October 29, 1991
We have been looking for tangible information on the Aero Club of
California as it existed in the mid 1850’s for years.
In a discussion with one of our users, Mr. Jim Shaffer, he
remembered that he had an article on that very subject
and took the time to type it in and send it up.
Thank you JIM!!!
This EXCELLENT file shared with KeelyNet courtesy of
Fate magazine has been in existence for many years and covers
a wide range of subjects, much like KeelyNet.
If you might be interested in subscribing to this interesting
journal, their mailing address, etc..is:
PO BOX 64383
St. Paul, Minnesota 55164-0383
Phone – 612-291-0383
from Fate, May 1973
Mystery Airships of the 1800’s (Part 1 of 3)
Part One: “No form of dirigible or heavier-than-air machine was
flying — or could fly — at this time.” And yet…
By Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman
March 26, 1880 was a quiet Friday night in tiny Galisteo Junction,
N. Mex. (now the town of Lamy). The train from nearby Santa Fe had
come and gone and the railroad agent, his day’s work finished,
routinely locked up the depot and set out with a couple of friends
for a short walk.
Suddenly they heard voices which seemed to be coming from the sky.
The men looked up to see an object, “monstrous in size,” rapidly
approaching from the west, flying so low that elegantly-drawn
characters could be discerned on the outside of the peculiar
vehicle. Inside, the occupants, who numbered 10 or so and looked
like ordinary human beings, were laughing and shouting in an
unfamiliar language and the men on the ground also heard music
coming from the craft. The craft itself was “fish-shaped” — like a
cigar with a tail — and it was driven by a huge “fan” or propeller.
As it passed overhead one of the occupants tossed some objects from
the car. The depot agent and his friends recovered one item almost
immediately, a beautiful flower with a slip of fine silk-like paper
containing characters which reminded the men of designs they had
seen on Japanese chests which held tea.
Soon thereafter the aerial machine ascended and sailed away toward
the east at high speed.
The next morning searchers found a cup — one of the items the
witnesses had seen thrown out of the craft but had been unable to
locate in the darkness.
“It is of very peculiar workmanship,” the _Santa Fe Daily New
Mexican_ reported, “entirely different to anything used in this
The depot agent took the cup and the flower and put them on display.
Before the day was over, however, this physical evidence of the
passage of the early unidentified object had vanished.
In the evening a mysterious gentleman identified only as a
“collector of curiosities” appeared in town, examined the finds,
suggested they were Asiatic in origin and offered such a large sum
of money for them that the agent had no choice but to accept. The
“collector” scooped up his purchases and never was seen again.
We found more on this interesting case in a doctoral
dissertation by Mr. T. E. Bullard, published in 1982 under the
name of “Mysteries in the Eye of the Beholder.” Chaper X –
Loose in an Airship – The Age of Phantom Dirigibles and Ghost
“Several precocious flying machines sailed the skies during
1880. In late March several citizens of the unlikely place of
Galisteo Junction, New Mexico heard voices overheard and saw a
fish-shaped balloon driven by a fan-like apparatus.
A cup and several other artifacts fell from the ship as it
passed, but the next day a collector of curiosities, a man
unknown in town, appeared and paid a large sum of money for
The story ends on this note of mystery, BUT THE FOLLOWING WEEK
another installment CLARIFIED THESE STRANGE PROCEEDINGS.
A party of tourists which included a wealthy young Chinaman
stopped in the vicinity and found the stranger engaged in
archaeological work. The young man grew excited on seeing the
articles dropped from the airship, because among among them
was a note in his fiancee’s hand, and he explained that
CHINESE EXPERIMENTS IN FLYING HAD AT LAST SUCCEEDED, meaning
the airship which crossed the skies of Galisteo Junction was
THE FIRST FLIGHT OF a CHINA-TO-AMERICA airline.
Of course the story of aviation does not begin on December 17, 1903,
the date of Orville Wright’s 12-second aerial hop at Kitty Hawk.
