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October 29, 1991
From Fate Magazine: May 1973
Mystery Airships of the 1800's (Part 1 of 3)
Part One: "No form of dirigible or heavier-than-air machine was
flying-or could fly-at this time." And yet...
By Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman
March 26, 1880 was a quiet Friday night in tiny Galisteo Junction,
N. Mex. (now the town of Lamy). The train from nearby Santa Fe had
come and gone and the railroad agent, his day's work finished,
routinely locked up the depot and set out with a couple of friends
for a short walk.
Suddenly they heard voices which seemed to be coming from the sky.
The men looked up to see an object, "monstrous in size," rapidly
approaching from the west, flying so low that elegantly-drawn
characters could be discerned on the outside of the peculiar
vehicle. Inside, the occupants, who numbered 10 or so and looked
like ordinary human beings, were laughing and shouting in an
unfamiliar language and the men on the ground also heard music
coming from the craft. The craft itself was "fish-shaped"-like a
cigar with a tail-and it was driven by a huge "fan" or propeller.
As it passed overhead one of the occupants tossed some objects from the car. The depot agent and his friends recovered one item almost
immediately, a beautiful flower with a slip of fine silk-like paper
containing characters which reminded the men of designs they had
seen on Japanese chests which held tea.
Soon thereafter the aerial machine ascended and sailed away toward the east at high speed.
The next morning searchers found a cup-one of the items the witnesses had seen thrown out of the craft but had been unable to locate in the darkness.
"It is of very peculiar workmanship," the _Santa Fe Daily New Mexican_ reported, "entirely different to anything used in this country."
The depot agent took the cup and the flower and put them on display. Before the day was over, however, this physical evidence of the passage of the early unidentified object had vanished.
In the evening a mysterious gentleman identified only as a "collector of curiosities" appeared in town, examined the finds, suggested they were Asiatic in origin and offered such a large sum of money for them that the agent had no choice but to accept. The "collector" scooped up his purchases and never was seen again.
We found more on this interesting case in a doctoral
dissertation by Mr. T. E. Bullard, published in 1982 under the
name of "Mysteries in the Eye of the Beholder." Chaper X -
Loose in an Airship - The Age of Phantom Dirigibles and Ghost
"Several precocious flying machines sailed the skies during
1880. In late March several citizens of the unlikely place of
Galisteo Junction, New Mexico heard voices overheard and saw a
fish-shaped balloon driven by a fan-like apparatus.
A cup and several other artifacts fell from the ship as it
passed, but the next day a collector of curiosities, a man
unknown in town, appeared and paid a large sum of money for
The story ends on this note of mystery, BUT THE FOLLOWING WEEK
another installment CLARIFIED THESE STRANGE PROCEEDINGS.
A party of tourists which included a wealthy young Chinaman
stopped in the vicinity and found the stranger engaged in
archaeological work. The young man grew excited on seeing the
articles dropped from the airship, because among among them
was a note in his fiancee's hand, and he explained that
CHINESE EXPERIMENTS IN FLYING HAD AT LAST SUCCEEDED, meaning the airship which crossed the skies of Galisteo Junction was
THE FIRST FLIGHT OF a CHINA-TO-AMERICA airline.
Of course the story of aviation does not begin on December 17, 1903,
the date of Orville Wright's 12-second aerial hop at Kitty Hawk.
Long before that scientists and inventors had struggled to unlock
the secrets of powered flight and to build what an 1897 issue of
Scientific American called the "true flying machine; that is, one
which is hundreds of times heavier than the air upon which it rests,
(and flies) by reason of its dynamic impact, and not by the aid of
any balloon or gasbag whatsoever."
But nothing in the early history of flight tells us what a huge airborne cigar was doing over New Mexico in 1880, especially as it "appeared to be entirely under the control of the occupants and... guided by a large fan-like apparatus," and also could ascend with startling speed.
Its "monstrous size" and its propeller clearly indicate it was
heavier than air, but such a flying machine didn't then exist
according to British authority Charles H. Gibbs-Smith: "Speaking as
an aeronautical historian who specializes in the periods before
1910, I can say with certainty that the only airborne vehicles,
carrying passengers, which could possibly have been seen anywhere in
North America... were free-flying spherical balloons, and it is
highly unlikely for these to be mistaken for anything else. No form
of dirigible (i.e., a gasbag propelled by an airscrew) or heavier-
than-air flying machine was flying -- or indeed could fly-at
this time in America."
Nevertheless, mysterious "airships" were seen in many parts of the world in the last half of the 19th Century and the early years of the 20th. And plans for the construction of such craft were not unknown.
In 1848 gold fever seized America. On January 24 a workman discovered the precious metal in Sutter's millrace in California's Sacramento Valley. Within weeks the entire Pacific coast knew about it and a few months later "gold" was on the tongue of every easterner who ever dreamed of easy fortune.
Getting to those goldfields, however, was a problem, for the inland parts of the young nation were largely unsettled. A unique solution -- air travel -- came from "R. Porter & Company," a firm which listed its address as Room 40 of the Sun Building in New York City. In the latter part of 1848 the company distributed an advertising flyer in the eastern United States which promised more than it ever delivered. Touting "THE BEST ROUTE TO THE CALIFORNIA GOLD!" the flyer read in part that the company was "making active progress in the construction of an 'Aerial Transport' for the express purpose of carrying passengers between New York and California.
"It is expected to put this machine in operation about the first of April, 1849, and the transport is expected to make a trip to the gold region and back in seven days..."
On the flyer the "aerial locomotive" is illustrated-a huge cigar-shaped device, identified as a "gasbag," with a tail. Under it, attached with "sturdy material arrows can't puncture," is a similarly-shaped car with windows in its midsection.
"Snug gondola with benches for 50 or more passengers," the caption reads. From the top of the gondola stretches a long pipe which is identified as "a steam engine for controlled propulsion through sunny skies at 60 miles the hour."
