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
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
[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
"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
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
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