[The great airship mystery of 1897 qualifies as the first major UFO flap in U.S. history. Fifty years before Kenneth Arnold and the Roswell Incident, people throughout the midwestern states and as far west as San Francisco reported unusual aircraft, replete with unusual aviators, in the skies. The craft closely matched the description of later powered dirigibles, but officially no such powered craft existed in 1897. An inventor named E.J. Pennington claimed ownership of such a craft in the area of Brown County, Indiana; but this claim is dubious and could not account for all the reported sightings. The airships were often reported to have extremely bright lights and were often seen near big cities. On at least one occasion an Iowa farmer was reportedly dragged into the air by an anchor hanging down from an airship.
CNI News thanks Joe Trainor, editor of the online newsletter UFO Roundup, for permission to reprint this article from Roundup Vol. 2, number 4 of January 26, 1997. Interested readers can receive issues of UFO Roundup free by sending an email request to Masinaigan@aol.com.]
Late January marks the 100th anniversary of one of the earliest UFO sightings in the United States, in the town of Hastings, Nebraska, 160 miles southwest of Omaha.
According to the Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital of March 31, 1897, the UFO was seen the morning of Sunday, January 24, 1897. People thought a mysterious inventor was experimenting with an "airship" about 10 miles west of the small city. The UFO circled for a few minutes and then zoomed away to the north.
Here's the story as it appeared in the Omaha, Nebraska Bee for February 2, 1897: "Several Hastings people report that an air ship, or something of the kind, has been sailing around in the air west of this city. It was first noticed sometime last fall when it was seen floating in the air about 500 feet above the ground, and after standing still for about 30 minutes, it began to circle about and took a northerly direction for about two miles, after which it returned to its starting place and sank into oblivion.
"Since that time it has not been seen until last Sunday evening, when it was observed standing nearly still, a few miles west of Hastings and seemingly about 800 feet in the air.
"At first sight it had the appearance of an immense star, but after closer observation the powerful light shows by its color to be artificial. It certainly must be illuminated by powerful electric dynamos for the light sent forth by it is wonderful.
"At 9:30 last Monday night (January 25, 1897) the large glaring light was seen to circle around for a few minutes and then descended for about 200 feet, circling as it traveled at a remarkable speed for about two miles and then slowing up it circled for fully 15 minutes, when it began to lower and disappear as mysteriously as it had made its appearance...A close watch is being kept for its reappearance."
On February 5, 1897, the Omaha Bee reported that the UFO had been sighted again, this time at Invale, a tiny farm town 40 miles south of Hastings, near the Kansas state line. The UFO was seen by people returning from a prayer meeting.
"It (the UFO) seemed to be conical-shaped and perhaps 30 to 40 feet in length, with a bright headlight and six smaller lights, three on a side, and seemed to have two sets of wings on a side, with a large fan-shaped rudder," the Bee reported. The Invale witnesses claimed to have heard rumbling engine noises and the voices of the "airship's" occupants. (See the Omaha, Nebraska Bee for February 2 and February 5, 1897, plus the Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital of Topeka, Kansas for March 31, 1897 "Strange Light in the Sky.")
Original file name: CNI - Airship.100th Anniversary
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