The Cigar Ship of 1909!
Nigel Watson

From MUFOB new series 10, Spring 1978

For his contribution to the tenth anniversary issue of MUFOB, Nigel Watson revealed some of the delights of historical ufology!

cigarshipAs a law-abiding citizen, I now and again partake of the duty of looking through musty old newspapers in search of items of Fortean or ufological interest. Recently I have been checking on the 1909 airship sightings which were recorded by Carl Grove in his two-part article entitled “The Airship Wave of 1909″ (Flying Saucer Review, Vol 16, no 6 and vol 17, no 1).

Despite a thorough search, the Lincolnshire Chronicle for May and June 1909 doesn’t bother mentioning the airship scare. The Doncaster Gazette and the Lincoln Leader both published similar items, except that the Leader‘s article was a little more detailed and also contained information on the more spectacular Caerphilly mountain episode and other Welsh sightings, (cases nos 30 and 31 in the Grove articles) which were barely discernible due to some fiend having hacked a piece out of this particular section. Unfortunately both papers only mentioned the sighting by PC Kettle of a powerfal light over Peterborough on 23rd March 1909, which they explained as a sighting of a light with a Chinese lantern attached.

The ‘hoax’ letter written by a Major Hayfield of Pinchbeck Road, Spalding (INTCAT no. 68) was given mention with some derision: We really cannot take any notice of it. It is too ludicrous”, said Canon Bullock. Apparently none of these papers received any sightings themselves, which was disappointing for my bleary eyes.

In 1909 Britain had an Empire with a capital ‘E’, so we took a dim view of any Imperialistic foreigners on the horizon. Since little green men and saucers from Mars were not too well though of in 1909, the phantom airship was regarded as a German Zeppelin spy-craft on a sinister mission… Or… it was regarded as a load of rubbish; as seems to be the view of the above papers, who tended to blame the scare on the London press.

Thoughtfully, the Lincoln Leader of the 5th June decided to reassure its readership with an item entitled “Mr Lupton on Air-Ships and Scare-ships”. Mr Arnold Lupton M.P., an authority on the use of explosives (essential knowledge for a politician, I should imagine) was interviewed by the (London) Evening News, where he claimed that

“If London was to be destroyed by bombs thrown from balloons it would require a fleet of 200,000 Zeppelin balloons, each costing not less than £20,000, or equal to £4,000,000,000. They would also need 600,000 devoted aeronauts to throw them.”

With such a reassuring Member of Parliament the Bulldog Breed could sleep safely, secure in the knowledge that technology had not yet caught up with the problem of the aeriel bombardment of distant targets on as effective scale.

There are probably many more ‘airship’ sightings to be discovered in the local papers from 1909 and 1913 (from preliminary findings there was more coverage of the 1913 scare) and such research is liable to reveal more useful information than that obtained by skywatches and the like.
The Caerphilly Mountain incident which involved Mr Lethbridge seeing a tubuar object with foreign speaking men next to it caused the biggest sensation in the press of the period, and was subjected to scepticism and laughter from the journalistic fraternity. Typically, Punch jumped at the opportunity given by this encounter, and the Lincoln Leader of the 29th May quoted, in its “Wit of the Week” column, the following lampoon:

THE EVERYWHERE SHIP: LATEST REPORT:

Harpenden – A suspicious looking foreigner was seen here yesterday on the common. A watch was kept on him, and he was seen after dark in an un-frequented spot to be busy with a cigar-shaped looking object which had a brilliantly coloured band round the middle. Every now and then a light would appear at the end of the object and almost immediately to go out, to the accompaniment of gutteral expletives in a foreign tongue. The object is of a brownish colour, and seems to require constant attention from its owner. Three dozen wooden matches and a box with foreign words on it were found near the spot where the stranger was observed at work on the instrument described above, and it is though that he was engaged in making strenuous efforts to get it going. Intense excitement prevails.

Later – The coloured band referred to (which also has foreign words on it) has just been found and forwarded to the Board of Trade.

A Newspaper Looks at the Airship.
Paul Screeton

Paul Screeton was a journalist with The Mail Hartlepool, the paper which, as the Northern Daily Mail in the period concerned, published a variety of reports which have been assessed for this article. Originally published in MUFOB new series 11, summer 1978

scareship—————————————————-

An elusive airship was attracting attention in early 1909; and after a period of arrant scepticism, belief was gaining ground that the rumours had substance.

In addition to a news item listing places in the south-east where the phantom dirigible had been sighted, there was a leading article on May 14th entitled:

“AN ARIEL DARK HORSE

“A theory has been advanced to me in explanation of the mysterious airship which has been seen flying in the neighbourhood of Peterborough. It is that the War Office has succeeded in constructing a really efficient airship and is experimenting with it in the dark to keep its existence and capacity secret.”

The next day a Berlin correspondent of the Daily Express reported that German expert opinion held that it was ascending from a German warship in the North Sea, upon which it landed again after each flight. Another report in that issue notes that during movement of troops in Gyppeswky Park, Ipswich, “the other night”, it was seen frequently. It was said to be oblong, making a noise like a motor car, moving at great speed and carrying a searchlight. So far only one farmer had seen it in daylight, but its nocturnal activity was considerable.

On May 17th the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire had investgated a PC’s report and decided it was “a balloon carrying lighted Chinese lanterns”, ie, a hoax.

‘An Irish Vision’ was the headline for the report of an airship seen over Belfast moving towards the Irish Sea – and interestingly a brilliant light was observed in the sky shortly afterwards. Such phenomena never exist in isolation, and an editorial column on May 19th linked two seemingly disparate mysterious activities:

“A FEARSOME PROSPECT

“While some of us have been wasting our time and emotions over phantom airships and elusive airplanes, a method of invasion more sure and deadly is, perhaps, going on under our feet. A letter arrived today stating thus: While crossing from Hamburg on Saturday night, my interest and suspicions were aroused by hearing sounds of what I judged to be subterranean excavation while passing over one of the shallows to the north-west of the Dutch coast. The sounds were quite like running drills and were very audible, as the sea was quiet and calm. This information I volunteer in order the Government may sake inquiries into the matter.”

That same day the paper reported a night sighting of a broad cigar-shape, making a whistling sound and lit by two lights, over Cardiff.

This incident’s developments were reported the next day in the famous Caerphilly Mountain incident, involving Mr Lethbridge and the fur-coated ‘foreigners’. The Northern Daily Mail’s account of the incident concludes, “He was frightened, and so seemingly were the foreigners, for they jabbered loudly, jumped into the scareship (sic) and sailed off.”

A journalist was taken to the encounter site and marks were found on the ground. Slips of newspapers found on the spot show that almost all contained references to airships of the German Army. There was also a red label with instructions written in French, and a military term on it is called a “sinister touch” by the correspondent, noting that it would have been more impressive had it been in German.Yet looking book retrospectively over almost seventy years a number of aspects are month comment here:

  • Another Lethbridge, T C Lethbridge, was to involve himself in authorship of books on unorthodox subjects for an academic: ancient religion, dowsing, ESP, and even the ancient astronaut hypothesis.
  • In 1909 Mr Lethbridge of Wales was a Punch and Judy showman just as today Britain’s most controversial monster-hunter Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels, is a stage magician and puppeteer.
  • More significantly, just as at the Scoriton, Devon, landing involving Arthur Bryant and ‘Yamski’, baffling material appeared (and at other CEIII sites). And note the stronger French, rather than German connection.
  • The ‘foreigners’ were working on their machine and mechanical repairs have been a feature of many UFO incidents, perhaps to suggest a nuts and bolts function.
  • Another part of the account repeats the liklihood of the object being released from a steamer in the Bristol Channel, so paralleling the later notion of flying saucers coming from motherships.
  • In addition to tales of other sightings in that day’s paper there was a note of War Office action and its impounding of an object – an air-ship fender supposedly – found the day after an airship flow over Great Clacton. Here we have the shadow of military intervention with witnesses and removal of an artifact.

After such massive publicity, May 21st was no disappointment to readers either. A football shaped object speedily crossed Dublin Bay despite no wind, and a cyclist reported that near Dublin he saw a cigar-shaped object with two lights in front.

At which point enter Percival Spencer’s theory. He owned a company manufacturing airships. Within the past year he could trace two five-man airships sold to a firm in the eastern counties, and another to a man in Cardiff (where the publicised sightings were made. Conveniently or not, Mr Spencer took the opportunity to broadcast that for £250 he could provide more such machines.

More dampening followed with the announcement by the Admiralty that the ‘airship fender’ was one of their gun targets, used in practice, which had become detached, and credibility took another knock with a piece from the Cowes (IOW) correspondent of the Daily Chronicle:

“I have interviewed today a prominent official of the Isle of slight county asylum who expressed the opinion that the mysterious airship was a myth of supposed eyewitnesses who were bordering on ‘aviation insanity’. It is a nightly occurence that the inmates insist they see airships racing around the asylum and will describe their appearance in graphic terms. They are always accompanied by lights and a whirring mound.”

At which point the ‘sinister’ label takes a knock:

“The red label bearing an instruction in French which might have referred to the use of a motor tyre valve has been recognised by the Michelin company as a label attached to a brass pin which is affixed to the inner tube of their motor car tyres. The word ‘obus’ which is French for shrapnel also means valve plug. This disposes of the supposed significance of the discoveries made on the spot where the airship was seen.”

Nevertheless reports were made that day of a Monmouthshire sighting, and for several nights residents of Small Heath Birmingham had seen an airship, believing a local inventor was making trial trips.

Starting with the words “A sensation was created in the neighbourhood of Dunstable…” a report tells us on may 26th that a bamboo framework, powerful lamps and other wreckage was found plus a document stating that any finder would be paid £5. Upon sending a telegram the airship wreckage was removed, and the airship was said to belong to the British agents of a continental motor company and used for advertising purposes.

But the same issue of the Northern Daily Mail includes a piece entitled “Wearside Resident’s Story”. It seems to echo the phenomenon of wished for occurances happening to meet a psychological need:

“Sunderland people have of late had grievance because of the absence of airships which would insist on hovering over their district.
This feeling of injury has, however, now been removed since that section known as Southwick had yesterday an airship story of its own to gossip about. But in no jocular spirit are those who swear they saw the flying machine.”

This light in the sky had illumination radiating, and it chose to project it on a new Roman Catholic church above which it manouvered for three to four minutes before speeding off at tremendous speed. The stewardess of Southwick Club and others corroborated the account and said the noisy object was an airship with car.On June 5th an account of an airship over Jarrow Slake, on Tyneside, recorded “at times the object would be motionless and aj;. others would dart in different directions” (hardly dirigible behaviour).

 

By June 14th the paper was disclaiming the mystery of the Tyneside appearance, and said that a company was making experimental flights with the airship. True to form, someone came up with an all-encompassing bid to nix the tale and take personal credit. A Dr M B Boyd claimed that he had spent eight years perfecting his airship, though it had only been built for one year. The report however fails to answer most points, some of the discrepancies being:

  • Average speed 32 mph, so no fast disappearance.
  • Oval, rather than cigar shaped.
  • No car suspended
  • It had wheels so that on the ground it could be driven like a motor car
  • Although the arclight had been invented in the 19th century, searchlights of the type required extremely heavy equipment, and the only lights that could be used on an airship were dim, incandescent ones incapable of creating the extent of illumination claimed.

Dr Boyd’s claims are reminiscent of the self-proclaimed inventor from Worcester, Massachussetts, who became the focus of many press stories on the 1909 US flap, described in John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse. Tillinghast boasted of taking his invention at least 300 miles non-stop at 120 mph. An early investigative reporter found fourteen men working at a secret shed near Worcester, Mass. but he was unable to confirm or deny the presence of an airship. Keel propounds an ingenious explanation involving an encounter between Tillinghast and ultraterrestsials. I prefer not to comment on this, but merely note the interesting comparison between the parallel mystery inventor tales documented by newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

All we know is that something was going on, and being reported as faithfully as the journalists of their day knew how.

The Danish Airship of 1908
Willy Wegner

From MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-8.

Throughout the years 1896 and 1897 unknown airships were seen over North America by thousands of people, although their origin has never been satisfactorily explained. These airships have now become part of the UFO myth, and are considered to be the starting point of the phenomenon in the USA. However, sightings have been made in other places, notably England (1) and New Zealand in 1909.

UFO sightings are a global phenomenon, and generally speaking, the reported activities of the UFOs are similar throughout the world. I was interested to find out if this also applied to the airship sightings, and it was with faint expectations that I began researching in 1975 to see if there was a Danish equivalent of the North American wave. Whilst going through old Danish newspapers I arrived at the time of the Tunguska episode in 1908, when a supposed meteorite exploded over the Siberian tundra. Here I found my first trace. In the newspaper Thisted Amstidende for July 7th 1908 there appears under the heading “Mysterious Phenomena” a short account of some reports of a dirigible operating over the Vendsyssel at night (See box below). The report also stated that a burning, balloon shaped object had been seen over the island of Funen. I followed the story up by searching through other newspapers that covered the Vendayssel area in 1908.

The first mention of the phenomenon appears in the Vendsyssel Tidende and the Aalborg Amtsidende for June 30th. Mr Bye-Jorgensen, an accountant, was watching the evening sky from his villa in Hasseris. At 22.50 hrs an object like a large bird caught his eye. He brought his binoculars, and saw through them that it was a large, long object like an airship. He estimated it to be about 30 kilometers away, at an elevation of 30 degrees. At one point, when it was possible to see the object straight on, something could be seen protruding from it, which was taken to be some sort of motor or steering equipment. During the half-hour that the object was visible it passed behind a cloud for a moment, before disappearing in a north-westerly direction. Bye-Jorgensen afterwards insisted that tie object had moved against the wind. His maid was also a witness to the observation.

Both newspapers wanted the matter to be investigated further. Other people in various towns in the Vendsyssel were asked if they had seen anything. As a result, a man from Hjorring reported a bright light in the southern sky at 21.30 hrs on 29th June. The light was very intense, and at first he had thought it to be fireworks, but said it was too high in the sky for that, and had stood still for a while before disappearing. “It could have been the lanterns on an airship,” wrote one of the newspapers.

There were others who had seen something that night. Mr Wibroe, a factory owner from Nibe told the following story to the Aalborg paper on July 2nd:

“At 22.25 hrs I was sitting looking out of my window. Over O]and, between Hojskoven and Osterby, I saw a large object about the size of an eagle. Through my binoculars I could see two wings, but in about ten minutes it disappeared from view over Jammer Bay. Three other members of my family also saw the airship.”

At 23.00 hrs the airship was seen by a farmer’s son from Norhalne. He saw it flying northwards, and said there was a kind of ‘aura’ around it. Something was seen by two labourers in Robling, about 7km. south of Aalborg. One of them described it as like a “large stork soaring in the air.” They both agreed it could have been an airship. They had it in view for about twenty minutes. It was also seen further north-west. The nearest witness was probably Jakob Kirkeskov. He  saw it between 22.00 and 23.00 hrs. It was only about 130 meters away from him, in a northwesterly direction. He claimed to have seen an antennae at the front of the object, as well as wings on the side.

On the 3rd July, the Vendsyssel Tidende reported that they had received a letter from a W. Wolff from Kraghede School at Tylstrup. Along with his wife and another couple they had seen an odd, dark shape in the evening sky. They had seen it in the direction of Rubjerg Lighthouse, and had first thought it to be an odd shaped cloud, but then thought it resembled an odd shaped bird. It disappeared from view after a quarter of an hour.On the 4th July, the same paper published a letter, datelined Gammel Skagen, 3rd July 1908.

“To the Editor… You might be interested to know that the airship, mentioned in Tuesday’s edition of your honoured paper, was also seen at Skagen by Dr. Mestergaade and the chemist in Skagen, as well as by Peter Christian Peterson from Gammel Skagen… At about midnight on the night of Saturday/Sunday, the doctor pointed out a dark object to my informant Petersen. It seemed to change shape regularly, and gave out two beams of light, one down to the water and the other upwards (2).

