Before Roswell and Area 51, before the Wright Brothers and heavier-than-air flying machines, America’s attention was seized by reports of a “mysterious airship.” For five months beginning in November 1896, newspapers across the country described strange aircraft and lights in the night sky above many Western states. Although the country was not without its skeptics, and opportunists, by April 1897 much of the Midwest was afflicted with UFO fever.
On November 23, 1896, a story originally reported by the San Francisco Chronicle
was picked up by many newspapers across the United States. Under various headlines—such as “All in the Air: A Mysterious Airship Puzzles the People of California” (Minneapolis Journal
), “Airship a Fact: A Son of Maine has Mastered the Secret” (Boston Daily Journal
), and “An Airship: Residents of Sacramento, Cal., Are Treated to a Rare Sight; Aerial Navigation a Reality” (Cleveland Plain Dealer
)—the newspapers all reported the same general story.
About 1 o’clock last Monday morning the inhabitants of Sacramento, who were astir at that hour, claim to have seen an airship passing rapidly over the city. Some merely said they saw a bright light, while others went so far as to say they saw a cigar-shaped flying machine and heard human voices from it. The residents of Oakland also say they saw the same sight a few nights ago. (Duluth News Tribune, November 23, 1896)