Artist depiction of the mystery airship as it was seen over Sacramento.
Every now and then I like to revist an old story that I had written about when I first started Weird Fresno and it's usually to share it with new readers who may have not read the story, or as is the case with this one new information has been found.
Seven years before the Wright Brothers would become famous with the first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, something strange was seen in the California skies. On the night of November 22, 1896 a large airship was seen over much of northern and central California including San Francisco, San Jose and Fresno.
Hundreds of eye witnesses reported seeing a massive airship slowly floating in the sky, roughly 1,000 feet over the city. What drew most of their attention was the ship's light as they weren't accustomed to seeing bright lights in the sky. Several witnesses even claimed to have even seen figures through the craft's windows, but their descriptions are vauge at best only describing them as humanoid shaped.
Things do get weirder though. The next night a Colonel H.G. Shaw was driving his buggy in Stockton when he happened to come across a large airship that had landed in a field. He described it as being cylindrical shaped and about 150 long and 25 feet in diameter and completely made of metal. As he approached the ship three very tall, slender men exited the ship. He then claims they examined his buggy and conversed with him briefly before boarding their ship again and taking to to the skies. Also a man in Indio claimed to have gone onboard the craft for a flight, but no further details were given.
Following the sightings a San Francisco lawyer named George D. Collins announced that he had been hired to represent the airship's inventor, but after a few days Collins retracted his statement claiming that he had been misunderstood. Shortly after this, the former Attorney General of California, William H. H. Hart, claimed he was in communication with the airship's mysterios inventor and said that the airship would shortly be used to bomb the Spanish garrison of Havana and liberate Cuba. But when pressed for more details and evidence to back up his claim, Hart backed off.
For the next few weeks numerous airships were spooted all along the west coast of the United States and Canada. There were even reports as far east as Nebraska. By December the sightings had stopped and the news stopped reporting on the sightings and people forgot about the airship. But what was it that people actually saw?
Airships did exist at the time. The dirigible "La France" had flown a controlled course in 1885 outside Paris, and in Germnay Count Zeppelin was buiding his first airship. Efforts to build an airship in America date as far back as 1865. But none of these could fly the distances that the mystery airship was making. But there might be a possible explanation. According to the book "Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery", the government had in fact nine airships and were testing them. The best piece of evidence to back this up was an account from R. L. Lowery, a former street railway employee from Sacramento. One of the nights the airship was seen in Sacramento he heard a voice from above call, "Throw her up higher; she'll hit the steeple." Looking up he saw that there were two men seated on a bicyle-like frame and were peddling. Above them was a cigar-shaped body of some length, as he described. Lowery also described that the craft had wheels on the side akin to ones on the side of a steam boat.
So it seems that the U.S. government was testing an experimental aircraft over California skies. Only difference is that it was 1896 and not the present day. But it seems some things never change. One has to wonder what the goverment is testing over California skies today.