Wednesday, 17 December 2008

It''s Been Over A Week...

... since my laptop died and to be honest I don't want to fix the problem until at least the new year. I realised just how much free time the internet was eating up and have rediscovered the joy of reading!

But I thought I'd just post to say I will be back in the new year and hopefully you'll stick around. In the meantime I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Eat, drink and be merry!

And in an act of shameless self promotion that has become a festive tradition on my other blog I submit for you my Christmas Wishlist.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Change To Your Usual Programming

My laptop is dead. So until I can afford a new one (think years rather than months here people!) I'm afraid there shall be few/no new posts. Sorry guys!!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mystery Airships: The Steampunk UFOs Part Three

Throughout the early 20th century reports came in of mysterious airships from places as far afield as California, London and New Zealand. What could they have been?

Charles Dellschau and the Sonora Aero Club

Behind every great unexplained event is a conspiracy theory waiting to see the light of day and the phantom airships are no different.

Dellschau was born in Prussia in 1830 but emigrated to America in his early adulthood. At that time (and for many years after) Germany was at the forefront of aeronautical innovation and perhaps that is what influenced Dellschau's later works.

He wasn't famous during his lifetime, in fact he was considered a recluse and his grouchy nature made him few friends. But after his death several personal journals and artworks were discovered which perhaps might shed some light on the phantom airships.

Dellschau began this work in 1899 and his works tell a story. If his work (written in badly spelt English, German and his very own code language) is to be believed some 50 years previously he had been a member of a secretive organisation named the Sonora Aero Club which was established by eccentric men dedicated to furthering the cause of powered flight in California.It was supposedly part of a larger secret society called NYMZA. Some see these claims as a possible explanation for at least some of the reports of mystery airships over the USA. Many encounters with the airship crews record the crews stating various ambitions to fly on to another destination as part of some great adventure. 

But it must be remembered that Dellschau was an artist, his artistic airships not in anyway resembling those reported (or those that could ever fly!) and his ramblings could either simply be part of his art or part of some sort of mental health issue. There's a bit more on this here.

Contemporary Zany Inventors?

The rather interesting thing about the sightings is that they occurred at a time when it is very possible there were people inventing such ships such as:

Henri Giffard flew a steamed powered airship 27km in 1852 near Paris.

Solomon Andrews flew Aereon in 1863 over New Jersey which consisted of three 80-foot cigar-shaped balloons, with a rudder and gondola.

Henri Dupuy de Lôme flew an airship in the last days of the Franco-Prussian War

By the late 1890s rigid, metal hulled airships were beginning to be flown thanks to inventors such as David Schwarz.

And there were rumours of other inventors at work, some stories are on this site including this one, which I particularly like:

In 1848 gold fever seized America. On January 24 a workman discovered the precious metal in Sutter's millrace in California's Sacramento Valley. Within weeks the entire Pacific coast knew about it and a few months later "gold" was on the tongue of every easterner who ever dreamed of easy fortune.
Getting to those goldfields, however, was a problem, for the inland parts of the young nation were largely unsettled. A unique solution -- air travel -- came from "R. Porter & Company," a firm which listed its address as Room 40 of the Sun Building in New York City. In the latter part of 1848 the company distributed an advertising flyer in the eastern United States which promised more than it ever delivered.
Touting "THE BEST ROUTE TO THE CALIFORNIA GOLD!" the flyer read in part that the company was "making active progress in the construction of an 'Aerial Transport' for the express purpose of carrying passengers between New York and California.
"It is expected to put this machine in operation about the first of April, 1849, and the transport is expected to make a trip to the gold region and back in seven days..."
On the flyer the "aerial locomotive" is illustrated -- a huge cigar-shaped device, identified as a "gasbag," with a tail. Under it, attached with "sturdy material arrows can't puncture," is a similarly-shaped car with windows in its midsection.
"Snug gondola with benches for 50 or more passengers," the caption reads. From the top of the gondola stretches a long pipe which is identified as "a steam engine for controlled propulsion through sunny skies at 60 miles the hour."
Except for this pipe, entrepreneur Porter's vessel is almost a dead ringer for the type of "UFO" widely reported in the late 1800's and early 1900's which came to be called "the airship," although obviously there had to be more than one of them and they did not all look alike. But in the advertisement of an obscure company lie the first hints of a bizarre mystery which is staggering in its implications.

So yes those ships described by the witnesses would be futuristic and advanced but not completely impossible. For all we know they were simply the product of over enthusiastic inventors. But why would they not have reported such marvels? Well my other half is always making and creating new things, a jukebox from scratch was my favourite, and he does it simply for the joy of doing so. Soon after he's made them he tears them down to move on to his next project. Could these guys have not been like that? Sure it's far fetched but anything is possible!


 On April 19 the Dallas Morning News reported that the airship had crashed into a windmill in Aurora and exploded. The body of the pilot was recovered, and was identified as a native of the planet Mars. Despite this, the remains were buried in the local Masonic cemetery. The Amazing Airships of 1896
Of course with these reports of crafts in the sky so greatly resemble later UFO and extraterrestrial encounters it is not difficult to go one step further and claim these sightings are also extraterrestrial in origin. Sure some of the lights in the sky type sightings might well be alien space craft but more likely are simply natural phenomenon. 

The more detailed encounters suggest that these airships could not be alien in origin. The technology described was not that advanced (certainly not advanced enough for intergalactic travel) and most reported humans in the vehicles, or at least heard human voices and laughter from them. I find it highly unreasonable to connect the airship flaps with aliens, as the evidence is very much against that idea and more in favour of a more earthly origin. 

A Hoax?

History shows us that hoaxes are more likely an explanation for the sightings than any other possible cause. If you think news reporting is unreliable and biased now, then you have obviously not seen anything about news reporting in Victorian times. Given to exaggeration, and sometimes downright lying, just to sell papers many reporters would happily seize upon a light in the sky story and turn it into several pieces on strange craft generating more reports by people who think they've seen something which ends up generating more stories and so on. 

If you look at the flaps, starting off slowly and become more feverish and outlandish as time passes before petering out, the chronology bears out this sort of scenario perfectly. I'm not suggesting anyone person intentionally set out to hoax others, but I am suggesting a combination of factors may have exaggerated the stories from mere misunderstandings into crazy airship stories. 

One article even goes on to cite the possibility, that newspapers at the time suggested, that some of these hoaxes may even have been an elaborate advertising scam!

Foreign Powers?

The scareships show us that paranoia about the abilities of an adversary can lead to exaggerated reports. There is no way airships could have reached parts of the country they were reported in from anywhere else in Europe. The very idea is absurd. Perhaps the Sheerness sighting reported last time was a German airship but in Wales? Or in the north? Absolutely not. 

Perhaps there were airships in the sky during some of those encounters, but sadly the general media situation at the time of the sightings and people's enthusiasm for the subject leave me unable to believe the majority of reports which can be put down to hoaxes, exaggeration and mistaken identity. 

Further Reading

Mystery Airships In The Sky - Steven A. Arts (UK Amazon, US Amazon)

Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery - Michael Busby (UK Amazon, US Amazon)

The Great Airship Mystery - Daniel Cohen (UK Amazon, US Amazon)