Long before that scientists and inventors had struggled to unlock
the secrets of powered flight and to build what an 1897 issue of
_Scientific American_ called the “true flying machine; that is, one
which is hundreds of times heavier than the air upon which it rests,
(and flies) by reason of its dynamic impact, and not by the aid of
any balloon or gasbag whatsoever.”
But nothing in the early history of flight tells us what a huge
airborne cigar was doing over New Mexico in 1880, especially as it
“appeared to be entirely under the control of the occupants and…
guided by a large fan-like apparatus,” and also could ascend with
Its “monstrous size” and its propeller clearly indicate it was
heavier than air, but such a flying machine didn’t then exist
according to British authority Charles H. Gibbs-Smith: “Speaking as
an aeronautical historian who specializes in the periods before
1910, I can say with certainty that the only airborne vehicles,
carrying passengers, which could possibly have been seen anywhere in
North America… were free-flying spherical balloons, and it is
highly unlikely for these to be mistaken for anything else. No form
of dirigible (i.e., a gasbag propelled by an airscrew) or heavier-
than-air flying machine was flying — or indeed *could* fly — at
this time in America.”
Nevertheless, mysterious “airships” were seen in many parts of the
world in the last half of the 19th Century and the early years of
the 20th. And plans for the construction of such craft were not
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
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
* [We do not pretend to “solve” this mystery. What we offer
instead are possibilities suggested by a wide range of often
conflicting evidence complicated by the distance in time
separating us from the events described (which makes firsthand
investigation impossible in all but rare instances).]
During the 1850’s mysterious “airships” regularly crossed the skies
of Germany and just before that, probably in the year 1848, an
enigmatic young German named C. A. A. Dellschau immigrated to the
Dellschau’s own testimony places him in Sonora, a California mining
town, in the 1850’s. Where he might have been in the decades after
that is unknown. We do know, however, that about the turn of the
century he married a widow and took up residence in Houston, Tex.,
where he lived in virtual seclusion. He had no friends; by all
accounts his quarrelsome disposition kept everyone at a distance.
Dismissed as an eccentric by the few who knew him Dellschau devoted
hours to the compilation of a series of scrapbooks filled with
clippings, drawings and cryptic notations. He died in 1924 at the
age of 92.
Were it not for a chance discovery many years later Dellschau’s life
would have gone unnoticed. But one day in May 1969 a UFOlogist
named P. G. Navarro happened to stroll past an aviation exhibit at
the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Two large scrapbooks
(Dellschau’s) caught his eye and he stopped to take a closer look.
* [In telephone conversations and by correspondence, Navarro
himself has provided us with this information.]
He found that the scrapbooks contained old news stories and articles
about attempts of various inventors to construct heavier-than-air
flying machines. But these were not nearly so interesting as
Dellschau’s drawings of strange-looking, cumbersome vessels which he
claimed *actually had been flown at one time*.
Navarro, his curiosity aroused, sought more of the scrapbooks and
over a period of time acquired 10 more — from such places as a junk
shop in Houston and from a woman art collector who had been
interested in Dellschau’s strange drawings.
Navarro even talked with Dellschau’s stepdaughter, then an old
woman. Finally he set out to makes sense of Dellschau’s notes which
had been penned in English, German and code. When he had finished
he had reconstructed an incredible story.
One thing was obvious: Dellschau was of two minds about what he was
doing. On one hand he wanted his “secrets” known; on the other he
seemed afraid to speak directly. So he compromised and wrote in a
fashion aimed to discourage all but the most determined investigator
— and even so his writings in the main only add to the mystery.
He was writing for an audience — if not one in his own day, one in
some future period. He addressed potential readers thus:
“You will… Wonder Weaver… you will unriddle these writings.
They are my stock of open knowledge. They… will end like
all the others… with good intentions but too weak-willed to
assign and put to work.”
From the notes Navarro learned that in the 1850’s Dellschau and a
group of associates, about 60 in all, gathered in Sonora, Calif.,
where they formed an “Aero Club” and constructed and flew heavier-
than-air vehicles. They worked in an open field near Columbia, a
small town near Sonora. (Today an airstrip covers the field, the
only area in the predominantly hilly region where planes can take
off and land safely.)
