Form: Analysis
Date: 24 Dec 2006
From: Brad Sparks
Subject: Analysis: Amateur Astronomer (Medical Doctor) Sighting, April 15, 1897 St Louis, MO

St. Louis Post-Dispatch of April 16, 1897, pp.1-2 [Credit:  Thomas Bullard.]

Airship Viewed by Telescope /
Dr. Leo Caplan Watched the Aerial Visitor /
Distinctly Saw the Car....
   The airship visited St. Louis again Thursday night.  This time the bright searchlight was not only seen by thousands but the object was observed through a telescope and the outlines of the craft were seen.
   [The observer was a medical doctor.]
   Dr. Caplan is a dabbler in astronomy and frequently gazes at the heavenly bodies.  He knows that he did not see a star....
   "I was walking to my home on Washington avenue last night about 7:45...when I saw a bright light almost overhead.  It was northwest of the zenith...
   "But the moment I saw this light I realized it was something unusual and I hastened home, ran to the roof and brought my telescope to bear on the object.  Before taking a sight I noticed the light was swaying from side to side.  The effect was exactly that of a searchlight that was being manipulated.
   "The moment I looked through the glass I discovered a long black body behind the light.  It was exactly the cigar shape that has been described.
   "I thought something must be the matter with the lens and I turned the telescope on different stars and planets.  There was no unnatural effect evident and I brought the glass to bear again on the mysterious visitor.  At first I could not locate the light, then I found that it had moved several degrees to the north.  When I caught it again I once more made out the cigar-shaped craft.
   "The airship...moved over considerable space in five minutes, and I followed it all the time.  It took a northwesterly course, then veered to the West and finally to North.  Then it darted off in that direction and was lost to sight.  I had the light in view fully ten minutes from the time I first saw it on the street....
   "It could not have been a star?"
   "No sir.  I looked at Venus, at Sirius and other bright stars several times, then back at the mysterious object.  Besides, through my glass the object behind the light was distinctly visible."

This is a fairly impressive sighting by someone who was obviously technically trained, as an MD and familiar with astronomy and astronomical terms and concepts (zenith, degrees, etc.), equipped with a telescope actually used in the sighting.  Dr. Caplan has time, date, duration, location, directional data, and states he did control checks of stars and planets, naming Sirius and Venus and excluding them.  The UFO he saw was NW of Zenith when first seen, moved several degrees to the N, then seemed to head NW then W then N when it "darted off" to the N out of sight after a total of 10 minutes.  In the telescope he saw a "cigar shape" "long black body behind the light" that had been "swaying" like a searchlight. 

In fact Sirius was indeed up in the SW sky at azimuth 222 degs elevation 23 degs at 7:45 PM in St Louis that night of April 15, 1897.  Venus was low on the horizon in the WNW at 294 degs azimuth, elevation 7 degs, dropping to 5 degs by the end of the sighting at 7:55 PM.  Venus was nowhere near the Zenith (which is 90 degs elevation) and did not set until about 8:30 PM, still in the WNW (now at 301 degs azimuth).

Is there any reason to doubt this account?  This would seem to go a long ways towards establishing the reality of a UFO phenomenon in the 1897 wave, including "cigar shape" dark body behind a brilliant white light.  I would definitely like to see more amateur astronomer accounts.

I am having real trouble seeing how Dr Caplan's sighting can possibly be explained by a fire balloon carrying a Japanese lantern, as has been suggested.  The fundamental characteristic of a "fire balloon" is FIRE.  Caplan did not report 2 lights (fire balloon and Japanese lantern), only one light.  If the Japanese lantern suspended below the fire balloon was what was "swaying" like a searchlight then Caplan should have seen the fire in the fire balloon as well.  Moreover he reports no color let alone multicolors of a Japanese lantern, evidently it was white light. 

Caplan reported a "cigar-shaped" "long black body behind the light" when viewing through his telescope, which does not at all seem like a Japanese lantern, designed to be lit up ("lantern") not be dark.  He should have been able to resolve the fine details of the Japanese lantern construction through his telescope.  He did not report seeing flames or flame coloration to the one and only light, which should have been obvious when viewed through his telescope, to say nothing of seeing an obvious Japanese lantern shape in the scope had it been such.