Sunday, December 23, 2018

Jefferson Airship - The Follow Up

There was some follow up to the Jefferson airship crash. The crash happened on Saturday night, April 10, but was not reported in the newspaper until April 15. If it was a real event, with most of the town aware of it, then the following letters to the editor would have had a chance to make their way to the newspaper office for publication on Thursday. That seems to be the case because there were more descriptions of the craft. One of them, dated April 12, is particularly interesting. It said:

April 12, 1897.
EDITORS BEE —It may be a matter of some interest to your readers to know that some sort of a contrapshun (sic) lodged in a big ash tree two hundred yards from my home last night at about nine o'clock. For half an hour prior to that time we had seen a brilliant light in the southeast apparently approaching us at a rapid pace. Whether from lack of control or neglect I cannot say, but the thing struck the top of the tree, passed partially over and then settled down into the large limbs, the big fan-shaped wheel at the rear end having been clogged by the branches. This must be that blamed air ship so many people have seen. At all events it is a big long, pointed cylinder with a little square house on top and a lot of traps at the rear. Several things, rather larger than a man, having hall a dozen arms and legs each, have been working to fix the business up, but they have had poor success. The creatures, whenever they hail from, are very queer acting, having some sort of reversible head, no matter what their position their face is always to ward you. When I start up the tree they dive back into the iron cylinder. I am afraid the poor things will starve. Don't you think the county supervisors ought to attend to the matter. If any readers of Tin; BICE are inclined to doubt the truth of these statements, let them come down here and I will show them the tree. Success to THE BEE.
There are two points of importance in this letter. First, is the description of the crash in George Washington’s letter (isn’t that a clue to the veracity of the letter), matches the description of the airship that appeared in both the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Waterloo Courier on April 16.

The Airship as illustrated in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Second, in the original article (see the last post), one of the scenes of an airship sighting or landing mentioned, was Cedar Rapids, suggesting some sort of communication between the Gazette and the Bee. In a telegram printed in the Gazette on Friday, April 16, 1897, about the Waterloo landing, there was this information:

The airship has two cigar-shaped cylinders, canvas-covered, thirty-six feet long and seven feet in diameter at the largest part. It also has a screw propeller and fins along the sides. It is now being viewed y thousands. It lies on the river bank and there is no charge to see it. It is a most excellently executed fake.
The timing of all this is interesting. I give no importance to the date on the letter because we don’t have the original. The important date is on the newspaper, which is April 15. And the illustration of the airship, printed in the Gazette is dated April 17.

It seems, however, that the printing of the Jefferson Bee on April 15 corresponds to the landing in the early morning hours of the airship in Waterloo. The article in the Gazette, has a dateline in Waterloo of April 16, claiming that it had landed about four in the morning.

Given the timing here, it seems that there was some sort of coordination between “George Washington” in Rippey and those who constructed the fake airship in Waterloo. The idea had to surface in the area around Jefferson, Iowa. Rippey is just south of there.

Normally, this would seem to suggest that the two sightings were linked and therefore corroborated one another. The trouble is that the Waterloo landing was exposed as a hoax, and there is no evidence that the information in the Washington letter is valid. That it described the same object that was a hoax would suggest that the letter too, is a hoax.

But that wasn’t the only follow up for the Jefferson crash. There was another letter in the Jefferson newspaper that added some detail, or you might say, a different perspective. It said:

