Mar 25

Mystery Airships of 1897

On 17 April 1897, the Washington Senators go to the White House and visit with President William McKinley. While an avid follower of the game of baseball, the President tells the players that the commitments of the job will preclude him from seeing the team play this season.

While the visit is noteworthy the public’s attention is elsewhere. They are watching the skies awaiting the arrival in Washington of a mystery airship.

One of the side benefits of doing research is that sometimes this gives you a glance at oddities in the news. In 1897 during the early part of the year there are numerous references all over the country to mystery airships. One article in the 13 April edition of a Washington paper boldly proclaims, “The Airship Coming Here,” Mysterious Western Flying Machine En Route to this City.

The article references that the first appearance of the mystery airship was in Sacramento three months ago. The airship, with so-called bird-like speed moved east and was seen at no less than ten different parts of the California. It was seen in Omaha, a fortnight ago, then in Kansas City, where Governor John W Leedy averred that he had seen the monstrous thing. Then there were several sightings in Indiana and Michigan. It was stated that people of Chicago had become violently interested in the airship, and thousands of them watched the heavens every night. Five nights ago, ten thousand people were in the streets from 10PM to midnight looking skyward. Many saw a light but a professor from Northwest University claims it is a star.

Walter McCann, of Rogers Park took two pictures of the craft early Sunday morning. The upper part of the ship consists of a cigar-shaped silken bag, attached to which is a lightly constructed framework. In the center of a framework the driver is located. A propeller or rudder is attached to the framework, the later being shaped like the hull of a ship, except that it was sharp at both ends. Other reports mention a shiny metallic object.

Attorney Max L Kasmer, secretary of the Chicago Aeronautical Society states that he has received word from San Francisco that a party had started from there in an airship, and that they would stop in Chicago for the purpose of registration. The end of the trip is to be in Washington, where the ship will be brought to the earth and given up to inspectors. The car contains three persons, and I know one of them, he stated to the press.

The reports of the airship suddenly end, puzzling many as to where it went.

What the airship was is open to debate. It should be noted that in April 1896, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge offered a bill that would give a prize of $100,000 for an airship. While the bill was never passed this might have encouraged someone to build such a ship.

One final event should be mentioned. On the same date, 17 April 1897 that the Senators visited the White House an airship of undetermined origin is reported to have crashed in Aurora, Texas.