About half an hour earlier the chemist had seen the same object out over the sea to the north. Two other men saw it after midnight, disappearing in a northerly direction.

The witnesses were not aware that it could have been the airship. It was only when they read of other observations in your newspaper that they realised the object must have been the airship. The change in shape could have been due to the object’s motion. The beams of light had the same characteristics as a light projector.”

The newspaper phoned Dr. Mestergaard in Skagen. He confirmed the observation, adding that he had seen a very strong silvery light showing for about a quarter of an hour. The newspaper then regarded it as proven that there had been several successful flights of a dirigible airship of an advanced type which was able to fly against the wind.

Naturally there was great speculation as to where the unknown craft had originated. Count von Zeppelin’s craft was quickly excluded, because, as a newspaper wrote: “It could not have come this far up without warning over the electric telegraph”. In July 1908 von Zeppelin was with the airship LZ4. Its flight is exactly charted, from Friedrichshafer, via Schaffhausen, to Lucerne, Zurich and back to Badensee, a trip of about 300 kilometers. Von Zeppelin had another airship, the LZ3, It was built in October 1906, and undertook several succeasful flights. It was later handed over to the German Army, and was first laid up in 1913. I have been unable to establish an alibi for it for 29th June 1908, so until further notice this possibility remains.

But there were others, besides von Zeppelin who laid built airships in Germany. The airship Gross-Basenach I, in which the German major Gross made an ascent had crashed in the treetops of the Grunevald Forest. August von Parseval had built his first airship in 1906, and by 1908 both his airships PL2 and PL3 must have been airworthy. One of the greatest flights mentioned in connection with the PL2 was on 15th September 1908, when the airship travelled 290 km. in 11 hours from Berlin.

Two French airships were also operating in 1908, the Republique and the Ville de Paris. The former made its maiden flight on the 24th June from Moisson. The Ville de Paris made its longest trip on the 15th January 1908; 238 kms. from Verdun to Sartrouville-Valmy. It was then in the workshops being rebuilt, not emerging until October 1908 as the Ville de Paris II.

The theory that it was an English airship was popularly accepted at the time. The British fleet had planned a large exercise in the North Sea, and Esbjerg and Skagen had received naval visits. I have tried to examine this possibility in detail. I wrote to the Air Force Library and asked for information about the Vendsyssel airships. I wanted to know if it was possibly the English dirigible Nulli Secundus II. They were unable to give me any information concerning Vendsyssel, but sent material which proved it could not have been the Nulli Secundus. The trial flight of this craft took place in July 1908, and lasted only 18 minutes. In the middle of August it went out of commission. There was only one other English airship aloft in the crucial period, the Beta. It was a very slow craft, and one of its more notable flights was from Farnborough to London and back in 1910, a distance of only 40 miles. I have been able to furnish more information to the (Danish) Air Force Library, who are also trying to find a solution to the problem.The results of our combined efforts can be summarised as follows:

  1. Many independent witnesses saw something, which they described as an airship, in the sky over the Vendayasel area of Northern Denmark in June 1908.
  2. There were no officially notified flights in that period.
  3. It is established that there was no possibility of it being a British airship, as was generally supposed at the time.
  4. An examination of the flight characteristics and known movements of other airships of that period make it very unlikely that a French or German vessel could have flown in secret to this part of Denmark.

This mysterious craft must for now be classified as an Unidentified Flying Object, although the possibility of it being an airship of German origin is being explored further by military sources in West Germany.

REFERENCES:

1. CLARK, Jerome and Loren COLEMAN, The Unidentified. Warner Paperback Library, 1975; GROVE, Carl, The airship wave of 1909. FSR, volume 16, number 6, November December 1970.
2. Searchlight-like beams of light feature in many of the 1897 and 1909 reports. They are not a feature of regular airship construct-ion of the period.

FURTHER NOTERS (JR):

John Keel, in an article in Flying Saucer Review (Vol. 16, number 3, May 1970) reports two other Scandinavian sightings of 1909. The first was on August 24th, when an unidentified airship circled twice over the Estonian capital of Tallinn, disappearing in the direction of Finland. According to the Swedish newspaper Dagens-Nyheter it so alarmed the local people that they demanded the formation of a ‘defensive air-fleet’.On the 24th September a ‘winged object’ was reported over the Castle Forest near Gothenburg in Sweden, at an altitude of about 100 meters. With the 1908-9 airships, the ‘Ghost Flyers’ of the 30′s and the mystery ‘rockets’ of 1946 Scandinavia is emerging as a major source of historical UFO reports. These reports are particularly interesting as they show almost to perfection the way in which the phenomenon mirrors the technology of the time.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

THISTED AMSTITENDER – JULY 7th, 1908.

From different areas of Vendsyssel have come reports in the past few days of a dirigible airship equipped with electric light projectors, which moved along the coast by Jammer Bay, and came inland several times.

The airship is only seen by night, but is nevertheless seen by many people, who give more or less fantastic descriptions of the sight. It is generally thought to be some sort of balloon experiment by the British Navy in Valbaek Bay.

This information is fully supported by Politiken’s reporter in Fyn, who telegraphed the following story:”Friday evening at half past ten a large vague, burning object shaped like a balloon was seen low over the southerly horizon from Odense. After some time the balloon divided into several parts, and it looked as if large areas of burning matter flew to all sides. Several observers immediately cycled in the direction of the sight, but it had disappeared. Hundreds of people saw the phenomenon, and are all agreed it must have been a burning balloon. Out in the country, no one has seen the phenomenon close to.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

denmarkmap2

KEY TO MAP:

1, Aalborg; 2, Thisted; 3, Esbjerg; 4, Nibe; 5, Skagen and Gammel Skagen; 6, Odense; 7, Jammer Bay.

Vendsyssel is the northenmost island of Denmark where Thisted and the Skagens are situated

This article was translated from the Danish by Annette Barfod.

 

 

 

A Panorama of Ufological Visions
Peter Rogerson

From MUFON, new series 3, Summer 1976

When the last article I wrote for MUFOB was being written in the Autumn of 1973 a great wave was about to break in the USA. That wave at a time of great crisis, marked a turning point in our perception of the UFO phenomena. I look back on those days as the last days of innocence when one could believe that some simple, rational, explanation of the phenomena was possible. In the two and a half years since I have corresponded with a former doyen of ‘scientific ufology’ who believes that all intellectual speculation on the subject is pointless; with a ufologist who has faced Magonia, and perhaps seen behind its mask: with members of the ‘Invisible College’, and UFO researchers who feel there is an answer round the corner.

John Rimmer and I have spoken with a young woman who has encountered a UFO and its occupants in her bedroom, I have heard from a man who believes disc jockeys are reading his mind, and entered the boundary of a UFO flap area. I have spoken there with a ‘silent contactee’ to whom has been revealed the secrets of the Cosmos, which he may not reveal; listened to tales of miracles and poltergeists, of a young girl driven almost to suicide by the psychic impressions which overwhelm her.

Look at the films of the two years past: Earthquake, Towering Inferno, Jaws, The Exorcist – visions of a chaos to come. Who, in the days of innocence, would have believed that the whole of Western rationalist tradition could be threatened by a movie; or that a man could kill his wife, inspired by a medieval world view. In no sense can this dark artistic vision be separated from the matrix of folklore in which it is germinated. 1973 was the year of Uri Geller, that strange charismatic figure who set the spoons spinning, bent forks, and read minds. Geller incarnated our secret desires of omnipotence, the power to dominate things to our will, to liberate ourselves from the laws of physics – and other rules too? Uri was the voice of SPECTRA, the idiot computer god of our worst fears. The computer is god, the mad computer god rules our poor alienated lives. The game, the experiwent, the rat in the maze become the symbols of the new humanity “beyond freedom and dignity” in a universe where the ultimate secret is an absurd scientific formula.

As rats in the maze, Hickson and Palmer were imprisoned in the strange inhuman machine, where the all-seeing eye of God or Big Brother surveyed them. ‘Laboratory rats’ is what Dr Harder said, rats in the maze to be examined by the robots of the dark future.

And 1973 was the year of Bigfoot, the archaic force that resides in the recesses of our soul. He comes with the UFOs, too. The law of gravity is shattered, the dream laughs at us. Bigfoot comes with trickster god raven on his shoulder.

A new rumour arises, from Utah to Rhodesia – a young couple driving in some deserted place enter a strange shadow, where all the streets are deserted, strange figures prowl the landscape. The journey is into the badlands, a wasteland of the soul, where the sun never rises. The car behind you has no driver but eyes are on you. Or you find yourself in a strange alien landscape, the sky all wrong. A sort of machine speaks in your mind, telling of wonders untold. But no bird is in the sky, and no human figure to be seen.

The day of judgement is at hand, next year if not this. But we are the prophets, there is a paradise awaiting you in the hollow womb of mother earth, and you are the chosen ones.  The flood is coming, but we are the emissaries of the space brothers, say the two. Like the cosmic twins, they will lead the chosen ones to the new place of emergence, a paradise derived from a syncretistic vision of Kurt Vonnegut and L Ron Hubbard. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughter House Five – remember Charles Manson. Rumour has it that some who follow The Two will never reach paradise, they lie beneath desert sand.

Helicopters fly the night sky, what do they carry – terrorists who will blow up our cities, foreigners who will take away our way of life; Russian agents who stir up trouble, or Satanists who will drink the blood of our cattle. Whatever, it bodes no good, fear is contagious. Maybe the greenies will come in time? Another rumour, the real reason that the Condon Committee failed: a strange being landed in a New Mexico airfield, and has already established communication with leading scientific and military figures. Yet another rumour: alien forces have already seized control of our centres of power, an outside force directs our history. Rumours, dreams of alienation and loss of control. Time is short, the clock on the wall of AVB’s spaceship has no hands. “What time is it” asks the spaceman. “2.30″, the witness replies. “You lie, it is 4.30″. “I know they’re spacemen”, says Cathie Ropers, “They touch their watches end the memories come back”. The evening is nearer than you think.

The poetry of the absurd: a ufologist hands round a photograph of a cog-wheel in a flower bed. A hoax? or unconscious art? Another ufologist has a photograph of a rock: “Can’t you see the faces on the rock?”. A strange metal sphere lands on a Yorkshire moor, inside is a scroll. By some magical means it is deciphered to reveal a pseudo-scientific cosmic scenario. A contactee is taken from a hilltop, shown around the solar system, then deposited at his back-door. A few years earlier he was a central character in a poltergeist case. He is levitated, a voice speaks through him: “I am monk who has left something undone.” Levitation and ascents to cosmic regions are traditional feats of the shaman; our contactee is a shaman and healer.

Ghosts walk through walls, poltergeists throw chairs. A giant flying saucer lands on a bridge, which spans a river haunted by a phantom ferry, near a road on which a white lady walks, and a phantom rider rides. The building is haunted, a shadow crosses a girls mind, the air goes cold. Like a shadow obscuring consciousness, a shadow across the sunlight.

We come from Kansas – everywhere, says the air-ship captain. Tomorrow Cuba. Cuba is fighting for the new world against the old, the future is coming, liberation is at hand. We are free, we can fly, we can drop bombs, napalm. The airship people are nice people, an old man, a couple and a child… or are they? They are talking about a new gun, 60,000 rounds a minute. They begin to look different: Japs, the Yellow Peril. Then they are very different, angels or devils, butchers. Perhaps that is not the road to freedom after all…

In the quiet of the country the ship of souls lands, Adam and Eve as they were before the fall. They are a celestial couple. Perhaps they are the sky father and the earth mother, a vision of the eternal counterpointing, the fall into chaos. The ship of souls comes from a unknown country – “The Mountains of Montezuma”, there is a hint of another liberation, ancient America is about to throw off its colonial history. “We are the lost tribes of Israel, we live at the South Pole”, a lost part of our humanity returns.

“I am from Venus”, says the visitor, the messenger from the morning and evening star, guardian of the boundary between night and day, the conscious and the unconscious. The watcher at the threshold is a symbol of transcendence. Only by transcending the gulf between the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the psyche can man find a solution, warns Jerome Clark. Otherwise the Dionysian aspects of our spirit will sweep aside our safe, rational world. Humanity is on the brink of a chasm, says Charles Muses… a flying saucer hovers above… our only home. “Do you want a lift?”

The vision of Fatima, the great Earth Mother, Isis, Pachemama the lady of the corn, lady of creation and destruction. The sun spins in the sky, falls to earth – a dance of fertility, the lord of heaven torn from his high place. Phaeton having lost control of the power that is beyond his cope. In the name of Fatima the armies march: Salazar, Franco, the Spanish Civil War, the Legions of the Virgin. In the name of Fatima the lords of misrule burn up Europe. In the name of Fatima the Ustasi of Croatia create to most barbaric regime in all history. As I write this I begin to wonder if the final “blessing” of Fatima will be the race war which may engulf all Africa.

I have a vision, says Idi Amin, I have had a call from Allah; a great mission has been entrusted to me, a UFO has landed on Lake Uganda; this is a confirmation of my mission. I know when I shall die, until that appointed hour I am indestructible.

“A great ball of fire came from the sky, it entered my body, then I saw all things clearly, as if from a great height. Thus I knew that I was to be a shaman”. The durne-fire, bringer of the gifts of tongues and healing, the beam of light which struck Uri Geller, or Edgar Cayce. “I saw a light through the wall – I was afraid ’cause I thought it was burglars, but they said they were from Christ”.

When I was a child of two I had a dream. I dreamt there was a sort of light on the wall and a voice was talking in my head. No memory remains of what was said, but I awoke in terror, and the vision had remained ever since.

When he was a young child the Polish medium, Iduski, retreated into a sort of tent made of household furniture. There a great mole came and initiated him into the mole-kingdom. When his playmates went with him into the tent/womb they heard strange knockings and voices.

Celia Green and Charles MoCreary have proposed a new theory of apparitions – not only is the apparition the hallucination, but so is the whole experience; they argue there is no essential difference between apparitional and ‘out of the body’ experiences.

A couple drive through Yorkshire. They see in the early hours a sort of glow in a field by the road. They stroll out to investigate. Only a few yards away is a huge cylinder, “like a melon”. Suddenly an opening appears, giving off a light “like a sustained photographers flash”. They run away end drive off. During this experience they noticed a strange thing, there was an absolute silence, no night sounds at all. This little-commented feature appears in UFO story after story.

……………………………………………………………

By now many readers must he wondering what on earth all that was about. It was an attempt to define the scope of what the UFO phenomenon has become. I am not saying that the stories and extracts above are ‘true’ in the sense that the scientist in his laboratory uses the word. Rather they are of the truth which is expressed in myth, dream, art and poetry. I further argue that UFO researchers who debate as to whether a certain story is ‘true’ or ‘false’ are posing a false dichotomy. I think that hoax, ‘lies’, fiction, and dreams may contain on ocassion a ‘higher’ truth than historical reality. I will also argue that we should evaluate contact stories, for example, as naive art, rather than evidence for the intervention of space people, and that the failure to recognise this has lead greatly to the sterile acrimony surrounding the subject.

Thus those writers who burn up pages of ink on arguing as to whether the claims of such charismatic figures as Uri Geller or Arthur Shuttlewood are ‘true’ or ‘false’ are asking the wrong questions. The real questions we should be asking are: “What is the appeal of such people” and “What effects do the myth-dreams they weave have on us and our culture?”

For myself, I think that Charles Muses and Jerome Clark are correct, and that the UFO is a bridge across the chasm. Not in the literal sense that nice space people are going to rescue us, but in a symbolic sense. The UFO appears to be a symbol of the ‘transcendence of opposites’, the mediator between the consciousness and the unconscious aspects of our psyche. It offers a way out of the twin nightmares of either a sterile, soulless ‘scientific future’, or a return to barbarism that the success of The Exorcist and its imitators has shown to be possible.

