The Airship Sightings

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
August 24, 2019
Last Updated
November 14, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
28 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Waves

When we think of UFO sightings, most of us cast our minds back as far as the forties and fifties at the most. However, as we have discussed before, and as anyone who has spent any amount of time researching UFOs knows, such sightings not only go back decades before that golden age of flying saucers and “visitors from Mars”, they go back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

While we are not going to reach that far back in time here, we are going to head back to the 1800s and the very early twentieth century, when bizarre waves of “airship sightings” captivated much of the world. And what’s more, over a century later, the sightings remain a mystery.

A depiction of an airship in the past

Strange sightings of airships were everywhere in the early 1900s

Were they, even then in the late-1800s, top-secret aerial experiments being carried out by the world’s governments? Or were these sightings down to a very specific visitor to our planet? Might the occupants behind these specific airship sightings even be an unknown indigenous presence? We should remember, that sightings of what we would now call discs or flying saucers are also on record at the same time so we might deduce that the intelligence behind these disc-like crafts then was the same as it is now.

Or might these airships not be cosmic visitors from another world, but perhaps visitors from another time, or even dimension? While such questions are indeed outlandish and speculative, the sightings themselves were very real.

While there are several particular waves we will look at, as well as many other seemingly random sightings of these mysterious airships, it is perhaps best to begin with one of the most well-known airship waves, that which swept across the United States in late 1896 and 1897.

The United States Airship Sightings, 1896-1897

Beginning in November 1896 in the skies of San Francisco, California, a wave of strange airship sightings began. Hundreds of people witnessed the strange craft traveling at considerable speed and scanning the land below with what appeared to be searchlights. Further sightings were recorded the same day in Santa Rosa and Sacramento.

The sightings continued across the United States over the early months of 1897. Thousands of people witnessed them and one newspaper report after another detailed each sighting. Many of the accounts when read today are strikingly similar to modern-day UFO sightings. The “cigar” shape and bright and multi-colored lights that were described are just two examples. As is the descriptions of the “quiet but constant” whirring sound that was noticed when the airships were sighted.

A depiction of an airship in the wild west

Many residents of the US witnessed strange airships in 1987

All also mentioned “searchlights” that would seemingly scan the ground below, as if looking for something or conducting some kind of nocturnal survey. Furthermore, as well as the calm, plodding nature with which they often moved overhead, they would, at times, shoot off at great speed, as if “shot out of a gun”. One newspaper report would describe a “large, glaring light” that after hovering for a while would suddenly depart at a “most remarkable speed” over Nebraska.

The sightings would sweep across the United States. Reports would come from Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. On 10th April an airship sighting over Chicago, Illinois was witnessed by thousands of people as the city came to a virtual standstill.

Eleven days later on the evening of 21st April in Texas, another airship sighting was reported. This time however the witness, John Barclay, claimed he spoke with one of the crew members, [1] and his story is as mysterious as it is bizarre.

The John Barclay Incident

Barclay’s dogs woke him from his sleep that evening. They were barking and apparently agitated by something going on outside. As he became more awake and to his senses, he noticed a “whirring” sound. Barclay like everyone else was well aware of the apparent sightings of strange airships, and so grabbed his gun and made his way out of his property. Once outside, he stood in amazement at the sight of a large airship slowly coming down to the ground nearby.

Barclay later described the ship as being an “oblong shape, with wings, with side attachments of various sizes and shapes. There were lights much brighter than electric lights!”

The amazed Barclay slowly began to approach the airship as it settled down. A figure then approached him from the craft and asked him to lower his gun. He did so and then asked the figure his name.

A depiction of an airship in the wild west

A depiction of an airship in the wild west

“Never mind about my name. Call it Smith!” the figure replied to him, before asking Barclay if he might obtain for him some items that he needed for his journey. He handed him a $10 bill and requested Barclay purchase for him, lubricating oil, two cold chisels, and bluestone. He told Barclay to keep the change and in return for his kindness they might “call on him some future day!”

Perhaps the strangest thing the apparent pilot of the huge airship said to Barclay was his response as to where he was from, “From anywhere,” called back the stranger, “but we will be in Greece the day after tomorrow!”

And with that, the mysterious man and the airship were gone.

Did he mean that he and his crew would be in Greece in 1897? Or perhaps – as some researchers suggest – might their destination have been ancient Greece?

Other Intriguing Airship Sightings Across America

In the days and weeks that followed Barclay’s sighting, many others found their way into the newspapers – and all of the witnesses, like Barclay, were considered respected and honest people by their communities and townsfolk.

Just twenty-four hours later and around one-hundred miles from Barclay’s sighting in Josserand, Texas, was an encounter reported to the Houston Post by Frank Nichols. He stated he was brought from his sleep by a “machine noise” outside his home. When he went to investigate, he saw an airship descending in his field. He claimed that two men carrying buckets approached him and asked if they might “draw water from his well!”

