1890's Airship craze.

The turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury was a pretty crazy time. Major Euro­pean wars were a thing of the past (or so peo­ple thought.) The world had mostly been con­quered by Euro­peans and was rapidly being tamed. Tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment was on the rise and new won­ders, such as recorded sound, mov­ing pic­ture, elec­tric lights, the tele­phone… Oh yeah! And in 1896 and 97 men from Mars were trolling about the Amer­i­can mid­west, kid­nap­ping peo­ple and tak­ing them hostage in their air­ships.

It’s true! Or, at least there were a lot of reports of Mystery Airships all over the Mid­west for a brief period of time. This was about five to ten years before the pow­ered flight had been made a real­ity by folks like Alberto Santo-Dumont and Count von Zeppelin so while the prospect of an air­ship cre­ated by some mys­te­ri­ous inven­tor trav­el­ing the coun­try­side with it under­wraps seemed plau­si­ble (Thomas Edi­son had to explic­itly deny his involve­men­t,) the sto­ries them­selves were nec­es­sar­ily sen­sa­tional for the time.

My favorite detail about this par­tic­u­lar brouhaha was the out­landish­ness of some of the sto­ries, espe­cially the ones detail­ing actual meet­ings with the pas­sen­gers of the air­craft. They speak to the won­der of a time where there were still places in the world yet to dis­cov­er. Take for exam­ple one story where men from Texas encoun­tered strange men in a air­ship who claimed to descen­dant from one of the lost tribes of Israel. So, aero­naut Jews?

In another inci­dent, 7-foot men attempted to drag Colonal H. G. Shaw into their air­ship but failed when they found out he was much stronger than them. Shaw believed the men to be Mar­tians, sent to Earth to kid­nap a man as a pos­si­ble pre­lude to inva­sion. Of course. Later a man from Mis­souri sees an air­ship piloted by 8 beau­ti­ful naked ladies and one naked bearded man (I won­der who thought that arrange­ment up?) They did­n’t speak Eng­lish but did know the word for Mars as that is where they said they were from, (while point­ing to the sky, of course.)

The cra­zi­est though, is when an air­ship appar­ently las­soed a cow and hoisted it into the air and off into the dis­tance, much to the dis­may of the farmer who attempted to res­cue his cow.

All in all, most of these sto­ries were prob­a­bly hoaxes per­pet­u­ated by the news­pa­pers which were much more inclined to print out­right false­hoods for enter­tain­ment at the time then they are now. Even the sto­ries that might have been true were largely embellished and very lit­tle fact check­ing every hap­pened through the whole affair. So even though it is pos­si­ble that there was an inven­tor behind some of the appear­ances, no one will ever know.

    Last update: 6/8/2011

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