Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Mystery Again Seen at the Capital -- May 11, 2019

San Francisco Call, 26-November-1896
There were many sightings of unidentified flying objects in the United States during the late 1890s. I wonder what people saw. This is our fifth report from the San Francisco Call.  
18-November-1896: "Claim They Saw a Flying Airship"
23-November-1896: "The Great Airship That is Startling the People of Many Cities"
24-November-1896: "The Apparition of the Air"
25-November-1896: "Mission of the Aerial Ship"

William Henry Harrison Hart was the Attorney General of California from 1890 to 1894. Monadnock and Monterey were New Navy monitors.

A Confirmation of the Story Received From Sacramento.
It Makes Its Appearance in the Company of the Deceptively Brilliant Venus.
More New and Interesting Particulars Regarding the Local Invention Given by the Ex-Attorney-General.

Either the reputed airship is one of the most gigantic hoaxes of the age, or it is one of the most wonderful advances made in mechanical science, and is the solution of the great problem of aerial locomotion which has enlisted the inventive genius of many centuries.

Whichever it ultimately proves to be, the subject is to-day the all-engrossing topic. Greetings are tuned to this key; heated arguments are evolved out of it; wagers are laid, and even physical strife has been engendered over the question whether or not there really exists a successful aerial traveler.

Though there were many new and interesting developments yesterday, nothing has yet been brought to light that definitely and conclusively solves the mystery, and speculation continues as absorbing as for the past week or more.

Ex-Attorney-General Hart in an interview fully confirmed his interview of the day before and added much interesting information to the first statement he made. Among other things he substantiated the first reports concerning the airship which came from Sacramento by affirming on the authority of the inventor that the airship was actually over Sacramento when the people there claimed to have seen it. Sacramento, according to reliable witnesses, was again visited by the aerial vision last night, which put Venus into the shade by the more brilliant glow of its lights.

Considerable sport was enjoyed by practical jokers last night in dispatching fire balloons skyward, but they had no more the appearance of the alleged lights of the aerial mystery than the dull glare of a candle resembles that of an incandescent light. Venus again beguiled people at som3 points, but her deceptive charms have evidently been shorn of much of their power by the publication of the story of how people had been mistaking her for her earthly and more interesting rival.


General Hart was as reticent yesterday as on the day previous regarding the identity of the reputed airship's inventor or his whereabouts, but was more definite in his statements as to the identity of the flying machine, whose secrets are now reposing in his breast. His words were the first uttered by any reliable person positively connecting the invention in his charge with the peregrinating lights seen in the heavens at various places during the past week.

"As I stated before," said the ex-Attorney-General, "I have not myself seen the machine in action or at rest, and I cannot at this time reveal the names of the persons connected with its invention and construction for the reasons already stated. You know the idea now is not to get it patented, but to use it for war purposes.

"I do Know, however, that it made a flight last night and was seen at East Oakland by a lady, Mrs. Taylor, the wife of W. J. Taylor, who is a bookkeeper and who lives in East Oakland. She saw not only the lights, but an outline of the ship. It was also seen by others in the same locality. I do not know what the movements of the machine are to be at any particular time, but I was told by my client that I would not see him again for some days, as he intended to make experimental trips with his invention right along for some time."

"People are inclined to be skeptical, general," remarked the reporter, "of the existence of the machine and expect some statement from you definitely connecting the lights alleged to have been seen traveling the air with the invention now in your charge."

"So far as the public is concerned," smilingly replied the attorney, "we do not care what they think of the matter. In fact, we would rather they believed it a thing of fancy. We are not asking the public for anything and do not propose to do so, and therefore don t propose to take them into our confidence."

"But your reputation is more or less at stake in view of the statements published in the newspapers and for which you have become sponsor."

"Well, all I can say on that score is that the interview with me as published in The Call is absolutely correct in every particular, and I will add this on the authority of a statement made to be by the inventor: He told me he actually went over Sacramento at the time the people there claimed to have seen the airship. The inventor has now practically decided to follow my advice to maintain as much secrecy as possible, and consequently I don't want to go into particulars about it "

"Where was it put together? Was it not in the vicinity of Oroville?"

"That is a question I do not care to answer."

'You have stated that you are satisfied the invention is a success?"