Three days later on the 25th April, in the Texan town of Merkel, a sighting was reported by much of the town when a strange airship with bright lights appeared to “drop anchor” to the ground below. The anchor dragged along for some time before a figure above apparent “cut it free” as the airship disappeared into the clouds.

On 6th May during a rainy evening at Hot Springs in the nearby state of Arkansas, a sighting was reported by Deputy Sheriff McLemore and Constable Sumpter. A man described as having a long beard approached them while other crew were observed to be stocking up on water, apparently for their upcoming journey. The bearded gentleman offered the two policemen a ride on the airship stating that “we can take you where it isn’t raining!”

Whether the airship sightings were secret technology, alien visitors or even time travelers are not known and much debated. The sheer volume of reported sightings, however – much like the many sightings made in the decades before – suggest at the very least that “something” was witnessed by many Americans during the nineteenth century.

Check out the video below.

Airships In Canadian Skies

Although a great bulk of the mysterious airship sightings of the later 1890s took place in the skies of the United States, several were also reported in Canada. In fact, one of the earliest, according to UFO researcher and author Chris Rutkowski in his book Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed, occurred almost six months before the first reported sighting in California, on the evening of 1st July 1896. [2]

According to the report, the strange balloon-like object was witnessed over Winnipeg at 6 pm on the night in question and was witnessed by multiple residents of the town. This object was several thousand feet above the ground and was seemingly moving at a considerable pace.

Just short of a year later on 14th April 1897, another airship sighting was reported, this time in Manitoba. Once more, multiple people witnessed the strange object, describing as being large with lights shining down from it and moving at a speed considerably more than 300 miles per hour.

Another sighting occurred at around 9 pm on the evening of 1st May when a “strange vessel” was seen traveling through the air with a distinct light on it over St. Boniface Hospital. It moved calmly across the entire city before disappearing in the direction of Stony Mountain.

According to one witness, “only the bare outline of some dark object could be seen besides the strange, heavenly light, evidently from the masthead of the aerial craft”. This description might give us cause to stop and question just what was being seen over the North American continent at the end of the nineteenth century. Might these strange aerial vehicles have been some kind of airship as we would perceive one today? Or might they have been much more like the futuristic spacecraft we witness today?

We might consider that any images come purely from artistic recreations, usually based on descriptions given by the witnesses. However, as we can by the statement above, the witness only saw a “dark object” which was obscured by a “strange, heavenly light” that they presumed came from the “masthead”. Given this description, we might expect someone to draw something that literally appears like a ship that floats on air instead of water.

Airship Witnessed For Several Consecutive Days Over Vancouver

As the weeks and months of 1897 went on, so did the airship sightings, just as they were in the United States.

For example, according to a report in the Vancouver Daily World in their 14th August 1897 edition, a strange, bright light had been reported “hovering in the skies above Vancouver” for several consecutive days. The report described the object as a “luminous ball of fire or airship as some call it”. Once more, we have reason to believe that what is being seen is being described in a way that the population at that time understood.

The report continues that the strange object “approached with great swiftness” before it “paused in midair”. Then, things perhaps take on even more of a modern UFO feel. The account states that the aerial object “surrounded itself with flashes of color” before heading off into the night sky.

Perhaps also of interest to us here is that one witness – Mr. Schon – witnessed the object from onboard his steamer. He claimed that it most definitely moved “parallel to the sea” and was “far below the star line”. Might this suggest, even as far back as the late 1890s, that whatever these strange aerial vehicles were, they had an interest and a possible connection to the waters of the planet? He would further describe the object as cigar-shaped and looking “like a bright red star surrounded by a luminous halo”. On occasion, a “shower of sparks” appeared to fall from the strange craft.

Whatever the object was, it was seen by many people for many consecutive nights. And once more, details recorded might give us cause to think its appearance was much more in line with how we in the contemporary era would perceive a UFO.

A Dark Shape With “No Discernible Form”

Another apparent sighting occurred in Victoria in British Columbia. According to an article in the 7th August 1897 edition of the Victoria Daily Colonist newspaper, the “strange aerial curiosity” that they called a “fire balloon” (once more suggesting a way of describing something from that era’s perspective) was witnessed by many people in the region over the last several nights, stating that whatever the object was it was “becoming bolder”. What’s more, more and more people were “keeping late hours” in an attempt to capture a glimpse of this mysterious vehicle.

One such group of people, according to the newspaper report, was a group of firemen, who watched the object for several hours during the night. They would finally lose sight of the object “in the morning air” and were “completely mystified” as to what it was. They would describe it as having “no discernible form, balloon shape or otherwise” but was merely a “great light”.

The firemen would further report that the object remained at the same height, simply moving back and forth across the sky (as if surveying the ground or looking for something?) until around 4 am at which point it headed into the distance as the day began to break. Perhaps even more fascinating is the testimony of one fireman who claimed he thought he had seen a “dark body outlined behind the circle of intense light”.