The club worked in secrecy and its members were not permitted to
talk about their activities or to use the aircraft for their own
purposes. One member who threatened to take his machine to the
public in the hope of making a fortune died in an aerial explosion –
– the victim, Dellschau hints, of murder.
Another, a “high educated mechanic” identified as Gustav Freyer, was
called to account by the club for withholding new information.
Apparently this was no ordinary social group.
The “Aero Club” was a branch of a larger secret society whose
initials Dellschau gives as “NYMZA.” He says little about this
society except to observe that in 1858 it was headed by a George
Newell in Sonora.
Otherwise he alludes to orders from unnamed superiors who were
overseeing the club’s activities. These were not governmental
authorities, for Dellschau writes that an official who somehow
learned of their work once approached club members and tried to
persuade them to sell their inventions for use as weapons of war.
The unnamed superiors instructed the club to refuse the offer.
The club had a number of aircraft at its disposal, including among
others August Schoetler’s Aero Dora, Robert Nixon’s Aero Rondo and
George Newell’s Aero Newell. However, from Dellschau’s drawings it
is hard to believe that anything resembling these machines ever
could have flown.
Navarro remarks, “The heavy body of the machines seems to be
radically out of proportion to the gasbag or balloon which is
supposed to lift the contraption. Considering the large amount of
gas (usually hydrogen or helium) that is required to lift one of
today’s dirigibles or even a small blimp, it is inconceivable that
the small quantity of gas used in Dellschau’s airship would be
sufficient to lift it.”
But this wasn’t ordinary gas. According to Dellschau it was a
substance called “NB” which had the capacity to “negate weight.”
Incredible as it may seem he is talking about antigravity.
Dellschau’s notes have a curiously pessimistic tone. One strange
paragraph reads, “We are all together in our graves. We get
together in my house. We eat and drink and are joyful. We do
mental work, but everybody is forlorn, as they feel they are
fighting a losing battle. But little likelihood is there that fate
shall bring forth the right man.”
Dellschau wrote of the human race — and even the planet Earth — as
if he stood apart from it. One peculiar paragraph of his oddly
archaic German reads: “Your Christian love reaches for the
Wanderplace, and wanders away from Earth. Planets there are enough
where Christian love shall be as we say so nicely in the Book
A drawing elsewhere shows the figure of a devil opening a crack in
the fabric of the sky above one of the “Aeros.” The overall
impression conveyed by his writings is that Dellschau was a man who
knew secrets that would render him forever an outsider, isolated
from the community of mankind.
Who was he? A spinner of tall tales? But to what end? If he is
only that why did he spend years compiling the scrapbooks – devoting
most of his waking hours to the task – on the slight chance that one
day far in the future, long after his death, someone might be taken
On November 1, 1896, the _Detroit Free Press_ reported that in the
near future a New York inventor would construct and fly an “aerial
torpedo boat.” And on November 17 the _Sacramento Bee_ reprinted a
telegram the newspaper had received from a New York man who said he
and some friends would board an airship of his invention and fly it
to California. The trip, he said, would take no more than two days.
That very night all hell broke loose and the Great Airship Scare of
1896-97 was off and running.
The next day the _Bee_ led off a long article with this paragraph:
“Last evening between the hours of six and seven o’clock, in
the year of our Lord eighteen hudred and ninety-six, a most
startling exhibition was seen in the sky in this city of
People standing on the sidewalks at certain points in the
city between the hours stated, saw coming through the sky
over the housetops, what appeared to them to be merely an
electric arc lamp propelled by some mysterious force.