I sympathise with those UFO researchers who argue that we must not dirty our hands with stories such as ‘The Two’, or the schoolboys who claim to have encountered monsters in deserted railway tunnels, (on the grounds that such stories bring ridicule on the subject) but I must reluctantly disagree with them. I am forced to the view that we should consider such subliminal rumours as constituting a core of the phenomenon.

A vision in the night; the playground rumours of schoolchildren; the dream of a seer, the songs of a folk-singer; the ravings of a mad-man; the adventures of Everyman, unbidden and fearsome, what can it all mean? The only guide left to us is the saying of a Bushman to Van der Post: “A dream is dreaming us”. Maybe we are both the Dreamer and the Dream?

………………………………………………………… 

Uri Geller

  • Puharich, A. Uri. Future, 1974
  • Ebon, M. The Amazing Mr Geller. Signet, 1975

Computer God

  • Dione, R L. God Drives a Flying Saucer. Corgi, 1975.

Rats in a Maze

  • Michel, A. in FSR, volume 20, no. 3.

Hickson & Parker

  • Blum, R & J. Beyond Earth. Bantam, 1974
  • Eszterjaz, J. in Rolling Stone January 17th 1974

Bigfoot

  • Schwarz, B E. “Berserk”, in FSR 20, 1.
  • Gordon, Stan in Skylook 75,77,78.

Badlands Journey

  • Clark, J. “A weird encounter in Utah” in FSR 16, 5.
  • Van Vlierden, C. “Escorted by UFOs” in FSR, 21, 2.

Helicopters

  • MUFOB, 6,4.
  • Hall, Mark, in The News, number 7.

Time

  • Vallée, J. Passport to Magonia. Regnery, 1969.
  • Vallée, J. The Invisible College. Dutton, 1975
  • Gemini, volume 1, number 1.

Airships

There are many sources for airship date. John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse; Jacob’s UFO Controversy in America and Clark and Colman’s The Unidentified summarise most of the data.

Fatima

  • Thomas, Paul. Flying Saucers through the ages.
  • Vallée, J. The Invisible College.
  • MUFOB, 4,2 has a bibliography.
  • There is a new study by J-M Corbe which I have not seen. Needless to say, none of these document the political repercussions of Fatima.

Shamanism

  • Eliade, M. Shamanism, archaic techniques of Ecstasy
  • De Martino, E. Magic, primitive and modern

Apparitions

  • Green, D and McCreery, C. Apparitions. Hamilton, 1975

Manson

  • Sanders, Ed. The Family.

I have not quoted directly from the above sources. The purpose of this piece was not reportage, but to create an impressionistic word-picture of the whole panorama of the UFO vision.

 

Lo! He Comes in Clouds Descending.
John Fletcher

From Magonia 1, Autumn 1979

hostMillenarianism, the active looking forward and expectation of the imminent end of the world is an extremely common human outlook. We tend to associate it solely with Christian belief, where it is enshrined most spectacularly in the Book of Revelation. The outlook, though unacknowledged, is equally held by agnostics and aethists – it is a constant in human nature. In politics those on the right say that things have never been worse; with positive relish they declare that we are on the edge of an abyss and unless a strong man takes over post-haste and lays down the law in no uncertain terms, then God help us. Those on the left see what they assume to be the ever increasing chaos – any quick glance at newspapers over the last hundred years will show that things are no more nor less chaotic than they have ever been – as living proof that the end of our present society is at hand, the revolution is nigh, and then paradise shall descend and we shall all live as brothers and sisters in Eden. Those in the centre are as millenarian as anyone – just vote for me, just forgo that pay demand, just stifle this natural instinct in the cause of the common good, and somewhere just over the horizon is the Promised Land.

Nearly all of us, somewhere inside us believe that if only one or two things could happen, then there would be a miraculous transformation of society, and everything is going to be an eternity of coming up roses.

Since the earliest times, man has wished to be aware of the approach of catastrophic changes in his life. Much of megalithic technology provided an accurate forecast of cosmic events. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was originally started by monks to ensure that an accurate calendar could be computated and observed in religious ceremonies. The coming of comets was as important as the passing of kings – the first often precipitating the latter. Fred Hoyle is now garlanding us with a theory that each passing comet drowns us in a new and deadly strain of bacteria. Comets were traditionally harbingers of disease and plague. Eclipses of the sun interfere with the balance of gravitational pulls, and caused earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which in turn, through the amount of dust in the atmosphere, can seriously affect the weather and crops in ensuing years.

Scientists have for some time now equated vigorous sunspot activity with poor weather conditions on Earth. In a New Scientist article (Our Inconstant Sun, 18th January 1979), Dr David Clark [not the contemporary ufologist, Ed.] has traced beck records of sunspots by Chinese astronomers for 2000 years. What is unusual is not only that these two phenomena (sunspots and bad weather) do correlate, but that the onset of bad sunspot cycles also, time and time again, correspond with the overthrow of one dynasty and the start of another. In all traditional societies, the king or queen was seen as a representative of the heavenly powers on earth, and should a messenger such as a comet or earthquake be seen or experienced on earth it was taken as a sign that the overthrow of the mighty was imminent. Plague and famine were signs of bad rulers, who were sacrificed to assuage the angry gods or forces. The death rate amongst Anglo-Saxon kings at times of hardship is phenomenal. As Shakespeare puts it in Richard III:

The bay trees in our country are all withered,
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-looked prophets whisper fearful change.
These signs fortell the death or fall of kings.

In tribal societies, where the kings or queens were sacral rather than possessing political or military Power and ruled by consent, then changeovers and replacements were usually accepted without undue fuss. However in feudal society, when kings ruled by force, change was effected by force, then the roles of prophecy and portent changed. For the rulers, they would have to reflect the permanence and legitimacy of that rule. For the ambitious and powerful who wished to usurp power they would need to foretell a new star rising. For the underprivileged and exploited at the bottom of the pile, the prophets would be looked for to promise sudden change, violent revenge and better times to come.

This position was further aggravated by the arrival of Christianity, a monomaniacal, monotheistic religion, which, to be crudely cynical for a moment, relied for much of its selling power to possible converts on its promised contract between God and believer. A promise that God would soon come, in person to rule in glory, create paradise on earth, overthrow the mighty, punish the wicked (especially the powerful), and reward the faithful. What is more, the actual coming is described in graphic detail, with armies marching through the skies, lightning flashed, thunderclouds, flying scrolls, etc.

Such writings not only gave consolation to the poor and downtrodden, they actively gave them hope; and the worse their situation grew, the greater was that hope. Even until well into the nineteenth century any halfway decent thunderstorm could be sure to bring the poorer elements of a district out into the streets, on their knees, imploring the Lord for mercy.

For several centuries in the late Middle Ages and up to the Civil War, it was a capital offence to possess any books or manuscripts of prophecy which foretold the overthrow of the King – secular prophets like Mother Shipton [left], Richard Nixon (sic!), and Nostradamus, using astrological predictions being considered especially subversive. With the Bible however, the authorities were faced with a particular problem. A significant part of their power rested on a belief in divine sanction, provided by the Bible. And yet within itself, the Bible contained the seeds for their overthrow. Theology and dogma aside, the main reason for opposing the translation of the Bible for so long was the scaring thought that the faithful might actually read it!

banks_shipton_1With the Civil War, both secular power – through the King – and religious power – through the Archbishop of Canterbury – came toppling down. The sale of prophesies boomed as never before. A foreign observer of the time described the English as being ‘half-dead with prophecy’. In 1611, with a total eclipse of the sun, the rich left London in droves, and the end of the world was expected. It was believed that with the overthrow of Church and King, Christ’s descent to earth was imminent. Several people came forward proclaiming themselves as Christ or as the prophets of His second coming foretold in Revelations. With Satan’s stranglehold broken, there were reports from all over England of flaming portents and marching armies filling the skies, heralding the Apocalypse. As always in revolutions, before the party men take over, there was that amazing hiatus during which people actually demand the impossible and are transformed with energy and imagination.

I will deal with the millenarianism in one area – Somerset – in some detail. Somerset where there was a flourishing wool trade, was probably the most politically and religiously radical area in the country. As the revolution gradually foundered, and as it became increasingly obvious by the late 1650′s that the monarchy and the Church of England would be restored, the psychological pressure grew amongst believers for Christ to march with His army to succour the faithful on earth. The pressure began to manifest itself in various psychic and paranormal phenomena. There was an outburst of witch-hunts, prosecutions and executions, especially in areas where nonconformist craftsmen were prevalent. In the most famous case at Shepton Mallet, two women were executed on the evidence of a young boy who claimed they had bewitched him and caused him to fly through the air – a spectacle observed by several witnesses.

Then came a series of sightings of second suns in the sky, second moons, and armies marching thorough the skies and giving battle, which preceded the Act of Uniformity in 1662. By this time not only had the counter-revolution succeeded by the restoration of Charles II, but Anti-Christ, in the shape of the Church of England, was coming back to preside over every parish, while their own Nonconformist pastors were being banished or imprisoned. If Christ was to come, then it must be before the Act of Uniformity became law. Despite the return of ‘Anti-Christ’ however the West Country, and Somerset in particular, remained a hot-bed of sedition. Astrologers, prophets and non-conformists were unceasingly brought to trial, imprisoned, or whipped round the town on market day. For twenty years the whole West Country was coming to the boil of the Monmouth Rebellion, when once more Civil War radicals and millenarians would rise.

In May 1683, only two years before Monmouth landed, there were large scale outbreaks of possession and witchcraft in villages like Spreyton and towns like Barnstaple, amongst the Nonconformist weavers. At Spreyton a man was hounded by spirits and thrown from his horse in front of witnesses by invisible beings and propelled through the air. There were hags and apparitions which came and haunted the entire village, and poltergeist activity.

Some idea of the millenarian atmosphere in the West Country just before the Monmouth Rebellion can be gauged by the letters Andrew Paschal, the Rector of Chedzoy in Somerset – a parish contiguous to Sedgemoor – wrote to the antiquary John Aubrey:

“Before our troubles (the Rebellion) came on we had such signs as used to be deemed forerunners of such things. In May 1680 there was that monstrous birth at Isle Brewers, a parish in Somerset, which at that time was much taken note of – two female children joined in their bodies from the breast down. They were born May 19th, and christened Aquila and Priscilla. May 29th I saw them well and likely to live. About at the same time, reports went of divers others in the inferior sorts of animals, both the oviparous and viviparous kinds. But perhaps many of these, and the other odd things then talked of, owed, if not their being, yet their dress, to superstition and fancy. In the January following, Monday the 3rd, at seven in the morning, we had an earthquake, which I myself felt here It came with a whizzing gust of wind from the west end of my house which shook it. This motion was observed in Bridgewater, Taunton, Wells and other places, and near some caverns in the Mendip Hills and was said to be accompanied by thundering noises.

“In the end of the year 1684, 12 Dec., were seen from this place, at sun rising, parahelii, and this when in a clear, sharp, frosty morning there were no clouds to make the reflection. It was probably from the thickness of the atmosphere. The place of the fight (Sedgemoor) which was in the following summer, was near a line drawn from the eyes of the spectators to these mock suns.”

This system of aligning aerial phenomenon with important political events was one used be Aubrey himself. He notes that on 1st May 1647, at Broadchalk, in Wiltshire, two rainbows appeared circling the sun. On the 3rd June 1647, Cornet took his prisoner Charles I (a vastly important symbolic political act) from Holdenby to the Isle of Wight. From Broadchalk the Island lay exactly in the direction where the rainbows intersected. Again at the end of 1688, when the landing of William of Orange (a sort of moderate Monmouth) was expected daily, Aubrey noted two balls of light appear in the sky above Bishop’s Lavington in Wiltshire.

As the negro spiritual has it (many black slave beliefs had West Country origins, white slaves – often condemned Monmouth rebels – historically preceding them on southern plantations): And the Lord hung a rainbow, as a sign, Won’t be water, but fire next time.

What I have been trying to do so far is describe how in a religious society, well versed in the Bible, political and social strains often express themselves in visionary, ecstatic and transcendental states of mind. Since not only the natural world – through comets, eclipses, etc. – but also the Lord God Almighty, through fiery chariots, Armies of the Apocalypse, etc., has decided to show his immanence and power in the sky, then there can be no surprise when the faithful, convinced of the immanence of the End, see evidence of it writ large across the heavens. Because religion, or at least a literal interpretation of the Bible, no longer has such a hold over large parts of the population in the Western world, this does not mean that the desire for a complete break with the past and a deus-ex-machina to descend and change everything, has gone away.

It is in this context that I wish to examine the Ohio Airship flap of 1897, particularly in reference to an excellent article In the Winter 1978 edition of Pursuit magazine, by Andrew E Rothovius, entitled ‘Analogies of the Propogation Waves of the Great Fear in France, 1789, and of the Airship Flap in Ohio, 1897′.

I should stress that I have been unable to get hold of contemporary newspapers from Ohio, and my deductions of Ohio society at this time were garnered from Bristol Central Library. Perhaps any American reader might be interested in following it up.

Rothovius’s article describes in some detail the spread through provincial France, on the eve of the outbreak of the Revolution, of reports of massacres of French civilians by foreign invading troops. The reports were all similar. A exhausted man, his clothes in disarray, would run into his neighbouring village, saying that he had personally witnessed the complete destruction of his own village and the massacre of its inhabitants by troops.

This would create panic and the news would be passed on to the next village in a similar manner. Gradually, villagers of the second village picked up courage to visit the first, supposedly ransacked, village. But here they would discover that everything was normal. When taxed with this, the messengers from each village would refuse to believe it, swearing that they had personal seen the attacks take place. These wild panics spread across the country in a series of waves, often taking several weeks before they petered out. However, one thing should be noted: these panics only took place in those parts of the country where the peasants had not actually risen in physical rebellion against the crown and their lords. Where this had taken place the rumours did not spread. In the areas which did not rise the rumours seem to have acted as a sort of pseudo-rebellion.

Rothovius draws parallels between this phenomenon and the spread of the reported sightings of airships through Ohio, following the lines of the railroads, and spread by farmers as they went by railroad to their local market town. There are however two points on which I wish to take him up. The first is on the question of the visions being prophetic, in that they were of relatively sophisticated airships at a time when no such craft existed. While it is impossible to prove anything either way, I would argue that precognition is in no way demonstrated by these sightings. Secondly, Rothovius portrays Ohio and its residents as ‘tranquil’ at the time of these sightings. I will show that this was very far from being the case.

The nineteenth century was an age of scientific and technological revolution, a process that still continues. It also saw the advent of the mass-circulation newspaper. In the changing world of today, the art form we look towards to explain our changing society is science-fiction – whether we are talking about the esoteric buffs, or the watchers of ‘Blakes Seven’. There is a feeling that science-fiction is something new, or at least only goes back as far as H G Wells; the trouble being that science fiction has a form of built-in obsolescence, losing its appeal as time proves its prophecies hopelessly wrong. In fact science fiction was both more wide-spread and more avidly consumed in the 19th Century than it is today (see Patterns of Expectation, 1644 -2001 by I F Clarks, Cape 1979)

Its vehicle was the popular press. This public hunger for science fiction was proved as early as 1835 with the notorious Great Lunar Hoax of the New York Sun. The editor, keen to boost his circulation, printed a series of stories purporting to come from South Africa, from the mouth of the famous English astronomer Sir John Herschel, who had witnessed through his telescope abundant evidence of teeming life forms on the moon. Each story gave graphic, highly imaginative descriptions of the life supposedly observed there. Within a few days the Sun became the largest circulation newspaper in the world, and stayed that way even after the hoax was discovered. (It would be interesting for some American Fortean to pursue the question of whether there was a simultaneous outbreak of reports of strange and exotic life forms here on Earth. Again, whether Edgar Allen Poe’s wildly successful hoax of 1844 – also in the Sun – of a fictitious three day crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, led to an outbreak of airship reports.)