Except for this pipe, entrepreneur Porter's vessel is almost a dead
ringer for the type of "UFO" widely reported in the late 1800's and
early 1900's which came to be called "the airship," although
obviously there had to be more than one of them and they did not all
look alike. But in the advertisement of an obscure company lie the
first hints of a bizarre mystery which is staggering in its
* [We do not pretend to "solve" this mystery. What we offer
instead are possibilities suggested by a wide range of often
conflicting evidence complicated by the distance in time
separating us from the events described (which makes firsthand
investigation impossible in all but rare instances).]
During the 1850's mysterious "airships" regularly crossed the skies
of Germany and just before that, probably in the year 1848, an
enigmatic young German named C. A. A. Dellschau immigrated to the
Dellschau's own testimony places him in Sonora, a California mining town, in the 1850's. Where he might have been in the decades after that is unknown. We do know, however, that about the turn of the century he married a widow and took up residence in Houston, Tex., where he lived in virtual seclusion. He had no friends; by all accounts his quarrelsome disposition kept everyone at a distance.
Dismissed as an eccentric by the few who knew him Dellschau devoted hours to the compilation of a series of scrapbooks filled with
clippings, drawings and cryptic notations. He died in 1924 at the
age of 92.
Were it not for a chance discovery many years later Dellschau's life would have gone unnoticed. But one day in May 1969 a UFOlogist named P. G. Navarro happened to stroll past an aviation exhibit at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Two large scrapbooks (Dellschau's) caught his eye and he stopped to take a closer look.
* [In telephone conversations and by correspondence, Navarro
himself has provided us with this information.]
He found that the scrapbooks contained old news stories and articles
about attempts of various inventors to construct heavier-than-air
flying machines. But these were not nearly so interesting as
Dellschau's drawings of strange-looking, cumbersome vessels which he claimed actually had been flown at one time.
Navarro, his curiosity aroused, sought more of the scrapbooks and over a period of time acquired 10 more-from such places as a junk shop in Houston and from a woman art collector who had been interested in Dellschau's strange drawings.
Navarro even talked with Dellschau's stepdaughter, then an old
woman. Finally he set out to makes sense of Dellschau's notes which
had been penned in English, German and code. When he had finished he had reconstructed an incredible story.
One thing was obvious: Dellschau was of two minds about what he was doing. On one hand he wanted his "secrets" known; on the other he
seemed afraid to speak directly. So he compromised and wrote in a
fashion aimed to discourage all but the most determined investigator
-- and even so his writings in the main only add to the mystery.
He was writing for an audience-if not one in his own day, one in some future period. He addressed potential readers thus:
"You will... Wonder Weaver... you will unriddle these writings.
They are my stock of open knowledge. They... will end like
all the others... with good intentions but too weak-will assign and put to work."
From the notes Navarro learned that in the 1850's Dellschau and a
group of associates, about 60 in all, gathered in Sonora, Calif.,
where they formed an "Aero Club" and constructed and flew heavier-than-air vehicles. They worked in an open field near Columbia, a small town near Sonora. (Today an airstrip covers the field, the
only area in the predominantly hilly region where planes can take
off and land safely.)
The club worked in secrecy and its members were not permitted to talk about their activities or to use the aircraft for their own purposes. One member who threatened to take his machine to the public in the hope of making a fortune died in an aerial explosion - - the victim, Dellschau hints, of murder.
Another, a "high educated mechanic" identified as Gustav Freyer, was called to account by the club for withholding new information. Apparently this was no ordinary social group.
The "Aero Club" was a branch of a larger secret society whose initials Dellschau gives as "NYMZA." He says little about this society except to observe that in 1858 it was headed by a George Newell in Sonora.
Otherwise he alludes to orders from unnamed superiors who were overseeing the club's activities. These were not governmental authorities, for Dellschau writes that an official who somehow learned of their work once approached club members and tried to persuade them to sell their inventions for use as weapons of war. The unnamed superiors instructed the club to refuse the offer.
The club had a number of aircraft at its disposal, including among others August Schoetler's Aero Dora, Robert Nixon's Aero Rondo and George Newell's Aero Newell. However, from Dellschau's drawings it is hard to believe that anything resembling these machines ever could have flown.
Navarro remarks, "The heavy body of the machines seems to be
radically out of proportion to the gasbag or balloon which is
supposed to lift the contraption. Considering the large amount of
gas (usually hydrogen or helium) that is required to lift one of
today's dirigibles or even a small blimp, it is inconceivable that
the small quantity of gas used in Dellschau's airship would be
sufficient to lift it."
But this wasn't ordinary gas. According to Dellschau it was a substance called "NB" which had the capacity to "negate weight." Incredible as it may seem he is talking about antigravity.
Dellschau's notes have a curiously pessimistic tone. One strange paragraph reads, "We are all together in our graves. We get together in my house. We eat and drink and are joyful. We do mental work, but everybody is forlorn, as they feel they are fighting a losing battle. But little likelihood is there that fate shall bring forth the right man."
Dellschau wrote of the human race-and even the planet Earth-as
if he stood apart from it. One peculiar paragraph of his oddly
archaic German reads: "Your Christian love reaches for the
Wanderplace, and wanders away from Earth. Planets there are enough where Christian love shall be as we say so nicely in the Book
A drawing elsewhere shows the figure of a devil opening a crack in the fabric of the sky above one of the "Aeros." The overall impression conveyed by his writings is that Dellschau was a man who knew secrets that would render him forever an outsider, isolated from the community of mankind.
Who was he? A spinner of tall tales? But to what end? If he is
only that why did he spend years compiling the scrapbooks - devoting most of his waking hours to the task - on the slight chance that one day far in the future, long after his death, someone might be taken
On November 1, 1896, the Detroit Free Press reported that in the
near future a New York inventor would construct and fly an "aerial
torpedo boat." And on November 17 the Sacramento Bee reprinted a telegram the newspaper had received from a New York man who said he and some friends would board an airship of his invention and fly it
to California. The trip, he said, would take no more than two days.
That very night all hell broke loose and the Great Airship Scare of
1896-97 was off and running.