The Victoria Daily Colonist would offer in its report “what it is, where it comes from, and where it goes” remained unknown, as did who was “responsible for its movements” and that the objects were “as much as a puzzle as when the bright light first made its appearance in the sky a few months ago”.

Interestingly, though, the newspaper would offer its own theories or those that had been put forward, suggesting that one of the favorites was that a “local inventor is trying the product of his daring in the privacy of the night” before he would unveil his new invention for the world. Of course, if that was true, that unveiling didn’t happen. Whatever it was, the newspaper report stated that “too many have seen the midnight visitor for people of common sense to doubt the presence of a mysterious something”.

Mystery Lights Seen Into August And September

Only two days later, another newspaper – the Manitoba Free Press – reported another sighting of strange lights, one that had occurred four days previously at around 11 pm on the night of 5th August. According to a letter written to the newspaper by R.M. Scott, he witnessed what he described as a “falling star” around four miles to the east of his home. He would immediately call out to all who were in the house, and they all watched the “strange visitor” for around 30 minutes.

He would state that the object “seemed to rise and fall” as well as “sway(ing) from east to west”. As it did so, it would “gradually travel further northward”. At just before midnight, it finally disappeared out of sight.

It was suspected at the time that the sighting was that of Swedish engineer, Salomon Andree, who had set off from North Spitzbergen in July 1897 in a balloon in an attempt to cross the North Pole.

In fact, many sightings around August and September 1897 of strange glowing lights – sometimes in the vague shape of a balloon – were suspected of being Andree’s balloon, even though no one had received any kind of communication since the early days of the mission. Sightings were even made of what was presumed to be Andree’s balloon in Scotland and Arctic Russia in the middle of September.

As Rutkowski stated, though, the remains of Andree, his crew, and his balloon were discovered over four decades later in 1939 on a small island to the north of Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean. After an investigation of the discovery, it was revealed that it appeared the balloon had become saturated and frozen with ice shortly after it took off. This ultimately caused them to make an emergency landing on the small island where they eventually perished.

Given that this would have happened in mid-July, as Rutkowski writes, “none of the sightings thought to be Andree’s balloon could have been that craft”.

The United Kingdom Airship Sightings, March-May 1909

The United Kingdom was hit by its own mysterious airship sightings in 1909. And while several strange incidents were reported as far back as Christmas 1908, the press and, in turn, the public would begin taking notice following an incident on the 23rd March of that year. A police constable, known as “Kettle” would tell the London Evening Standard several weeks later of a “strange, cigar-shaped craft passing over the city” on the night in question.

His reports may have been dismissed, however, if it wasn’t for the corroborating witness statements of a Mr. Banyard and Mrs. Day. Each would witness an almost identical aerial vehicle only two days later. Banyard, for example, would state there was no doubt at all that the object was an airship that was traveling against a heavy wind.

A depiction of an airship in the sky

Sightings of strange aircraft were reported around the UK in the early 1900s

Throughout the rest of March and into April and May of 1909, “several dozen such sightings” were reported from all around the United Kingdom, but specifically, London, South Wales, and East Anglia. The 17th May edition of the London Evening Standard that carried Kettle’s account would go on to say:

With few exceptions they (the witnesses) all speak of a torpedo-shaped object, possessing two powerful searchlights, which comes out early at night! [3]

Indeed, such physical descriptions, as well as the timing of the appearances, at least in retrospect to us today, bear remarkable similarities to the wave of sightings across the United States just over a decade earlier.

As the sightings and rumors of strange activity continued, newspapers would send reporters to the region to investigate. They would return to their respective employers with a small plethora of accounts.

The Account Of Fred Harrison

One particular incident that stands out, for example, is that of farm-laborer, Fred Harrison, who claims he witnessed a strange aerial object on the evening of 21st April 1909 while working at New Common Marsh Farm.

According to his statement, at around 9:45 pm, a strange “whirring noise” caused him to look upward. When he did so, he could see the strange airship. What’s more, the fields all around him were illuminated by lights from the huge craft. The “long dark airship” was only slightly above the treetops meaning Harrison could see the vehicle in detail.

A depiction of one of the strange airships

A depiction of one of the strange airships

He would estimate it to be around 100 feet long. Furthermore, he could clearly see “two men on a kind of hanging platform” below the main object. He would continue that:

The searchlight lit up the road, the farm buildings, the trees and everything it touched, so (much so that) it was like day! … it was traveling very fast against the wind and it was out of sight in a few minutes!

Indeed, once it was gone Harrison would continue on with his shift before making his report. Only three nights later, however, at around 8 pm on the 24th April, a group of people witnessed a strange object hovering over Ipswich in Suffolk.

The sightings, and the newspaper reports of them, began to become a daily feature. Many theories would be put forward to account for and explain the strange happenings. Some would suggest that they were down to nothing more than a simple hoax carried out with balloons, string, and simple trickery. Others, however, would speculate that the airships were spies – possibly German – in the build-up to what would eventually deteriorate into the First World War.