In a world in which society was changing daily by the forces of new technology there was not only an immense demand for information on the latest technology, how it worked, what it looked like (a demand satisfied in England by such magazines as the Illustrated London News), but also for huge wads of imaginative fiction which would allow the public’s consciousness to come to terms with this whole Autre Monde – the title of a contemporary French magazine which did precisely this.

The wildly successful literature of those like Verne, whose work was printed and reprinted over and over again in the popular press, fulfilled this need. Science fiction however, not only provided fantastic, thrilling descriptions of the power and influence of contemporary technology, but also it drew on and reinforced and reinvigorated certain basic human myths.

audusym2Consider the myth of another civilisation living below us under the Earth’s surface. Common in classical times and Celtic mythology, it was first disinterred in modern times by Baron Holberg’s Journey to the World Underground, in 1741, and rapidly became a staple of European and American fiction. In 1818 Captain John Symmes [right] sent his famous memorandum to the governments and principal institutions of the world proposing an expedition to the centre of the Earth. He stated: “I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season with reindeers and Sleighs.” Entrance to the underground world was to be found at the North Pole. Poe’s story ‘Ms. Found in a Bottle’, Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and countless imitators kept the myth alive in the public sub-consciousness into the twentieth century. In California in the late nineteen thirties a playboy named Joe Bell started his Mankind United movement by preaching that a race of little men with metal heads who lived in the centre of the world would tell cultists what to do, through his revelations. Mainly they seemed to tell his quarter of a million followers that they should present Joe Bell with large sums of money. Finally, in our own day we have the group of cultists who believe that UFOs come from a hole in the Earth at the North Pole.

Thus popular science fiction not only visualised and explained the effects of the latest technology to its mass readership, it also nourished basic myths within the human soul. One of the great fantasies of mankind – at least amongst men – is to dream of fighting and making war, where with the press of a button one send whole nations into oblivion. Science fiction of course pandered shamelessly to this fantasy (just as it does today) and the full panoply of Verne’s futuristic technology were wielded with gay abandon against opposing nations or revolting natives. The 1860′s and 70′s, the heyday of Verne and his imitators, was also the great age of imperial expansion, when national psyches were being whipped up for the first time by the mass popular press, into a frenzy of insecurity and its invariable concomitant, aggression. It was an age of social Darwinism, of the intellectual legitimization of one race – be it Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, French – massacring, conquering and subjecting other races because they were inherently inferior, had black skins, long noses or ate garlic.

Science fiction was not only fun. Those ambitious for power and influence began to use it to scare and manipulate the public into accepting their demands – usually for increased militarization. The first and most famous of these attempts was probably Sir George Tompkins Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking, published in 1871. The first writer seriously to take stock of the advances in modern weaponry and to Imagine its use in modern warfare, Chesney wrote a graphic and powerful description of a well-armed France invading and devastating Southern England, as an attempt to scare the British into adopting a programme of national conscription. His book was successful. It was published and serialised in England, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Melbourne, and translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and provoked seventeen counter-attacks and imitations in English alone. It produced a host of imitations – scare stories like Erskine Childer’s Riddle of the Sands about the threat of a German invasion – which led not only to a far greater sense of national identity, but to the creation of a war psychosis.

In the USA the most famous perpetrator of the militaristic scare was an Admiral Mahan, who in successive books showed how the key to imperial power in the past had always been sea power, and that if America was to stand the aggression of acquisitive foreign powers and take its rightful place in the race for colonial power, the America should scrap its rundown fleet of coast-guard vessels and start building battleships – quick! Since his views coincided rather neatly with American big-business, which needed access to cheap raw materials, then the battleships were built rather quickly. Soon the US had a new battle fleet, which needed someone to fight. Eyes fell upon the local sick-man, Spain. Spain’s Caribbean and Pacific colonies looked in need of some strong, virile rule. This sudden encouragement of a war psychosis amongst the American people colncided with a newspaper circulation war between the Pulitzer newspaper chain, and
the Hearst papers.

Hearst himself was rather friendly with the tycoons of the Sugar Trust, who were casting covetous eyes on Cuba. Hearst decided his interests lay in whipping up war fever by portraying the alleged barbarities of Spanish rule, and damning the faint hearts at home (mainly the Pulitzer papers) who were unwilling to take a stand against these ‘outrages’. By 1879 Hearst’s campaign had provoked the nation to war, and Hearst was on his way to winning his own circulation war.

The papers were filled, not only with photos and descriptions of the war, but with ripping, stirring, futuristic yarns of technological derring-do, in which Anglo-Saxon supermen patrolled the world in flying machines and airships, crushing ‘lower races’ into submission. 

Many of these tales of young men conquering the world were written in the name of socialism. The young men were nationalist socialists who would conquer the world for their particular race in the name of socialism. Thus after technology had been used briefly in a destructive fashion to get power into the hands of those idealistic enough and competent enough to use it, science would then be applied to bring the secular millennium about, here on Earth. Science was the religion of the nineteenth century, technology promised the millennium, and mass popular science fiction served as the holy scriptures. Airships had been foretold, therefore in popular consciousness there was no reason why they should not be foreseen.

In 1897 Ohio was in social, political and economic turmoil. It was everything but ‘tranquil’. From the time of the Civil War Ohio had become the centre of the American industrial revolution, and was politically dominated by the interests of steel, oil and coal, which in turn were intimately associated with Washington. The majority of American presidents were to come from Ohio until the 1920s. There were several unsuccessful attempts at a state level to break the business stranglehold on the levers of power and break the economic monopoly. In the first of a series of deep slumps there was a bitter railroad strike in 1877, the violent Hocking Valley coal strike in 1884, the 1892 Homestead Massacre of steelworkers in contiguous Pennsylvania, the extremely violent Pullman strike of 1894, and Jacob S Coxley’s famous march to Washington in 1894 to protest against unemployment. He dubbed the marchers the ‘Commonweal of Christ’ and took as his slogan ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, but Death to Interest on Bonds’. The march was unsuccessful.

By 1897 industrial Ohio was well into the worst slump in its history. The Protestant church was was beginning to show an interest and concern in social and economic matters in Ohio. In 1882, Washington Gladden started his ‘Social Gospel’ ministry in Columbus, which was to last thirty years, and have a profound effect on congregations and ministers throughout America. It gave attention to economic and social reform and criticized the creed of economic individualism and greed.

The airship was spotted in rural Ohio where farming was likewise going through a profound depression. The price index for farm produce had fallen continuously since the Civil War. In 1866 it had been 140, in 1896 it had fallen to 56, due to the opening of new farming lands in the Far West and abroad. Farming in the Mid West was in chaos. The Kansas saying: “In God we trust, in Kansas we bust” held true for the whole of the Mid-West, where, it has been calculated that during the 1890′s, 90% of all farms changed hands.

The people were still desperate and hoping for an immediate change in their situation. In a secularised, industrialised materialistic society, their God was now symbolised by scientific and technological wonders rather than the cumbersome imagery of the Book of Revelation

This general impoverishment of the Mid-Western farmers – most of them ram-rod straight Protestants – resulted in the rise of the political movement known as Populism. This movement blamed the slump on the extortion of railroad barons who exploited their monopoly on transporting the farmers’ produce to market, and on an international conspiracy of financiers who kept the price of gold artificially high, and thus kept ordinary people in continual debt and penury. The Populist Party, which was to sweep America, was formed at Cincinnati in Ohio in 1891. It was given a great impetus, firstly by the financial panic and collapse on Wall Street in 1893, and then by the Gold Reserve Crisis of 1895. In 1896 with the American industrial and agricultural slump reaching its depths, the Democrats nominated a populist, an ex-preacher and Protestant minister, Williams Jennings Bryan, to run as their presidential candidate. Denounced as an anarchist and revolutionary, in November 1896, only five months before the airship sightings, Bryan made a famous speech concluding: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”.

Bryan lost the election narrowly – It was a contest between the moneyed East, the creditors, and the impoverished West and South, the debtors.

 If, at the height of the depression, politics failed, what else was there to turn to? Due to the inadequacies of the Bristol Central Library, I lack definite proof, only the strongest circumstantial evidence, that Ohio and the American Mid-West, in the spring of 1897, was in the grip of an intense non-conformist religious revival. The Lord was at hand.

hostPerhaps he did not come in the old Protestant way to save his chosen people, his army marching triumphant across the skies. Maybe over the years the imagery of Christian and secular millenarianism had become confused or changed in the public mind The people were still desperate and hoping for an immediate change in their situation. In a secularised, industrialised materialistic society, their God was now symbolised by scientific and technological wonders rather than the cumbersome imagery of the Book of Revelation, but their desire for the millennium, for salvation remained precisely the same, and that desire took precisely the same form of transcendent images seen in the skies.

There has always been this element of suppressed desire, often idealistic, in the sightings of unexplained aerial phenomena. The Portuguese vision of Fatima took place at a time of intense agricultural depression and poverty.

The little green men, when they climb from their craft or beam their messages down through mediums more often than not express the most admirable and sensible of messages; that nuclear weapons are an abomination and should be banned, that man is killing himself by polluting the world he lives in, that people should love one another.

Until governments and the powerful cease being wicked, corrupt and destructive, until men and women can live with dignity and good-neighbourliness and equality and each is the master of their own destiny, then I venture to say that psychic engines of retribution will continue to trundle over the horizon and through the clouds.

At whatsoever time this eventually does come about, of course, the millennium will finally have come – I expect.

 

Venus With Her Trousers Down!
Nigel Watson and Granville Oldroyd

From Magonia 17, October 1984

WHILST researching newspaper files for reports of phantom airship sightings made between 1909 and 1913 some interesting incidental material has been collected. In particular we have noticed that the rumoured activities of German secret agents were very much linked in the public mind with the airship sightings [1,2]. This kind of link, and other stories recorded during these periods appears to be very similar to some of the more bizarre aspects of the contemporary UFO scene. For instance, Carl Grove has noted the case of two ‘foreign’ strangers who observed the home of an airship witness for several hours [3]. Also, we have revealed how a stranger who took an interest in chickens during the 1909 airship flap might easily be compared to some entities who were seen exploring chicken runs in a Puerto Rican yard during 1980 [4].

For some people the obvious conclusion to be made is that what were thought to be inquisitive strangers or German agents were in fact MIB. As most readers of this account will be aware, the MIB are regarded by the more credulous members of the UFO fraternity as terrestrial agents of the UFO forces, who are either aliens who disguise themselves in order to infiltrate human society, or they are ‘brainwashed’ humans who are controlled by the aliens.

An example of a MIB-type event which is worthy of mention, since it can easily be compared to a contemporary event, was exposed in the 11th March edition of the [Hull] Daily Mail. The report tells of how a stranger was given a room for the night at a Newport Inn, on Sunday 9th March. Apparently:

He had not been long in the house, when he bolted to the canal with no covering but his shirt. His host got him back to the house, and again
 made him comfortable on the couch for the night. No sooner was his benefactor asleep than he made off again, leaving all his clothes but his shirt behind. Information of the missing man was given to PC Jewett, who searched for the missing one until 6 o’clock on Monday morning. In the early hours of the morning he had knocked at the doors of several cottages in the North Cave district and asked for a pair of trousers. Temporary clothes were provided him and he was escorted by PC Jewett to Newport, where he again donned his own clothes, and as he had broken no law, he was allowed to go on his way.

North Cave is situated to the west of Hull. Over at Wavertree, Liverpool, in the spring of 1977, a woman called Mrs Lilian Owens saw a man with the same peculiar predilection for requesting trousers. It was 8.30 am when she saw the stranger at her kitchen doorway:

He wore brand new clothes, a small green check suit, white shirt and green tie, and had blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. His skin had a deep tan (despite it being only spring). He said “Have you got any trousers?” a question Mrs Owens thought odd. She said “No”, and went to shut the door but he blocked it with a shiny new black shoe with a steel toecap. She said she would call her son (who was not in) and he left. She shut the door but on looking through the window he was not in sight [5]

Later, the same man suddenly appeared in her living room and asked her for a drink of water. As she went to telephone the police the stranger disappeared. In the summer of the same year Mrs Owens saw a UFO in the early hours of the morning.

Two reports in the Occult Review [6] relate to sightings of MIB which were seen in the early 1900s. The first involved a 13 year-old girl who was trimming a hat one Saturday night when:

As the clock struck twelve, the front door opened, then the parlour door, and a man entered and sat down in a chair opposite to me. He was rather short, very thin, dressed in black, with extremely pale face, and hands with very long thin fingers. He had a high silk hat on his head, and in one hand he held an old-fashioned, large silver snuff-box. He gazed at me and said three times, slowly and distinctly, “I’ve come to tell you.” He then vanished, and I noted that the door was shut as before.

Two years later a visitor to the girl’s home was given the same room to sleep in. At exactly the same hour he saw the same vision, and we are told that he had never heard of the girls earlier experience. A few years later the house was demolished and a skeleton with a silver snuff box was found beneath the room where the MIB had roamed.

These experiences, and those of Mrs Owens do not permit us to easily identify the stimulus for them. However, like the case of the North Cave trouserless stranger, the following incident was probably caused by a flesh-and-blood person rather than a ghoul from the Twilight Zone:

It was late at night. A deeply religious 23-year-old headmistress of a private school for girls was marking papers when a man called at her door. She said: He was well dressed, in black, and I thought he had probably come about placing a pupil with me. We began to talk about the school and my aims and methods. There was something about him that drew me out.

Recalling her troubles and anxieties to this quiet stranger cheered her up to such an extent that after he left she believed that he was the Lord Jesus Christ; consequently every time she prayed she visualised the mysterious stranger in her mind’s eye. Some time later she felt that her opinion regarding the identity of the man was confirmed when during a dream she said that her eyes:

were attracted to a place of glory, and there seated upon a throne was the man who had visited me and whom I had been praying to as the Lord Jesus Christ.

If this encounter happened today we might speculate that a young woman would interpret her visitor as a space brother whom she would later see inside a flying saucer in classic contactee fashion.

Just as modern-day ufologists have acknowledged the importance of ‘bedroom visitors’ [7,8] in perpetuating today’s UFO stories, we can make reference to several historical bedroom visitations.

The first, and most intriguing reports of such visitors are mentioned by the vicar of Weston, Yorkshire, Charles Lakeman Tweedale. In a book titled Man’s Survival After Death or the Other Side of Life [9a] he detailed the many bedroom visitations that were seen mainly by his wife at the vicarage. The first occurrence of this type was on the night of 19th December 1907. After being woken by a strong, cold breeze she perceived a shaft of cloudy white light at the foot of their bed which reached to the ceiling and illuminated the bed coverlet. The vicar noted that:

She described the light to me when I awoke as like a column of muslin wrapped in spiritual swathes, with a strong electric light in the midst and shining through it.

The sight of this phenomenon induced her to hide her head under the bedclothes until after a long period of time when she had the courage to look round the room again and discover the sight had vanished.

Approximately half an hour before dawn on the 7th April 1908, Mrs Tweedale woke and saw a light the size of a large orange on or enclosing the brass rail at the foot of the bed. It was positioned on her husband’s side of the bed. Over a period of a minute the light expanded to a height of 3 feet, and the width of a man’s body. Terrified at the sight of this bright light she shook her husband until he awoke. At that instant the light collapsed like a camera bellows and vanished from view. On searching the room the Rev. Tweedale could find nothing to account for the phenomenon.
The most dramatic incident happened at 5.30 am on the 8th November 1908. It began when Mrs Tweedale was woken by a blow delivered to the underneath or top of the bed. Thus alerted she sat up and saw at the foot of the bed:

The figure of a man dressed in black with a calm, grave face, his clenched hand resting upon the brass rail as if he had just struck it. [9b]

This apparition gave off a light which illuminated the room, and not surprisingly Mrs Tweedale quickly woke her husband. As before the phenomenon made its exit when he awoke. She saw the head and then the trunk of the figure resolve themselves into a luminous cloud which floated up to the ceiling and disappeared. But this time the Rev. Tweedale did wake soon enough to see the last part of this act. He claimed that on awakening:

At the bed’s foot was a beautiful cloud of phosphorescent light about four feet in diameter, suspended in the middle of the room. It was close to me, not more than five feet away. Even as my eyes rested upon it, it began to ascend just like a small balloon. With a steady motion it seemed to go straight up and right through the ceiling.

