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UFOs in the daily Press:

The airship stories in the 1896 US Press:

This article was published in the daily newspaper Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Sacramento, California, page 2 columns 1, November 20, 1896.

Warning: the airship stories must not be taken at face value as "UFO sightings." Evaluation of such stories is under way here.


Considerable amusement and no little speculation has pervaded the community for the last three days concerning a supposed flying machine, which is alleged to have passed over the city on Tuesday night, operated by four men, whose voices, say several witnesses, could be heard. Hundreds of people agree that a strange, strong light was seen floating in the heavens for half an hour, rising and falling, and moving slowly. But there appears to be but two or three who hold that they saw the machine, and but one of these gives any rational description of it.

The story goes that the machine was built near the city, and broke from its moorings while being experimented with. and that the riders were unable to control the direction of its movements. We take no stock in any of these stories for two sufficient reasons, namely, that no such machine could be built here or near here, and the matter be kept a profound secret; secondly, if any such machine came from anywhere else the news-gatherers would have learned of it; besides there is no reason why any inventor should be particularly secretive about such a thing. The truth certainly is that a strange light was seen slowly floating above the city and pursuing a rather erratic course. Beyond that there is nothing definite, and a light in the sky as described is to be accounted for in several rational ways, disassociated from any flying machine. People are very apt to, by the repetition of tales, to permit them to grow out of all proportion to the truth.

There was, we believe, no flying machine in the business. The most skilled enthusiasts in aerial transportation have been at work on flying machines and navigable balloons for a century. In 1884 a flight of eight miles was successfully made by a machine carrying several people who had it under perfect control, and made it rise and fall at will. Many other tests of ability to navigate the air have been made, and some of them with fair success, but mostly with ill and sometimes fatal results to the experimenters.

In later days the experimenters have nearly all settled down upon the principles of the aeroplane, abandoning the use of inflated spheres to sustain the weight of the navigators. They are nearly all agreed that if man is to be floated in the air it will be done on the principle upon which the birds proceed to mount.

It will not do to laugh at the idea of aerial navigation. It has become accomplished in a small way, it may be made practical in a large way. In this day and age we should smile at scarce any of the efforts of man to overcome the laws of gravitation. But that there has been anything new invented and operated for aerial navigation in and about this city and the people kept in profound ignorance of it is absurd. Balloon flights we have had in plenty, and in them there is nothing novel.

No one went flying through the air on Tuesday night on a machine with a powerful electric light. Nor were the voices of the navigators heard. Those who think they heard them were deceived. Viewing the light above them as it passed along they might very easily associate sounds of the human voice heard near the locality of the floating light, whether it was that of a hot-air balloon, or was indeed a gas balloon sent up by someone, and which is not uncommon as an amusement.

On the basis of what is known, the practical joker has probably built the fanciful stories which filled the air of rumor and have led one San Francisco paper to give a picture of what the so-called air ship looked like, and of the means used to propel it. The light was seen; all else is fancy or a joke, or imagination and a joke combined.

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