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In 1896 and 1897, hundreds of people throughout the United States reported seeing a strange, silver, cigar-shaped airship in the sky.
The first account came from Sacramento, California. Witnesses claimed to see a bright light in the sky, as high as 1,000 feet. Above the light was the outline of what seemed to be an airship. Dozens of people reported seeing the ship, and many said they heard singing, arguing voices as well. Ten days later, a man in nearby Lodi told the Stockton Evening Mail that he had met three alien beings, who tried and failed to abduct him before they eventually fled in a cigar-shaped airship.
The two stories sparked several more over the next few months. Residents of Omaha, Nebraska claimed they saw the ship three times in February and March 1897. During one of the sightings, residents of the nearby village of North Loup reported seeing a strange fireball, though they never saw the ship itself. In Clinton, Iowa, eyewitnesses said a bright light appeared in the sky before the craft arrived, just as in Sacramento.
Excitement was so high that thousands of people reported seeing strange lights in the sky on April 12, believing it was the mysterious ship – however, astronomers said the lights were a “fast-moving star.”
Soon, the alleged airship was everywhere. On April 29, 1897, the Valentine Democratmade the observation, “Tuesday night was a busy one for the airship. It exploded in Kalamazoo, Mich., ran aground in Carlinville, Ill., and made its debut in Washington, D.C.”
Kalamazoo wasn’t the only crash site that April. A day after a sighting in Galveston, the citizens of Aurora, Texas, were reportedly visited by the airship—which one resident said crashed into a windmill, killing the pilot. The pilot, who was “not of this world,” was given a Christian burial, he said. Airship sightings trailed off.
Did an alien airship really travel around the U.S. for several months, then crash in Texas? Many of the strange sightings may have been genuine, but others were probably attempts to jump on the sudden UFO trend and benefit from it. One sighting reported in the Clinton Morning Age hints at a motivation behind the rash of reports: “... Clinton will probably be advertised over the land as having seen the mysterious visitor in all its brilliancy.”
Residents of Aurora suggested long after the event that their own story was born from a desire to keep their tiny town alive; it was hit by three major disasters within a few months right before the alleged crash.
There are other explanations, too. Real, human-built airships had taken to the air by the 1890s, though at the time, few resembled the cigar-shaped craft described by witnesses. Venus was exceptionally bright that year, but as author J. Allan Danelekpoints out, it's unlikely that people mistook a fixed point of light for several moving ones.
UFO enthusiasts have debated the sightings and their veracity for more than 100 years now...
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