The vision reminds us of the man in black seen on three successive nights in her bedroom by a young woman. Her experience was associated with the 1904-05 Welsh Religious Revival when lights in the sky, a few MIB, and even a black dog were seen. [101

tweedale

A "Spirit photograph" taken by the Crewe Circle, and the known paranormal hoaxer William Hope. Taken between world war I and II, this picture purportedly shows Reverend Charles L Tweedale, his wife, and the spirit of her deceased father.

Just before the British 1909 phantom airship panic reached its height, Mrs Tweedale on the 15th March 1909 saw the figure of a man standing next to her husband as he slept soundly beside her. On waking him the figure disappeared in a flash of light. After the airship panic on the 22nd June 1909, the Rev. Tweedale reported what looked like a man with a light brighter than a normal lamp in his hand, was seen in the passage of the vicarage at 11 pm.

Yet another apparition was seen when the Tweedales were in London on the night of 2nd June 1912. In their bedroom Mrs Tweedale saw star-like lights and a tall white form. Later, in the night, she told her husband she could see the lights again, and that “there is someone by the side of the bed trying to attract attention”. Looking round he was able to see what he detailed as “a bright, elongated light at the foot of the bed, but no distinct form”.

At other times, most notably on 10th December 1911 in front of seven witnesses, and on 4th October 1917 in front of two witnesses, strange bright lights were seen in the vicar’s study.

As the title of the reverend gentleman’s book suggests, he tended to regard these kinds of manifestations as proof that we can survive after death. In this state our spiritual bodies are able to materialise from a radiance of light into a solid, tangible being, and can return to a small point of light and disappear and disappear to whence they came.

To reinforce this view he mentions several incidents involving other people who saw lights in their bedroom which transformed into figures who had the appearance of dead or unconscious relatives. In two cases he claims that a luminous light was seen hovering over a person at night, who in the morning reported having met (or vividly dreamt of meeting) a dead relative. These were quoted from the Proceedings of the SPR, and from private contacts.

We should also add that not only lights and MIB were seen at the Weston vicarage: a whole variety of events were said to have occurred. Too many to recount here, but an idea of the type of events experienced may be gained from the statement:

…messages, consolations, warnings by the direct voice and unsought; things moving of themselves, marvellous singing and amazing manifestations at the moment of the ‘death’ of a relation of whose sickness we did not even know; sounds of beautiful music, instruments hanging high up on the walls playing by themselves; scores of articles thrown; hands melting in the grip when seized were just some of the things which presented themselves month after month. (11]

Not surprisingly the vicar was not too popular with his parishioners, who were not charmed by the reports of all these strange events, or by the fact that he was a convert to Spiritualism.

Another type of bedroom encounter was experienced by 32-year-old Samuel Flecknoe. He suffered from a paralysis of the legs for four-and-a-half years until the morning of Sunday, 19th January 1913. When he awoke in his Nottingham home: “Something seemed to tell me, ‘get up and walk downstairs’. So I did” [12,13] He walked for several days until the Friday evening, when he collapsed going to bed, though his doctors hoped he might walk again. [14, 15]

The power of belief can also be seen in a couple of stories from France at this period. When a woman went to clean a statue of the Virgin at the old cemetery in Beziers, it came alive. It return for the act of kindness the statue blessed the woman’s handkerchief. When she got home she placed it on the bed of her sick child who had been paralysed for several years; instantly her daughter got out of bed and walked. [16, 17] (Coincidentally, this happened the day before Flecknow arose from his bed).

What was called mystical madness caused the death of a woman during 1909 at St Julien, near Chalon-sur-Saone. After hearing a sermon about Jeanne d’Arc, she locked herself in a disused chapel, doused herself with inflammable spirit, and set fire to herself. Neighbours found her kneeling, praying amid the flames, but even their aid was unable to save her from an agonising death. [18]

Interestingly, the 1913 cases come at a time when another religious revival was said to have erupted in Wales. Miraculous cures were claimed, and an inspired message told an evangelist to hold meetings in Penylont, Radnorshire. [19, 20, 21]

If we make the mistake of lumping these cases together with the phantom airship sightings as a way of ‘proving’ that our contemporary knowledge of the UFO situation is accurate, we become the victims of our own biases. Instead, we prefer to highlight these cases in order to show that making order out of a chaos of disparate stories is very easily done, but is due to factors other than a grand UFO masterplan for manipulating humanity.

A case that could easily be connected with the phantom airship sighting of 1909, occurred on the morning of 22nd June. In a quiet part of Owder Lane, Canton, near Worksop, PC Swain found a young man. He was aged about 18 and was well-dressed. The policeman was unable to get any sense out of this person, whose ‘manner was very

 strange’. At Worksop Police Station he was examined by a doctor; apparently the man had lost his memory. No name or address was found on him and the police could only speculate that he came from the Sheffield or Doncaster region. He was consigned to the local workhouse.
If we accept the UFO manipulation theory, we might propose that this Yorkshire Kaspar Hauser could have been delivered to Earth by a UFO disguised as an airship – who would ever suspect that he was an alien up to no good!

Finally, a young person who did not mind being regarded as an alien was a three year old girl who was found in Willesden, London. She told the police that her name was Venus. When her parents claimed her as their own daughter it was revealed that her name was Mary Brown. [23] It is anticlimactic to discover she was not the Venus responsible for most of the British 1909 and 1913 phantom airship sightings!

REFERENCES

1. WATSON, Nigel. ‘Airships and Invaders’, Magonia 3.
2. LOWE, Charles. ‘About German Spies’, Contemporary Review, Jan. 1910, pp.42-56.
3. GROVE, Carl, ‘The Airship Wave of 1909′, FSR, 16, 6.
4. WATSON, Nigel, ‘Are the Ufonauts Fowl Plotters?’, FSR, 28,1.
5. CHEVEAU, Danny, ‘A New MIB Encounter?’, Northern Ufology, 75.
6. Occult Review, March 1918, pp.129-31.
7. ROGERSON, Peter, and RIMMER, John, ‘Visions of the Night’, MUFOB, ns 4.
8. BASTERFIELD, Keith, ‘Strange Awakenings’, MUFOB, ns 13.
9a. TWEEDALE, Rev. Chas. Lakeman, Man’s Survival After Death, or the Other Side of Life (3rd Ed.) Grant Richards, London 1925, pp.235-42. The two earlier editions appeared in October 1909, and January 1920.
9b. See also Sunday Chronicle 30/3/1913.
10. McCLURE, Kevin and Sue, Stars and Rumours of Stars, privately published, pp.25-6.
11. The Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 4 Apr. 1913, p.7.
12. Bradford Daily Argus, 24 Jan. 1913.
13. Nottingham Daily Express, 24 Jan 1913.
14. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
15. Ibid, 28 Jan 1913.
16. Sunday Chronicle, 26 Jan 1913.
17. Bradford Daily Telegraph, 21 Jan. 1913.
18. Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 29 May 1909.
19. Bradford Daily Argus, 11 Jan. 1913.
20. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
21. Nottingham Daily Express, 25 Feb. 1913.
22. Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News, 25 June 1909.
23. Hull Daily Mail, Hull Packet and East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Courier, 28 May 1909.

 

Down to Earth – UFO Investigation 1897 Style. Nigel Watson

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) 

opium-smoker

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.  


 REFERENCES:

  1.  New York Times 17 August 1878.
  2.  New York Times, 14 August 1878.
  3.  Mr. X, Res Bureaux Bulletin, No. 17,12 May 1977, pp 2-3.
  4.   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.
  5.  La Capital, (Rosario) 13 and 15 October 1877.
  6.  Picasso, Fabio, “Infrequent Types of South American humanoids”, Strange magazine No. 8, Fall 1991, p.23 and p.44.
  7.  Zerpa, Fabio and Plataneo, “La Caida de un OVNI en Pleno Siglo XIX”, Cuarta Dimension Extra September 1981, pp. 2-12.
  8.  Charroux, Robert, Archivas de Otros Mudos, Barcelona, Plaza y Lanes, p.341.
  9.  Nickell, Joe, “The ‘Hangar 18′ tales – a folkloristic approach”, Common Ground No. 9, pp. 2-10.
  10.  Roberts, Andy, “Saucerful of Secrets” in UFOs by John Spencer and Hilary Evans, Fortean Tomes, 1987, pp.156-159.
  11.  Also see: Simmons, H.Michael “Once Upon A Time In The West”, Magonia No. 20.
  12.  Hanlon, Donald B. “Texas Odyssey of 1897″, Flying Saucer Review, Sept. – Oct., 1966.
  13.  Hanlon, Donald B. and Vallee, Jacques, “Airships Over Texas”, Flying Saucer Review, Jan-Feb 1967.
  14.  Hanlon, Donald B. and Vallee, Jacques, letter in “Mail Bag” column, Flying Saucer Review, Jan. – Feb., 1967. 
  15.  Hewes, Hayden C. “The UFO Crash of 1897″, Offlcial UFO Vol. 1, No. 5, Jan. 1976.
  16.  Buckle, Eileen, “Aurora Spaceman”, Flying Saucer Review, July – Aug 1973.
  17.  Hewes, Hayden C.
  18.  ibid, p.30.
  19.  Nashville American, 18 April, 1897. T.B. p.209:2.
  20.  Daily Democrat, 10 April 1897.
  21.  Daily Democrat, 12 April 1897
  22.  Daily Times (Dubuque, LA) 13 April 1897
  23.  Evening News (Detroit), 13 April 1897
  24.  Hubbare Clipper (CA), 22 April 1897
  25.  The Chronicle of Spokane, 16 April 1897
  26.  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

The Phantom Ship and the UFO. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia New Series 1, 1976

Note to Archive publication: This is one of my very earliest pieces for MUFOB, much of the material had been collected, and the basic idea thought of in the early 1970s, before the article was written up, probably in the late Spring of 1974. It is a piece of old fashioned romantic folklore, reflecting its mainly antique sources.

 

Since this article was written, I have discovered that a syndicated article or articles about phantom ships, probably based on the old sources used in this article, was published in US newspapers during the 1897 airship epidemic, and clearly this directly influenced tales such as Merkel. Alas I do not have the reference to hand. 

——————————————————————-

Among the archetypal themes of folklore which has had a moulding influence on the UFO myth, is that of the ‘Ship of Souls’ the phantom ship, which sails in the clouds, and ferries the dead to the western paradise

The tradition of this aerial ship existed throughout Europe until the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and either arose spontaneously or was carried by European immigrants to North America. There are reasons to believe that the idea is of very great antiquity. It has provided the basis for the legend of the “Flying Dutchman”, and certainly many features of the myth are to be found in the 1897 airship reports. In Britain phantom ship legends were especially common in Cornwall. As late as the eighteenth century phantom ships were said to have been sailing in the clouds above Porthcurro Harbour. (1) In the coastal area of Yorkshire “the clouds at even[tide] sometimes take on the form of a ship, and the people call it Noah’s Ark, and observe if it points Humber-ways as a weather prognostic” (1). In 1743 at Porbio near Holyhead a farmer saw this aerial ship; it resembled a packet ship and was sailing in the clouds .(2,3). The aerial ship was inhabited, as witness this American story:

“A strange story comes from the Bay of Fundy, that ships have boon seen in the air … Mr Barrow stated that they were said to be seen at New Mines near Mr Ratchford’s, by a girl about sunrise. The girl cried out, and two men who were in the house came out and saw them. There were about fifteen ships, and a man forward with his hand stretched out. They made the eastward. They were so near that people saw their sides and ports.” (4, quoted in 5)

Strange stories were told of this aerial crew. It was said that they were drowned by the air, as a human sailor was drowned by the sea. Irish legends told of persons at worship who saw an aerial ship, whose anchor became caught in the church. When a sailor was sent down to free it, he was soon gasping for air like a drowning sailor, so that the anchor had to be cut and he was taken on board again (6). Gervaise of Tilbury (7) told a similar tale set in England (1). What is especially interesting to note is that a like incident set in Merkel, Texas appeared in the Houston Post of April 28 1897 (Rogerson Catalogue, Case 45), The sailor was even described complete with a blue sailors’ suit, a remarkable example of folkloric survival. One of the fullest accounts of the “cloud ship” was that related by Archbishop Agobard of Lyons (8), Vallee quotes Agobard as follows (9):

“We have however heard of many men plunged in such great stupidity, sunk in such depths of folly as to believe that there is a certain region, which they call Magonia, whence ships sail in the clouds, in order to carry back to that region those fruits of the earth which are destroyed by hail and tempests; the sailors paying rewards to the storm wizards and themselves receiving corn and other produce. Out of the number of those (who) believe those things possible, I saw several exhibiting in a certain concourse of people four persons in bonds – three men and a woman like they had said had fallen from those same ships, and they had brought, them before the assembled multitude to be stoned. But truth prevailed.”
agobard-quote

This legend, which has entered deeply, into the ufological myth, contains a number of significant themes. The aerial region, Magonia, in the western land of the dead the Isles of the Blessed, the land of the setting sun; it is Atlantis and Hy-Brazil, the mystical land which haunted European culture for millennia, and which provided the psychological drive behind many feats of exploration (10). From this unknown land in the west, ships come on the air. The ships bring the dead who destroy the crops of the living to take to their own realm. The belief that crops destroyed on earth are used as food by the dead are common to most archaic societies. It is the basis of the rite of sacrifice in all cultures. The storms that destroy crops are the dead, who are transfigured into the elemental spirits of the storm.

“… the dead of the ancient Aryans were believed to possess astounding powers. They travelled like the wind, sometimes as the wind. Good winds were the souls of of the good dead, ill winds of the bad dead who raged through the wild sky, jealous, angry, and vengeful.” (1)

The memory of such beliefs can still be traced in the belief that the appearance of the phantom ship is a warning of storm. In the picture of the Flying Dutchman by Gustav Doré these themes are clearly drawn out; the phantom ship with her skeletal crew roars up, borne on the storm, the sailors whom her appearance has doomed are cowering in terror. The victims of the mob mentioned by Agobard were very possibly human sacrifices to the gods of the storm, for it was not just crops that the cloud ships took, but the souls of men also. The ship came to the dying to take their soul to the land beyond the west or to the undersea world of ‘Fiddler’s Green’. When the one whose soul was to be taken was of evil character the event could be awesome indeed, as witness this tale of the death of a Cornish wrecker: (11)

“…his death was, more terrible. still. It was harvest-time and the gentle breeze scarcely stirred the ripe wheat in the fields, while in his lonely cottage the pirate, now an old man, lay at the point of death, with the parson, the doctor and two fisherman as his sole companions. Suddenly a wind arose, whistling round the cottage while from the sea a voice could be heard crying: ‘The time is come but the man isn’t come’ … Then a black ship appeared on the horizon moving steadily towards the shore. As it hove into view it became clear that it had no crew, while hovering directly above it was a curious dark cloud which moved with the ship. Suddenly the cottage of the dying pirate grow dark as if an evil spirit had entered it. Vainly the parson attempted to exorcise it. There came a crash of thunders and as the dying man scroamed ‘The devil is tearing at me with the claws of a hawk’, a stream of lightning shot from the sky and the cottage began to burn. Not even prayers could save the situation and, led by the parson, the sick man’s companions fled from the building, abandoning him him to his Fate.On reaching the churchyard, yet another storm broke and and the coffin was ignited by forked lightening. Then all afire, it was lifted up by a whirlwind and conveyed like a great burning log through the sky to the Wrecker’s Hell”
Standing in the open they witnessed a terrifying sight. The small dark cloud slowly detached itself from the ship and drifted over the land like a hideous jellyfish until it was actually hovering over the cottage of the dying man, It then decended, snatched up his soul, and drifted back to the ship which sailed rapidly out to sea, Returning to the cottage, the visitors discovered the the pirate was dead, his face, transfixed by terror, was awful to look upon, On the day of the funeral, the bearers were surprised to discover that the coffin was almost weightless.

