“Look! Up in the Air. . .!

Ghostly Airships of the 1890s


Long before airships (dirigibles) were flying successfully, people were seeing ships flying through the air. In November 1896 “airships” were sighted in the California sky. Descriptions varied but commonly included lights and a dark, oblong shape. These sightings were highly publicized in local newspapers.

By January 1897 airship sightings were being reported in Nebraska. Newspaper editors mentioned the reports and also fabricated a few sightings to publicize their communities. Practical jokers flew box kites and fooled onlookers. By June 1897 the sightings had moved to Illinois and Indiana and then tapered off. Theories abound about what people were seeing. Could it have been a UFO? Was it a dirigible secretly invented and capable of long-distance flight? Was it the planet Venus? It is impossible to say now, but one thing is for sure, the newspapers benefited greatly and greatly exaggerated these true (and not-so-true) stories.

The Nebraska Corn Airship” postcard (RG2053.PH0-000005)

Illustration for the 1939 Almanac for Nebraskans, a Federal Writers Project publication. (NSHS 7294-7034)

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