Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Apparition of the Air -- April 7, 2019

San Francisco Call, 24-November-1896
Oaklanders Say Its Frame Was Like the Body of a Bird.
Another Lawyer Who Was Informed of the Alighting of the Flier.
Dr. Benjamin Disclaims the Invention — Mayor Sutro's Testimony and That of Other Reputable Citizens Offered.

There were many sightings of unidentified flying objects in the United States during the late 1890s. I wonder what people saw. This is our fourth 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"
25-November-1896: "Mission of the Aerial Ship"

Irving M Scott was the president of the Union Iron Works, which built many warships, including the USS Olympia and the USS Oregon.  

Adolph Sutro was the mayor of San Francisco.  Sutro Heights is now a city park.  

Testimony concerning the existence of an airship which is supposed to be navigating the air over the bay cities by night and hiding from observation in some secluded place before daybreak came in yesterday from many sources. Many persons saw mysterious lights moving overhead. But the projectors of the phenomenon which has caused intense and general interest seem to revel in mystery. Among those who yesterday told of seeing the lights carried about by an aerial visitor were Mayor Sutro, Colonel Menton, the excursion agent of the Southern Pacific Company; Samuel Foliz, advertising manager of The Call; Professor C. H. Murphy of the Polytechnic High School, also many others.

What they saw or heard from others who saw the moving light is told in the sub-joined account. They all tell practically the same story, which is that the light appeared quite high overhead and that it moved very fast. They did not all observe it to be moving in the same direction.

Dr. Benjamin, who has been supposed to have invented a flying machine or airship, which la supposed to be the cause of the phenomena observed overhead during the past few nights, was in the City yesterday, and last evening was interviewed by The Call. Dr. Benjamin said that he did not know anything about the airship. At the same time he conceded that if he did know of such an invention of his own, he would consider it wise not to give any information concerning it until he had secured his patents. Dr. Benjamin said that Mr. Collins is his attorney, and admitted that he visited Mr. Collins yesterday afternoon. This, in connection with the fact that Mr. Collins admitted that he is attorney for a man who claims to have invented an airship, must be taken for what it is worth.

Concerning this mystery it should be clearly understood that The Call does not aver that an airship has been invented, nor does it deny that such is the fact. There is no intention on the part of The Call to deceive its readers. The statements which have been made by reputable citizens are given, and these will undoubtedly be carefully considered and the consensus of public opinion will place the true value upon the different circumstances. There are several theories to account for the mysterious moving light, which do not necessarily imply the existence of a flying machine or airship.

There is no doubt that many people firmly believe in the airship. There were many such who sat up late last night to watch for the appearance of such a vessel. Many stood on roofs and in other elevated places, in the rain, until late, hoping to get a glimpse of it. At the hour of going to press the whole matter remained a mystery.

Henry W. Bradley of the law firm of Stanly, Hayes A Bradley made a very interesting statement which will be widely read.

The most circumstantial story yet told came from Oakland last night. Passengers on a streetcar claim to have been attracted by the light overhead and looking upward they saw distinctly the outlines of an airship, which resembled a huge bird in its outlines and which seemed to rise and fall in its course. Many residents of Oakland say that they, also, discerned the outlines of the vessel.

What Spectators Across the Bay Say That They Saw.

OAKLAND, Cal., Nov. 23.— There is a general impression in this city that the airship which has been seen so often recently is being housed somewhere in Alameda County when it is not being tested by its inventor.

The whole population is about equally engaged between discussing the qualities of airships and looking at the sky expecting to see the winged machine parting the clouds. Reports are continually being received of its being seen in the neighborhood of Berkeley and Haywards, as though the inventor were confining his experiments to the low land between the hills that skirt the northern boundary of the county and the bay. Several people saw the light over Haywards last night, and the number of people who have seen it in North Oakland is constantly increasing.

Last evening the conductor wearing badge No. 26 of the Alameda electric line reported seeing the affair over Fruitvale. He says it had a powerful headlight and there appeared to be several smaller lights on board.

Mayor Davie is a firm believer in the existence of the airship. "I doubted the story of those who declared they had seen it," said the Mayor to-day, "but when I looked through the names of the reputable people who unhesitatingly assert that they have seen it I doubt it no longer.

"I have always believed in the practicability of airships, and a few years ago old Dr. Freeling had a model that closely resembled the picture published of this invention, and he told me before he died that when aluminum was brought into use the secret of air-flying would be solved. I have no doubt that some one has built a machine, because many of those who have seen it are certainly entitled to credit."

Attorney A. A. Moore heard the story of the airship a few days ago. "I did not talk with Mr. Collins," he said, "but I was talking with a friend, an attorney, who told me that Collins had talked with him about a client who had invented an airship."

Last evening at about 7:80 o'clock the passengers on an Alameda car were startled by the sight of a brilliant stream of light high in the heavens off in the direction of Haywards. The passengers distinctly saw the outlines of an airship and watched its maneuvers high in the skies.