For the good dead, the coming of the ship is a gentle release. It is the boat which takes Arthur to Avalon. In the traditions of some families such beliefs are found in modern times. Take for example this account in Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book (12):

“Lord Archibald Campbell died at Easter 1913 … Mr [Niall] Campbell … told me the ‘Galley’ had appeared on Loch Fyne. When I asked him to explain, what this was, he told no that the ‘Galley’ was a little ship like the one in their [coat of] arms’ and that when the Chief or one near to him was dying it appeared on Loch Fyne with three people on board, one of whom is supposed to be a Saint connected with St Columba. When his father was dying the ‘Galley’ was seen to pass silently up the Loch and to come to land at a particular point. It then passed overland and finally disappeared at the site of a holy place associated with St. Columba and given to the church by the forebears of the Campbells. A great many people saw it on the occasion of his father’s passing, including a ‘foreigner’, that is to say one who was not a Campbell or even a Highlander, but a Saxon. When the ‘Galley’ was soon to pass over the land this man called out “Look at that funny airship”.

Readers of MUFOB will recall that this story appears in our catalogue as R37. Thus we can see this particular account as a bridge between the “phantom ship” and the UFO myths.

A very few of those taken by the phantom ship survive; they find themselves transported to a beautiful land of eternal youth, such as the Irish Tir n’Og. Often the return from this land is by some magical means such as a waterspout. (20).

The taking of souls by the phantom ship is paralleled by the seizure of the living by the dead who ride on the wild storm wind. In Norse mythology this storm wind is the “Wild Hunt” (Wilder Jagd) led by Wotan, who with his pack of demon wolf-dogs pursue the sinner through eternity (11). The unwary are seized by the hunt generally to be lost forever, but occasionally to be deposited, like the victims of the Latin American teleportation, miles from home. In the Scottish islands the host of the dead, the sluagh, is seen in the form of a black cloud which seizes the living (21), also depositing, them far from home. Some writers connect the wild hunt with the UFO. (22).In England the wild hunt is associated with notorious local characters such as Herne the Hunter who are compelled to lead the hunt to expiate their sins on earth. A variant on this theme is the demon black carriage drawn by headless horses, pursued eternally by baying demon hounds. The Flying Dutchman theme is clearly identical with the above; it is an expression of the archetypal theme of eternal unrest caused by the violation of a taboo, the myth of the Wandering Jew. The crime of the captain of the Dutchman was in violating a taboo of the sea, a crime which brought down the Guardian Spirit of the oceans. This figure was perhaps a sea goddess such as appeared to Captain Brown of the Usk and ordered him to return to port (23,24). [See the foot of this posting for further information about the Usk]

As the phantom ship passes there is sometimes the sound of wild carousing. Such jollities were also associated with the l897 airship, as testified by William McGiveron of Pine Lake (R33) among others. Other witnesses of the airship however heard ‘religious songs’ and alleged that the occupants handed out temperance tracts. Those will be the good dead on the boat to heaven, (as in the spiritual ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’). This latter point highlights the Christian modifications of the archetype.

If we examine some modern phantom ship reports, we can see the similarities to the UFO more clearly highlighted. Take the following story related by a psychiatrist Glenn Thomasson. (25) Thomasson was on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1970.

“That night (August 8th)… an hour before sunrise I was sitting on the bow of the boat when a large ship, illuminated clearly by the moonlight, appeared approximately 150 yards directly in front and perpendicular to our boat. It was only later when I thought about it that I realised that there were no running lights visible. After I had spent about ten minutes observing the ship through the captain’s binoculars I noticed the name but could not road it. All I could see was a large ‘I’. the first letter, The rest seemed to be rusted over. Suddenly a man walked to the railing of the ships lifted his arm and waved back and forth in a gesture of greeting. I caught myself just as I was about to yell agreeting in return but thinking of the sleeping crew I waved instead. He lit a cigarette but even in the glow of the match I could not see his face clearly. Then he reached down and picked something up and dropped it into the water. I saw the object shine in the moonlight but could not see what it was.Several minutes later I walked into the cabin to pour a cup of coffee, then returned to the deck, took one look and gasped in astonishment. The ship was gone …”

A few hours later the crew of the fishing vessel picked up a bottle with a message in from a German ship lost in 1943. The letter was yellow with age but the bottle appeared to be quite new. The similarity to UFO reports is striking – the same dream-like quality, the behaviour of the vessel and its occupants, the same equivocal “physical evidence” left.

The phantom ship comes to shore at certain anniversaries:

“In Normandy the phantom boat puts in at All Souls. The watchman of the wharf sees a vessel come within hail at midnight and hastens to cast it a line, but at this same moment the boat disappears and frightful cries are hoard that make the hearer shudder, for they are recognised as the voices of sailors who were shipwrecked that year.” (1)

A story is told of how one night at Dieppe, a ship La Belle Rosalie, which had been missing for many months came in. The people of the town gathered joyously about the ship, which clearly had suffered hard in storms, for her rigging was torn. As the people waited they were struck by the strange behaviour of the crew who were silent, not leaping to the shore as was the custom. Then just as men were about to disembark, a strange mist came from nowhere and obscured the ship. Moments later when this mist had lifted, the ship had disappeared. It was then that the townspeople remembered that it was All Souls, the day when the drowned sailors return, briefly, to their homes. (14)

The same thing happened in New Haven, Connecticut in 1647 (15). Sometimes the occupants of the ship disembark, to take their loved ones to their own land. Such a belief is at the centre of the ‘Ballad of the Devon Lover’, who seduces a human woman, taking her on a phantom ship to the ‘Mountains of Hell’. Sometimes the boat appears as a warning. The dead are jealous of the living, and seek to take them to their own country. Woe betide the mariners who attempt to cone to the aid of the phantom ship. During a wild storm, a ship was seen floundering, so the crew of the vessel which sighted the distress made out in a small boat to attempt rescue. As they reached the spot the phantom disappeared and a great wave came and drowned her would-be rescuers. To even see the Flying Dutchman is an indication of disaster.

To help try the unwary, the phantom ship is a shape-changer. Like the UFO she appears in the guise of the vessels of her day. In April 1927 Kristan Jonasson, a port officer at Reykjavik, saw a strange Faeroes drifter towing a row-boat with two men inside. The drifter had the identity letters FD indicating she was registered in Fuglefjord. Jonasson went out with the pilot and the port doctor to examine the vessel. As they approached it disappeared into a haze. No such ship was known to the Danish authorities. (16)

A notorious shape-changer was the Falkenbergs Ship, which was always accompanied by two small yellow lights. In the latter part of winter 1958 the crew of the British Empress, approaching Nykoping in Sweden, saw two strange yellow lights, like steam masthead lights. First one, then the other, came close to the water, then sank. Nothing was detected on radar. The Falkenbergs Ship was said to be responsible for the death of Andrew Black, the skipper of the Pentland Skerries light. In 1937 Black had seen a white distress light during a heavy storm. He went to investigate, and his fellow crew-members testified, seemed to be drawn into the water by some unseen power. No ship was reported in the area. This power reminds one of the alleged abduction of Rivalino Mafra, (17) or the glamour cast over the Venezuelan youth (R7) This particular story evokes memories of the disappearance of the three keepers from the Flannan Isle light (12), which was on ‘haunted ground’ where the inhabitants of Magonia are said to appear. (18,19)

One report of the phantom ship did get into the UFO literature. This was the report of the two Royal Princes in their book Cruise of the Bacchante. At 0400 hrs, on July 11, 1881, according to the account:”

The Flying Dutchman crossed our bow. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow in the midst of which light, the masts, spars and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow. The lookout in the fo’clse reported her as close to the ship, while also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her. So did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the fo’csle: but on arriving there was no vestige or sign of any material ship. The night was clear and the sea calm.Thirteen persons altogether saw her. Two other ships of the squadron, the Tourmaline and the Cleopatra, who were sailing off our starboard bow, asked whether we had seen the strange light.”

This light was felt to be an omen of the death of the lookout. Similar lights in the Western Isles of Scotland are also regarded as omens of forthcoming death. Strange lights in coastal regions are often regarded as phantom ships, burning as they did when destroyed by wreckers like the famous Block Island phantom the Palatine. Some modern accounts of the phantom ship portray it as the Fairy Ship as in this account from the West of Scotland, circa 1910. (18,26)

The encounter took place on the lonely island of Muck off the west of Scotland. The two sons of a local man, Sandy MacDonald, aged about ten and seven, were playing on the beach when they found an unopened tin. As they were trying to open it, they saw a beautiful delicate looking little boy, a stranger to the island, standing beside them. He was dressed all in green. The boy invited then to come and look at his boat, and they saw a tiny vessel floating on the sea a few feet from the shore. A little girl three foot high, and a dog the size of a rat were in the boat, and the girl offered the children some tiny biscuits which they ate. After they inspected the boat, which was beautifully built with everything perfectly arranged the green boy and girl said it was time for than, to leave. They said goodbye to the two boys, and told them, “We will not be coming back here, but others of our race will be coming’

The similarities between the modern UFO and phantom vessel reports, point to their common origin. The folklore of Western Europe testifies to this common origin in the myth of the ‘Ship of Souls’ which takes the dead to the Western nether-world. Such a belief is of very great antiquity and seems to be universal in all cultures. The ship of the dead was identified by the Egyptians as the boat in which the sun-god Ra was propelled across the waters of heaven. The dead were believed to join the sun god in this celestial ship, to be taken to the land of the dead in the region of the setting sun. The sun as the celestial vessel carrying the sky-god is common to many Middle-East cultures (Assyria, Persia, etc.) and may provide the primal archetype of the UFO. (27) At this remote period we can perhaps see that the UFO and phantom ship have common origin as the vessel of the god or gods. The fact that classical and medieval visionary rumours’ have played such a major role in the development of the UFO myth, even to the point of providing a name – Magonia – for the home of such phenomenon certainly backs up this feeling.

Today the mythological structure which gave meaning to the phantom ship has vanished, as has the culture which nourished such a structure, leaving only memories which surface as random anomalies. Such anomalies no longer belong, hence their greut power to disturb. They are intruders from outside history and the world of waking reulity; intruders however which still have great power.

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Note from original publication: Since the above was written I have come across the following passage from Jung’s Flying Saucers commenting on one of his patient’s dreams, which involved a vision of the dreamer and another woman standing on the edge of the world looking at a silvery elliptical object peopled by cloaked figures in silvery white:

“The dream then uses the symbol of a disc-like UFO manned by by spirits, a spaceship that comes out of the beyond to the edge of our world in order to fetch the souls of the dead. It is not clear from the vision where the ship comes from, whether from the sun or moon or elsewhere. According to the myth in the Acta Archelai it would be from the waxing moon, which increases in size according to the number of departed souls that are scooped up from the Earth to the Sun, and from there to the Moon in a purified state. The idea that the UFO might be a sort of Charon is certainly one that I have not yet in the literature so far. This is hardly surprising, firstly because ‘classical’ allusions of this sort are a rarity in people with a modern education and secondly because they might lead to some very disagreeable conclusions. The apparent increase in UFO sightings in recent years has caused disquiet in the popular mind, and might easily give rise to the conclusion that, if so many spaceships appear from beyond, a corresponding number of deaths might be expected. We know that such phenomena were interpreted like this in earlier centuries: they were portents of a ‘great dying’, of war and pestilence, like the dark premonitions that underlie our modern fears. One ought not to assume that the great masses are so enlightened that hypotheses of this kind can no longer take root” – Jung, Flying Saucers, a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, p.78. (28)

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REFERENCES:

References in bold italic underlined  are links to Amazon book listings (not necessarily the edition referenced)

  1. Baring-Gould, Rev. Sabine. A Book of Folklore, Methuen, 1913 (my current copy is Praxis Reprint 1993).
  2. Reference to be confirmed
  3. Llewellyn, Alan. The Shell Guide to Wales. Michael Joseph with George Rainbird, 1969
  4. McGivern, Fr James SJ, in Tacoma Town Tribune 21 November 1967, quoted in:
  5. Data-Net 9, 5 (May 1970), p12
  6. Wilkins, Harold T. Flying Saucers on the Attack. Ace Books, 1967 (Originally published as Flying Saucers on the Moon, Peter Owen ,1954, and Flying Saucers on the Attack. Citadel Press, 1954.
  7. Gervase of Tilbury. Otia Imperialia: Recreation for an emperor, edited by S. E. Banks and J. W. Binns. Oxford University Press, 2002 (English Medieval Texts) For Gervase see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gervase_of_Tilbury
  8. Agobard “On hail and thunder” translation at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/Agobard-OnHailandThunder.html For more on these topics see Ross, Michael. Anchors in a Three Decker World Folklore Annual 1998 at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2386/is_v109/ai_21250632. For a critical review of the Magonia story and background information see Brodu, Jean-Louis Magonia: a Re-Evaluation. Fortean Studies 2 (1995) pp 198-215
  9. Vallee, Jacques. Passport to Magonia. Henry Regnery, 1969
  10. Ashe, Geoffrey. Land to the West: St.Brendan’s voyage to America""Collins, 1962
  11. Maple, Eric. The Realm of Ghosts. Pan, 1967
  12. Hunt, Robert. Popular Romances of the West of England. London 1865.
  13. Wood, Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax. Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book"". Fontana. 1961. First published Geoffrey Bles, 1936.
  14. Bassett, Wilbur. Wander-Ships, Folk Stories of the Sea, with notes upon their origin. Open Court Publishing Company, 1917  (Chapter 3)
  15. Brown, Raymond Lamont. Phantoms, Legends, Customs and Superstitions of the Sea. Patrick Stephens, 1972.
  16. Armstrong, Warren (Warren Armstrong Bennett) Sea Phantoms. Odhams, 1963.
  17. ‘The Brazilian Abduction’ in Flying Saucer Review ,vol. 8, no. 6 p10
  18. Michell, John. Flying Saucer Vision. Sidgwick and Jackson, 1967.
  19. Hopkins, R. Thurston. Cavalcade of Ghosts. Panther, 1963
  20. Baring-Gould, Rev. Sabine. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. Longmans, Green and Co, 1892. 
  21. Campbell, John L and Hall, Trevor. Strange Things. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968
  22. Ledger, Joseph R. Saucers or Ghosts. Flying Saucer Review , no.8, vol. 5 (September-October 1962).
  23. Gaddis, Vincent. Invisible Horizons. Ace 1965
  24. Smith, Susy. World of the Strange. Pyramid Books, 1963.
  25. Thomasson, Glen P. ‘Message from a Phantom Ship. Fate (UK) November 1971
  26. MacGregor, Alisdair. Alpine The Peat Fire Flame. Ettrick Press, 1947
  27. VALLEE, Jacques. ‘Occupant Symbolism in Phoenician Mythology‘. FSR 19, 1.
  28. Jung, Carl . Flying Saucers, a Modern myth of Things Seen in the Sky  Cygnet Books, 1969.

Additional works on the Phantom Ship:
Bassett, Fletcher A. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and Sailors in All Lands and at All Times. Bedford, Clarke and Co. 1885. Can be downloaded here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/4872976/Bassett-Legends-and-Superstitions-of-the-Sea-and-Complete

Other relevant books:
Goss, Michael and Behe, George.
Lost at Sea: Ghost Ships and Other Sea Mysteries. Prometheus, 1994.
Hadfield, R. L. The Phantom Ship, and other Ghost Stories of the Sea. Geoffrey Bles, 1937.

The Story of the USK

Fife Herald  30 October 1862  p4  

AN EXTRAORDINARY STORY.