It came out of the east and sailed unevenly toward the
southwest, dropping now nearer to the earth, and now suddenly
rising into the air again as if the force that was whirling
it through space was sensible of the dangers of collision
with objects upon the earth…”
Hundreds of persons saw it. Those who got the closest look said the
object was huge and cigar-shaped and had four large wings attached
to an aluminum body. Some insisted they heard voices and raucous
laughter emanating from the ship. A man identified as R. L. Lowry
and a companion allegedly saw four men pushing the craft along the
ground by its wheels. Lowry’s friends asked them where they were
going. “To San Francisco,” they replied. “We hope to be there by
One J. H. Vogel, who was in the vicinity, confirmed the story and
added that the vessel was “egg-shaped.” The next afternoon an
airship passed over Oak Park, Calif., leaving a trail of smoke and
soon San Francisco, Oakland and other cities and town in the north-
cantral part of California had their own stories in all the
Several persons now stepped forward to tell of earlier sightings.
One was a fruit rancher near Bowman, Placer County, who said he and
members of his family had watched an airship fly by at 100 miles an
hour in late October.
Even more remarkable was the statement of a man who claimed that in
August he and fellow hunters had tracked a wounded deer across
Tamalpais Mountain until they came to a clearing where six men were
working on an airship.
The most baffling part of the whole flap, which lasted well into
December 1896, was the role of “E. H. Benjamin,” a dentist whose
name the newspapers always enclosed in quotation marks, as if they
had reason to doubt his identity.
It was either Benjamin or his uncle who that November approached
George D. Collins, a San Francisco lawyer, and asked him to
represent his interests in the patenting of an airship. He told the
incredulous Collins that he had come from Maine to California seven
years before in order to conduct his experiments without danger of
Collins told reporters that his wealthy client (whom he never
identified) did his work near Oroville where Collins himself had
viewed the invention — an enormous construction 150 feet long. “It
is built on the aeroplane system and has two canvas wings 18 feet
wide and rudder shaped like a bird’s tail,” the attorney said. “I
saw the thing ascend about 90 feet under perfect control.”
On November 17, Collins went on, the airship had flown the 60 miles
between Oroville and Sacramento in 45 minutes. This was not the
first flight the inventor had made. For two weeks he had been
flying in attempts to perfect the craft’s navigational apparatus.
This led to the story in the _Sacramento Bee_ for November 23,
datelined Oroville: “The rumor that the airship which is alleged to
have passed over Sacramento was constructed near this town seems to
have a grain of truth in it. The parties who could give information
if they would are extremely reticent. They give evasive answers or
assert they know absolutely nothing about it.
“Not a single person that saw or knew of an airship being
constructed near here can be found and yet there is a rumor that
some man has been experimenting with different kinds of gas and
testing those which are lighter than air. The experiments were made
some miles east of the town and no one is able to give any names of
the parties, who are evidently strangers and seeking to avoid
The _San Francisco Call_ established that “Benjamin,” a native of
Carmel, Me., had been seen in the Orville area visiting a wealthy
uncle and confiding to friends that he had invented something which
would “revolutionize the world.”
Several days into the controversy, the inventor dispensed with the
services of lawyer Collins because he was talking too much. W. H.
H. Hart, a former state attorney general and a highly respected man,
took over Collins’ job. In subsequent newspaper interviews Hart
revealed that *two* airships existed, one in the east and the other
in California. “I have been concerned in the eastern invention for
some time personally,” he said. “The idea is to consolidate both
The western craft would be used as a weapon of war. “From what I
have seen of it,” Hart said, “I have not the least doubt that it
will carry four men and 1,000 pounds of dynamite. I am quite
convinced that two or three men could destroy the city of Havana in
Hart thus represented both airship inventors, one in California and
one in New Jersey. The former had Hart say, “…if the Cubans would
give him $10 million he would wipe out the Spanish stronghold.” This
was not the last time airships and Cuba* would be mentioned in the
same breath, as we shall see.
* [In this period the then-new “yellow journalism” was keeping
American public opinion aroused over Cuba’s desire for
independence. After the Cuban insurection of 1895, public
sentiment was running high against Spain and the mysterious
destruction of the U. S. S. Maine in Havana harbor on February
15, 1898, triggered the Spanish-American war.]
