Across the U. S.from 1896 – 1897, many newspapers reported unidentified flying objects, often described as silver cigar shaped airships with space alien crewmen and pilots thought to be from Mars. If you are looking for inspiration for a 19th century Steampunk UFO tale these reports from the great airship scare should help.
The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Call reported the first sighting on November 18, 1896. A witness named R. L. Lowery described an alien craft powered by two men exerting themselves on bicycle pedals. Above the pedaling men, under the main body of the dirigible lay a passenger compartment, Some witnesses reported the sound of singing as the airship passed overhead.
The November 19, 1896 edition of the Stockton, California Daily Mail reported Colonel H. G. Shaw claimed that when driving his buggy through the countryside near Stockton he came across what appeared to be a landed spacecraft with a metallic surface, with no features other than a rudder, and pointed ends. He estimated the space craft was a diameter of 25 feet by about 150 feet in length. Three slender, 7-foot-tall space aliens emitting a strange warbling noise came out of the craft. The beings examined Shaw’s buggy then tried to physically force Shaw into their airship. The aliens were said to give up after realizing they lacked the physical strength to force Shaw onto the ship. They climbed back into their airship, which lifted off the ground and sped out of sight.
The Albion Weekly News reported two witnesses saw an airship crash inches from where they were standing. The ship suddenly disappeared, with a man standing where the vessel had been. The airship pilot showed the men a small device which had enabled him to shrink the airship small enough to put it in his pocket.
On April 10, 1897 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article reporting a witness, W. H. Hopkins, encountered a grounded airship about 20 feet in length and 8 feet in diameter near the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri.The spaceship was propelled by 3 large propellers and crewed by a beautiful nude woman and a bearded man, also nude.Hopkins attempted to communicate with the crew to ascertain their origins. Eventually they understood what Hopkins was asking and they both pointed to the sky and uttered something that sounded like the word Mars.
April 16, 1897 the Table Rock Argus reported a group of reliable witnesses saw an airship sailing overhead. It had a lot of passengers, including a woman tied to a chair and a man with a pistol guarding her.
The Center Farmer’s Advocate published the April 19, 1897 account of Alexander Hamilton of Leroy, Kansas, who along with his son and a tenant, sighted an airship hovering over his cattle pen. A red cable from the space ship lassoed a heifer, but got entangled in the pen’s fence. Hamilton’s attempts to free the cow were unsuccessful. He then cut a portion of the fence loose and the ship and cow rose off the ground and sailed away.
In 1897 the Washington Times speculated the airships were a reconnoitering party from Mars. The same year, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch suggested these may be visitors from Mars, now fearful of invading the planet they have been seeking.
Here’s four sample of articles which appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1897:
Mount Vernon, Illinois, April 15 — What appeared to have been the mysterious airship was seen here by more than 100 persons last night.
Carlyle, Ill., April 15 — The airship was spotted this evening travelling fast in a northwestern course.
Quincy, Ill., April 15. — The Wabash passenger train which arrived here at 10 o’clock tonight raced for 15 minutes with the alleged airship. They first sighted it near Perry Springs, 52 miles east of Quincy. All of the passengers saw it, but all they could see was two lights, one white, the other red.
Hillsboro, Ill., April 15 —the airship was seen in the western heavens by a number of reputable citizens last evening.
My favorite report is the UFO crash in Aurora Texas in 1897. A cigar-shaped airship plowed through a windmill, destroying it. The good folk of Aurora discovered a space alien inside, who died upon impact. They gave him a Christian burial. Someone stole the space alien’s tombstone but the state of Texas erected a historical marker at the cemetery, which reads, “This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash was buried here.” The Dallas Morning News printed the story, stating an airship hit the tower of Judge Proter’s windmill, blew into pieces in a terrific explosion scattering parts of the UFO over several acres, wrecking the windmill and water tank, and destroying the Judge’s flower garden. The newspaper reported that the pilot, the only one in the spaceship, died upon impact and though his body was badly disfigured it was evident he was not an inhabitant of this world.
An interesting aspect of the Great Airship Scare was a rumor that the space ships were the invention of some genius who wasn’t ready to announce his creation to the public. Thomas Edison was widely speculated to be the mind behind the airships and in 1897, to quiet the rumors, he issued a statement denying all responsibility.
So start researching and writing some Victorian era UFO stories. I can’t wait to read them when they’re published.
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.