The ship resembles a huge bird in its outlines and seemed to rise and fall in its course. A light streamed from the head of the ship, throwing a white stream of light for several hundred yards. As the outlines of the airship were plainly discerned the passengers in the car became greatly excited. The phenomenon had first been noted by a man who had been idly watching the heavens. As soon as he perceived the light he attracted the attention of the other passengers and all intensely interested watched the peculiar machine as it made its way through the skies.

It was high in the heavens and appeared to be of huge size. When first seen it seemed to be floating over San Leandro. It moved rapidly, going at least twenty miles an hour. It shot across the skies in the northwest, then turned quickly and disappeared in the direction of Haywards. Not only was the airship seen by the passengers, but many other residents of this city distinctly saw the brilliant light and the huge, bird-like body floating in midair. None of the spectators were acquainted with each other, and yet their stories are startlingly similar, agreeing as to time, direction of the airship and description. These facts leave little doubts in the minds of many people that a successful airship has been invented, and is navigating the heavens.

Miss Wilson, a daughter of Captain Wilson of the police force, and her friend, Miss Hunter, are among those who viewed the strange sight. The two friends accompanied another young lady to the streetcar about 7 p. m. yesterday, where their attention was attracted by the peculiar light in the skies. The huge bird-like body from which the light emanated was clearly visible, and both young ladies are positive it was an airship. It followed the same course as described by the passenger on the Alameda car. Police Officer Carson and John Strickler, the flagman at Fourteenth and Broadway, also declare that they saw the airship.

"The representatives of the afternoon papers were almost hysterical in their demands that I discredit The Call's interview. I wish to say right here that I have not a word to take back of all that has been reported. It was a truthful, reliable interview and The Call is the only paper that has reported me correctly. The stories in the evening papers that I had denied the interview were false and the writers actually told me that they were going to write such stuff before they left my office.

"Since the fact was published that I am the attorney for the inventor I have not seen my client. We mailed the papers regarding the patent to Washington last week and expect to hear soon of their arrival. I do not know when I shall see my client again, but I expect him any day. He is a man that impressed me with the idea of being perfectly able to manage his own affairs, and I have no doubt he knows what he is doing.

"I wish to correct one idea that seems to be prevalent. Some papers have published the fact that the inventor is an Oroville man. I have not said so. He is a San Francisco man, but he has constructed his machine near Oroville. I did say this afternoon to the reporters of the San Francisco evening papers that the story as published in the Chronicle was a fake. Not only that; I told the young fellow from the Chronicle that he had grossly misrepresented me in his interview where he quoted me as having said I saw the airship work, the inventor having come here, and, after talking to me a while, getting into it and moving away. The statement that I had seen it working at all is false.

"As I told you before, as I told him, and as I now repeat it, all I know is that I have been appealed to by a man who appears perfectly sound to act as his attorney in securing for him a patent on his invention. It would be presumptuous for me to say the story that an airship was being worked about the bay was a fake, when it is taken into consideration the number of people who stake their reputation on having seen one. Even if it was not the ship of the man who came to see me, it is not for me to say that these people have not seen an airship. There is more than one man at work on the question of aerial navigation, and some one is bound to solve it as they did the steam-engine and the electric-car. I am as skeptical regarding the actual working of the craft as anyone, but am not such a fool as to say that it is an impossibility.

"I was told in this city to-day that the Chronicle had secured a man — one Dr. Benjamin, I believe —to maintain throughout that the invention is his and that he is the one who has been going about the heavens at night. He is to say that he has paid me $500 as a retainer and that I am to have $1500 when the patents are issued. This is along the line of their story as first told, and it must be kept up at any cost. I desire to denounce the whole story in advance as a pure fake to support the wild imagination of one of their reporters. It places me in an unfair light before the public and injures my business to have such stories set afloat when there is not the least foundation for them.

"When the Examiner man came to me Sunday afternoon he told me that his paper had the whole story and knew the inventor and would publish it this morning. They did not particularly care, he said, for my version, but would like to have it just to verify what they knew. The bold bluff did not work and the story in to-day's Examiner trying to ridicule the affair, but at the same time leaving loopholes to escape, was the result.

"There is no denying the fact that the public has been aroused to a high pitch of expectation by the reports published. The Examiner sent a man to me to-day who said they bad treated the whole affair as a huge joke, but found that the people were looking at it in a serious manner and they were ready to give the news as received, regardless of how improbable it might look. He asked me to give a true account of the matter as far as I knew anything, but when I denied having seen the machine work or having ridden in it he laughed and said I was hedging."


Attorney H. W. Bradley Was informed of Interesting Facts.

"I am at a loss to know how you could have ascertained that I know anything about the airship," said Henry W. Bradley of the law firm of Stanley, Haye and Bradley, of this City, yesterday, to a representative of The Call.

"Do you know anything about it?" Mr. Bradley hesitated a moment, then said: "The man you want to see is George A. Collins, the attorney. All I can say is that if Collins said what is accredited to him in a published interview this morning, Collins knows what he is talking about, and I will say, further, that Collins would scarcely take part in a fake story, because he would have more to lose than to gain by so doing.