The next day the Bee led off a long article with this paragraph:
"Last evening between the hours of six and seven o'clock, in
the year of our Lord eighteen hudred and ninety-six, a most
startling exhibition was seen in the sky in this city of
People standing on the sidewalks at certain points in the
city between the hours stated, saw coming through the sky
over the housetops, what appeared to them to be merely an
electric arc lamp propelled by some mysterious force.
It came out of the east and sailed unevenly toward the
southwest, dropping now nearer to the earth, and now suddenly
rising into the air again as if the force that was whirling
it through space was sensible of the dangers of collision
with objects upon the earth..."
Hundreds of persons saw it. Those who got the closest look said the
object was huge and cigar-shaped and had four large wings attached to an aluminum body. Some insisted they heard voices and raucous laughter emanating from the ship. A man identified as R. L. Lowry and a companion allegedly saw four men pushing the craft along the ground by its wheels. Lowry's friends asked them where they were going. "To San Francisco," they replied. "We hope to be there by
One J. H. Vogel, who was in the vicinity, confirmed the story and added that the vessel was "egg-shaped." The next afternoon an airship passed over Oak Park, Calif., leaving a trail of smoke and soon San Francisco, Oakland and other cities and town in the north-cantral part of California had their own stories in all the newspapers.
Several persons now stepped forward to tell of earlier sightings.
One was a fruit rancher near Bowman, Placer County, who said he and members of his family had watched an airship fly by at 100 miles an
hour in late October.
Even more remarkable was the statement of a man who claimed that in August he and fellow hunters had tracked a wounded deer across
Tamalpais Mountain until they came to a clearing where six men were working on an airship.
The most baffling part of the whole flap, which lasted well into December 1896, was the role of "E. H. Benjamin," a dentist whose name the newspapers always enclosed in quotation marks, as if they had reason to doubt his identity.
It was either Benjamin or his uncle who that November approached George D. Collins, a San Francisco lawyer, and asked him to represent his interests in the patenting of an airship. He told the incredulous Collins that he had come from Maine to California seven years before in order to conduct his experiments without danger of interruption.
Collins told reporters that his wealthy client(whom he never identified) did his work near Oroville where Collins himself had viewed the invention-an enormous construction 150 feet long. "It is built on the aeroplane system and has two canvas wings 18 feet wide and rudder shaped like a bird's tail," the attorney said. "I saw the thing ascend about 90 feet under perfect control."
On November 17, Collins went on, the airship had flown the 60 miles between Oroville and Sacramento in 45 minutes. This was not the first flight the inventor had made. For two weeks he had been flying in attempts to perfect the craft's navigational apparatus.
This led to the story in the Sacramento Bee for November 23,
datelined Oroville: "The rumor that the airship which is alleged to
have passed over Sacramento was constructed near this town seems to have a grain of truth in it. The parties who could give information
if they would are extremely reticent. They give evasive answers or
assert they know absolutely nothing about it.
"Not a single person that saw or knew of an airship being constructed near here can be found and yet there is a rumor that some man has been experimenting with different kinds of gas and testing those which are lighter than air. The experiments were made some miles east of the town and no one is able to give any names of the parties, who are evidently strangers and seeking to avoid publicity."
The San Francisco Call established that"Benjamin," a native of Carmel, Me., had been seen in the Orville area visiting a wealthy uncle and confiding to friends that he had invented something which would "revolutionize the world."
Several days into the controversy, the inventor dispensed with the services of lawyer Collins because he was talking too much. W. H. H. Hart, a former state attorney general and a highly respected man, took over Collins' job. In subsequent newspaper interviews Hart revealed that two airships existed, one in the east and the other in California. "I have been concerned in the eastern invention for some time personally," he said. "The idea is to consolidate both interests."
The western craft would be used as a weapon of war. "From what I have seen of it," Hart said, "I have not the least doubt that it will carry four men and 1,000 pounds of dynamite. I am quite convinced that two or three men could destroy the city of Havana in 48 hours."
Hart thus represented both airship inventors, one in California and one in New Jersey. The former had Hart say, "...if the Cubans would give him $10 million he would wipe out the Spanish stronghold." This was not the last time airships and Cuba* would be mentioned in the same breath, as we shall see.
* [In this period the then-new "yellow journalism" was keeping
American public opinion aroused over Cuba's desire for
independence. After the Cuban insurection of 1895, public
sentiment was running high against Spain and the mysterious
destruction of the U. S. S. Maine in Havana harbor on February
15, 1898, triggered the Spanish-American war.]
Early in December 1896 a stranger appeared at a business establishment in Fresno, Calif., and inquired for a George Jennings.
Covered with dust, the man looked as if he had traveled a long
distance. When Jennings stepped out of a back room he greeted the visitor like an old friend. The two men engaged in whispered
conversation and the persons standing nearby were nonplussed to
overhear the word "airship" spoken more than once.
Later Jennings talked freely to a reporter for the Fresno Semi-Weekly Expositor_, balking only at giving his friends' name.
"It is true the airship is in Fresno County," he said. "Just where I do not know myself. It is also true that the man who was in here a short time ago is one of the inventors. He told me the trip to this country was involuntary upon the part of the men in the airship.
In other words the machine came itself and they couldn't stop it.
(I was told) that they were flying, as usual, around Contra Costa
County hills and rose to a height of about 1,000 feet. Suddenly the
airship struck a current of air and refused to answer to its
steering gear. It was borne rapidly southward against all efforts
to change its course until suddenly the current of air seemed to
lessen and the machine once more became manageable. The men aboard at once descended and flew about looking for a hiding place, which they at length found."
Jennings said he was sure that individuals in nearby Watertown and
Selma must have observed the craft as it limped through the county
in search of a "hiding place." Sure enough, the day before his
encounter with the aeronaut, the San Francisco Call had published
a letter from five Watertown men who said they had seen an enormous airship nearly collide with a cornice on the city's post office
building the evening of November 20. The craft had an "intensely
brilliant" light and the witnesses could see human forms aboard.
The evening of December 5 Selma citizens were treated to the unnerving spectacle of a low-flying brilliantly-illuminated object sailing rapidly toward the southeast.