Residents Around The UK “Looking Out For The Night-Flier!”

The notion that the airships were the result of German espionage, despite no real proof this was the case, at least for a time, began to take hold. And what’s more sightings of these mysterious airships were not only happening on a daily basis, they were happening all over the country. Even royal servants at Sandringham would witness one of the strange airships one night in the spring of 1909.

The more sightings that came forward, the more the profile of these strange nightly crafts was confirmed. Cigar-shaped, 100-feet long, bright searchlights, and a wind-like whirring sound. And perhaps most notable, how it would glide through the air with absolute grace and balance.

A depiction of one of the strange airships

A depiction of one of the strange airships

When one reporter for the Daily Express hired a car in Northampton with the idea of driving along the eastern coastline (where many of the recent sightings had been seen) he was amazed to find other motorists – merely residents, not other reporters – doing exactly the same thing such was the widespread interest in these mysterious visitors. He would go on to write:

In every little Fen village along the endless hedgeless roads, they are looking out for the night-flier!

Furthermore, such was the apprehension on what might be behind these mysterious vehicles, many residents would eagerly approach the reporter to see if he himself had news he might be able to share with them.

Although he would have little information that could help such concerned residents, he did manage to collect several in-depth witness reports.

Sightings Continue, Almost Daily

For example, Mr. Allen would claim to the reporter that he and two friends witnessed the strange craft near the town of Market Harborough on the evening of the 5th May. Allen would state that as they were driving through the small village of Kelmarsh, they suddenly heard a loud bang and then the “tock-tock-tock” of a running engine above them.

He would claim to see a “dark, oblong airship with lights in front and behind” moving through the sky above them. Furthermore, he could clearly see “men on the platform below (the craft)” as the craft disappeared into the night sky, the “steady buzz” of their engines remaining in the air for several minutes. The witnesses would also express their belief that the craft was one of an “English inventor” who conducted experiments with the vehicle by night and then kept it locked away during the day.

A depiction of one of the strange airships

A depiction of one of the strange airships

According to the London Evening Star, Amy Rush from Suffolk would also claim to have witnessed the bizarre airship. On the evening of 3rd May, while driving home with her son, she witnessed a “definite object of oblong shape” moving across the sky. She would also report witnessing an “occasional searchlight” come from the object “like ones seen on warships”. Furthermore, the object would sway somewhat in the air “like a balloon” and the lights appeared to be contained inside a “glass conservatory”.

The object would eventually disappear out of sight and into the night sky.

Even the well-known (at the time) “expert on aeronautics”, Patrick Alexander, would claim to have heard strange sounds of an airship while in the Windsor district of London. It was only when he began hearing of strange reports that he wondered if he too would have witnessed the airship if he had looked up.

Two Sightings On The Same Night, Twenty Minutes Apart!

Reports of the sightings would continue to surface and appear in the press. According to the Daily Express, a London solicitor, Mr. Strange, witnessed the bizarre airship one evening in May 1909 and would make a report “directly to the war office” such was his concern.

Several nights later, the same newspaper would report on a sighting over Burghley House – a historic building in Exeter – on the night of the 9th May. The owner of the house, Mr. Cole, the Marquis of Exeter, would claim the sighting occurred at around 11 pm. A strange light would rise and fall several times in the night sky. Cole would eventually manage to ascertain that the light came from a “dark cigar shape in the sky”.

Judging from where the light was when he first noticed and where it was only several moments later, Cole would recall that the object “must have been moving quickly” before it eventually disappeared out of his sight.

A superimposed airship of a 1900s seaside scene

A superimposed airship of a 1900s seaside scene

On the same evening, 20 minutes later, Southend-on-Sea resident, Miss Boville would also witness a strange object overhead. She would report that she was closing her bedroom window when she saw a “large, dark object looming out of the sky”. Although the night sky was dark she was certain of the solid nature of the object. What’s more, she could clearly make out the “torpedo-shape” as it hovered motionless in the sky.

After remaining still for several minutes, the airship began to rise, eventually moving off “towards the coast and London”. As it moved, several bright beams from its searchlights pierced the night sky. Unlike many of the other witnesses, Miss Boville didn’t witness any potential pilots, nor was she close enough to hear any engine noise. However, she did recall how it moved “very steadily and swiftly”.

Skepticism, Theories, And Paranoia

Interestingly, the sightings of 9th May would draw the harshest criticism yet from certain members of the press. They would highlight how if the witness statements were to be believed and the sightings occurred only 20 minutes apart, that would make the airship’s average speed in excess of 200 miles per hour.

While many of this skeptical part of the press would state this to be proof of mistaken sightings, a hoax, or even some kind of mass delusion, it should perhaps force to ask two questions.

Was the craft’s estimated speed accurate? And if so, does that suggest that technology was indeed from another world given how far ahead it really would have been at the time? Or might it suggest that such secret aerial technology was already in the hands of the world’s governments, decades before they were released into the public domain?

