Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2006 10:00:19 -0400
From: "Bullard, Thomas E" <tbullard@indiana.edu>
Subject: No Genuine Airships in 1897
To: Francis Ridge <nicap@insightbb.com>

Hi Fran,

Good to hear from you again.  I've come to the conclusion that there are no genuine UFOs among the 1897 airships, though the matter is more complicated that just hoaxes.  Many honest and reliable people reported a light in the sky, but their description of how the light sank slowly toward the horizon makes it clear that they were looking at Venus or some other heavenly body.  Other honest people reported a structured object with lights, moving in a manner and direction no heavenly body could manage, but these people were the victims of a hoax.  What they saw was a fire balloon (hot air), a sort of device popular as a form of 4th of July "firework" but available in drug stores (the Targets and Wal-Marts of the day) all year 'round.  A follow-up of airship sightings in a town often revealed who the jokesters were, or reported the burnt-out carcass of the fire balloon had landed in some farmer's field, now and then starting a fire.  Then we have the out-and-out hoaxes. Fakery was an accepted form of newspaper entertainment in those days, with snake stories and ghosts being popular and credited to the "snake editor."  Airships opened a new opportunity and the newspapers welcomed it.  The local correspondent, paid by the column inch, could buy the groceries by cranking out an elaborate airship story.  One town could play a joke on a neighboring town by attributing airship sightings to it and then commenting on its lapse from temperance.  Tall-tale tellers could regale their audiences with a good airship yarn, and practical jokers could contrive wood-and-sheet-metal contraptions and claim that it crashed.  In a day when people knew their neighbors face to face, affidavits meant little and airship lies left no blemish on a man's reputation--witness Alexander Hamilton's calfnapping airship and support of him by the prominent people of the county, all of whom were in on the joke as members of a local liars' club.

I was sorry to see the Aurora crash come back to life recently, since it was effectively killed off long ago.  In the first place, only one newspaper story reported it.  The Dallas Morning News account was repeated in other newspapers, but no other reporter went to the scene for independent confirmation.  This contrasts with a Waterloo, Iowa, hoax where the jokers left a model airship in a field and many papers covered the story, also many people came to town or took a look while passing through, then commented on what they had seen when they returned home.  None of this happened with Aurora.  Local histories, one of them written only ten years or so after 1897, fail to mention the crash even though it would have been the most sensational event in the history of the town.  Most old residents knew nothing of the crash when it became popular in the mid-1970s, and those who claimed that the story was true had ulterior motives or a fanciful disposition.  The real motive behind the story seems to have been an attempt to attract some attention to a town that had suffered the recent disappointment of being bypassed by the railroad.  In any case, for a long list of reasons, Aurora was a hoax.
    
And so it goes:  The reliable airship stories are not spectacular and the spectacular airship stories are not reliable.  This pattern repeats throughout the two thousand or more reports until there is nothing left that I would want to stand up and defend as a genuine UFO.  There are some impressive UFOs pre-1947, but they are not to be found in the various sightings waves of UFO prehistory.

Best regards,
Eddie  Bullard