"The character of the witnesses is such as to leave no doubt that they saw just what they described," the Selma Irrigator editorialized.
After the first week of December the airships seemed to have disappeared, the "inventors" were heard from no more and everything returned to normal-but not for long. The incredible part was yet to come.
We are looking into the Dellschau manuscripts and further
researches on this mysterious N.B. gas.
From the work of Walter Russell and his development of the
Octave Periodic Progression of elements, there would appear to
be somewhere on the order of 26 elements BELOW HYDROGEN. This is TOTALLY CONTRARY to any modern understanding of chemistry.
As we understand it, the N.B. gas had incredible lifting power
(not anti-gravity per se.). An apt analogy would be that one
could fill a basketball with the N.B. gas, hold it in your arms
and be carried off into the upper stratosphere.
When such an understanding is applied to the majority of cases
of the airships, it is seen how they are identical to ships on
water or submarines underwater. A simple change in ballast
would determine the height to which the airship would rise and
remain. Subject of course to wind.
When perusing the many fascinating reports from this era, we
note several describing winged men flying through the air.
Some have the equivalent of a backpack for thrust, some simply
the wings. N.B. could very well stand for Neutral Buoyancy.
SHADES OF THE ROCKETEER!!!
Page 205 of Bullards book,
On July 28th, around 6 to 7 AM?, Two Louisville, Kentucky men saw an object in the distance which drew nearer and resolved into the appearance of a man surrounded by machinery. (Note no gasbag or canopy supported by one)
If the man slacked his efforts (he was peddling) the machine dropped, but if he once again worked the treadles (peddles) and wings HE ROSE AGAIN; but the machine seemed under perfect control and executed a turn over the city.
(Remember when the comedian Gallagher built and flew a bicycle type device suspended from a small dirigible.)
Page 206 of Bullards book,
In September an object like a black-clad man WITH BAT'S WINGS AND FROGS LEGS FLAPPED over Coney Island.
Can we not here clearly see that the use of N.B. gas could so balance or completely cancel one's weight that flying in air would be analogous to swimming in water? Is this not worth pursuing? It would turn our concept of air travel completely upside down.
Ninety percent of the problem with air travel is the extra power required to sustain lift. Propulsion is a piece of cake in comparision. Imagine airships or flying suits literally "floating" like boats on water..........
The existence of the craft is beyond doubt, but what powered them?
Who were the members of the secret "Aero Club"?
"The airship as a practical invention is believed to be so nearly ripe that a story of its appearance in the sky is not necessarily to be received with disrespect," Harper's Weekly commented in its April 24, 1897, issue...not unless you assumed that thousands of Americans had lost their senses, a discomforting notion which some scientists, editors and skeptics seemed to embrace.
Prof. George Hough, a Northwestern University astronomer, assured everyone that the "airship" was nothing but the star Alpha Orionis as perceived by drunks, fools and hysterics. Most newspapers ridiculed reports of the airship, finally desisting only for fear of offending the growing numbers of readers who had seen the craft.
California's airship, reported in November 1896, was the first to receive widespread publicity but that same month an unidentified flying object passed through central Nebraska and sightings in the state continued until the following May. Delaware farmers saw airships as early as January 1897.
It took a sighting in Omaha involving hundreds of witnesses to put the airships back in the headlines, however. The low-flying object, a large bright light, "too big for a balloon," appeared on the night of March 29, 1897, and was visible for more than half an hour.
From then on America's skies were filled with airships. The reports came primarily from midwestern states and descriptions of the ships varied-as these random examples show:
Everest, Kans., April 1 (_Kansas City Times_): "The basket or
car seemed to be 25 to 30 feet long, shaped like an Indian
canoe. Four light wings extended from the car; two wings were
triangular. A large dark hulk was discernible immediately above
the car and was generally supposed by the watchers to be an
Chicago, April 11 (_Chicago Times-Herald_): "The lower portions
of the airship were thin and made of some light white metal like
aluminum. The upper portion was dark and long like a big cigar,
pointed in front and with some kind of arrangement in the rear
to which cables are attached."
Texas, April 16 (_New York Sun_): "...shaped like a Mexican
cigar, large in the middle and small at both ends, with great
wings resembling those of an enormous butterfly. It was
brilliantly illuminated by the rays of two great searchlights
and was sailing in a southeasterly direction with the velocity
of wind, presenting a magnificent appearance."
Numerous persons reported seeing normal-looking men and women inside the ships. One of the most interesting "occupant" reports came from M. G. Sisson, postmaster at Greenfield, Ill.
On the afternoon of April 19, 1897, while walking his dog through
the woods he spotted an airship 150 feet above him-a phenomenon he found less unsettling than the sight of a woman standing on a deck on the bow of the craft netting pigeons. When she saw Sisson she quickly stepped inside and the craft flew off. Later that day Thomas Bradburg of Hagaman, about nine miles east of Greenfield, found part of a letter supposedly dropped from the airship. On a printed letterhead of "Airship Co., Oakland Calif.," it read:
"We are having a delightful time and plenty to eat. Mollie's
scheme for running down birds and catching them with a net
works excellently; we feast daily upon pigeon pie.
"Since starting out we have greatly increased the velocity of
the ship. The following figures will give some idea of the
speed which we are now able to make: St. Louis, April 15, 8:30
P.M.; Chicago, same evening, 9:33; Kansas City, one hour and 40
Purportedly many such "messages" were released from airships and no doubt the majority were hoaxes. We mention the letter found by Bradburg because of its possible tie-in with Sisson's experience (whether Bradburg had heard Sisson's story before he "found" the letter is unanswerable) and because "Oakland, Calif." on the letterhead takes us back to the controversies of November 1896 as to the inventor's place of residence discussed in Part I of this article.
The events of 1896, incredible as they were, are relatively
uncomplicated compared to what happened in 1897. California's
controversy concerned only one alleged inventor, the mysterious "E.
H. Benjamin," but April 1897 produced an onslaught of conflicting
claims involving a host of people -- stories which made it obvious
that someone was lying. Sometimes it was the "witnesses," sometimes
the newspapers and sometimes it may have been the airship occupants themselves.
