UFO Conjecture(s)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Airship Wave of the 1890s, The Sonora Aero Club, and The Apotheosis of Human Creativity

Copyright 2013, InterAmerica, Inc.

Readers/visitors here know (or should) about the Airship sightings of the mid-1890s in The United States.

Most also know something about the odd, maybe fictive Sonora Aero Club of California, which I referenced in my earlier piece on the Airship wave.

Let me make clear that I am not advocating the idea that the Sonora Aero Club was the progenitor of the 1896 or other Airship sightings that have been recounted in UFO lore.

The possibility is there – possibilities lying everywhere – but that’s not my point here.

In my previous outing about the Airship sightings, I tried to make clear that the excitable mind-set(s) of the 18th and 19th century balloonists could account for some creative ballooning in the 1800s that explain the Airship sightings in the literature, some of them anyway.

First, let me sum up what I know or think about the Sonora Aero Club, that I’ve referenced early on here, at this blog and others, which a Google search will provide access to.

But a pithy source, recently read by me, comes from David Richie’s UFO book [ibid], Pages 192-193, quoted and paraphrased:

The Sonora Aero Club was manifest  in the 1800s in and around Sonora, California, known mostly from the writings of C.A.A. Dellschau, pictured here:

Photo provided by Jose Antonio Caravaca

Dellschau wrote about the Club and offered exotic drawings of the alleged aircraft  developed by its 60 members (of German and English descent primarily).

Portions of Dellschau’s discovered manuscript, Richie states, were written in “a cryptic manner.”

Funding was by a group known only as NYZMA.

Dellschau indicated that the “club’s bizarre machines” (Richie writes) were made operational  “by a gas called ‘NB’ or ‘Supe’ which reportedly had the potential to neutralize gravitation (or weight, as Dellschau put it).” [Page 193]

“Dellschau claimed that several airships actually were built and flown, then taken apart so that their workings would remain secret. Two of the craft, he wrote, were destroyed in a fire that swept the community of Columbia, California, some miles from Sonora.” [op cit.]

(That alleged fire could be traced, if anyone cares to try and confirm the story; no date is given however…RR)

Dellschau wrote that “Supe” was the creation of one Peter Mennis, with the manufacturing technique being lost in the 1860s when Mennis died, or was murdered by Club members. [op cit.]

“Dellschau moved to Texas in the 1870s and settled around 1880 in Houston. He left Houston for several months in 1890, on his return, exhibited a changed personality, characterized by fear and anxiety.” [op cit.]

“During this last period of his life, Richie writes, [Dellschau] composed the written accounts of the club’s airships. He attributed the the deaths pf some members of the club to careless talk or to use their knowledge of the airships for personal gain.” [op cit]

Here are a few examples of the drawings Dellschau made of the aircraft the club supposedly created and flew. (More can be found online by a Google image search):



Jose Carvaca provides this, as part of his upcoming December report on the Sonora Club and the Airship wave:

"The story begins when Albert Dellschau arrives at Texas in 1895, one of the epicenters of the wave future, and decides to retake the idea of the Aeroclub in the company of former members as Charles A. Smith and Willard Willson. The financier of the whole operation, according to Busby, was George Hearst, son of former benefactor the group, and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. On this occasion the group join Samuel E. Tillman and Professor Amos Emerson Dolbearthat curiously are cited at a meeting of the AirShip happened in Stephenville, and witnesses claimed that the project was funded by the people of New York. Michael Busby follows this track and confirms that Dolbear was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, being a specialty electric motors."


Photos provided by Jose Caravaca

The Dellschau tale is fantastical, isn’t it? So one wouldn’t be remiss in discounting it.

It reeks of a schizophrenic savant.

However, in the time period – the 1800s to 1900 – human creativity was resplendent in its imaginative and fecund productions, in music (Wagner, Mahler, et al.), science (Darwin, Freud, Einstein), literature (Dostoyevsky, Melville, Poe et al.), Engineering (Edison, Wheeler, Tesla) and other geniuses, some wild and wooly (like the balloonists mentioned in my previous piece), some sedate and thoughtful.

So I contend that, perhaps – perhaps – the Airships of the 1890s were creations by a dedicated raft of engineering or inventive individuals who took ballooning, reconfigured it, and flew brief unwarlike sorties over populated areas.

Yes, the Airship wave could be the result of a kind of mass hysteria created by newspaper accounts that may have been fraudulent in their reportage (to accrue readers and revenue), but certainly not misperceptions of the planet Venus as one rabid skeptic proposed recently.

But I should like to think that some wildly adventurous humans tried to soar in the heavens, before the time when air flight was said to be possible, and some observers got to see their adventurous rides and aircraft, even if the Sonora Aero Club’s airships were only the imaginative ramblings of a man at the edge of insanity.

For me, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Airships of the 1890s were as they were reported.

RR (and JAC) 


  • Thanks for this fascinating article.

    However, I cannot help but think that the man was simply and merely an eccentric visionary artist consumed by fanciful ideas of flight(and perhaps influenced by reports of the 'Airship Wave.)

    His drawings on Google Images seem like circus-banners in jewel-like tones to me, almost a signal that this is just artistic entertainment.

    And his fictional Aero Club reminds me of the the "Liars' Clubs" - a form of entertainment common in rural areas in the late 1800s...


    In some ways this all reminds me of another fanciful volume- The Voynich Manuscript, where hundreds of colorful botanical/flora drawings are drawn- none of them real.

    By Blogger Anthony Bragalia, at Tuesday, November 19, 2013  

  • For me these wonderful works of art are like a time capsule where probability met imagination. As a side excursion from the reports of sightings themselves these are one of the less than a handful of multimedia creations that synthesize art and myth. The Voynich manuscript, The Story of the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger, or, in a more linear narrative, although not multimedia, the work of Jules Verne who was enamored of science inasmuch as his work was scrupulously researched. Verne may have been an influence for these “flights” of imagination in the illustrations, which are not diagrams or blueprints. I think this represents what I see so often parallel events influenced by a variety of sources that are lumped together without any discernment in order to prove this or that point of view. Fictions get blended with facts, and then these beliefs become almost what could be sidered more art than reality. At the same time, I do think some sightings were probably accurate and could have been technically feasible, but the blurring of distinctions makes the fog thicker.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Tuesday, November 19, 2013  

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_Clampus_Vitus

    then again, what better concealment for experimenting with a newfangled flying machine could you find than a place rife with eccentric visionaries and hoaxers? i am from this area of California, going all the way back to the Chukchansi as well as with English and German immigrants who ranched in the foothils just south of Yosemite. I grew up camping in the Sierras and along highway 49. I cannot convey how enchanting i find this aspect of the Great Airship Wave of 1897.

    But more to the point - i hope enuf to the point for you, my dear Mr. RR - i wonder about 1) transportation and storage in these areas (for example, towns along 49 were constantly burning up and fire is still a very big danger - which makes me think that the caves which riddle this area would be a much better storage/work space than a wooden barn) and 2) weather. Flying in these parts is dangerous even now, due to turbulence associated with the mountains, believe it or not tornadoes in the great valley, as well as the fearful tule fog. All of which circumstances were known as dangerous back in the day as well.

    Columbia is now a state park (tourist trap according to our parents, who we begged to take us there. When we got there we kinda had to admit they were right ;) So there should be plenty of records available for anyone wishing to dig into fire history.

    Love this series of discussions on the 1897 Airships!!! i'm inclined to think there could have been a stray cadre of inventors as well, there are many very remote areas around the Sierras in gold country even today. Happy evening, steph

    By Blogger tinyjunco, at Tuesday, November 19, 2013  

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