Monday, January 19, 2009

Historic Accounts Reveal More About History Than UFO's

I found these two related articles transcribed on the Internet. They concern strange aerial phenomena, but are more fascinating for their historic aspects. We are never certain where to place stories from these earlier times, a time where Yellow Journalism ran amok. But if we can just enjoy a good story now and then, we can take them at face value and simply read them for fun, much as the readers of the late 19th Century most likely did.

Nebraska State Journal, June 7-9, 1887.

A CELESTIAL VISITOR. A Startling and Curious Story from the ranges of Dundy County. It is Evidently a Machine of Human Manufacture. All Particulars that are Yet Learned. Special to The State Journal.

BENKELMAN, June 7. -- A most remarkable phenomenon occurred about 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon at a point thirty-five miles northwest of this place. John W. Ellis, a well known ranchman, was going out to his herd in company with three of his herders and several other cowboys engaged in the annual roundup. While riding along a draw they heard a terrific rushing, roaring sound overhead, and looking up, saw what appeared to be a blazing meteor of immense size falling at an angle to the earth. A moment later it struck the ground out of sight over the bank. Scrambling up the steep hill they saw the object bounding along half a mile away and disappear in another draw.

Galloping towards it with all their speed, they were astounded to see several fragments of cog-wheels and other pieces of machinery lying on the ground, scattered in the path made by the aerial visitor, glowing with heat so intense as to scorch the grass for a long distance around each fragment and make it impossible for one to approach it. Coming to the edge of the deep ravine into which the strange object had fallen, they undertook to see what it was. But the heat was so great that the air about it was fairly ablaze and it emitted a light so dazzling that the eye could not rest on it for more than a moment.

An idea of the heat may be gained from the fact that one of the party, a cowboy named Alf Williamson, stood with his head incautiously exposed over the bank, and in less than half a minute he fell senseless. His face was desperately blistered and his hair singed to a crisp. His condition is said to be dangerous. The distance to the aerolite, or whatever it is, was nearly 200 feet. The burned man was taken to Mr. Ellis' house, cared for as well as circumstances would allow and a doctor sent for. His brother, who lives in Denver has just been telegraphed for.

Finding it impossible to approach the mysterious visitor, the party turned back on its trail. Where it first touched the earth the ground was sandy and bare of grass. The sand was fused to an unknown depth over a space about twenty feet wide by eighty feet long, and the melted stuff was still bubbling and hissing. Between this and the final resting place there were several like spots where it had come in contact with the ground, but none so well marked.

Finding it impossible to do any investigating, Mr. Ellis returned to his house and sent out messengers to neighboring ranches. When night came the light from the wonderful object beamed almost like the sun, and the visitors who went out to see it were entirely powerless to bear the glow.

This morning another visit was made to the spot. In the party was E.W. Rawlins, brand inspector for this district, who came into Benkleman tonight, and from whom a full verification of particulars is obtained. The smaller portions of the scattered machinery had cooled so that they could be approached, but not handled. One piece that looked like the blade of a propeller screw of a metal of an appearance like brass, about sixteen inches wide, three inches thick and three and a half feet long, was picked up by a spade. It would not weigh more than five pounds, but appeared as strong and compact as any known metal. A fragment of a wheel with a milled rim, apparently having had a diameter of seven or eight feet, was also picked up. It seemed to be of the same material and had the same remarkable lightness.

The aerolite, or whatever it is, seems to be about fifty or sixty feet long, cylindrical, and about ten or twelve feet in diameter. Great excitement exists in the vicinity and the round-up is suspended while the cowboys wait for the wonderful find to cool off so they can examine it.
Mr. Ellis is here and will take the first train to the land office with the intention of securing the land on which the strange thing lies, so that his claim to it cannot be disputed.

A party left here for the scene an hour ago and will travel all night. The country in the vicinity is rather wild and rough, and the roads hardly more than trails. Will telegraph all particulars as fast as obtained.

Nebraska State Journal, June 10, 1884

THE MAGICAL METEOR. It Dissolves Like a Drop of Dew Before the Morning Sun. The Most Mysterious Element of the Strange Phenomenon. Special to The State Journal.

BENKELMAN, June 9, 1884. Your correspondent has just returned from the spot where the aerial visitor fell last Friday. It is gone, dissolved into the air. A tremendous rain storm fell yesterday afternoon beginning around 2 o'clock. As it approached, in regular blizzard style, most of those assembled to watch the mysterious visitor fled to shelter. a dozen or more, among them your correspondent, waited to see the effect of rain upon the glowing mass of metal. The storm came down from the north, on it's crest a sheet of flying spray and a torrent of rain. It was impossible to see more than a rod through the driving, blinding mass. It lasted for half and hour, and when it slackened so that the aerolite should have been visible it was no longer there. The draw was running three feet deep in water and supposing it had floated off the strange vessel the party crossed over at the risk of their lives.