Let us examine several "contact" claims of this period:
Springfield, Ill., April 15: Farmhands Adolph Winkle and John
Hulle allegedly saw an airship land two miles outside the city
and talked with its occupants, two men and a woman, who said
they would "make a report to the government when Cuba* is
* [As we pointed out last month this period (1895-1897) spawned the Spanish-American War over the issue of Cuban independence.]
Harrisburg, Ark., April 21: At 1:00 A. M. a strange noise
awakened a man identified as ex-Senator Harris and through his
bedroom window he saw an airship descending to the ground. The
occupants, two young men, a woman and an elderly man with a dark waist-length beard, got out and helped themselves to a supply of
fresh well water.
Overcome by curiosity, Harris went outside and engaged the old
man in a long conversation, during which the latter claimed he
had inherited the secret of antigravity from his late uncle.
"Weight is no object to me," he said. "I suspend all gravity by
placing a small wire around an object.
"I was making preparations to go over to Cuba and kill off the
Spanish army if hostilities had not ceased," he went on, "but
now my plans are changed and I may go to the aid of the Armenians."
He would accomplish all this with a gun which would
fire, he said "63,000 times per minute."
For those who have taken the time to study the work of John
Worrell Keely (Patron of KeelyNet), one can see a definite tie-
in with both of these amazing statements. We will not go into
detail beyond the reference, since the information is freely
available from the Keely section of this board.
The true seeker will STUDY and find out for himself. Keely died
in 1898, a documented fact while the mention of this mysterious
late uncle was given in 1897, one year after Keely's death.
After offering Harris a ride, which the ex-senator refused, the
crew reentered their craft and disappeared into the night.
Stephensville, Tex., late April: Alerted by "prominent farmer"
C. L. McIllhaney that an airship had alighted in a field on his
farm three miles from town, a large delegation of
Stephensville's leading citizens (our source lists all their
names) set out to see for themselves.
They found a 60-foot cigar-shaped craft and its two occupants,
who gave their names as S. E. Tillman and A. E. Dolbear. The
pair explained that they were making an experimental trip to
test the ship for certain New York financiers. Turning down
requests from onlookers who wanted to examine the craft, the
aeronauts boarded the machine and sailed off.
Conroe, Tex. April 22-23: Around midnight four men, one of them
hotel proprietor G. L. Witherspoon, were playing dominoes in the
hotel restaurant when three strangers entered. They said they
had landed their airship not far away and come into town for
supper "by way of a change," then went on to report they had
flown from San Francisco en route to Cuba.
Witherspoon and his friends declined an offer to examine the
ship, suspecting they were the victims of a practical joke. But
about an hour later, after the visitors had left, a brilliantly
lighted airship passed over Conroe.
Chattanooga, Tenn., late April: Several Chattanooga citizens
reportedly encountered a landed airship "in the exact shape of a
shad, (a type of fish) minus head and tail," resting on a
mountainside near the city. Its two occupants were at work
repairing it. One,who identified himself as Prof. Charles
Davidson, said they had left Sacramento a month before and had
spent the intervening time touring the country.
Jenny Lind, Ark., May 4: At 7:30 P. M. an airship passed over
town. Three men leaped on their bicycles and pursued it until
it landed near a spring next to a mountain. Its pilots, who
introduced themselves as George Autzerlitz and Joseph Eddleman,
talked with the three for a while, saying they subsisted on
birds which they would overtake and capture in flight. Before
leaving the aeronauts offered any one of them a free ride and
ended up taking James Davis to Huntington, 15 miles away.
This story appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the form
of a letter from two Jenny Lind residents, who urged the paper
to contact R. M. McDowell, general manager of the Western Coal
and Mining Company in St. Louis. McDowell told the _Post-
Dispatch_, "Yes, I know all those persons. I have extensive
works at Jenny Lind. I don't understand the letter, though. It
is very strange."
Hot Springs, Ark., May 6: John L. Sumpter, Jr., and John
McLemore, police officers, testified in an affidavit that they
had seen a 60-foot airship land that dark, rainy night. There
were three occupants, a young man and woman and an older man with a long dark beard.
The latter approached the lawmen carrying a lantern while the
young man filled a large sack with water and the woman stayed in
the shadows, apparently hoping to remain unobserved. The old
man said they would stop off at Nashville after traveling the
country. The officers turned down an offer for a ride and then
left on other business. When they returned 40 minutes later the
ship was gone.
The Fort Smith Daily News Record noted that while Sumpter and McLemore were subjected to a great deal of ridicule "they, however, most seriously maintain that it is absolutely true, and their earnestness is puzzling many, who, while unable to accept the story as a fact, yet see that the men are not jesting."
Are these stories to be taken seriously? If they are hoaxes, at least they are not so obvious as many of the tales that circulated during the three months of the 1897 airship scare. And the incidents detailed above have a certain consistency. Three of them note the presence of a lone young woman with one or two young men; two of them describe one airship occupant as an elderly man sporting a long dark beard.
In two others the occupants give Sacramento and San Francisco as the points of origin of their flights and another mentions New York. These cities figure prominently in the November-December 1896 controversies as locations either where the craft were seen or where they were constructed. And the business of the birds in the Jenny Lind report is reminiscent of M. G. Sisson's Greenfield, Ill., sighting.
Even if every one of the stories is no more than a figment of some
prankster's imagination, the fact remains that for the most part
(the lesser part we shall examine shortly) the craft were piloted
and PROBABLY BUILT BY HUMAN BEINGS -- as opposed to the hairy
humanoids and golden-maned Venusians of modern flying saucer folklore. But who were the airship pilots and occupants? And what happened to their marvelous inventions?
While 1897 newspapers printed reams of speculation about the
mysterious inventor's identity, little of the material seems based
on anything more substantial than rumor and hearsay. Amid all the
nonsense, however, are several bits and pieces which ring true. One
of these is a statement by Max L. Hosmar, secretary of the Chicago
Aeronautical Association and presumably a reliable man.
