March 3, 1990
History of the Mystery Airship Sightings
in the late 1800’s
One of the mysteries involving the work of John W. Keely involves
his Airship which was developed during the period of 1888 to 1893.
Keely flew his airship for the first time in 1893. We have a
drawing of the ship and it is very compact and has no hull.
A reporter inspecting the ship leaves us this record :
“The space which the propeller of the airship occupies in
Keely’s Laboratory comes within a radius of six feet square.
A small space for so powerful a medium – distributing over
1000 horsepower, as tested by experiment. It consists of
over 2000 pieces and weighed in excess of 1000 pounds.”
A small stool was placed on the unit so that it faced a keyboard.
Attached to the keyboard were many tuned resonation plates and
vibratory mechanisms. Mr. Keely said that when the plates were
polarized with “negative attraction” the airship would rise and
float above the ground.
Keely could make the airship accelerate to any desired speed by
damping out certain notes on the keyboard.
The Keely Airship was successfully demonstrated to the U.S. War
Department in 1896. The demonstration took place in an open field
where Keely brought the airship from zero to 500 MPH within
Keely was sitting on the stool and before the keyboard. There was
nothing to shield him from the movement of the ship yet he seemed
to suffer absolutely no acceleration effects.
The War Department was impressed, yet stated they could see no use
for such a complex device.
Later versions might have added a hull and changed the size to
accomodate a payload.
Note also that the Airship Sightings began in 1897, one year after
Keely’s War Department demonstration.
It is quite possible that a person or group might have financed
further improvements on the Keely Airship technology.
We cannot fail to notice the April dates on the following
sightings, especially since the first sighting came on April 2nd,
one day after April Fool’s day.
Chicago Record…….Friday, April 2, 1897
See Great Airship
Kansas Missouri, Missouri people excited…..mystical black object
casting before it red light startled whole city for the last two
At last descended…ten-thousand people swear they have no
hallucinations! Scoffers and disbelievers claim the people have
been seeing the planet Venus or the Evening Star, even though
according to the almanac this planet should have set below the
horizon at least an hour before!
Object appeared very swiftly, then appeared to stop and hover over
the city for ten minutes at a time, then after flashing its green-
blue and white lights, shot upwards into space….light gradually
twinkling away and looking like a bright star.
Time : 8:15 PM
Everest, Kansas has sighted a strange airship.
Competent reporters state that this must be the airship that was
built in Oakland, California and which broke away at launching
time…this giant airship hovered one half hour at a time and
descended at regular intervals very close to the Earth.
A giant searchlight flooded the whole city with light from this
aerial monster which with the velocity of an eagle darted up and
Power source must have been attached to the light for it dimmed as
the ship went up and away. One observer states that there seemed
to be a basket or car beneath a great dark object thought to be a
gas bag overhead…car was shaped like a canoe and had four wings,
two on each side, fore and aft…light was greenish or blue
against the light of a locomotive in the rail yard that was
yellowish. Colored lights seemed to be all around the car.”
Chicago Record, April 3, 1897
Flying Machine Now in Michigan!
People of Galesburg saw a brilliant white light approach from
SW…object appeared large and black with a crackling, sharp
sound. It hovered close to the Earth. Reporters state that they
heard HUMAN VOICES from aloft…from the airship!
When the ship went off, it seemed to be tipped with flame. (Local
comment was that the airship had caught fire!)
Time : 10:00 PM
Chicago Record, April 6, 1897
Airship Now Into Illinois
Seen first at 8:00 PM in NW….large red light. Suggestions of
balloon are refuted because airship flew at tremendous speed INTO
A HIGH WIND!
Chicago Record, April 7, 1897
Airship seen many times last few weeks. Large numbers of people
first hand witnesses. One time, a motorman of a trolley actually
stopped his vehicle so he and passengers could look at the
wonderful sight…just ahead of his trolley, the ship seemed about
six-hundred feet up and about one-hundred feet long.
The motorman, Mr. Newville, says it was ellipsoid with large
projections fore and aft. There was a bright headlight in front
and a red light in the rear.”
From Hastings, Nebraska, came the report that the “airship” had
been seen in Grand Island, Oxford, York and Kearney. Scoffers
claimed these people had seen Venus, yet all the reporters were
people of substance and not given to reporting spurious stories.
Chicago Record, April 9, 1897
Airship Seen in Iowa
Between West Liberty and Cedar Rapids appeared a bright
light…giant airship…steel body. When leaving it appeared to
be a large star weaving about and stars do not weave around the
Chicago Record, April 10, 1987
Airship Sighted over Chicago and Evanston!