The barque Usk, ofNewport, which leftSwanseafor Caldera in May last, has just returned toNewportsafe and sound, to the great astonishment of every one in port, having turned back atCape Hornwithout completing the voyage. The ship had been 62 days out then, and a hurricane coming on was threatened with total destruction, so that the crew rejoiced to see it put back in the direction of theFalkland Islands, so as to be out of the gale. But Falkland Islands were passed, and the ship still proceeded on her course leaving theCapefar behind. The mate then came aft and asked Captain Mathias where he was taking the ship, and why he neither took her into a place of shelter, nor prosecuted the voyage to Caldera. Captain Mathias told him that “God Almighty had come into his cabin and ordered him to take the ship back to Newport, threatening him that if he took her on her voyage the ship and all her crew should be destroyed.” He added that a mystery hung over the matter which should never be revealed, but that the vision appeared to him on the occasion of the hurricane off Cape Horn, and “such being the will of the Almighty, he should not place himself in opposition to it for the sake of the owner the ship, or anything else.”

The mate remonstrated and offered to take the command, the captain being put ashore, so as to release him from obedience to the command of the Most High, but this course he declined. It cut him to the heart, he said, to take the ship home and perhaps ruin the owners, yet such being the will of God he could not disobey. The mate appealed to the» crew, but they said they saw nothing the matter with the captain, and they therefore thought it was their duty to continue to obey him. Consequently he ceased all “opposition to the captain’s will and the Usk continued her passage home safe and sound from top to bottom, her captain apparently happy and free from all care, and devoting his leisure hours to the conversion” of his crew. Prayers were held every evening at seven, and from that till nine none were allowed to enter his sanctum, the cabin, where no doubt he passed the time in ghostly studies. On arrivingNewporton Tuesday evening last the news, as may be supposed, spread like wildfire, creating a great sensation. The captain waited on the owner, Mr Benyon and repeated his story about the Most High visiting him. Mr Benyon, we are told, highly scandalised, here told Mathias to “blaspheme no more.” and the conversation took a more reasonable turn. Mathias insisting upon his statement, and the owner listening to the tale as the narration of some strange dream. The captain, on Wednesday morning, took away everything belonging to him from the ship. The” above” account is abridged from a narrative said to be taken entirely from the statements of the mate and the captain themselves.

North London News 1 November 1862 p3,  cf London Daily 27 October 1862

EXTRAORDINARY FREAK OF CAPTAIN.

The fine barque Usk, built inBristolthree years ego, and owned by Mr Thomas Benyon, Dock-street, leftSwanseafor with coals, towards the end of April last. After being a short time out, Captain Mathias, the master, put backNewport, and the owner had the vessel thoroughly re caulked and remetalled. She proceeded to sea fromNewportMay, and, after a fine passage, reached Falkland Islands, having been 59 days out, andCape Hornin 62 days. Here gale came on, which rapidly increased to hurricane, and threatened the ship every instant with total destruction. She stood beating about to the southward of the Cape, and at length the captain walked aft and ‘up with the wheel,’ telling the men to  wear the ship.’ The mate was then asleep below, and the crew of course judged that the object of this must have been to get out of the hurricane and into smooth water to the eastward of theCape. They soon found that the ship was speeding along in the direction ofFalkland Islands. This also gave satisfaction. But Falkland Islands were passed, and the ship still proceeded her course leaving theCapefor behind. The mate then came aft and asked Captain Mathias where he was taking the ship, and why he neither took her into a place of shelter, nor prosecuted the voyage to Caldera. Captain Mathias told him that’ God Almighty had come into his cabin and ordered him to take the ship back to Newport, threatening him that if he took her on  her voyage the ship and all her crew should be destroyed. He added that mystery hung over the matter which should never be revealed, but that the vision appeared to him on the occasion of hurricane off Cape Horn, and  such being the will of the Almighty, should not place himself in opposition to for  the sake the owner, the ship, anything else.’ This intelligence must have startled the mate, but he remonstrated with captain with some firmness. said, ‘ Consider the serious loss you will cause the owner by pursuing this course.’ And willing any rate to save the owners, he further, and proposed that Captain Mathias should go ashore, leaving him, or putting some -one else board to take command and prosecute the voyage.

This course, he urged, would release the captain from the consequences of disobeying the commands the Most High. Captain Mathias immediately said, ‘ When my command of this ship is taken from me, take a knife and stab me with till I die It  cuts me to the heart to take the ship home, and perhaps ruin the owners, but such being the will of God, cannot disobey it for the sake-of man.’ The mate appealed the crew, but they said they saw nothing the matter with the captain, and they therefore thought it was their duty to continue to obey him. Consequently he ceased all opposition the captain’s will, Mid the Usk continued her passage home safe and sound from top to bottom, her captain apparently happy and free from all care, and devoting his leisure hours to the ‘conversion’ of his crew. Prayers were held every evening at seven, and from »t till nine none were allowed enter his sanctum the cabin, where no doubt passed the time in ghostly studies.Newportand Newport Docks were reached safely on Tuesday evening, and, as maybe supposed, this extraordinary tale was repeated with a thousand exaggerations and additions throughout the town, with the speed wildfire.

Captain Mathias at once proceeded to Mr Benyon’s residence, and reported his arrival to his amazed owner, who became very naturally somewhat excited, when Mathias said, ‘lf you can’t treat me like a gentleman I shall home.’ Mr Benyon replied that he was his employer, and he merely demanded a report of how had acquitted himself the trust he had reposed in him. Mathias then detailed how the Most High had entered his cabin and warned him against prosecuting the voyage, telling him that he was to back straight to Newport, and if not, the ship and the whole of her crew should perish. Mr Benyon, we are told, highly scandalised, here told Mathias ‘ blaspheme no more,’ and the conversation took more reasonable turn, Mathias insisting upon his statement, and the owner listening the tale as the narration of some strange dream, ‘The captain, on Wednesday morning, took away everything belonging to him from the ship. We may add that the foregoing has been taken entirely from the statements of the mate and captain themselves, and may be relied upon as the correct the extraordinary affair.

Westmorland Gazette 22 November 1862

THE CASE OF CAPTAIN MATHIAS.

A lengthened inquiry has taken place before the Local Marine Board, at their offices in Bristol, reference to the following charge against Captain Mathias, late master the barque Usk : —That he, on intended voyage from Newport Caldera, Chili, South America, which commenced about the lst of June, 1862, when the vessel arrived off Cape Horn, was guilty of a gross act  of misconduct, without any sufficient cause reason, neglecting omitting further to proceed on the said voyage, and the ship vessel did then navigate back to Newport. Mr Cathcart, solicitor, was in attendance behalf of the owners of the Usk ; and the defendant was likewise present, but without any legal adviser, and though the investigation lasted several hours his demeanour was perfectly cool and collected. Mr Cathcart having stated the case on behalf of the owners.

David Evans, the late chief mate of the Usk, was called and examined at some length, but nothing beyond the facts recently published was elicited. Mr Benyon, ofNewport, owner of the vessel, stated that Captain Mathias had been the master of the for the last three years. He had no authority return without completing the voyage fromSwanseato Caldera. The conduct of the captain had caused the owners considerable loss. This being all the evidence adduced. Captain Mathias was called upon for his defence.

He entered into a lengthened statement relative the position the vessel when he resolved to returnNewport, detailed minutely the particulars of the latitude and longitude, as well as the varying state of the weather. then said :

“I have never seen my glass so low before it was then in going roundCape Horn, either going out or coming home. After breakfast l am  accustomed, having been a professor of religion for seventeen years, to read a  chapter of  the Bible to myself in the cabin, and perform my service to my Creator. After that had transpired one morning. I felt a pressure upon my mind such I had not felt before all my life. First I began to ask myself What does this mean ?” I generally felt light and comfortable in all circumstances that have peculiarly happened during my life. I have been thirty-two years at sea. began inquire myself what it all meant, and said that would go, and make point of prayer of it, and found a still small voice speak to me within me telling return to Newport with the ship. But strove within myself, and in my own soul firmly wrestled against it. The more I strove, the more it resisted me, and found the power be so strong as be irresistible.

“I  remained in a state of great excitement, and no one on  board the ship could help seeing my emotion. No  one knew, indeed, what concerned me; and if the truth spoken by  every person ship, the power must have been felt. I remained till the afternoon, and then began consider what it meant, and what it all was for the still small voice spoke audibly and clearly within me, expecting that I would give my purpose, or He would break me without remedy. Visions have not seen; nothing, no bodily shape has appeared to me. Only mv own feelings have experienced, such as every Christian man would feel. With regard returning home I said within myself, Well, I should like have sign to know for certain that may not be deceived in my heart, deceive my own self in the presence of  my Creator. “That voice spoke again, and told me that the glass should rise It said “I will take my hind off you, and the glass shall rise immediately if you are obedient to  the command given you ”

“I implored the Divine compassion to allow me remain till the Sunday morning daylight, as the storm was terrific. I thought that the vessel would be safer in the trough of the sea than running before-Such storm. I could not sleep nor rest. I have doubt that the mate and the man in the cabin must have seen my countenance, and have known that there was something in the expression of my countenance that was never seen before, and could change will, before so determined to accomplish that voyage, that I had two occasions commenced. I  will leave you to judge what it must change the will of a man in such circumstances. I suffered for eight days. On the 8th day  I felt more easy, and turned the ship, and other person had anything with the changing the ship. The mate never dared to take the responsibility from me and no one has taken charge of the ship, and from that moment gave the command square yards and change her head every one of the men has obeyed my orders, and we had a favourable wind. I detected the hand ofProvidence in this, and when we arrived offLundyIsland, said that the ship would be port that night. Everything came I foretold, and the officers of the ship have seen things in that ship that cannot account for. I can see and account for them. The will of the Lord has been accomplished. But do not think I have seen any form, or vision, or bodily shape of any kind. I have known nothing but the Christian feeling, that still small voice, which spoke audibly.”

The Captain declined calling witnesses, saying that he stood entirely his own responsibility ; and, whatever the law inflicted he was prepared to suffer. Mr Britain, on behalf of the board, announced their decision as follows : That this board do report to the Board Trade as follows:—That Captain Henry Mathias, late master the barque Usk, of Newport, on a voyage that vessel from Newport to Caldera, which voyage commenced on about, the lst day of June last, did, when the Said vessel had arrived off or near Cape Horn, whilst under mental delusion, and without any proper or sufficient cause or reason, instead of proceeding on the said voyage, put the said vessel back, and returned with her to Newport aforesaid ; and that this board considers Captain still labouring under such delusion, and incompetent to take charge act as master of any ship or vessel, and this board doth therefore cancel the certificate of the said Captain Mathias.” Mr Brittan then directed the captain to send his certificate to tie offices of the board, and the proceedings terminated.

Things turn a bit spookier with this story:

Dover Express 23 January 1864  p4

LOSS OF THE SHIP USK BY FIRE. THE VISION OFFCAPEHORN. EXTRAORDINARY COINCIDENCE.

On Saturday dispatch from the British consul at Coquimbo was received by the Secretary of the Board Trade, announcing the destruction by fire of the English barque Usk, while on a voyage fromSwanseato Huasco. Before giving the details of the dispatch, it may be stated that this was the unfortunate ship which put back early last year from Cape Horn England in consequence of the captain seeing, as he alleged, a vision on the ocean which warned him not to proceed any further on the voyage, and that in the event of his persisting, both he and the ship would be sent to perdition. The vessel’s return to Cardiff, after lapse of nearly six months, in good seaworthy condition, naturally astonished the owners, more especially when they heard the curious story which had operated upon the captain’s mind in putting the ship back when she had nearly reached her destination.

A Board of Trade inquiry was instituted into the captain’s conduct. The crew were examined, and they spoke of him being a very careful and sober master, although somewhat eccentric in his manner, and when they found that had put the ship back without any reason for so doing, the chief mate remonstrated with him, and endeavoured to take charge, which the captain resisted placing him in irons. The captain was examined he solemnly declared that after what had appeared to him he could not on ; it was the vision the Lord, and he was bid not to go on.

The result of the inquiry was that his certificate was cancelled. A new master was appointed to the ship, and she sailed second time on the voyage. What happened to her will be gathered from the subjoined document:— 44 British Consulate, Dec. 3, 1803. “Sir, have inform you that the barque Usk, from Swansea to Huasco, took fire on the 16th of November last, and was abandoned the following day in lat. 33 S, long. 10. The vessel sailed from Swansea on the 16th of July, and nothing of importance occurred on the voyage up to 5 a. m. on the 16th of November, when smoke was seen coming out of the hatches, and four tons of blasting powder were taken from the hold and thrown overboard.

At p.m. an explosion took place. The boats were then got out, and at 7 p.m. the ship, being full of smoke fore and aft, was put under easy sail, with her head towards the main land. At p.m. the crew left the ship, and the boats were towed all night. At sa.m. of the 17th flames were seen issuing out of the after hatchway, but in conscience of heavy sea, and the vessel being full of smoke, she could not be boarded. Both boats were then cut adrift, and steered for the mainland. The mate, six seamen and a passenger arrived at this port on the 21st ultimo, having been picked up in the long boat by the Chilian schooner Guayacan the previous day. The master and remainder of the crew reached Caldera on the 24th ult. The sole cause of the fire appears to have been the spontaneous combustion of the coal composing the cargo. am, &c.,

G. A. F. Tait,  Acting Consul. The Secretary Marine Department, Board of Trade, Whitehall

This added much to the folklore of the sea and exaggerated stories circulated.  The ever unreliable Elliott O’ Donnell told the tale in chapter 30 of his Strange Sea Mysteries (Bodley Head 1926), which moves the account from the autumn of 1862 to the spring of 1863,  has imaginary conversations, and now the inner voice had become “…a strange sight at sea. It was a great and beautiful spirit form, which he took to be divine, standing alongside the vessel” issuing a pre-emptory command”

This version is summarised in R I Hadfield’s “The Phantom Ship” also published by Geoffrey Bles in 1937, only now suggesting that the mate had also seen the spirit.

I am sure that I have seen even more exaggerated accounts but can’t lay my hands on them. — Peter Rogerson.

Once upon a Time in The West.
H. Michael Simmons

From Magonia 20, August 1985

In 1896 and 1897 people throughout the United States reported sightings of mysterious airships. First sighted on the seventeenth of November 1896 in Sacramento, the phenomenon soon appeared in the skies over other California cities. An eastward migration then carried it into Nebraska where reports steadily increased until the first months of 1897. At the end of March a series of spectacular appearances in Omaha, Kansas and Ohio signaled the outbreak of the mystery in the Midwest. Sightings spread rapidly. From Michigan to Texas the question of the day was “Have you seen the airship?”

in-the-west

Press coverage of the sightings varied. Generally the yellow press found the airship stories perfect grist for its circulation mills and printed the majority of reports. More conservative papers treated the reports with caution. The New York Times totally ignored the airship. Papers in sighting areas gave the reports fairer coverage, on the whole, than those at a distance. These latter tended to disregard the sightings or commented on the drinking habits of the populations of airship states. The Texas papers made great fun of the Kansas airship but where more circumspect when the mysterious aerial voyager crossed over into the Lone Star State.

Early reports of airship sightings in a particular area usually received more serious coverage than later reports, due to two factors. The early reports were usually simple accounts of the appearance of strange lights in the night sky, while later reports often contained detailed descriptions of the airship and elaborate accounts of encounters with mysterious aeronauts. Second, when airship sightings were first reported, editors and readers were more open to the possibility that an inventor had perfected one or more flying machines which were being tested in secret. As time went by and no inventor revealed a workable airship, press and public became more sceptical of the reported sightings. The press regarded elected public officials, clergymen and other eminent citizens as more reliable than railroadmen or labourers. Although newspapermen were not always able to judge the veracity of a sighting, they did uncover a number of hoaxes and often added editorial comments to published reports giving the paper’s opinion of the reliability of the accounts. This opinion was often based on the degree to which the description conformed to contemporary ideas of the potential design and performance capability of a flying machine.

