The Flap of 1896-1897

From late 1896 through early 1897, a full ten years before the flight of the first known powered dirigible, thousands of people across America claimed to see strange lights in the night sky,¬†heard voices and music emanating from a mysterious airship. Some accounts described a cigar-shaped gasbag, others noted vast flapping canvas wings and large wheels like a paddle steamer’s. One early eye witness even insisted he’d glimpsed two men suspended in the ship’s undercarriage, furiously working bicycle pedals. From Sacramento to Chicago, folks from all walks of life strove to convince skeptical journalists that what they’d seen was not, in fact, an elaborate hoax.

The most carefully researched book written to date about the phenomenon is probably The Great Airship Mystery by Daniel Cohen. Cohen gives a well-rounded account of the circumstances and evidence before concluding –quite sensibly– that the airship probably never existed. (Bummer.)

Several other authors have offered up far more juicy theories. Michael Busby maintains in his own book Solving the 1879 Airship Mystery that a secret society of mad genius inventors joined forces to build a handful of highly advanced aircraft worthy of Jules Verne, each of which, after being viewed by countless drunken farmhands in the Midwest, inexplicably crashed and burned over the Atlantic ocean.

Noted ufologist/parapsychologist/journalist John Keel includes the sightings in the book UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse as compelling evidence for his long-standing hypothesis that certain “non-human or spiritual intelligence sources” have been staging elaborate events for centuries to manipulate and misinform the human pysche. (Other examples he cites include the fairy folklore of Middle Europe, vampire legends, black helicopter sightings, poltergeist phenomena and UFOs.)

Although the initial sightings in the US ended in 1897, several more sightings occurred in England, Europe and New Zealand from 1909 through 1913. In 1912, vaudeville superstars Elsie Baker and Billy Murray penned a little ditty about the airship fervor entitled “Mysterious Moon” and recorded it on wax cylinder.

A comprehensive list of newspaper clippings from 1897 newspapers can be found here. Wikipedia’s got a good entry on the subject as well.

9 Responses to “The Flap of 1896-1897”

  1. Avinash Machado Says:

    I feel that Busby’s hypothesis is the best and possibly most accurate one.

  2. theremina Says:

    I’d certainly love to believe it. However, his book gave me the giggles.

  3. Nadya Says:

    What really intrigues me about this is the idea of music coming from this ship. Why music? If this were some kind of mysterious military project, they wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves this way. I imagine some sort of very private party for the elaborate, decadent rich, up in the sky. Which makes me wonder: why don’t they have anything like that now? Whenever I see a hummer limo stuck in traffic, I just laugh at the people inside. Now if there were little dirigibles floating around, with music, people up there laughing and having a good time… I’d be jealous.

  4. Avinash Machado Says:

    But Busby has managed to prove that many of the airship pilots\inventors\designers were actual people who lived in the areas they claimed to be from. This he was able to do so by means of census records and other records such as the civil war muster records. The fact that the people mentioned in the newspaper reports of the airship were real people adds a bit of credibility to the claim that the airships were secret man made dirigibles.

  5. theremina Says:

    I don’t disagree with you that Busby’s hypothesis is quite reasonable. It’s just that his book was not among the most credible I’ve read. Factually, or grammatically for that matter. Too much circumstantial evidence, too many factual/engineering errors, too many practical applications left unexplained. But trust me, Avinash. “I WANT TO BELIEVE.”

    Nadya, the claims of music coming from the ship definitely made me cock my head! My own opinion is that the majority of these airship sightings were hoaxes or wistful imaginings. But who knows?

    This reminds me… would you and the girls be interested in taking a ride in the Goodyear with me? Probably too pricey. But if it’s not, you wanna?

  6. Avinash Machado Says:

    What is your opinion about the book “The Great Texas Airship Mystery” by Wallace Chariton?

  7. theremina Says:

    Avinash, I never bothered with that book, heard from a few sources that it was rubbish.

  8. Avinash Machado Says:

    Now with the recent sightings in Stephenville the airship mystery is once again getting more attention. In fact there was a airship sighting in Stephenville in 1897. What is your opinion about the Stephenville sighting? Was it real or not? If real was it possibly an secret military craft?

  9. Tiluriso Says:

    John Keel’s recounting of the flap on his now classic book “Operation Trojan Horse” is the correct one – he shows that reports of mysterious airships did bit begin with the 1896-97 flap ,but go back to the 16 th Jack – and he includes at least one report where an anchor das dropped,exactly as reported by at least one witness of the 1897 objects. The paraphysical/ ultraterrestrial phenomena exist, please do yourselves a favor and read Keel’s book, as welll as Jacques Valle√©’s ‘Dimensions’, Charles Fort’s ‘ The Book of the Damned and Trevor James Constable’s ‘ They Live in the Sky’.