Speaking the day after a sighting on April 9, 1897, Hosmar told reporters "It was an airship. I know one of the three men who are in it. The ship is the customary inflated gas reservoir but the inventors have discovered the secret of practical propulsion. They can steer the vessel in any direction.
Word reached me several weeks ago that the craft had started from San Francisco and would stop here for the purpose of registration. The object of all the mystery is to arouse great interest in aerial navigation and demonstrate its practicability. The trip is to end in Washington."
Curiously enough, on the evening of April 15 an airship did
appear in Washington, D. C. It reportedly approached the Washington Monument at an altitude of 600 feet, then sailed toward Georgetown and disappeared.
About 11:00 P. M. April 19 near Beaumont, Tex., a farmer and his son
came upon an airship in a pasture. They found four men moving
around the machine and one of them, who said his name was Wilson, asked for and received a supply of water from the farmer's well.
At Uvalde, Tex., 23 hours later Sheriff H. W. Baylor spoke briefly
with the three-man crew of an airship which had alighted outside the
town. One of them men gave his name as Wilson and said he was a native of Goshen, N. Y. Then he asked about a Captain Akers, whom
he said he had known in Fort Worth in 1877 and understood he now
lived in southern Texas. After getting water from Baylor's pump the
aeronauts entered their craft and took off.
A newspaper reporter located Captain Akers who said, "I can say that while living in Fort Worth in '76 and '77 I was well acquainted with a man by the name of Wilson from New York state and was on very friendly terms with him.
He was of a mechanical turn of mind and was then working on aerial
navigation and something that would astonish the world. He was a
finely educated man, then about 24 years of age, and seemed to have money with which to prosecute his investigations, devoting his whole
time to them.
From conversations we had while in Fort Worth, I think that Mr. Wilson, having succeeded in constructing a practical airship, would probably hunt me up to show me that he was not so wild in his claims as I then supposed.
"I will say further that I have known Sheriff Baylor many years and know that any statement he may make can be relied on as exactly correct."
Another candidate for "airship inventor" is described in the _Omaha Globe-Democrat_ for April 10: "The indications are that John O. Preast of this county is the author of the mysterious machine.
Preast is a unique character, spending his time at his country residence near Omaha in experimenting with airships, constructing models and studying all the subjects incidental to the theories of applied mechanics along the line of providing a vessel that will propel itself through the air.
He has consumed the past 10 years in this way and the walls of his
home are covered with drawings of queer-shaped things,some
resembling gigantic birds, while others look like a big cigar, all
of which he says represent models of airships. He is a man of
superior education. He came to Omaha from Germany 20 years ago and his lived the life of a recluse.
Mr. Preast refuses to admit that the ship reported in different
sections of the state is his invention but... (it is known that) he
told several persons that he would surprise the world with a working
model in 1897... The two times in the past week that the light has
been seen in Omaha it disappeared near Preast's home, hovering over the place and then appearing to go out."
The most interesting thing about this Mr. Preast is how much he reminds us of someone else-the mysterious C. A. A. Dellschau.
Both men were recluses, German immigrants, compulsive students of
aviation who spent untold hours making drawings of odd-looking
And who is "Wilson"? Could he be the "Wilson" of "Tosh Wilson and Co." to whom Dellschau refers in one of his scrapbooks? A wild guess, perhaps.
Germany is involved in the airship mystery because the objects first
manifested there in the 1850's. Unfortunately we do not have access
to the German reports-but how odd it is that so many German names crop up in Dellschau's list of men supposedly involved with the "Aero Club" of Sonora, Calif., in the 1850's: August Schoetler,
Jacob Mischer, Ernest Krause, Julius Koch, A. B. Kahn and many
Whatever the truth or untruth of Dellschau's jottings it seems likely that some kind of secret organization of aeronauts lived and worked in the United States and possibly Germany as well during the 19th Century. The mysterious "collector of curiosities" who showed up in Galisteo Junction, N. Mex., in 1880 the day after an airship had flown over, and stole away with the evidence it had left behind may have been associated with the organization.
It would have taken several dozen aeronauts to pilot the inestimable number of airships reported in different parts of the country in the 1896-97 flaps.
All of them presumably would have been involved with the society and sworn to secrecy, for no one ever stepped forward to answer the many questions raised by the sudden appearances of these airships. When aeronauts did speak up much of what they said was drivel, although there may have been some strains of truth.
Nevertheless, no one got a straight answer from an aeronaut about the airship's source of power. The words "gas" and "electricity" dot a number of accounts and once "antigravity" crops up.
Most airships carried both large gasbags and powerful searchlights but from eyewitness descriptions the craft seem to unwieldy that one wonders how they flew.
Maybe Dellschau's antigravity gas, "NB," is as good an explanation of their propulsion as we're likely to find.
Part Three: Technology of that time does not explain these airships.
Were extraterrestrial intelligences involved?
An entirely different kind of story of an airship and its occupants was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for April 19, 1897, in the form of a letter from W. H. Hopkins, a St. Louis resident whose job as general traveling agent for the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company had taken him to Missouri that week.
The incident he describes had occurred, he said, on April 16:
"...I was wandering through hills east of Springfield, Mo.,
and coming to the brow of a hill overlooking a small clearing
in the valley a short distance below me I saw a sight that
rooted me to the spot... I could not believe my eyes at
first... There in the clearing rested a vessel similar in
outline to the airship shown in the Post-Dispatch a few
days ago and said to have been taken in Illinois...
"Near the vessel was the most beautiful being I ever beheld.
She was under medium size but of the most exquisite form and
features such as would put to shame the forms as sculptured
by the ancient Greeks. She was dressed in nature's garb
(both were naked) and her golden hair, wavy and glossy, hung
to her waist, unconfined except by a band of glistening jewels that bound it back from her forehead... She was plucking the little flowers that were just blossoming...with exclamations of delight in a language I could not understand.
Her voice was like low, silvery bells and her laughter rang
out like their chimes. In one hand she carried a fan of
curious design that she fanned herself vigorously with,
though to me the air was not warm and I wore an overcoat.
