Seven years before the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, more than 400 UFO sightings were reported across Texas. Regarded as a smoking gun by UFO enthusiasts (and a hoax by others), the airship sightings remain a subject of contention more than 120 years later.

Photo by Albert Antony on Unsplash

Eyewitness accounts did not always agree. The airships were described as fast-moving and anywhere from 50 to 200 feet in length. Many reported wings, buzzing or flapping sounds, and bright searchlights. Most described the shape as being like a “Mexican cigar”—wider in the middle and tapered at the ends.

The airships  were sighted in other midwestern states first, but not with the kind of frequency that occurred in Texas. The first Texian encounter occurred on April 12th, 1897. For more than a week, newspapers were filled with first-hand accounts. Many were sober and considered, sourced by pillars of the community. Others (including close encounter tales) bordered on silliness. Nevertheless, the reading public was fascinated.

Theories about the source of the airships abounded. The United States was poised for war with Spain, and some believed the airships were part of Spain’s efforts to evaluate seaports for an eventual invasion. Others believed the airships were being used by a gang of safecrackers, using X-ray machines to find easy pickings. Most believed that the sightings were a prank, perpetrated by railroad employees.

By the middle of May, the furor had died. Newspapers focused instead on the sinking of the Maine and the coming war with Spain.

In my novel, A Persistent Echo (Black Rose Writing, August 2023), my protagonist investigates the mystery. August Simms—explorer, soldier, world traveler—returns to Texas to chase one last adventure. What does he find?

After all my research, I came to an opinion that informs some of the novel’s plot. Elements of hoax were certainly in play. Pranksters were found out on multiple occasions. The newspapers also played a part in the hype—the airships sold copy. Other accounts are harder to dismiss. The novel itself is about much more than mystery airships—on the balance, this is an end-of-life story. But the airships constitute a perplexing, even confounding subtext.

“. . . a powerfully rendered novel that holds the rare ability to traverse genres to attract a wider audience of reader than the ‘historical fiction’ label portends.”

~D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review

[What I did not mention was the crash of a UFO on April 17th, in Aurora, Texas. I’ll save that for my next blogpost.]

About Brian C. Kaufman

Author, educator, cook. Given a tilt of fate, that might have been lead guitarist, pro wrestler, radio evangelist. You never know.
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