The attitudes of competing newspapers towards reports helped determine a paper’s treatment. For example, William Randolph Hurst’s San Francisco Examiner discounted the stories of the airship carried by the competing Call, while Hurst’s New York Journal gave them the sensational coverage which the other New York papers lacked.In addition to the reportage of airship sightings, newspapers also published related stories. The public interest in the mysterious airship prompted the publication of informative articles on the history of aerial navigation, together with speculation on future developments. Articles appeared on the experiments of Langley, Lilienthal, Chanute, and other pioneers of aviation, often illustrated with sketches of proposed airship designs. Merchants capitalised on the popularity of airship stories by using airship themes in their newspaper advertisements, or even by claiming that the airship had been built especially to advertise their products. Political cartoonists used the airship to poke fun at politicians, while other cartoonists mocked the airships and those who reported them. Newspapers carried interviews with professors of astronomy who explained that the airship was only Venus, Mars, or a star. They also interviewed attorneys who claimed to represent the secret inventors. And not a few reporters invented their own airship sightings, producing imaginative journalistic hoaxes with a high degree of credibility.

First reported in Texas on 9th April 1897, by the middle of the month the airship was sighted throughout the northeastern section of the state. Wealthy Dallasites held evening lawn parties in the hope of seeing the mysterious visitor, and the Dallas Morning Post did its part to keep the airship flying. On the nineteenth of April it printed the following article on a page filled with airship stories:

A WINDMILL DEMOLISHES IT
Aurora, Wise Co., Tex., 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 muchnearer the earth than ever before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of control, 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 tower 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. Weeds, 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 record 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 aluminum 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 to-morrow. S. E. HAYDON.

The story also reportedly appeared in the newsletter published in Aurora, but no copies of that publication are extant. No other newspaper carried the account or commented on it.In the context of other airship reports the Aurora story is unique only in that it records the recovery of papers “written in some unknown hieroglyphics” and announces the funeral of an extraterrestrial pilot. Other motifs in the story (e.g., crash or explosion of airship, recovery of pilot’s body, recovery of airship parts, and occupants of airship supposed to be from Mars) occur in various reports published before the Aurora incident. For example, on the thirteenth of April the Cleveland World printed the following dispatch:

BOOM!  AND THE AIRSHIP WHICH WAS TRAVELLING OVER MICHIGAN WAS BLOWN TO PIECES
Mass of wire, bones and a piece of a propellor were found on earth
Galesburgh, Mich., April 13.
Henry Sommers and a friend report that they witnessed last night what appeared to be the explosion of the airship. It was accompanied by a heavy report as if thunder and the scattering of light. Immediately thereafter the machine, which had been visible in the heavens, disappeared from view.
This morning near the scene of the alleged explosion were found a mass of wire that appeared to have been connected with electrical machines and a piece of light propellor wheel that must, when intact, have measured 12 feet in diameter. Carpenters employed on a new house say they found small pieces of bone scattered on the roof. [April 13, 1897]

Variants of this account appeared in a number of other papers, including the Dallas Morning News.

In 1966 Frank Masquelette, a staff writer for the Houston Post considered the incident at Aurora sufficiently unusual to merit inclusion in a series of articles he wrote on the Great Airship Mystery of 1897. His articles discussed the possibility that the airship sightings had been a nineteenth-century UFO flap, a theory with which ufologists were already familiar. He reprinted the story in its original form and attempted to verify it through the editor of the Wise County Messenger, who made enquiries in Aurora.

He discovered only that a Judge Proctor had lived in the area. Since none of the other residents questioned recognised any other parts of the story, Masquelette concluded that the story was “pure fiction”. But his article had put Aurora back on the map.

Aurora is located in southeastern Wise County about 30 miles north of Forth Worth. It was established in 1873 and rapidly became a major centre of cotton production and trade and the largest town in the county. By 1891 it claimed two hotels, two schools, two churches, two cotton gins, a drugstore, a livery stable and a newspaper. In addition it boasted fourteen saloons, three doctors, two lawyers, an undertaker and a brass band. But when the railroads bypassed the town its days were numbered. An epidemic of spotted fever killed or disabled many of its citizens, and fear of the disease started an exodus which was accelerated by other disasters. A fire destroyed the western half of the town and the boll-weevil destroyed the cotton industry. By the end of the century most of the houses and all of the businesses had been placed on skids and moved to the nearby railroad towns. In 1906 with the removal of the post office to Rhome, Aurora became a memory.

In 1966 and 1967 ufologists and reporters flocked to the town to look for the evidence which Masquelette has concluded was non-existent. Investigators located the site of Judge Proctor’s house and well, and questioned residents about the crash of the airship. When no witnesses were found and metal detectors failed to locate any pieces of the airship, investigators associated with Flying Saucer Review pronounced the story a hoax. Aurora’s new found fame rapidly faded away.

In the course of the 1966 investigation, Etta Pegues, a local writer and member of the Wise County Historical Society, be-came interested in Aurora. She wrote a number of articles on the history of the town which were published in local news-papers between 1966 and 1972. In her articles she declared the 1897 article a hoax on the basis of interviews with two former residents of the town who had known Judge Proctor and S. E. Haydon. According to these men, Haydon, the author of the airship story, who was a cotton buyer and newspaper correspondent, had hoped that the hoax would bring some life to the failing town. He was remembered as the writer of satirical verses enjoyed by local residents. One of the men interviewed could still recite from memory one of Haydon’s long poems. Judge J. S. Proctor had served as Justice of the Peace for Precinct Five of Wise County from 1892 to 1902 and had edited a newsletter at Aurora after the local newspaper had ceased publication. As additional proof of the fictional nature of Haydon’s account, Pegues asserted that Judge Proctor had no windmill and that every grave in the Aurora Cemetery was located on a map with complete records for each burial. There were no Martians listed.

A retired railroad telegrapher in Dallas had told Tolbert that railroad telegraphers in Iowa had planned the hoax and that rail-roaders throughout the country had joined in the fun

At the same time that Etta Pegues’ articles were appearing, Frank X. Tolbert, Texas history writer for the Dallas Morning News received an enquiry about the Aurora incident. He answered with a series of articles suggesting that the entire 1897 airship mystery had been a hoax. Some years before a retired railroad telegrapher in Dallas had told Tolbert that railroad telegraphers in Iowa had planned the hoax and that rail-roaders throughout the country had joined in the fun. Communicating by telegraph, the railroadmen were able to produce realistic accounts of the phantom airship’s movements a cross the country. Tolbert proposed that the Great Airship Mystery be renamed the “Great Truthful Scully Hoax”, after Joseph E. ‘Truthful’ Scully, a Forth Worth freight conductor for the Texas and Pacific Railroad who was chosen to introduce the hoax into Texas because of his reputation for honesty. Tolbert explained sightings not connected with the railroad as mass hallucinations or independent hoaxes inspired by the railmens’ creations.

Having settled the question of the Aurora airship, the reporters turned to other matters, and the people of Aurora considered the future. Reincorporated in 1972, the town now consisted of an Arco filling station, a Baptist church, and the Aurora cemetery. The town planned to enter a new era of prosperity as a suburb of the sprawling Dallas-Forth Worth conurbation. After the opening of the nearby Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, the population of Aurora increased to almost three hundred, and land prices soared. But in the spring of 1973 history caught up with Aurora again.

In March Hayden Hewes, director of the International UFO Bureau of Oklahoma City, arrived in town armed with S. E. Haydon’s story and accompanied by a team of investigators. Bill Case, aviation writer for the Dallas Times Herald and a member of the Midwest UFO Network, decided to cover the investigation. On the 25th of March, Case reported that IUFOB had located the crash site and were interviewing residents about the crash. He also printed a paraphrase of Haydon’s 1897 account which contained errors in date and time as well as interpolations from other 1897 accounts, including descriptions of the shape and colour of the craft.

By the first of April the wire services had picked up the story, and although the IUFOB investigators had no more success than their predecessors, hundreds of sightseers converged on the little town. Souvenir hunters stole twenty headstones from the cemetary. Day and night reporters and investigators bothered everybody in the little community. In the spring of 1897 the question of the day had been “Have you seen the airship?” Seventy six years later that question had become “Do you believe in the spaceship?”

In May a man describing himself as a professional treasure hunter located unusual metallic fragments buried near the alleged crash site. He claimed that his metal detector gave the same readings at a grave in the Aurora Cemetery as it did at the crash site. The investigators sent the fragments to metallurgists for analysis. In the meantime Haydon’s story, or rather Bill Case’s reduction thereof, was reprinted almost every week in area newspapers in the hope that a witness might come forward. In late May a local man who had previously refused all interviews volunteered that his father had seen the crash and told him the story many times. He had been five years old at the time and remembered going with his father to the crash site. His account of what happened agreed in most details with Case’s version of the 1897 story – including errors and interpolations. His account differed in that he did not remember his father saying that there had been anyone killed in the crash.

When his plan was discovered angry townspeople posted armed guards at the cemetery to prevent the desecration of the grave.

Hewes, having concluded that he had sufficient evidence to warrant the opening of what he believed was the grave of an extraterrestrial being, arrived in Aurora one Sunday morning prepared to dig. When his plan was discovered angry townspeople posted armed guards at the cemetery to prevent the desecration of the grave. Later the Cemetery Association was able to prove that the grave belonged to the Carr family. Ostracized by the community and by other UFO investigators because of his rash actions, Hewes soon withdrew his support from the investigation and announced that the story was a hoax.

MUFON continued the investigation dropped by the IUFOB and soon discovered a strange circular grave marked with a rough stone bearing a crude design which appeared to be the outline of a cigar-shaped craft with portholes. Two nonagenarian former residents of Aurora who wished to remain anonymous had reportedly led researchers to the grave under the limb of a gnarled oak tree near the edge of the cemetery. Two additional witnesses then told their stories to the press.

But in Aurora a transformation took place that was not covered by the press. The small community divided in two factions: those who believed in the possibility that Haydon’s story might have been true at least in part, and those who totally rejected it. As the split widened between the two groups rumours developed and spread unaided by the media: Brawley Oates supports the spaceman story for the money; his arthritis was caused by drinking water from the well which was contaminated by radiation from the crash; the mysterious grave is that of a victim of the spotted fever epidemic and the germs are still alive in it; space-man are watching the grave and will remove the evidence before it can be dug up; Bill Case invented the whole story including the testimony of the witnesses. While these and other rumours spread, the investigation continued.

A woman of ninety-one recalled that her parents had told her the story of the crash and the burial of the pilot, whom they had described as a small man. She claimed that she had forgotten the incident until she had read the recent stories about it in the newspapers. A ninety-eight year old man from a nearby town told of hearing of the crash from two friends who had seen the debris from the explosion. Flowers began to appear daily at the mysterious grave. Brawley Oates, the owner of the land identified as the crash site began to receive mysterious telephone calls from people identifying themselves as members of the U.S. Army or the CIA and who were curious about metal fragments and the grave. An Italian journalist sent to cover the story said that in June 1973 Aurora was a bigger story in Europe than Watergate.

When the analysis of the metal fragments revealed that it was an aluminium alloy which could not have been manufactured in the US before 1920, MUFON announced that the extraterrestrial origin of the metal had been proved and asked permission to open the circular grave. The Cemetery Association on the other hand saw the metallurgical findings as proof that the fragments had been planted, and blocked the exhumation request in the District Court. In July a MUFON investigator stated that person or persons unknown had probed the grave and removed the metal. In August MUFON suspended the investigation without reaching a conclusion, and Bill Case privately admitted that the story was probably a hoax.

In 1974 a state historical marker which gives a brief account of the legend was erected at the gate of Aurora Cemetery.

The Airship and Other Panics. Roger Sandell

Originally published in Magonia New series 12, autumn 1978

The study of pre-1947 UFO waves has been hampered by its isolation from a general study of the historical and social background to these events. For the most part the general historians have ignored such matters; and ufologists who have chronicled them have paid little attention to the context in which they took place. However there has recently come to light a book entitled Six Panics, by F W Hirst, published in London in 1913, which not only offers a contemporary account of the British ‘mystery airship’ wave of that year, but contains some interesting observations on the background to the wave.

Mr Hirst, a contributor to The Economist, sees the 1913 wave as the last of a series of panics concerning the alleged threat of foreign invasion. He looks at similar invasion scares in1847-48, 1851-53, 1859-61 and 1881, when these fears centred on France, and 1909 when they centred on Germany; and he shows how the 1913 airship became a political issue, leading to calls for increased military expenditure.

Surprisingly he does not seem to be aware that the invasion panic of 1909 was also accompanied by a wave of mystery airship reports, which recent research by Nigel Watson has shown was connected with foreign spy rumours. (Check article HERE)

This interpretation of the 1913 wave suggests a parallel with the great US wave of 1897, which coincided with the US-Spanish crisis over Cuba which was to lead to war the following year. (In fact some of the airship ‘pilots’ in 1897 are reported as saying they are going to Cuba to fight the Spanish) Another interesting parallel is suggested when Mr Hirst accuses the newspapers of Lord Northcliffe, Britain’s first modern press tycoon, of being particularly influential in whipping up the panic around the 1913 airships. In America in 1897 the mass press was likewise just emerging, and to judge by the number of cases that appear to be newspaper hoaxes, it played an important part in the creation of the wave.

A possible line of approach that Mr Hirst does not pursue would be to link his invasion panics with internal social conflict. 1847-48, the year of his first panic coincided with the height of the Chartist movement (not to mention an interesting aerial phenomenon described in MUFOB new series 8) and the panics of 1909 and 1913 with several simultaneous social crises including mass strikes, the suffragette movement and the Irish Home Rule crises. These correlations have been noticed by the historian George Dangerfield whose book The Strange Death of Liberal England has an account of the 1913 airship wave. He sees it as a symptom of the social hysteria of the period. Again, we have an interesting link with 1897, when American society faced economic depression and the rise of the Populist movement.

Another similarity between invasion panics and UFO waves is the way both seem to be generated by technological development. Just as the first UFO waves followed the appearance of nuclear weapons, so each new development in naval warfare precipitated invasion scares. The mid-nineteenth century waves were touched off by fears of the potentialities of the steamship, while the ironclads played a similar role in 1884, the dreadnought in 1909 and the Zeppelin in 1913.

Just as in modern times we find SF and allegedly factual UFO stories dealing in the same ideas and images so the social fears and tensions behind the airship waves also found expression in the fiction of the period. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a whole literature of novels depicting the complacency of British society of the period being shattered by invasions from France, Russia or Germany (This whole genre is examined in I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War and examples are reprinted in Michael Moorcock’s two anthologies of early SF, Before Armageddon and England Invaded.

The study of pre-1947 waves is a valuable field of research. However it is becoming clear that the ufologist who hunts in old newspapers for reports of aerial phenomena is getting less that the full picture unless he is prepared to look at what else these papers are reporting at the same time.

Postscript: Since writing the above I have read a fascinating paper entitled “Analogies of the Propagation of the Great Fear in France 1789 and the Airship Flap in Ohio in 1897″ by Andrew Rothovius, printed in Pursuit. The Great Fear dealt with in this essay is the mysterious mass panic that gripped rural France three weeks after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1798. Apparently from nowhere rumours arose throughout France that armies of bandits or foreign mercenaries were at large pillaging all in their path. Lights were seen in the sky and interpreted as the glow from burning towns. As Mr Rothovious points out, the similarities between these events and the airship waves (and for that matter modern UFO waves) are most interesting and certainly reinforce the possibility that these events are all responses to social crisis.

Andrew Rothovius also points out that although the panic of 1789 was baseless, all the events that were rumoured to have happened massacre, foreign invasion, armies of bandits in the countryside – were to become reality in revolutionary France, and suggests that the Fear could be seen as an outbreak of mass precognition Similarly, within two years of the 1913 panic, real German airships were to be dropping bombs over England, an event which must have come as a surprise to F W Hirst, who concludes his look at the events of 1913 with the comforting thought that it was out of the question that Zeppelins would be of military value!