April 12,1897,
Special to THE BEE: — I have a 40-foot airship in custody. Ira feeding three beings of some sort. Notify sheriff and have him bring hundred feet of rubber rope. Sunday morning about four o'clock I arose to apply a hot-water bag to an aching tooth, and looking out of the window saw the dim outlines of a big cigarshaped affair gradually descending in a little piece of timber east of my house. As Boon as daylight came, with my sons and hired man I started for the spot. The ship had settled in a little clearing and was resting on four legs unfolding from the bottom of the ship. We had provided ourselves with ropes and an ax, a fortunate circumstance, for as soon as we came in view the operators attempted to start up and get away. A great fan or wheel at the rear revolved rapidly and the ship was moving ahead and upward, when I rushed up and dealt the fan a blow with the ax. This deranged the apparatus so the wheel ceased to move and the big cylinder again settled back upon its legs. We have tried to tie the ship down but every time we touch any part of it a severe shock is felt; that's why we want insulated rope. There are heavy plate windows in a square cupola on the top of the center and we have seen several persons through the glass. They appear to have two sided faces and four arms each. Haven't time to write any more send up a reporter. Enclosed subscription to THE BEE to Jan. 1,1898
So now, here was another story that seemed to be connected to the airship that landed in Waterloo. But instead of it just flying off into the night, we learn that the letter writer, “Truthful James,” has captured the airship. No, it was never seen, unlike the airship at Waterloo, which was, of course photographed as well. The point is that if “Truthful James” had an airship, we would have heard more about it.

Another writer to the newspaper made still another claim about the airship. This story is just as wild as the others.

April 13, '97
Special to THE BEE: Last night one of those pesky airships halted about two hundred feet above my house for an hour. Evidently it was a gay party, making the awfullest racket you ever heard anywhere; whooping and bellowing and shrieking, until in my grief I loaded up the musket with big slugs and blazed away at the black hull. Instantly the bawling ceased and I could hear a hissing sound like escaping steam. Shortly after several balls of fire shot out from the ship and I heard them strike the ground near me. Then the ship began to wobble and gradually descended, settling off to the north in the pasture. I lighted a lantern, and with my boy Justus went out to examine the beast. The ship was lying on its side, lights out and no sign of life on board. I sent the boy back for the gun and stationed him where he could perforate the ship in case any attempt was made during the night to patch up the leak and get away. Along about one o'clock a multi-legged and armed creature straddled out of the square tower, but the boy fired into the air and the creature scrambled back. This morning I dug up the balls discharged by the ship, and find thein about four inches in diameter and of a yellowish metal, and unaffected by acid. The airship appears to be made of some soft metal and is very ingeniously constructed. It will pay people to come miles to see It.
The Jefferson Bee now leads us to another tale of an airship crash. It seems that airships were falling all over that part of Iowa. This tale does, sort of, resemble the others.

April 12, 1897.
To THE BEE: — A very strange phenomenon is in operation on the Coon river north-east of this town. About nine o'clock Monday night, just as I was about to retire, there came a crash and jar upon the earth that knocked me against the cook stove. I thought It was an earthquake and sat up until 11 o'clock in readiness to flee if necessary, but there were no further disturbances and 1 went to bed. The following morning while driving the cattle to pasture, my son was amazed to see the river bed perfectly dry. Following the stream up to a point opposite the house the cause of the sudden stoppage of water was discovered. An immense round hole, thirty feet in diameter, appeared in the river bed and into this yawning chasm the water poured in a mighty torrent. No noise can be heard which indicates that the chasm is so deep that the sound is lost before it reaches the top. What is to be done about the matter no one knows. The stoppage of the water will work great hardship to farmers along the stream and the slimy river bed will breed malaria and fever. The only way I cannot account for the strange conditions is that an airship must have plunged into the river ad gone to the bowels of the earth. Great crowds are coming hourly to see the strange sight. Don't you think I could establish a fashionable watering place here.
[The above explains the situation at Adel. A dispatch appeared in Tuesday's dailies, dated Adel, saying that for some unaccountable reason the river at that point had fallen so that the mills cannot run. — EDITOR.]
We have now run the gamut of letters to the editor about the airship. I noticed, as I’m sure you have, that we don’t have a single name that we can vet. The names signed all suggest honesty and truthfulness, but you have to wonder why they couldn’t use their real names to underscore their honesty and truthfulness… if these letters were actually written by different individuals. Given the situation, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all the authors either worked at the newspaper, knew the editor, were a single individual or were conspiring to keep the airship afloat.