People are tripping over themselves these days trying to get the
best look at this green and white-lighted giant airship that has
had the people all over the mid-west in a dither.
Some people think the end of the world is near…Scientific minds
have explained the whole thing away by now. The mystery will
surely be cleared up in the next few days. Mr. Carr, an aeronaut,
has built an experimental balloon and is financed by a New York
theatrical wig manufacturing company…Mr. Carr states his machine
works marvelously, but CANNOT GO AGAINST THE WIND…power is
storage battery with propeller!
Professor Hough of Northwestern University and head astronomer of
the observatory stated when asked to train his telescope on the
object : ‘I am busy with sights on Jupiter and it would be too
troublesome to change to look at this new thing.’ The next day,
Hough said: ‘The thousands of people that are reporting this so-
called strange airship are in reality looking at Alpha Orionis in
the Constellation Orion!”
Chicago Record, April 12, 1897
Giant Airship Continues Over Chicago and Environs!
People all over the city are in an uproar, and while everyone is
viewing this grand sight on the south side, two amateur
photographers who are news dealers in Rogers Park, looked out and
saw the airship.
Their photo shows the north Western Railway station and above it
the reported airship! The photographers are Walter McCann and
G.A. Overocker. This airship was seen to come in over the lake
and traverse the whole city for several days.”
The same report with an Omaha date line of April 11th says :
“A gentleman brags he has mystery airship problem solved. He
is an inventor and desires that he be allowed thirty-five
acres to demonstrate his airship for the Trans-Mississippi
Exposition. The gentleman didn’t sign his name, but the
reporter hopes the dilemma will be settled by his promises.”
The same report again, with a Fort Dodge, Iowa date line of April
“Old German residents say that this very same type of airship
came over Germany THIRTY YEARS before and the people were
scared to death…said the devil’s army was approaching and
these were his vehicles.”
The same report again, with a Milwaukee, Wisconsin date line of
April 11th says:
“The residents of Milwaukee cannot be talked out of what they
are seeing…thousands report the authenticity of a giant,
beautiful airship with colored lights…the police records
are full of the story for they have been called to answer
what it is!”
Chicago Record, April 13, 1897
Airship Called a Hoax!
Several notable citizens are known to have caused airship
scene…remains of paper and wood device in wreckage in their
yard.’ (No name given of the ‘notables’)
The above mentioned device was supposed to have been in the
wreckage, but another column in the same paper said:
“Airship seen in Rock Island, Illinois and Elkhart, Illinois!”
How could it have been seen if it had been wrecked?
Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1897
“One chap knows all about the airship. He says: ‘These thousands
of people didn’t see a steel hull because this is the airship my
friend built in California and is on its way here to Chicago.
Although, I must say, he sure has made good time for he isn’t due
until NEXT WEEK and the hull is PAPER, not steel. My friend, O.
Chanute is on board too and I will introduce all of you to him
when he arrives!”
The man who spoke the above was Secretary of the Chicago
Aironautical Society, Max L. Harmar.
The same strange sightings were made at Sisterville, Virginia.
In 1897 and other years, there were also amazing observances in
An excerpt from the book “Genesis” published by Dell and written
by W. A. Harbinson, copyright 1982 gives more information on the
sightings from the late 1800’s:
“The first major UFO flap was in 1896 – about November of that
year – and continued until May 1897. This was five years
BEFORE the Wright brothers experiments, but there were, by
this time, various airship designs on the drawing boards or
in the Patent Office.
On August 11, 1896, patent number 565805 was given to Charles
Abbot Smith of San Francisco for an airship he intended
having ready by the following year. Another patent, number
580941, was issued to Henry Heintz of Elkton, South Dakota,
on April 20, 1897. However, while many UFO’s sighted were
shaped roughly like the patent designs, there is no record of
either airship having been built.”
“At that time the general belief was that aerial navigation
would be solved through an airship rather than a heavier-
than-air flying machine – so most of the eariler designs
looked like dirigibles with a passenger car on the bottom.
“What stands out in the 1896 and 1897 sightings is that the
UFO’s were MOSTLY CIGAR-SHAPED, that they frequently landed,
to talk to the witnesses, usually asking for WATER FOR THEIR
“The most intriguing of the numerous contact stories involved
a man who called himself Wilson. The first incident occurred
in Beaumont, Texas on April 19, 1897, when J. B. Ligon, the
local agent for Magnolia Brewery, and his son Charles noticed
lights in the Johnson pasture a few hundred yards away and
went to investigate.
“They came upon two men standing beside a large, dark object
which neither of the witnesses could see clearly. One of
these men asked Ligon for a bucket of water, Ligon let these
men have it, and then the man gave his name as Mr. Wilson.
