Posted on the KeelyNet BBS on October 29, 1991 as AERO1.ASC
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 Jim Shaffer.
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: FATE, 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
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 country." 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 Airplanes, 1880-1946. Page 205
"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 items.
The story ends on this note of mystery, BUT THE
FOLLOWING WEEK another installment CLARIFIED THESE STRANGE
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
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 startling speed. 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 unknown.
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 delivered.
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 implications. *
* [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 United States.
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
* [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 a
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
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 Selag."
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 in?
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 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 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 midnight."
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-central part of California had their own stories in
all the newspapers.
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 interruption.
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
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 interests."
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 48 hours."
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
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 editorialized.
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 to come.
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 apparently 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 upside down.
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..........
Yet another story about a more recent flying man,
reported back in 1997, since this file was first posted in 1991 and
appended in this update;
A civilian friend and his wife were living on a small
island with other civilian families. The island had a paved road that
ran completely around it next to the beach. My friends wife and one
of her friends would often ride their bicycles around the island for excercise.
One day, they were about half way round the island
when they stopped for a breather and to enjoy the seabreeze and to
get a drink of water. While talking they happened to notice a glint
up in the air, when they looked up, they saw a man wearing a silver
suit, hovering in the air. There was no noise, no obvious equipment
and the man was simply hanging in the sky looking over the island,
apparently oblivious that the women has spotted him.
They remained very quiet so as not to attract
attention, standing there is awe of this flyer. After a few minutes,
he spun slowly in the air, to face towards the ocean, then flew off
at increasing speed at about the same height. The women were shocked
and informed each of their husbands independently on their arrival
home that evening. The stories jibed and the women swore to the truth
of it. It could have been a military test or some spy operation but
no further information has ever been discovered about who has such
marvelous technology as a flying suit.