people did not expect their accounts of crashes to be believed, their motive was to ridicule and shock into rationality the believers of the airship myth. In terms of the flying saucer myth it has taken time for serious ufologists to wholeheartedly believe in crash cases and retrievals of bodies, but those who have swallowed this pill must beprepared to accept that it has probably been poisoned by their own gullibility and by the work of “liars” who are unconsciously carrying-on a great American tradition.
New York Times 17 August 1878.
New York Times, 14 August 1878.
Mr. X, Res Bureaux Bulletin, No. 17,12 May 1977, pp 2-3.
A detailed account of this story is contained in: Zerpa, Fabio and Plataneo, Monica L., “The Crash of a UFO in the 19th Century”, unpublished, circa 1979. They tried to find the location of the aerolite and the body of the alien, but their report concludes by saying, ‘this whole thing has the “ring” of an old Spanish “tale” from beginning to end. Much repetition, drawn out suspense, and no concrete evidence.
La Capital, (Rosario) 13 and 15 October 1877.
Picasso, Fabio, “Infrequent Types of South American humanoids”, Strange magazine No. 8, Fall 1991, p.23 and p.44.
Zerpa, Fabio and Plataneo, “La Caida de un OVNI en Pleno Siglo XIX”, Cuarta Dimension Extra September 1981, pp. 2-12.
Charroux, Robert, Archivas de Otros Mudos, Barcelona, Plaza y Lanes, p.341.
Nickell, Joe, “The ‘Hangar 18′ tales – a folkloristic approach”, Common Ground No. 9, pp. 2-10.
Roberts, Andy, “Saucerful of Secrets” in UFOs by John Spencer and Hilary Evans, Fortean Tomes, 1987, pp.156-159.
Also see: Simmons, H.Michael “Once Upon A Time In The West”, Magonia No. 20.
Hanlon, Donald B. “Texas Odyssey of 1897″, Flying Saucer Review, Sept. – Oct., 1966.
Hanlon, Donald B. and Vallee, Jacques, “Airships Over Texas”, Flying Saucer Review, Jan-Feb 1967.
Hanlon, Donald B. and Vallee, Jacques, letter in “Mail Bag” column, Flying Saucer Review, Jan. – Feb., 1967.
Hewes, Hayden C. “The UFO Crash of 1897″, Offlcial UFO Vol. 1, No. 5, Jan. 1976.
Buckle, Eileen, “Aurora Spaceman”, Flying Saucer Review, July – Aug 1973.
Hewes, Hayden C.
Nashville American, 18 April, 1897. T.B. p.209:2.
Daily Democrat, 10 April 1897.
Daily Democrat, 12 April 1897
Daily Times (Dubuque, LA) 13 April 1897
Evening News (Detroit), 13 April 1897
Hubbare Clipper (CA), 22 April 1897
The Chronicle of Spokane, 16 April 1897
Albany Ledger (MO), 21 May 1987
Most of this material is available in Eddie Bulard’s ‘The Airship Files’ and its Supplements I and II. Other excellent sources are Robert G. Neeley’s ‘UFOs of 1896/1897: The Airship Wave’ (both published by the Fund for UFO Research