"In the shade of the vessel lay a man of noble proportions and
majestic countenance. His hair of dark auburn fell to his
shoulders in wavy masses and his full beard... reached to
his breast. He also was fanning himself... as if the heat
"After gazing for a while I moved forward and the woman,
hearing the rustle of the leaves, looked around. A moment
she stood looking at me with wonder and astonishment in her
beautiful blue eyes, then with a shriek of fear she rushed to
the man who sprang to his feet, threw his arm around her and
glared at me in a threatening manner.
"I stopped and taking my handkerchief from my pocket waved it
in the air. A few minutes we stood. I then spoke some words
of apology for intruding but he seemed not to understand and
replied in a threatening tone and words which I could not
make out. I tried by signs to make him understand and
finally he left her... and came toward me. I extended my
hand. He looked at it a moment, astonishment in his dark-
brown eyes, and finally he extended his own and touched mine.
I took his and carried it to my lips. I tried by signs to
make them understand I meant no harm. Finally his face
lighted up with pleasure and he turned and spoke to the
woman. She came hesitatingly forward, her form undulating
with exquisite grace. I took her hand and kissed it
fervently. The color rose to her cheeks and she drew it
"I asked them by signs where they came from but it was
difficult to make them understand. Finally they seemed to do
so and smiling, they gazed upwards for a moment, as if
looking for some particular point, and then pointed upwards,
pronouncing a word which to my imagination sounded like Mars.
"I pointed to the ship and expressed my wonder in my
countenance. He took me by the hand and led me toward it.
In the side was a small door. I looked in. There was a
luxurious couch covered with robes of the most beautiful
stuff and texture such as I had never seen before.
From the ceiling was suspended a curious ball from which
extended a strip of metal which he struck to make it vibrate.
Instantly the ball was illuminated with a soft white light
which lit up the whole interior...most beautifully
"At the stern was another large ball of metal, supported in a
strong framework, and connected to the shaft of the propeller
at the stern was a similar mechanism attached to each
propeller and smaller balls attached to a point of metal that
extended from each side of the vessel and from the prow.
And connected to each ball was a thin strip of metal similar
to the one attached to the lamp. He struck each one and when
they vibrated the balls commenced to revolve with intense
rapidity and did not cease till he stopped them with a kind
As they revolved intense lights, stronger than any arc light
I ever saw, shone out from the points at the sides and at the
prow, but they were different colors. The one at the prow
was an intense white light. On one side was green and on the
"The two had been examining me with the greatest curiosity in
the meantime. They felt of my clothing, looked at my gray
hair with surprise and examined my watch with the greatest
wonder. Signs are poor medium to exchange ideas and
therefore we could express but little.
"I pointed to the balls attached to the propellers. He gave
each of the strips of metal a rap, those attached to the
propellers under the vessel first. The balls began to
revolve rapidly and I felt the vessel begin to rise... I
sprang out and none too soon, for the vessel rose as lightly
as a bird and shot away like an arrow...
The two stood laughing and waving their hands to me, she a vision of loveliness and he of manly vigor."
Incredible? Certainly. A skeptical Post-Dispatch reporter took the letter to Hopkins' employer, C. C. Gardner. After reading it carefully Gardner said, "That is Mr. Hopkins' handwriting and he is now in that territory. He was also at Springfield on the day named..." Asked if he believed Hopkins' story Gardner nodded vigorously.
"Indeed I do," he said. "Strange as it may seem I am compelled to believe it. Mr. Hopkins is not a romancer. He never courts notoriety.
What he writes he has seen and he believes it is his duty to make the facts public. He does not drink a drop. He has been connected with this company for a long time and is most reliable. What he writes you can publish as being absolutely true."
Other employees in the firm spoke just as highly of Hopkins. The reporter also searched out Hopkins' wife and two daughters. "It's the truth if he wrote it," Mrs. Hopkins affirmed, "and I believe every word. Mr. Hopkins is a member of the Maple Avenue M. E. Church and has many friends... He undoubtedly wishes to acquaint his friends with the marvel he has seen and so uses the Post-Dispatch as the medium of communication.
"Mr. Hopkins left home a week ago," she continued. "Before he left
he ridiculed the idea of an airship having been seen. But now I
suppose he is convinced it is not a myth." The other-worldly overtones of this incident hardly can be denied and it was not the only bizarre occurrence of the period.
On the morning of April 15 a large airship moved northward slowly over Linn Grove, Iowa, and five men followed it about four miles into the country where it landed. But when the pursuers got within 700 yards of the vessel it spread out four monstrous wings and flew away. As it rose its occupants tossed out two boulders "of unknown composition."
The witnesses said the entities within the craft had the longest beards they had ever seen and a news account of the incident mentions "two queer-looking persons... who made desperate efforts to conceal themselves."
The next day at Mount Vernon, Ill., the city's mayor focused his
telescope on an "airship." What he saw was something that
resembled, according to the Saginaw Courier-Herald,
"the body of a huge man swimming through the air with an
electric light at his back."
It goes without saying that no theory which assumed terrestrial inventors were completely responsible for airship manifestations is going to account for a sighting like this one.
From the Houston Daily Post for April 28, 1897, comes the weirdest case of all: "Merkel, Tex., April 26 -- Some parties returning from church last night noticed a heavy object dragging along with a rope attached. They followed it until in crossing the railroad, it caught on a rail.
Looking up they saw what they supposed was the airship. It was not near enough to get an idea of the dimensions. A light could be seen protruding from several windows; one bright light in front like the headlight of a locomotive. After some 10 minutes a man was seen descending the rope; he came near enough to be plainly seen.
He wore a light-blue sailor suit, was small in size. He stopped
when he discovered parties at the anchor and cut the ropes below him and sailed off in a northeast direction. The anchor is now on exhibition at the blacksmith shop of Elliott and Miller and is attracting the attention of hundreds of people."
An ancient obscure Irish manuscript, Speculum Regali, records
an incident that supposedly occurred in the year 956 A. D.: "There
happened in the borough of Cloera, one Sunday while people were at mass, a marvel. In this town there is a church to the memory of
St. Kinarus. It befell that a metal anchor was dropped from the
sky, with a rope attached to it, and one of the sharp flukes caught
in the wooden arch above the church door.
