An Authentic 1896 Airship Sighting by Bruce Duensing
PEOPLE DECLARE THEY HEARD THEM AND SAW THE LIGHTAERIAL SHIP, GHOST STORY, OR METEOR – AS YOU LIKE ANYWAY, THE LIGHT WAS SEEN, AND IT ACTED VERY STRANGELY
CARMEN TOLD CASHIER LUSK OF WHAT THEY CLAIMED TO HAVE SEEN AND HEARD NOTHING HEARD UP TO DATE AS TO WHAT THE OBJECT IS OR WHENCE IT CAME
VOICES IN THE SKY
Last evening between the hours of 6 and 7 o'clock, in the year of our lord eighteen hundred and ninety six, a most startling exhibition was seen in the sky in this city of Sacramento. 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 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 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.
That much hundreds of the people saw. That much caused consternation in the city last night among groups gathered to hear the tale. What follows some of the witnesses to the strange spectacle assert to be true as the circumstances stated.
VOICES IN THE SKY
Startled citizens last night living at points of the city along a rough diagonal line, yet far distant from each other, declare that they not only saw the phenomenon, but that they also heard voices issuing from it in midair - not the whispering of angels, not the sepulchral mutterings of evil spirits, but the intelligible words and merry laughter of humans.
At those intervals where the glittering object, as if careless of its obligation to maintain a straightforward course, descended dangerously near the housetops, voices were heard in the sky saying:
"Lift her up quick! You are making directly for that steeple!"
Then the light in the sky would be seen obeying some mystic touch and ascending to a considerable height, from which it would take up again its southwesterly course.
The light sailed along the line of K St., so it appeared from those in the eastern part of the city, although it appears that after it passed 14th St. it was wafted far south of K.
Laughter and words sounding strange in the distance, though fairly intelligible, fell upon the ears of pedestrians along the course of the light who had paused to look up at the novelty.
COMING TO CALIFORNIA
Last night's BEE contained a telegram from New York announcing that a man had perfected an airship and would on Friday of this week, accompanied by one or two friends, ascend from a vacant lot in the metropolis and go directly to California, which he promised to reach in two days. The description furnished in the telegram included an apparatus which was electrical to supply light and power to the astonishing contrivance. It is not regarded as likely, in view of the announcement carried in the dispatch, that last night Sacramento was overswept by this aerial ship. But here is the incident -- here the chronicle of words heard, of a strange spectacle witnessed. Whence the light, which was not a meteor all agree, came, whither it went, where it is now—these things it is not within the capacity of this article to deal with.
MR. LUSK'S STORY
Charles Lusk, Cashier of the Central Electrical Street Railway Company, was at his home at Twenty-Fourth and O Streets, last evening when, having stepped outside, he saw the remarkable appearance in the sky. He went into the house and told the inmates of what he had seen.
This morning Mr. Lusk mentioned the incident to some of the Carmen, and was amazed to learn from them that they had seen such a light as he described while they were in the neighborhood of East Park. More than that, they heard music and voices. One voice distinctly said:
"Well, we ought to get to San Francisco by tomorrow noon."
The Carmen say they caught some faint idea of the shape of the object that was floating in the air. It was of balloon shape, and they concluded that it was a balloon.
THEY SAW IT
Foreman Snyder of the Car Barn, Says it Was Not a Meteor
This afternoon, G.C. Snyder, foreman of the car house of the Electric Car Company, gave the following to the BEE:
"I assure you there is no joke about this matter, so far as I am concerned. Last evening, about ten minutes before 7 o'clock, I saw a light, which was then above, approximately, Twenty-Seventh and P Streets, sailing in a southwesterly direction. It rose and fell and swayed from right to left as if it were being propelled by some motor power. It was a white light, and was not a star or meteor, I am certain of that."
"Mr. Lowry, who used to be connected with the car company, told me that he saw the thing when it was directly overhead and that it had a wheel, which was going round."
"I don't think it was a balloon, for it was going in the southwest and a heavy wind was blowing from that direction. David Curl, a horsetrainer at the race track, told me he heard voices in the balloon or whatever it was."
"I learned that Michael Shelley, Carman on car 103 on the J. Street Line, distinguished the shape of the affair."
Bruce sent this addendum (via e-mail):
In terms of the state of technology available at that time lead me to the eye witness account of G.C. Snyder, foreman of the car house of the Electric Car Company. Snyder would have been intimately familiar with the characteristics of carbon arc headlights used on interurbans \ streetcars at that time and this was the only lamp available at that time to produce such an effect as seen from the airship in the form of a searchlight.
Steam driven electric dynamos that would have needed to produce the current used to drive the airship searchlight had long since been perfected. Another consideration is that in 1897, gasoline engines had been perfected and while a gasoline engine to drive the dynamo was certainly possible, the availability of refined gasoline in terms of a long distance trip was a hugely formidable challenge, hence the consideration of a small steam plant.
Combine these three elements of the searchlight as well as Snyder’s discounting of any other natural source makes for an interesting read in terms of what he thought he saw could have been feasible.
Another interesting element was the straight line trajectory across Sacramento as well as this occurred before nightfall in the early evening hours.
One final oddity that struck me was the “set up” of this event by the telegram as it could have easily been planted as well as either coincidental or anticipatory as well as the sender being unnamed. According to the procedures of sending a telegram, it would have been impossible to hoax from whence the message came, so it’s likely this message did come from out of state. If this was a hoax or trick telegram and there was no airship to appear, what is the point of the expense of specifically notifying the newspaper in advance of a non event? Odd.