"Yes. I have implicit confidence in it and that it is a success, because it is very like the one I saw in New Jersey, and which I witnessed make a flight of fifteen or twenty rods."

"Did Dr. E. H. Benjamin assist in the construction of the machine?"

"I don't know Dr. Benjamin, and don't know whether he did or not "

"From what do you derive your confidence in the airship; from having seen it in actual operation, from a view of it at rest or simply from having seen the plans?"

"I have seen the plans. I have no doubt that when the machine is completed it will be a success.*

"What do you mean by being completed?"

"When it is completed for the purpose for which it is now intended to utilize it for war purposes. It would drown everybody in it if it were to fall over a body of water as it is now built."

"What are the other weak points that the inventor is trying to perfect by these trial flights?"

"From what I understand it has to be able to carry power enough to maintain itself in the air for a certain number of consecutive hours, say about six. It can now maintain itself for six hours, but not against the wind. To sail against the wind or at angles to it more power is required than to go with it. Then it lands too quickly. There is no provision for maintaining it in the air when the power gives out."

"Is it not possible that people frequently take the planets, such as Venus, Mars and Jupiter, which now appear very clearly in the sky. for the airship?"

"In all probability. The airship sometimes displays one light and sometimes three. These lights are under control and can be used as desired by the person managing the airship. I have no doubt that you will have ample and unmistakable evidence of tie existence of the invention in a few days. The machine will be made plain to the public, though my advice is to keep the details of its construction secret."

How this evidence was to be presented the general did not say, but allowed it to be understood that the machine would be brought so close to the earth's surface that its shape would be plainly distinguishable, as well as the lights that are now seen.

Picking up some telegrams, General Hart called attention to the widespread and deep interest the reports of the flights of the aerial wonder have created. "Here are telegrams from two New York papers," he said, "asking me to confirm the reports telegraphed East about the invention. One of them asks for 500 words, but all I shall say in answer is that I believe the airship will be a success and that the inventor insists on secrecy, and has nothing more to say at present."

Thousands Confident the Airship Mystery Made Another Visit.

SACRAMENTO, Cal.. Nov. 25.— Again the mysterious serial visitant made its appearance over this city this evening, and within a few brief moments the entire city was in an uproar of excitement. The floating searchlight was plainly visible to all the gazing thousands, and it so timed its arrival as to appear at the same time that Venus, the brilliant evening star, was illuminating the heavens. The onlookers found that a marked difference existed between Venus and her strange aerial competitor. This difference consisted not only in the marked color of the lights, but also in the size of the two lights. Large and brilliant as is Venus, queen of the heavens, the light shown by the mysterious aerial visitant proved to be fully three times as large.

When the searchlight of the winged visitor first appeared it was seen moving rapidly from the northeast and heading in a southwesterly direction. As it neared the southern boundary of the city it turned directly toward the west and after passing the city went south, being distinctly visible for upward of twenty minutes. It moved with far more rapidity than it had been seen to do in its two former visits, and this would be accounted for in case it be a veritable airship by the fact of the calmness of the atmosphere, there being not a breath of wind moving at the time of its first appearance.

Later in the evening it again approached the city from the west, having evidently made a circle, and passed away to the north and east, thus completing the circuit of the city and allowing nearly all the residents a perfect view of the mysterious visitant. There were many, however, who failed to leave their houses in time to catch a glimpse of the swiftly moving light and who, when they did reach the open and gazed up into the ethereal vault, saw nothing but Venus; but the vast majority saw both — Venus and the moving searchlight.

Among the numerous groups gazing skyward this evening was one composed mainly of State officials and prominent lawyers of the city, and their expressions of amazement and, in cases, intense chagrin were very plainly expressed, often in vigorous though perhaps not eloquent or refined Saxon.

Hon. E. D. McCabe, secretary to Governor Budd, was one of this group, and as it was the first time he had witnessed the mysterious light he was correspondingly astonished. During the past week he has been inclined to laugh at the theory that aerial navigation had been accomplished, and in speaking of the subject after the disappearance of the visitant he said: "I am simply astonished, and will not attempt to give any explanation of this mystery. The light is certainly produced by electricity or magnesia, and can by no possibility be a star or a meteor. Again, there were seconds when it flickered and disappeared entirely from view, exactly as I have time after time observed ordinary arc lights to do when the current was interrupted.

