- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
Balloon? Airplane? UFO? What flew over Texas — including Austin — with searchlights in April 1897?
Bob Ward of the Travis County Historical Commission drew our attention to this airborne mystery. We’re not suggesting aliens, but the reports fit the definition of an “unidentified flying object.”
A headline in the April 18, 1897, Austin Daily Statesman shouted “Strange and Startling: A ‘What Is It?’ Serenely Sailing over the Blessed Long Star State.” Texans in Sherman, Fort Worth, Hillsboro, Marshall and Paris spotted unusual objects in the night sky. This was six years before the Wright Brothers took off from Kitty Hawk, N.C., and 50 years before an unexplained object crashed in Roswell, N.M.
On April 26, the Daily Statesman reported that airship had made another appearance, this time behind Mount Bonnell traveling north. “At least, three young men who were camping up on Bull Creek at Huddle’s Point say they saw it. Messrs. Geo. Powell, Ted Tobin and Jas. Caldewell went up the lake Saturday afternoon for a couple of days’ camp and pitched their tents. … About 3 a.m. it began to rain and the men were compelled to get up and fasten the tent. It was at this time they saw the mysterious aircraft. They claim it was in sight fully 15 minutes and are positive they could not be mistaken. At intervals of every few seconds, it would throw its searchlights, and the boys say the light looked as big as four ordinary arc lights.”
Of course, those interested in UFOs have not let the subject of the 1897 aircraft go. An April 15, 2016, story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reached back to revive the tale of an airship that crashed into a windmill, “killing a spaceman,” in the North Texas town of Aurora on April 17, 1897. (In other words, before the Austin sighting.)
The town recently celebrated the crash with an event called the Aurora Alien Encounter with talks and shuttle tours, including a stop at the cemetery where the alien nicknamed “Ned” was supposedly buried.