But all might not be as it seems, and while the newspaper was having some fun with these stories, and might have sold a couple of newspapers, there is a hint that it just wasn’t true. In the final note, alluded to in the last post, it was said:

The airship editor of THE BEE IS sick and the regular editors have had to handle this matter as best they could, without that valuable technical knowledge of lying that would have enabled the making of a really highly-ornamented fake. But we have done the best we could, presented the main points and we believe the public will accept the will for the deed.
This seems to be a confession of sorts. They seem to acknowledge that there isn’t much in the way of evidence, and they suspect it is all a lie. You just have to read to the very end of the column to find that little bit of confession.

The only real question left is if the men who were found on the Waterloo fairgrounds with their airship were part of a larger conspiracy. Did they know what was going to be printed in the newspaper and take their inspiration from that or had they been working to create a plausible airship (one that wouldn’t fly, by the way), and drag it to the fairgrounds for all to see after alerting some of the local newspapers. The ship, from the photograph, doesn’t seem to be something that could have been thrown together in a couple of hours. It took some planning… and since the description of it appeared in the Jefferson Bee before it reached the fairgrounds in Waterloo, if only by a couple of hours, that suggests that the letters “sent” to the newspaper, had been written prior to the airship arriving in Waterloo.

That is a mystery that we might not be able to unravel these 120 years plus since the Great Airship soared over the United States. Which came first, the faked airship or the letters about it. But then, it’s not really all that important because we know the truth about this aspect of the airship. It was a fake


RRRGroup said...


You haven't started celebrating the New Year a bit early have you?


mouseonmoon said...

“ wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all the authors either worked at the newspaper, knew the editor, were a single individual or were conspiring to keep the airship afloat.”

I ‘m thinking there’s some kind of ‘fraternity’ involved.

At the same time this is happening in Iowa we ‘know’ about the famous
Liar’s club in Kansas and the tall tale of the Airship stealing ‘Ham-ilton’s calf ’.
Was there a ‘theme’ involved in the ‘competition’ ?

There’s suggestions that telegraph operators were spreading these stories.
I wonder about writers /editors involved in dime novels doing some freelance reporting for drinks and supplies.

I’m beginning to suspect an early feminist group lead by sisters named Alice and Dorothy from Dodge City ….

There’s much here to open our eyes to the making of history, yet we’ll

need Time Traveler to really get to the bottom of this.

Honest Abe,
ur mom

Hipnomads said...

Thanks for all this research. Any data about the Airship flaps is greatly appreciated and hard to find.

vonmazur said...

Fellows: The one thing, only slightly mentioned, that fueled this was the "proto internet" run by Railway Telegraphers. Today this is so obscure as to be almost unknown, but at the time of these sightings, the rumor mill was the Telegraphers. I worked as a Railroad Tower operator, which is what the telegraphers eventually became. The old guys told me of the way that news or fake news was passed by these guys. Just like Amazon owes its origin to Sears and Roebuck, started by a railway telegrapher to sell Railroad grade watches by mail, the CB lingo and the net, were all preceded by this early "Net" of people who reported and passed on the reports in those days..As a retired Operator, when I read these reports, I can see the fingerprints of telegraphers in many of them..

KRandle said...

vonmazur -

While the point is valid, it is not completely relevant to this series of postings. I will note, as a way to toot my own horn, that in the Spring 1977 issue of True Flying Saucers & UFOs, I do make a point of mentioning the role that railroad telegraphers had in spreading the airship stories.

It is clear that newspapers, "reliable" towns people, pillars of the communities, and a lot of others were making up stories about the airship. From the Aurora UFO crash to Alexander Hamilton's calf napping, it's clear that people were having fun but there is little truth in the tales.

vonmazur said...

Kevin: I was an Army Aviator, and WOC, and a Railroad Operator, I was just promoting my self appointed status!! There are other cases from this time that show the speed of rumors, as spread by the Telegraphers, I think the time the Train Conductor took the siding for the planet Venus and some others were first reported by the operators rumor mill and then picked up by the local media..I will search for more sometime, as this interests me, involving both Aviation and Railroading...