Jefferson Airship – 1897

6 min


To fully understand a case, it is necessary to return to the original source. I had the opportunity to do that just the other day. Andy McGinn of the Jefferson Herald, which had been the Jefferson Bee, called to ask about an entry in Crash: When UFOs Fall from the Sky. He was interested in an entry for April 15, 1897 which

Greene County Courthouse, Jefferson,
discussed a crash near Jefferson.
Frankly, I didn’t remember it off the top of my head. It was a short entry and gave the bare bones of the story. I had written:

The Jefferson Bee reported that an airship had crashed in a farmer’s field on the north edge of town. Most of the town’s residents gathered around the huge, smoking hole. The next day, a man was lowered into the ole on a rope, along with a Volapak [sic, Volapuk] dictionary, which is the second time that this artificial language has been mentioned in connection with an airship crash. Once in the hole, the man claims he entered the airship that seemed neat and clean, despite the violent crash.
McGinn and I discussed the airship stories that had been circulating at the time. He said that he had pulled the newspaper for that date, April 15, 1897, and read to whole story. It was more detailed than what I had reported. He also mentioned that the last paragraph seemed to suggest the tale, which had been printed on the front page, was a hoax. I was interested in what that last paragraph said.

In the world today, there are lots of sources of information available that don’t require trips to libraries or newspaper morgues. I found, online, a short article about the crash in the Omaha Bee on April 17, 1897. It said:

JEFFERSON, Ia. April 16 – (Special Telegram) – A local paper this morning printed a lurid story concerning the airship which was alleged to have plunged into the earth north of town. Before noon a number of people had actually visited the place to see the hole.
That certainly didn’t clarify anything and added nothing to what I already knew. I did find an entry in Jerome Clark’s UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition, but his information had been drawn from the Omaha newspaper, so he had even less information than I did about this crash.

What I really needed was to see the original article. McGinn was kind enough to send me a pdf. of the front page which carried the story. Rather than paraphrase it, and in keeping with the idea that the original source would be better than my interpretation of it, I thought I would provide the text.

The Mystery of the Aerial Visitor Solved at Last.
Details of Accidents Important Discoveries
Up to the hour of going to press five air ships have been located by the enterprising citizens of Greene county. Air ships know a good thing when they see it, and so when wo heard of a flock of aerial pilgrims in Kansas, Nebraska, Omaha, Cedar Rapids, North wood, Evanston, St. Paul and Marshalltown, it became a settled conviction with us that it was only a question of time until they should be with us and taste the Joys of our Incomparable mud.
Two hundred nervous Jefferson people scanned the horizon Saturday night. They looked for an air ship. Along about 9:30 one came cavorting (sic) along the etherial (sic) domain like a wash tub on a mill pond. It was a giddy thing, evidently fresh from the shops, and after arriving within two or three miles of the earth, began cutting all sorts of pigeon wings, grapevines and doubledutch (sic) rolls. The sight was bewitching and cheer after cheer ascended as the airship executed some difficult selection.
Part of the time the great white light at the bow was visible and then the green light suddenly appeared and the ship would reverse itself. Then it evolved into a monstrous pin wheel, the green, red and white blending into a circular disc beautiful beyond compare, followed by an undulating, weaving motion as though flouting on a heavy swell.
Suddenly the great boat seemed to steady itself; the white light became fixed and gradually increased in size.