A depiction of an airship off the coast

A depiction of an airship off the coast

This latter suggestion would fit very nicely with the notion from whistleblowers from some of the United States’ more recent black budget projects that wherever the public thinks they are, the military and intelligence agencies, behind closed doors are likely 30 years ahead.

Furthermore, might the two sightings simply mean there were more than one of these strange airships hovering around the United Kingdom? Such suggestions would do little to calm a discreet but growing fear of some kind of imminent invasion.

However, the notion that the airships were the result of a foreign agency looking to invade was also pretty much dispatched. After all, as the article asked its readers, how could such an agency gather any worthwhile intelligence in the dark? Unless, of course, and for sake of argument, they had technology much more advanced than most were aware of?

The sightings, though, would continue.

Reports Of An Airship Landing In London

Interest in the sightings would move up another notch when the London Evening Standard would report of an apparent landing of one of the strange airships in the middle of the London on the evening of 13th May 1909.

According to the newspaper report, a Mr. Graham and a Mr. Bond had entered their premises “with every evidence of conviction” regarding the sighting, during which an airship would land on Ham Common. The pair would claim they were around 150 yards from the road that ran alongside the common when they noticed a “soft buzzing”. Expecting to see an approaching motor car, the two men looked around them and quickly noticed the long, cigar-shaped object passing overhead.

A depiction of an airship over the mountains

A depiction of an airship over the mountains

Furthermore, Mr. Graham would recall seeing two men on the underside of the craft. The first was in a “sort of steel-wire cage” with a “row of handles in front of him”. This man, who the witness would describe as “a Yankee” would point a spotlight directly at the pair on the ground. The second man, however, Graham claimed was German. What’s more, the craft was so low to the ground that this second man shouted down to the two men, asking them if they had any tobacco.

Graham indeed did have an ounce of tobacco which he reached up and gave to the “German”. In exchange, after declining payment, the mysterious aviator gifted Graham with a pipe in exchange for the tobacco.

An Unlikely Exchange

Mr. Bond would claim that during this exchange, he noticed a map fastened to a board that was in front of this German gentleman. On the map were “red discs” as if intentionally placed there to mark locations of importance. Interestingly, and reminiscent of other sightings, Bond would recall how the men had on a “fur-lined overcoat and soft hat”.

Following the unlikely exchange, the first man began manipulating levers and switches. In sympathy, the airship began to rise upwards, eventually disappearing into the night sky.

Several hours later, however, at around 3:30 am in the early hours of the 14th May, two railway workers in northeast London, Joseph Cooper and George Waldan, who were working the night shift, would witness an aerial object “shaped like a policeman’s truncheon”.

A depiction of an airship in a night sky

A depiction of an airship in a night sky

In fact, on the night of 13th going into the 14th May, an explosion of apparent sightings were reported at drastically different locations around the United Kingdom. Perhaps one of the most intriguing occurred around 11 pm in Hull in East Yorkshire. That evening, Mr. Walker was walking home when his attention was drawn toward a strange “flash of light” above the River Humber.

The more he focused on the strange sight he could see that the “luminous, arc-shaped” object was pushing against the wind. What’s more, he could hear a strange “whirring” noise seemingly coming from the craft.

Upon reaching home, Mr. Walker called out to his parents to come outside and see the object, which they duly did. In fact, when the report appeared in the Hull Daily Mail several other local residents would come forward with corroborating statements of their own.

The Caerphilly Mountain Incident

Perhaps one of the most intriguing incidents occurred on the evening of 18th May 1909 in Cardiff, Wales. That evening, Mr. Lethbridge was making his way to his home after performing a Punch and Judy show (his job during the summer months) along the Caerphilly Mountain footpaths.

By 11 pm, he was at the top of the mountain, a destination he would later describe as “very lonely spot”. However, as he turned around the bend in the road, he witnessed:

…a long, tube-shaped affair lying on the grass on the roadside, with two men busily engaged with something nearby! [4]

He would continue that it was their “big heavy fur-coats” despite the summer weather, that first attracted his attention. They even had tight-fitting fur caps on their heads. He was within only several feet of them they sprang from what they were doing and began to speak furiously to each other in some “strange lingo”. While Lethbridge did contemplate that the language may have been Welsh, he was positive that it “certainly wasn’t English”.

A depiction of an airship in a cloudy sky

A depiction of an airship in a cloudy sky

The two men then picked up their belongings, while the cigar-shaped vehicle began to rise from the ground. On the underside was a “little carriage” which the pair jumped into. The object continued to rise in a “zig-zag” fashion so as to avoid the telegraph wires that were present. Then, once free of any hindrance, they “went higher into the air and sailed away” in the direction of Cardiff.

Lethbridge would later state that the two figures were “tall, smart young men” who “spoke very loudly as if quarreling or excited”.