“He then told Ligon that he and his friends were travelling in
a flying machine, that they had taken a trip ‘out of the
gulf’, and they were returning to the ‘quiet Iowa town’ where
the airship AND FOUR OTHERS LIKE IT had been constructed.
“When asked, Wilson explained that ELECTRICITY POWERED THE
PROPELLERS AND WINGS OF THE AIRSHIP, then he and his friends
got into the airship and Ligon watched it ascending.
“The next day, April 20, Sheriff H. W. Baylor of Uvalde, also
in Texas, went to investigate a strange light and voices in
back of his house. He encountered an airship and three men
-and one of the men gave his name as Wilson, from Goshen, New
“Wilson then inquired about one C. C. Akers, former sheriff of
Zavalia County, saying that he had met him in Fort Worth in
1877 and now wanted to see him again. Sheriff Baylor,
surprised, replied that Captain Akers was now at Eagle Pass,
and Wilson, reportedly disappointed, asked to be remembered
to him the next time Sheriff Baylor visited him.
“Baylor reported that the men from the airship wanted water
and that Wilson requested that their visit BE KEPT SECRET
FROM THE TOWNSPEOPLE. Then he and the other men climbed back
into the airship and, quote, “its great wings and fans were
set in motion and it sped away northward in the direction of
San Angelo.’ The county clerk also saw the airship as it left
“Two days later, in Josserand, Texas, a whirring sound
awakened farmer Frank Nichols, who looked out of his window
and saw ‘brilliant lights streaming from a ponderous vessel
of strange proportions’ in his cornfield. Nichols went
outside to investigate, but before he reached the object, two
men walked up to him and asked if they could have water from
“Nichols agreed to this – as farmers in those days usually did
– and the men then invited him to visit the airship where he
noticed that there were six or eight crew members. One of
these men told him that the ship’s motive power was ‘HIGHLY
CONDENSED ELECTRICITY’ and that it was ONE OF FIVE THAT HAD
BEEN CONSTRUCTED in ‘a small town in Iowa’ with the backing
of a large stock company IN NEW YORK (close to Philadelphia
where Keely had his laboratory!!….Vangard).
“The next day, on April 23, witnesses described by the HOUSTON
POST as ‘two responsible men’ reported that an airship had
descended where they lived in Kountze, Texas, and that two of
the occupants had given their names as Wilson and Jackson.
“Four days after this incident, on April 27, the GALVESTON
DAILY NEWS printed a letter from C. C. Akers, who claimed
that he had indeed known a man in Fort Worth named Wilson,
that Wilson was from New York, that he was in his middle
twenties, and that he was ‘OF A MECHANICAL TURN OF MIND AND
WAS THEN WORKING ON AERIAL NAVIGATION AND SOMETHING THAT
WOULD ASTONISH THE WORLD.’
“Finally, early in the evening of April 30, in Deadwood,
Texas, a farmer named H. C. Lagrone heard his horses bucking
as if in stampede. Going outside, he saw a bright white
light circling around the fields nearby and illuminating the
entire area before descending and landing in one of the
“Walking to the landing spot, Lagrone found a crew of five
men, three of whom talked to him while the others collected
water in rubber bags. The man informed Lagrone that their
ship was ONE OF FIVE that had been flying around the country
recently, that theirs was in fact the SAME ONE that had
landed in Beaumont a few days before, that all the ships had
been constructed in an interior town in Illinois -which
borders Iowa -and that they were reluctant to say anything
else because they had NOT YET TAKEN OUT ANY PATENTS. By May
of that same year, the sightings ended….”
(Don’t forget to include the Aurora Hoax perpertrated by a
reporter for a local (Ft. Worth) newspaper at that same time)
Notes from Vanguard…
We also have heard of a group which existed in California during
this period. They were said to have some form of flying machine,
not based on lighter-than-air technology. The flying machine they
built was supposed to have been taken out for an “unauthorized”
joy ride by a member of the group and crashed. Nothing is known
after this point.
To our knowledge, there is no record of the nature of propulsion
or lift for the groups’ flying machine.
As a final note, a friend tells us that in the 60’s, he was
visiting the headquarters of an old organization in Chicago.
While wandering through the building, he chanced upon a vault door
which was partially open. Peeking inside, he saw what he believes
to be the original Keely Airship as shown in the picture we have.
An officer of the organization came in, closed the vault door and
ushered him out of the area.
We are currently working on scanning a picture file of the Keely
Airship to be included in our future Images section.
The equipment for such projects takes money which comes from
personal funds, so it might be a while before we can do this. It
would surely be nice if we could have such equipment to spread
this stuff around more easily.