The Airship that landed in Waterloo, Iowa, 1897.
Somebody shouted, “the airship is headed for the earth,” and sure enough.
Rapidly the great ball of purest white grew until it assumed the proportions of a full moon; then to the size of a wagon wheel and in the sky dim outlines of the great hull could be seen rushing downward at a rate of speed simply incalculable.
When within a thousand yards of the earth a distinct roar could be heard which Increased to the proportions of a cyclone us with ajar like an earthquake the mighty engine plunged into the earth.
The concussion was so terrific that houses trembled, children were thrown from their beds, dishes fell in showers from cupboards and hundreds of panes of glass were shattered.
Men rushed hatless out upon the street shouting for Information as to the whereabouts of the airship. There was a wild scurrying around to locate the point of contact but the search was fruitless—the earth had evidently swallowed the aerial visitor and sealed the opening.
Sunday morning, however, hundreds of men joined in the search and about nine o’clock a huge circular hole, twenty feet in diameter was discovered on the cast side of Mahlon Head’s celery patch adjacent to the Northwestern depot. The hole was as clean cut and smooth – as though made by expert well-diggers, and was apparently bottomless. Ropes were secured, a heavy iron weight attached to one end and lowered into the abyss. A hundred feet had been played out when there was a sound us If a metallic object had been struck.
The airship had been sounded. [Yes, that is what it said. I don’t understand it.]
The next problem was what to next.
Finally it was decided that someone must descend and investigate. The rope was hauled up, a noose made and volunteers called for.
A hush fell upon the great throng, which by this time numbered over a thousand. It looked as if the scheme must fail when a local newspaper man, clad In a Prince Albert and with n huge $1 25 diamond flashing alternately with his eyes, strode forth and grasped the rope. A lantern, cold chisel, hammer and drill were tied about him, and with a clubbing list, and a Volupuk (sic) dictionary in his inside vest pocket, he gave the word.
It will be a long time before we forget the peaceful expression that lit up his alabastine (sic) face as he disappeared — in fact we don’t think we will ever forget it.
Down, down sped the rope until lack of tension showed the explorer had landed. Soon after hoarse, guttural tones in the Volupuk tongue were wafted upwards and then hammer were heard. In the course of half an hour there was a pull at the rope and willing hands hauled away with vim. It seems that the rear portion the ship was blunt like the hot end of a cigar, but a door, apparently fastened on the inside, eighteen inches square was found. The hinges were chiseled off and the door pried open. The Interior was found to consist of an oblong chamber or room eight feet square and eighty feet in length This room, which was situated in the upper part of the ship, was elegantly appointed; finished in plush fancy woods and provided with every convenience. About forty feet from the rear end was a square tower that could be raised and lowered, after the manner of a conning tower upon a submarine torpedo boat. This had been drawn down leaving the ship in the form of a cylinder. At the extreme end toward the bow the bodies of four persons, probably men, were discovered, jammed almost to a pulp by the terrific force of the concussion. The beings were somewhat larger’ than earthly inhabitants, and each seemed to have a face on each side of the head, two sets of arms and legs, evidently so as to locomote forward or back without necessitating turning around.
It would be quite interesting to go into the details concerning these strange people, but we must defer that until a future time. At all events they were dead—both sides.
Further Investigation revealed that the ship, except the eight feet occupied by the salon, was perforated, horizontally by tubes about the size of a stove pipe. At the rear was a great propeller (sic), having eight blades. This was connected with a small electric motor, which evidently merely served to start the ship, as when motion has been secured the air rushes through the tubes at such a rapid rate that the propellor was driven at high speed and this forced the ship ahead like greased lightning.
The speed was regulated by means of a brake on the rim of the propellor.
Two plans are suggested. One to build a permanent ladder down to the air ship; another to ascertain if the monster can be raised. It is probable a meeting will be held within a few days to determine upon the best course. Meanwhile a sort of windlass has been erected at the mouth of the opening and hundreds of people have examined the wonderful craft that evidently slipped a cog, somewhere on that fatal Saturday night.
It seems to be the general Impression that the ship hailed from Mars, and if this Is the case, other ships of which there seem to be several hundred, will eventually alight without fatal results to the operators and the secret of aerial navigation will be solved.
Green county is the rendezvous of the fleet of air ships operating in this part of the state, is very evident. The following messages from men of unquestioned veracity, prove this fact and at the same time throw considerable light upon the Interesting topic.
This tells us, in great detail, what happened, or was alleged to have happened. One thing that came out of this is that the crash occurred on April 10 rather than the fifteenth. The date given by many of us for the crash was based on the date of the newspaper story rather than the date of the actual incident. There was very little follow up.

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