The people rushed out of the church and saw in the sky a ship with
men on board, floating at the end of the anchor cable, and they saw
a man leap overboard and pull himself down the cable to the anchor as if to unhook it.
"He appeared as if he were swimming in water."
The folk rushed up and tried to seize him; but the bishop forbade the people to hold the man for fear it might kill him. The man was freed and hurried up the cable to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship rose and sailed away out of sight. But the anchor is in the church as a testimony to this singular occurrence."
And about 1200 A. D. an anchor plummeted out of the sky trailing a rope and got caught in a mound of stones near a church in Bristol, England. As a mob of churchgoers congregated at the scene, a "sailor" came skittering down the rope to free it.
According to Gervase of Tilbury's Otia Imperialia the crowd seized the intruder and "he suffocated by the mist of our moist atmosphere and expired." His unseen comrades cut the rope and left.
We do not pretend to understand why an incident of this nature should continually recur but its occurrence in the midst of the 1897 airship flap should prove conclusively that we are dealing with phenomena whose implications boggle the mind.
Something astonishing, even incomprehensible, was taking place in 19th-Century America. Whatever conclusions we draw from it are bound to be unbelievable and little more than informed guesses, for the gaps in the story are often greater than the substance.
Throughout history innumerable groups, societies and cults have organized-sometimes secretly, sometimes not -- around an idea that in one way or another they were in contact with "higher beings" who taught them and oversaw their lives. Almost every religion assumes its adherents were and are guided in this manner-so do cults of magicians, spiritualists, flying saucer contactees and many others.
Some gifted scientists and inventors have believed privately that
non-human entities helped them in their work. In the 19th Century
we believe man had neither the knowledge nor the means to build and fly heavier-than-air machines. We are equally sure that somebody
was doing just that and according to most eyewitness reports, the
pilots of the ships appeared to be ordinary mortals.
Even if we reject Dellschau's accounts as senile raving we still must confront the "impossible" fact of the existence of airships and human occupants.
Taking Dellschau seriously for the moment we might postulate that in
both Germany and the United States, specifically in California and
New York, a secret cult of brilliant scientists, technicians and
inventors established contact with nonhuman agencies which told them how to construct aerial vessels but ordered them to keep the work
under wraps. It is safe to assume the German and American branches were in communication and about 1848 some of the Germans immigrated to pool their efforts with those of the Americans.
Perhaps 1848 was the crucial year. Perhaps the eastern branch of the society had decided to market the airship-with or without the approval of their "superiors." An advertisement appeared on the east coast proclaiming that "R. Porter & Company" soon would have ships for air travel.
For some unknown reason nothing came of the plan but by the 1850's
many of the Germans had set up shop near Sonora, Calif., with the
Americans and they were to spend the next several years conducting some incredible experiments.
Dissension and dissatisfaction no doubt developed as the group came to realize they might never be allowed to give their "aeros" to the
world. They may have hoped that someone-Dellschau calls him "the right man" -- would arrive to defy the "superiors" and make the
airship public property. (Not all that public, of course. The
group stood to collect a fortune for their enterprise.)
While airships were seen over America from time to time in the years before 1896, widespread sustained flights seem to have become necessary in that year, for whatever reason. To maintain secrecy in a period when airships for the first time would be observed widely the society agreed to plant a series of conflicting and therefore misleading claims. The ploy worked, of course.
The "superiors," the nonhuman entities, had their own ships but they
took care not to be seen while their human agents captured the
headlines. Conceivably the human beings were little more than pawns in some cosmic game.
The weirdest incidents -- those putting airships in a paranormal
framework-well may have been the important ones, while the more
mundane sightings were designed only to distract attention while the
nonhumans set about doing whatever they intended to accomplish.
If Dellschau was lying, then we must revise our theory only to exclude the German and Sonora, Calif., headquarters. The existence of a secret society in contact with nonhumans still can be inferred from other evidence.
To pursue our initial hypothesis to its conclusion, let us suppose that Dellschau retired to Houston late in the 19th Century, as in fact he did, depressed and discouraged because it looked as if the whole amazing business would remain a secret forever.
Still intimidated by the "superiors" and afraid to speak directly,
nonetheless he determined to leave the world a series of clues in
the hope that someday a "Wonder Weaver" would find them and sew the entire dazzling fabric together.
Too much to swallow, you say? But can you think of a better explanation?
Let us suppose that early chemical researchers did not IN FACT
find the lowest element in the Periodic Table, i.e. Hydrogen
with an atomic number of 1 and a mass number of 1.008.
According to Walter Russell, the elements follow a harmonic
Octave Progression. The chart he developed to illustrate this
progression shows 26 elements with a mass LESS than Hydrogen.
We have made contact with both Pete Navarro and Jimmy Ward, the primary researchers into the Dellschau notebooks. Jimmy has
confirmed that the mysterious N.B. gas was highly inflammable.
Airships using this substance to provide primary lift, posted
signs within the ship warning occupants of the explosive nature
of the N.B. gas. Smoking and any open flame could cause the
craft to be blown out of the air.
If there are as many as 26 different gases with LESS MASS than Hydrogen, then these gases must necessarily be FAR LIGHTER THAN HYDROGEN, thus providing more lift per volume.
Again, following this train of thought, it can easily be seen how this gas could lift much heavier payloads with less gas. An analogy : If a basketball were filled with N.B. gas, one could grab the ball and be lifted into space.
Now, what if you took a pair of coveralls, sewed tubing into the material and filled it with this gas. You could so balance it against your natural weight that you could float like a balloon. Add wings or some form of thrust and you could fly quite freely in the open air.
Of course, a backpack, scooter or light airship could also be built using the gas for lift. Propulsion is easy to achieve while lift is more difficult. If wings or ailerons were used, then a forward thrust would cause the ship to lift proportional to velocity than the natural buoyancy of the N.B. gas.
The winged flying men as mentioned in the above article could thus be accounted for without the need for paranormal or extra-terrestrial speculations.
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