What’s more, several workers at Cardiff docks shortly after 1 am on the same evening would report seeing an “airship pass overhead” while they were on a break.

A Sudden Halt In Sightings

As the sightings were reaching a peak of sorts, they would come to a sudden end – at least reporting of them would, on 21st May 1909 following an intervention of sorts by Lord Northcliffe, the (then) owner of the London Daily Mail. He would claim that the reports, and more specifically the talking points they created, were making German-English relations ever-more difficult.

By June 1909, sightings had seemingly ceased altogether. This is perhaps an interesting and quiet but important detail. If, for example, the intelligence behind the airship sightings, whether extraterrestrial or not, was disconnected to the authorities, then we would imagine that they would have continued their flights over the country regardless of the words issued by Lord Northcliffe.

However, they seem to almost “comply” with the shift and quietly moved on to other skies. In fact, in a moment, we will look at another apparent wave only a month later on the other side of the world.

When a similar sighting was reported in 1912, however, over a Royal Navy torpedo school in Essex, the incident would end up being debated in the House of Commons. Interestingly, (then) First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, would order an official investigation. While the investigation was inconclusive, it is well-known since Churchill had a great interest in UFOs before such a term even existed.

A Connection To Men In Black Encounters?

Perhaps most bizarre of all in terms of activity relating to these mystery airship sightings, were the apparent hints and claims of what we would term today, Men In Black activity. UFO researcher, Ray Boeche, would claim that several witnesses to the 1909 airship sightings received ominous visits from the equally ominous Men In Black. Interestingly, Boeche would also claim that on several occasions during the airship sightings across America, “strangers” would often appear out of nowhere to reclaim an artifact dropped or left by crew of the aircraft.

Boeche would point to one specific incident that actually occurred in the spring of 1905. During this time, many sightings of strange lights were reported throughout Wales. In the 30th March, edition of the Barmouth Advertiser, a story claimed that a local woman had been visited by a mysterious stranger for three consecutive nights. What’s more, this rather ominous gentleman seemingly appeared out of nowhere in the young woman’s home.

Perhaps most chilling, the account goes on to state that the stranger gave the woman a message that she was to pass on to the larger community. However, she was “too frightened to relate (it)”.

If there is a genuine Men In Black connection, does that make the airship sightings most definitely of extraterrestrial involvement? Or should we perhaps reassess the Men In Black, and where they fit in the web of conspiracies and cover-ups that make up the modern world? And indeed the past.

Given the amount of time that has passed since such claims are virtually impossible to verify and authenticate. They are, however, extremely intriguing. And it would appear, of some importance in terms of understanding what these strange aerial vehicles were traveling around the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

The New Zealand Airship Sightings, July 1909

Although there are isolated reports from the (New Zealand) winter of 1908, a month-long period in July 1909 was rife with airship sightings right across New Zealand. The largely agreed upon first report would come from the Clutha Free Press. They would claim that on the 11th July multiple witnesses claimed to have witnessed a bizarre airship making its way over Stirling. What’s more, the Clutha Leader would claim to the newspaper that the airship appeared at the same place every Sunday.

Another report of the strange airships came on the 24th July when several boys playing on the beach at Kaka Point witnessed a “huge illuminated object moving about in the air”. The object’s lights were so bright that when they shone down they would easily pick out features and houses below. Fearing the airship could see their lantern and was heading for them, the boys became scared and ran. It would eventually disappear from their sight. They would, however, describe it as oblong-shaped and at least “as big as a house”.

A depiction of an airship in a cloudy sky

A depiction of an airship in a cloudy sky

The following evening, the object would appear in the same location. This time, by two witnesses, Mr. Smith and Mr. Poulter. Looking through a telescope at the time, Mr. Poulter would first witness the strange craft at around 10:30 pm. He would call to his colleague, who would witness it also. He would describe it as a “dark superstructure with a powerful headlight and two smaller ones at the side”.

The object eventually headed out to sea. From there, it either “disappeared over the horizon or into the sea”. Furthermore, according to Mr. Smith, the same craft appeared every night for the past week at the beach in question.

An Explosion Of Similar Sightings

As in the United Kingdom several months previously, sightings would continue. And would occur regularly. Several other coastal towns, in particular, would have their residents report sightings, including Oamaru where, coincidentally or not, reports of flooding also surfaced. Over the skies of the town of Kelso on the afternoon of the 23rd July, several school children witnessed an airship hovering over their school for several minutes.

Each of the schoolboys would face questions separately regarding the sightings. And each would produce a sketch of them. Each would produce almost identical drawings and tell an almost identical account. Furthermore, they hadn’t had chance to speak prior to the arrangements implemented by quick-thinking school staff. You can see one of those drawings below.

A sketch of the airship by a witness

A sketch of the airship by a witness

Interestingly, the schoolboys, like many of the United Kingdom sightings, would claim to see a box under the main body of the craft. However, they didn’t see any occupants, here or elsewhere. Furthermore, upon comparing their answers, all agreed that the airship was very dark, almost black color.