They were astounded to see that the queer object had melted, dissolved by the water like a spoonful of salt. Scarcely a vestige of it remained. Small, jelly-like pools stood here and there on the ground, but under the eyes of the observers these grew thinner and thinner till they were but muddy water joining the rills that led to the current a few feet away. The air was filled with a faint, sweetish smell.

The whole affair is bewildering to the highest degree, and will no doubt forever be a mystery. Alf Williamson, the injured cowboy, left yesterday for Denver, accompanied by his brother. It is feared he will never recover his eyesight, but otherwise he does not appear to be seriously injured.

A few things about these articles struck me: the sensationalism used to describe just how hot the remnants were, the lighter-than-any-known-material aspect (a go-to in the annals of most all out-of-this-world technology), and the convenient melting and subsequent dissolution of all traces of the craft mere days after it was discovered. To me, it smacks of the tabloid journalism so rampant in the late 1800's, a time of fierce competition for readers' money. Anything could and would be written by unscrupulous papers (of which there were many) to gain the advantage.

One only has to remember this was an era that reportedly bore witness to publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst's statement (regarding the Spanish-American war): "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Then, a week after the war began, dangled the question: "How do you like the Journal's war?" All of which speaks enormously to both the power of the press and the intellectual laziness of the readers.



It was also a time when "Liar's Clubs" - formal and informal - sparred with one another to see who could outdo the others. A Kansas journalist would later admit his paper had been one vast pool of material from these members. The fact they describe "cogwheels" and other mundane and identifiable elements place this one in that camp. Now, when there are some articles describing elements a little harder to describe - then you have a story to investigate. The smaller local newspapers from an early date can be a goldmine - but alas low population and great distances meant some tales never made it into print.

RRRGroup said...

But the details, cog wheels etc., interest me.

Why did the "reportage" zero in on nuts and bolts detritus and never something more ephemeral?

Did all creative writers of the 1880s have a fixation on mechanical things, as Verne and Wells did?

Why didn't such writers create celestial visitations with the attributes that Biblical writers did..amorphous beings and objects, well, except for Ezekiel.

I think there's some truth to the reporting, and they aren't all made up or liar's club material.


Cullan Hudson said...

Probably because, to them, they weren't describing any vehicle of extraterrestrial visitation:

"The aerolite, or whatever it is, seems to be about fifty or sixty feet long, cylindrical, and about ten or twelve feet in diameter."

They seemed to think it was a lighter than air vehicle, and they description would match. However, it get weird only when they describe the intense heat that lingers for days. But this brings me to an 1887 headline from the San Francisco Examiner, one month after Hearst took over:

"HUNGRY, FRANTIC FLAMES. They Leap Madly Upon the Splendid Pleasure Palace by the Bay of Monterey, Encircling Del Monte in Their Ravenous Embrace From Pinnacle to Foundation. Leaping Higher, Higher, Higher, With Desperate Desire. Running Madly Riotous Through Cornice, Archway and Facade. Rushing in Upon the Trembling Guests with Savage Fury. Appalled and Panic-Striken the Breathless Fugitives Gaze Upon the Scene of Terror. The Magnificent Hotel and Its Rich Adornments Now a Smoldering heap of Ashes. The "Examiner" Sends a Special Train to Monterey to Gather Full Details of the Terrible Disaster."

So, my supposition would be a dirigible of sorts that went down in flames. The story was then "dressed up" for the paper's readership.

Of course, we like to think also that these airships really didn't appear until much later (see mysterious 19th century airships), but in truth, many industrious individuals were working on them throughout that century. Henri Giffard's steam-powered balloon in 1852; 1863 saw Solomon Andrews' Aereon; and, of course, there was Dupuy de Lome, Paul Haenlin, Charles Ritchel... The list just goes on.

The years between 1850 and 1890 were when all the design groundwork was laid for the later, more succesful Zepplin-style airships. So, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the wreckage was of something rare and unfamiliar but altogether terrestrial. Especially when one takes into account the media sensationalism of the period.

RRRGroup said...


Yah, you're right, those airships did appear earlier than most accounts relate.

(We have a full historical record of them from objective, non-UFO magazine.)

And Hearst? Well, what can one say?

Welles' Citizen Kane enlightened us all about the guy.

But could all the reportage be sensationalized? And only about those prototype airships?

I dunno....


Cullan Hudson said...

And that's the thing... with so much of it being KNOWN sensationalism or outright lies, it becomes like contaminated DNA. It's all junk. We don't know what it truth and what is fiction.

RRRGroup said...

You're right, of course....the chaff has irreparably disguised the wheat or eliminated it altogether.