UFO Conjectures

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What were the Airships of the 1890s?

Copyright 2013, InterAmerica, Inc.
“At 5:45 on the evening of August 27, 1783, the inhabitants of the village of Gonesse, ten miles northeast of Paris, noticed what some of them took to be the moon descending from the sky … for most eighteenth-century peasants, even those who lived within striking distance of the metropolis, supernatural interventions were everyday events, but this was something without precedent … As the mysterious object blundered earthward, it assumed the appearance of a gigantic, shapeless bag of red and white silk … the terrified peasants of Gonesse deliberately destroyed the unmanned alien craft … Some took to their heels; others knwlt down and invoked their patron saint.

“Six years before the French Revolution, and outlandish object … The peasants of Gonesse were … right to be wary.”

Now, is the above from the Aubeck/Vallee book Wonders in the Sky or from an arcane UFO site on the internet?

No, it’s from a review in The New York Review of Books [December 5, 2013, Adventures in a Silver Cloud, Page 4] of the book. Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes [Pantheon, 404 pp. $35].

Graham Robb, the reviewer, provides excerpts that “explain,” for me, what the Airships of the late 19th Century might have possibly been.

Robb writes that “some of the aeronauts, even those who had serious intentions, behaved like irresponsible superior beings. On a dark November night in 1836, the English balloonist Charles Green, accompanied by an Irish musician and a member of the British Parliament, was floating invisibly over ‘the unearthly glare of the fiery foundries’ of Belgium, close enough to hear the coughing and swearing of the foundry workers. He lowered a Bengal light on a rope until its dazzling flare was skimming over the workers’ heads. Then he urged one of his companions to shout out in Franch and German through a speaker trumpet ‘as if some supernatural power was visiting them from on high.’ He amazed the ‘honest artizans’ trembling like a primitive tribe, ‘looking up at the object of their terrors.’ [Page 4]

“The first American flight was made from Philadelphia in 1793 by the French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, with an ‘aerial passport’ endorsed by George Washington. Vast crowds were entertained by acrobats parachuting from balloons.”

One of Blanchard’s protégées “Sophie Blanchard flew – and sometimes fell asleep – in a small gondola, which [author] Holmes likens to ‘a flying champagne bucket.’”

“It was as though the balloon really had arrived from another planet…” [Page 4]

“…for most balloonists, the main purpose of what Victor Hugo called ‘the floating egg’ was to feed the imagination  and to fill the mind with awe.
“In ballooning, ‘the  boundaries between fact and fiction remain curiously porous…The balloons\ tales themselves often verge on the incredible … Before and after Edgar Allen Poe’s hoax news story of 1844. ‘The Balloon Hoax’ … balloons and the tales attached to them had an air of unreality.

“…Coleridge’s term ‘suspension of disbelief’ takes on a new, strangely literal meaning.” [Page 6]

“[A] mail balloon that almost plunged into Lake Ontario in 1859 eventually struggled on to the eastern shore of the lake …Some homesteaders came to see what had happened and stood about while the aeronauts tried to assemble the wreckage.

“ … an elderly lady … expressed her astonishment at seeing…’so sensible-looking a party [riding] in such an outlandish-looking vehicle. She anxiously enquired where [the crew] came from; and when told from St. Louis, she wanted to know how far that was from there, and when informed it was over a thousand miles, she looked very suspiciously … and said, ‘That will do now.’” [Page 8]

As one can see from reviewer Robb’s excerpts from Holmes’ book, many of the balloon tales are strikingly similar to the Airship wave reports thirty-seven (or so) years later.

Coupling the similarities with the odd story of the semi-secret Sonora Aero Club in Sonora, California, in the late 19th century, derived from the writings of C.A.A. Dellschau, who described the club’s exotic airships called “aeros” [See David Richie’s account in his 1994 book UFO: The Definitive Guide to Unidentified Flying Objects and Related Phenomena, MJF Books, NY] one might attribute the Airship wave to accounts of adventurous balloonists who configured their balloons with technology of the time that allowed them to maneuver in ways that took the indecisiveness out of such travels as those enumerated in Richard Holmes’ book.

This explanation is far better, it seems to me, than that of French skeptic Gilles Fernandez, who attributes the Airship wave to psycho/social factors brought on by newspaper accounts and drawings and the presence of Venus in the night/day sky.

(I’ll provide a more elaborate account of the Sonora Aero Club, upcoming.)