The following day came to another airship sighting over Kelso. This time, around six miles from the school, 12 tradesmen were working when they noticed a cigar-shaped craft, with a “carriage” on the underside, making its way through the sky. Each had telescopes or binoculars with them, and each would use them to get a clearer view of the strange vehicle which remained in view for several minutes.

The Clutha Free Press would even receive a letter from a reader claiming to have knowledge of a crashed airship at Port Molyneux. No other details are available, however, and we simply do not know if the claim is authentic or not.

Sightings Daily All Over New Zealand

In their 30th July 1909 edition, the Clutha Leader would report on an incident that took place several days earlier on the 27th July in the region of Balclutha. The report would state that two men, Mr. Mitchell, and Mr. Riach, witnessed a “large boat-shaped” structure overhead at around 10 am on the day in question.

As it moved, seemingly directly in their direction, it would “dip up and down” in the air. It would eventually change direction and disappear into the distance.

The following day, on the 28th July in Dunedin, a local resident would awake by a noise he first believed was an earthquake. He would recall it was a little after 2 am. He would describe the noise as “like a ship dragging her anchor (on the ground)”. When he made his way to the front window, he could clearly see a “big black thing with a searchlight attached”.

A depiction of an airship over the water

A depiction of an airship over the water

Yet another 24 hours later on the 29th July and more reports would come in. This time, multiple witnesses in Timaru would report a light heading inland from the sea. Behind this “large headlight” were two smaller lights. And as it came closer still, the cigar-shaped dark body of an airship-type craft. On this occasion, as opposed to searching the ground with its searchlights, they seemingly swept the skies around them.

Interestingly, on the same evening, two women would report a cigar-shaped craft in the Waikaka district of Southland. They would further claim that the searchlight would sweep the area and change from “white to red to violet to green and then to orange”.

Another Near Landing Incident

On the same evening, on the West Coast of the South Island, several train passengers would watch from the Hokitika train as it approached Greymouth as a bizarre light was seemingly heading toward them.

As soon as the train pulled into Nelson Creek Station passengers would flood from the train and on to the platform in order to get a better view of the strange object. It would finally come to a halt just above the breakers of the shore. It remained there, hovering quietly for several moments. Then, going into a strong wind to boot, it moved away from the scene.

The following morning, at a little after 5 am, came yet another sighting. And this one, at least according to the Gore Standard newspaper, would feature another near landing of these bizarre but intriguing airships.

A depiction of an airship over the mountains

A depiction of an airship over the mountains

The incident occurred in the Waikaka Valley just outside of the town of Gore. Two lights would come out of the mist that morning. Then, the apparent “platform” in which stood two men. The craft continued onwards out of the mist. It was clear that it was one of the, now much talked about, airships.

The object would circle around the valley several times, although not quite landing. It would then shoot upwards at great speed and vanish. A strange “yellow glare” was visible on the morning haze for several minutes following the speedy departure.

“Thousands Of Watchers Are Now On The Lookout!”

Interestingly, on the same date as the apparent Waikaka Valley incident, the Clutha leader, Robert Grigor, would release a theory as to the nature of the sightings through an open letter published in the newspapers.

He would claim that the “mysterious lights” witnessed all around the country should make them:

…look at the occurrence as a visitation from another world made by beings so far advanced in intellect and knowledge as at our present rate of progress in discovery and invention we may be at no very distant date!

In short, to these highly advanced visitors, we are likely nothing more than primitive at best. Despite this, Grigor would also state that it was his belief that humanity need not be afraid of these visitors. Furthermore, he offered that they had likely traveled here, through space, in something similar to “an airtight container”. Perhaps one containing “compressed air from their atmosphere” so as to keep them alive during their journey.

Grigor’s proposals were merely speculation. It does, however, put forward the notion that the airships themselves might be nothing more than scout or terrestrial aircraft. Ones that have come to Earth from some huge mothership, on which these cosmic visitors arrived.

With the New Zealand sightings at their absolute peak, Grigor would finish on a blunt note. He would claim that “thousands of watchers are now on the lookout!”

Once more, there was a considerable divide as to what the true cause of the airship sightings was. Some were very happy to go along with the idea of visitors from space landing in New Zealand. Many others, though, would once more point to the Zepplin experiments that were taking place in Germany at the time.

The sightings would continue for several weeks. As would the theories.

Evidence Of Time-Travel And Other Dimensions?

Of course, not all researchers remain convinced that the airship sightings are a case of extraterrestrial craft. Nor do they think they are proof of tests for a secret and highly advanced (for the time) aerial vehicle. Some researchers point to the sightings as offering proof not of alien life, but of traveling across time or dimensions.

For example, some researchers, perhaps most notably, Jacques Vallee, would point to the many interactions. From verbal (often spoken in the native language of English) to such trades as dollar bills and relevant currency. And even the tobacco incident all point to either people in their own contemporary era. Or visitors who were familiar with the era in which they were going.