"In my judgment it certainly resembled an extra large arc light, and it moved so rapidly that I was obliged to repeatedly step back several feet in order to keep it in view over the intercepting buildings. I am not prepared to say it is an airship, although it certainly looked as though attached to a body of some kind. I can only say that I am thoroughly convinced that it :s a mystery and in my judgment neither a star nor a fake."

District Attorney Frank D. Ryan viewed the visitor for the first time. After expressing his astonishment he muttered:

"And there will be strange sights seen in the heavens. Wars and rumors of wars. I shall certainly attend church to-morrow, for this may be the advent of the millennium." Then laughing he said :

"That thing is too deep for me. I don't understand it. It might be that aerial travel has been accomplished. It seems as strange and improbable as were the inventions of the telephone, phonograph and electric power as applied to streetcars."

George A. McCalvy, Deputy Secretary of State, said: "I confess I am simply amazed, for ever since the first appearance of the reputed airship 1 have been a most pronounced skeptic. Attorney Collins of San Francisco is an intimate friend of mine, and I must confess that I have experienced considerable amusement by interviewing him by 'phone since his reported connection with the air vessel. In the language of the day, 'I have done many things to Attorney Collins,' but you may put me on record as saying that I am now fully convinced that there is more truth than poetry in the old adage 'that he laughs best who laughs last.' This light is certainly no fake and I am almost tempted to believe that the problem of aerial travel is solved."

J. A. Donlon, Assessor of Ventura County, was one of the onlookers. It required considerable persuasion to induce him to cross the street to catch a glimpse of the mysterious visitant, but the look of incredulity quickly left his face and he said: "This simply passes my understanding. That is certainly no star, and I won't attempt to offer any explanation."

Professor Dodge of Galt, who is in attendance on the Teachers' Institute, now in session, saw the light and declared that he could distinguish the outlines of a dark body connected with it, but so indistinctly as to be unable to give any idea of its shape.

Judge W. A. Henry was also an interested spectator, and also proclaims it not a fake, but a reality.

Charles T. Jones, the attorney, was a spectator, but firmly declined to give any opinion as to what the light was, except to say that he thought it was neither a star, a meteor nor a fake.

W. R, Stone of the Secretary of State's office was also deeply interested in the moving mystery. He said:

"It looks like an arc light and moves as though attached to some kind of a vessel, and is certainly neither a lantern attached to a kite nor any other kind of a fake that I can imagine. I must confess that I am stumped to find an explanation of the mystery other than that it may be an air vessel.''

Such were the expressions of but a few of some of the leading men of note in this city, and there were hundreds who stood in close proximity to these few and who uttered similar sentiments.

Lieutenant Fred Martin, commander of the Signal Corps, who was an onlooker, said:

"It simply passes all explanation, and I am fully convinced this is no fake. This afternoon two gentlemen, Messrs. Haines and Fleehart, came into my office about 4 o'clock and told me that they had just seen the airship moving over the city in a northeasterly direction. They described it as a dark, misty object, traveling at an enormous height, yet visible against the clear blue of the ether. I did not pay very much attention to their story at the time, as I was inclined to think they might have seen a cloud, but they were evidently much in earnest in their deliberations and said that no clouds were visible and that the dark object moved with great rapidity. Now that I have seen this mysterious light coming from the same direction in which they saw it going, I am rather inclined to believe that they have been eye-witnesses of some mysterious air vessel."

The Friend of the Inventor Changes His Place of Residence.

Dr. E. H. Benjamin, formerly of 633 Ellis street, who is reputed to have considerable knowledge of the airship, has apparently disappeared, and as mysteriously as the light that so many thousands have seen in the heavens.

For two years past Dr. Benjamin had rented the front room of this lodging house from E. H. Keiser, but yesterday the furniture, carpets and household fixtures were disposed of under the auctioneer's hammer. Where Mr. Keiser and his tenants have gone was not stated, nor was there a reason given except one given in the spirit of fun by a pretty brunette, who said:

"We have had to move for our self-protection. You see, since that airship story has been afloat, the representatives of the press have been calling here at all times of the day and night to see and interview Dr. Benjamin. Why, some of them have camped upon the front steps until 4 o'clock in the morning, and if they had not been personally known to the police no doubt the officers would have suspected that there was trouble in the house". Our house has become an object of curiosity to every one who passes, and dozens have stopped and looked up to the windows as though they expected to see the windows open and an airship or two fly out, and all because the name of Dr. Benjamin has been connected with the airship story."