Early in December 1896 a stranger appeared at a business
establishment in Fresno, Calif., and inquired for a George Jennings.
Covered with dust, the man looked as if he had traveled a long
distance. When Jennings stepped out of a back room he greeted the
visitor like an old friend. The two men engaged in whispered
conversation and the persons standing nearby were nonplussed to
overhear the word “airship” spoken more than once.
Later Jennings talked freely to a reporter for the _Fresno Semi-
Weekly Expositor_, balking only at giving his friends’ name.
“It is true the airship is in Fresno County,” he said. “Just where
I do not know myself. It is also true that the man who was in here
a short time ago is one of the inventors. He told me the trip to
this country was involuntary upon the part of the men in the
In other words the machine came itself and they couldn’t stop it.
(I was told) that they were flying, as usual, around Contra Costa
County hills and rose to a height of about 1,000 feet. Suddenly the
airship struck a current of air and refused to answer to its
steering gear. It was borne rapidly southward against all efforts
to change its course until suddenly the current of air seemed to
lessen and the machine once more became manageable. The men aboard
at once descended and flew about looking for a hiding place, which
they at length found.”
Jennings said he was sure that individuals in nearby Watertown and
Selma must have observed the craft as it limped through the county
in search of a “hiding place.” Sure enough, the day before his
encounter with the aeronaut, the _San Francisco Call_ had published
a letter from five Watertown men who said they had seen an enormous
airship nearly collide with a cornice on the city’s post office
building the evening of November 20. The craft had an “intensely
brilliant” light and the witnesses could see human forms aboard.
The evening of December 5 Selma citizens were treated to the
unnerving spectacle of a low-flying brilliantly-illuminated object
sailing rapidly toward the southeast.
“The character of the witnesses is such as to leave no doubt that
they saw just what they described,” the _Selma Irrigator_
After the first week of December the airships seemed to have
disappeared, the “inventors” were heard from no more and everything
returned to normal — but not for long. The incredible part was yet
We are looking into the Dellschau manuscripts and further
researches on this mysterious N.B. gas.
From the work of Walter Russell and his development of the
Octave Periodic Progression of elements, there would appear to
be somewhere on the order of 26 elements BELOW HYDROGEN. This
is TOTALLY CONTRARY to any modern understanding of chemistry.
As we understand it, the N.B. gas had incredible lifting power
(not anti-gravity per se.). An apt analogy would be that one
could fill a basketball with the N.B. gas, hold it in your arms
and be carried off into the upper stratosphere.
When such an understanding is applied to the majority of cases
of the airships, it is seen how they are identical to ships on
water or submarines underwater. A simple change in ballast
would determine the height to which the airship would rise and
remain. Subject of course to wind.
When perusing the many fascinating reports from this era, we
note several describing winged men flying through the air.
Some have the equivalent of a backpack for thrust, some simply
the wings. N.B. could very well stand for Neutral Buoyancy.
SHADES OF THE ROCKETEER!!!
Page 205 of Bullards book,
On July 28th, around 6 to 7 AM?, Two Louisville, Kentucky men
saw an object in the distance which drew nearer and resolved
into the appearance of a man surrounded by machinery. (Note
no gasbag or canopy supported by one)
If the man slacked his efforts (he was peddling) the machine
dropped, but if he once again worked the treadles (peddles) and
wings HE ROSE AGAIN; but the machine seemed under perfect
control and executed a turn over the city.
(Remember when the comedian Gallagher built and flew a bicycle
type device suspended from a small dirigible.)
Page 206 of Bullards book,
In September an object like a black-clad man WITH BAT’S WINGS
AND FROGS LEGS FLAPPED over Coney Island.
Can we not here clearly see that the use of N.B. gas could so
balance or completely cancel one’s weight that flying in air
would be analogous to swimming in water? Is this not worth
pursuing? It would turn our concept of air travel completely
Ninety percent of the problem with air travel is the extra
power required to sustain lift. Propulsion is a piece of cake
in comparision. Imagine airships or flying suits literally
“floating” like boats on water……….
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