Such a notion would fit equally well with both theories of time-travel and crossing dimensions or realms of existence. Might this also explain why the sightings seemingly took place in several very specific waves? Seemingly moving across their chosen locations before disappearing elsewhere?

Whether it is of consequence or not, it is perhaps interesting to note that a great many of the sightings would take place between 10 pm and 11 pm in the northern hemisphere of the United States and the United Kingdom. While many appear to occur between 10 am and 11 am in the New Zealand sightings in the southern hemisphere.

The video below looks at the connections between UFOs and time-travel a little further.

A Mystery That Will Likely Remain Elusive

The airship sightings and their purpose, as well as just who’s behind them, will likely remain a mystery for eternity. Barring some kind of unknown proof being released into the public arena, they will continue to fascinate. They will, however, continue to elude researchers who wish to discover such truths.

What we should perhaps also understand, for the most part, these descriptions are not merely limited or influenced by their eras. They all very clearly describe a cigar-shaped craft, most often with a “platform” at the bottom. In short, these sightings are of a very specific aerial vehicle. Given that descriptions would appear to suggest this craft is not “space-ready”, where then might such visitors come from? Aside from another dimension or even time, might another option be to explore the possibility that such sightings were the result of the inhabitants of the “Inner Earth” venturing out into the outer world?

Once more, such notions are beyond outlandish for many. And it is easy to understand why. However, there are similar sightings throughout history, as well as the many legends and myths of an Inner Earth inhabited by an equally terrestrial race of humans. Even many of the legends of “the Gods” from the ancient world speak of them “going underground”. Furthermore, creation stories of many of the Native tribes of America speak of another race from the Inner Earth.

Whether we will collectively unlock the mysteries of the airship sightings from over a century ago remains to be seen. They may just take us down a road beyond the realms of most of our imaginations. And, in doing so, may force us to question the realities of the world around us. Much more than we otherwise might.

Airships From A Modern Perspective

As we touched upon briefly when examining some of the airship sightings from over Canada, it very well may be that these apparent airships were, in fact, the same futuristic and otherworldly vehicles that have been witnessed (relatively speaking) non-stop since the mid-twentieth century.

Such detail as the “bright lights” which sometimes sweep along the ground below. The calm but purposeful way in which they move through the air, obviously at a high altitude. Descriptions of many that the object was large and dark, and often cigar-shaped, but otherwise which lack intricate details and are perhaps placed there, either by the witness or those drawing their descriptions?

Much like today, many people considered the idea that the mystery airships were the result of a top-secret invention, or possibly the work of an organization unknown to them – much like many suspect the world governments to be behind at least some of the UFO sightings we see today. And we might also note that, like today, there were many people who simply didn’t believe they were actual vehicles at all, but rather nothing more meteors and other such natural phenomena.

We might also consider, as the previously mentioned researcher of Canadian UFO cases, Chris Rutkowski writes, “many people were unwilling to use their names in reports” for fear of being doubted, ridiculed, or worse, with authorities often being more than doubtful of some of the claims. In this sense, little has changed between then and the modern UFO era

Perhaps something we might consider, if we accept that the airship sightings of the late 1890s were sightings what we would call a UFO today, is how similar the reaction of the population at the time was in terms of describing unknown objects in ways that they would know, in this case, describing a large object through the air as a ship or a balloon.

Might this offer corroboration of sorts for the writings and legends of times that stretch even further back? Writings that speak of fiery serpents flying through the air, or a Chariot of Fire that did likewise. Might this be why sightings in some of the ancient texts of the Roman empire speak of flying shields and crosses, or even describing objects that landed on Earth as looking like wine jars and even plates?

Might it be easier to understand the seemingly obscure references to such things when we see them just that little bit wide of our perspective instead of greatly so, as we might in the descriptions of the mysterious aerial objects of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century?

The short video below examines the airship sightings a little further.


1 The Time Travel Handbook: A Manual of Practical Teleportation & Time Travel, David Hatcher Childress, ISBN 9780932 813688 (page 61-66)
2 Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed, Chris Rutkowski and Geoff Dittman, ISBN 9781550 026214
3 The Scareship Age, Brett Holman, Airminded, December 22nd, 2006
4 Scareships over Britain: The Airship Wave of 1909, Dr David Clarke,Airship.htm

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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1 Comment

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  • D. Harvest says:

    It is possible that aliens wanted to advance our civilization by building these bogus airships and flying around our planet so that everybody could observe them. One must remember that just few years after these sightings ended, Count Zeppelin built his first functional airship.

    There has been another, less known wave of giant ghost airplanes in the 30’s, especially in Norway, but also in Britain. They usually fly in total silence and in a way very slow or in dangerous altitudes.

    Next wave was sightings of ghost rockets just after ww2. Jacques Vallée has described these incidents in great detain in his books.

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