"Where is Dr. Benjamin to-day?" was asked of the lady, but before she could answer the glib-tongued auctioneer chipped in and said: "He has gone to get his airship and take this lady to Europe, where he will marry her."

After the parties had joked to their own apparent satisfaction they gave this information. Dr. Benjamin left the house early in the morning — about 8 o'clock as near as they could judge. He said that he would be back at noon, but he failed to return.

Before leaving he packed up all his effects in trunks, which the auctioneer and his assistants moved into a back room there to wait until the owner should return. Those who moved his effects found in his room some refuse copper which furnished food for comment for a long time. These consisted of a lot of copper cups about the size of ferules for small canes. As these to some extent resembled percussion caps, such as are used on the end of blasting fuse, it was suggested that the little cups were a part of the material to be used, as Attorney Hart suggested, for the destruction of Havana.

The romance of these little pieces of brass was shattered, however, when it was learned that Dr. Benjamin has been experimenting upon continuous bridgework for teeth and these little cups wore the crowns for rows of artificial grinders. Many of these cups were taken away by the anctioneer's assistants for souvenirs, but upon being told that they were only unfinished store teeth the men tossed their copper cups into the street in dis »gust.

Dr. Benjamin did not return during the afternoon or evening and although in the evening a dim light was to be seen in one of the rooms no response was made to a call at the door. In truth the door bell was fastened on the inside. Thus Dr. Benjamin disappeared. Whether his effects have been removed or not is a matter of conjecture.

In connection with the movements of Dr. Benjamin there is one incident that apparently connects him with the inventor of the airship. It will be remembered that several people who claim to know much about the new ship of the skies have stated that it was built near Oroville and that its first flight was taken therefrom on the night that the lights were seen in Sacramento. Also that the inventor and owner is or was a wealthy resident of Oroville. The latter statement was made by Attorney Collins at the time when ex-Attorney-General Hart said that he talked too much. On that occasion Mr. Collins stated that the inventor was brought to him by a client. In the same interview he acknowledged that Dr. Benjamin was his client. Subsequently he said that Dr. Benjamin has wealthy relatives in or near Oroville.

It was learned last evening that a few days before the appearance of the airship's lights over the Sacramento Valley Dr. Benjamin went to Oroville to see his relations.

His visit at that particular time has given rise to some speculation in the mind of Dr. Joseph D. Hodgen, secretary of the State Board of Dental Examiners, of 1005 Sutter street. Last evening Dr. Hodgen said:

"I have known Dr. Benjamin for some time. He comes from Maine, I believe. He is not a regular practicing dentist, but he gives much of his time to experiments in dental work. Of late he has been at work upon continuous plate bridge work in artificial teeth, an idea he got from a dentist irom Oregon.

"About two weeks ago I met him with his gripsack in his hand on the street, and he told me that he was going to Oroville or Auburn for a week. I am sure, come to think of it, that it was Oroville and not Auburn. He said that he was going to see his aunt. I have not seen him since. The day I saw him was either on the 17th or the 12th inst. soon after that I saw the first accounts of the airship over the Sacramento Valley."

Dr. Paulln No Longer a Skeptic on the Airship Proposition.

That each day is witnessing the conversion of many skeptics to tne belief that the airship is a verity is shown by the willingness of these doubting individuals to become witnesses to their new faith. Last night Dr. Paulin of 1757 Nineteenth street, East Oakland, took the trouble to telephone his interesting experience to The Call. He said :

"I never had any faith in the airship until to-night. About 8 o'clock Judge Horsburgh, a neighbor, called to us and told us we could see the airship. We looked out and saw above us what appeared to be a group of four or five lights and above them was outlined something whicn had the form of a whale. It was moving toward the City. Then it changed its course toward Sausalito, and swerved again toward the City and soon went out of sight."

A night watchman at North Berkeley says that he saw the light Tuesday night distinctly, and watched it while it traveled from San Pablo and crossed over until it was back of the high hills of Berkeley. This may give some indefinite sort of a clew concerning the place where the alleged airship may be, in hiding during the day, so this man thought.

A noticeable fact connected with the mystery of the alleged airship is that the light which is observed is seen to be traveling against the wind as often as with it. his would not be the case if the light were carried by a balloon or kite, as a matter of course.

Lighted Balloons Sent Up in Various Parts of the City.

Toy balloons were sent soaring upward with hot air for a motor from several places along Market street last night. The wind was brisk, and when once the balloons were above the roofs they traveled along steadily and naturally attracted some attention.

Soon, however, the fuel which gave them motion consumed the balloon. There was no one who was stupid enough to believe for a moment that any such proposition as that had been sufficient at any time to deceive the many who have ascribed to the mysterious airship the posession of a large electric light. Those who sent up the fire balloons on Market street last night soon tired, observing that little interest was taken in them.

Several persons with apparently an idea of having a little fun at the expense of the public went to the top of Nob Hill last evening about 9:30 o'clock and sent up a hot-air balloon with a Japanese lantern attached to the bottom.

Instead of mounting rapidly to a great height the thing wobbled around and floated off on the wind over Kearny street toward the bay. For half a mile it scarcely rose 300 feet, and its construction and shape were plainly seen. The people on Kearny street jeered at the fake article floated over them, and several suggested that Mr. McEvoy of the American Detective Agency had changed his place of operation from Inspiration Point, near Piedmont, to Nob Hill, San Francisco.

A local fireworks company reported to-day that they had been doing a big balloon business within the last few days. In fact they have sold more of this kind of fireworks within a week than they have since ihe Fourth of July. Purchases have been made by people from Alameda, Haywards, Fruitvale, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.

A Vigilance Committee Formed in the Mission District.

Public interest in the airship is growing every day and with witless practical jokers people have no patience.

The prevalence of small hot-air balloons, carrying dingy lights across the darkened heavens, imposing on the credulity of persons looking for an aerial wanderer, has led to the forming of a vigilance committee. The committee is at present composed of but four members— James Peoples, Ed Perley, Gus Skelly and N. L. Peoples, and is known as the Mission Dolores Vigilance Committee. Although the organization has but few members each member is capable of making it thoroughly interesting for any man caught in the act of releasing a miniature gas bag. The most enthusiastic member is James Peoples, the captain, who measures about six feet four inches and is built in proportion. He is looking for and is anxious to meet a practical joker with a balloon under his arm. Then the trouble would commence.

"We take an occasional trip to Twin Peaks in search of balloon men," said Mr. Peoples, last evening, "but as yet we have not captured one.

'If we do find one all four of us (we measure all together something like twenty-four feet six inches) will jump all over him for his idiotic acts, and it is safe to say that he will reform."

Her Charms Still Beguiling Many of the Uninitiated.

AUBURN, Cal., Nov. 25.— People here have been inclined to discredit the existence of the aerial traveler of the heavens, but last night found several reliable citizens who can swear that they saw the light in the sky.

John T. Walsh, hospital steward, noticed a light in the western sky just about over Sacramento, forty miles distant. He called his wife and she and several of the hospital patients vouchsafe the story as true. Their description is that it was a round light of yellowish hue, nearly as large as the sun. It dipped and curved for a while and then disappeared. Dave Chamberlain noticed a light In the heavens when going to supper shortly after 6 o'clock, and when he reached home called his father's and mother's attention to it. Deputy Recorder Henry Hart is another who saw it.

FRESNO, Cal., Nov. 24.— The airship passed over Fresno at 6 o'clock this evening. Only the light could be seen. Some say it was Venus setting. The light passed over the city in a northwesterly direction.

Searchlights Seeking for the Warship of the Air.

VALLEJO, Cal., Nov. 25.— The searchlights on the monitors Monadnock and Monterey are flashing throughout the heavens this evening. in hopes of discovering the whereabouts of the great airship. Up to 8 o'clock no discoveries have been mads and it is expected by the officers at the yard that some other course will be pursued by the air voyagers for fear that big Betsy and Alice on the Monterey will be trained on and fired at the warship of the air.

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