"Now, there is that first publication in The Call about the airship. That undoubtedly was sent by telegraph from Sacramento after 1 o'clock in the morning, for it states it was after midnight that the object was seen over that city. Then there is McGovern at the California Hotel, who told me Saturday night that be saw it between 2 and 4 o'clock in the morning. I know that it landed at 3 o'clock—"

"You have made me say more than I intended to," replied Mr. Bradley, with a look upon his countenance which seemed to say that he wished he had remained silent; then as a faint smile lighted up his features: "I cannot tell you where it landed; that is, I do not feel at liberty to state where. The man you want to see is Collins.

"You must understand that I cannot speak about this matter, but will say this: The Call has been consistent in this matter. It is on the right track and it must not back water; and then it got ahead of all the other papers on a big piece of news.

"Then there is A. L. Hart of Sacramento, who stated that if certain parties of that city declared that they had seen the object he believed what they said."

"Where is that wonderful and much talked-about airship now?" was asked.

"That I cannot tell you, but I will say this: I was to have inspected it to-day, but for some reason the invitation I expected did not reach me; possibly be cause the premature announcement in The Call has interfered with projectedplans, or it may be the weather.

"I wish to place myself right in this matter. While in conversation with a gentleman three or four days before the first publication of the airship story in The Call I was told that such an invention was in existence and the difficulty of navigating the sky would soon be overcome. The gentleman who gave me this information did so in confidence, a confidence that I will not betray. As an attorney I could not afford to do so and as a man I would not.

'There is another reason I have for not wishing to give expression to my knowledge or views, which is this: Several of the newspapers have published interviews with Mr. Collins and other papers have asserted that he denied the truth of the statements attributed to him. Now, it would not look well for me to make statements contradictory to his or have him deny statements that I made. Therefore, I will keep silent."

Mr. Bradley stated that be is in no way connected with the airship scheme, either as an attorney or as a friend to the parties most concerned.

"Do you believe that the existence of an airship at the present time is possible?" he was asked.

Mr. Bradley smiled and cautiously answered: "Was the airship not seen by hundreds of respectable citizens in Sacramento. San Francisco, Oakland and other places? I would not presume to dispute their statements."

"Then you believe that we have such an invention that has proved a success?"

"Yes. I believe what my friends tell me. However, I am not an authority. All I know, that is, all 1 think I know, is from hearsay testimony, and I do not intend to commit myself upon hearsay testimony alone. I have never seen it, and I do not expect to make a trip in it as it has been reported."

Many Persons In This City Gazed Upward and Wondered.

The mysterious light was seen last night in this City by a gentleman of undoubted practical experience. Samuel Foltz, advertising manager of The Call, was looking out from his residence at 1157 Stanyan street about 9:15 p. m., when he noticed a light traveling in the direction of Berkeley. He at first thought he was dreaming, but looking again he called out the people residing in the house and all agreed that the light corresponded in appearance with that attributed to the mysterious flying ship.

Mr. Foltz said that the light was apparently that of an ordinary lamp; that it was located about 300 feet above the earth, and was, when sighted, above the locality of Van Ness avenue, and that it was traveling direct and with tremendous velocity toward Berkeley. The light remained in sight about four minutes, when it passed out of view.

C. H. Murphy, a teacher at the Polytechnic High School, told an interesting story last evening: "I was coming down Valencia street about 9:15 to-night," said Mr. Murphy, "and I noticed the phenomenon. Above, at an elevation of possibly 4000 feet, was an electric glow, which was moving toward the park at the rate of one mile per minute. This was observed by hundreds of pers6ns. Every one on Valencia street might have seen it. There was only one light. This had a vibration or wave. There was no fake about this. When I saw the light I was on the south side of Valencia street."

Airship Seen by the Mayor's Employes a Few Days Ago.

None of those who have seen the mysterious moving lights in the heavens that are believed to be those of an airship is more firmly convinced that a flying machine hovers nightly over the bay cities than Mayor Sutro, and the story he tells to support his expressed belief is vastly interesting.

The Mayor is nothing if not practical, and he says that there is not the faintest doubt in his mind that the aerial courser passed over Sutro Heights a short time ago and that it was a genuine airship and doing a very fair job of air-sailing.

"I have not seen the ship myself," said the Mayor after the meeting of the Board of Supervisors yesterday, "but some of my people at the heights have, and their stories leave no doubt in my mind as to the truth of the stories The Call has published on the subject.

"Their narratives were not given me after the paper got hold of the matter, but were told several days ago when no such thing had reached public print.

"When I reached home one evening, about the length of time ago I mention, I found them in a great state of excitement, and when I inquired the reason of the agitation they told me of a strange spectacle they had witnessed a short time before. They told me that shortly after dark they had seen a strange, brilliant light coming in from the direction of the sea.

"At first little attention was paid to it, but as the light drew nearer all became very much interested and watched the brilliant spot closely.

"As it approached the heights they saw that it was not over 500 feet above the ocean and was moving swiftly and with a slightly undulating motion.

"When almost over the beach two lights were discernible, one apparently being below a misty-looking mass and the other behind it.

"They paid particular attention to the latter, as it threw a long ray of light, similar to that cast by a searchlight, far out into the darkness. They told me that this stream of Light was 500 f >-et long, but I presume that, while it seemed that long, it was in reality much shorter.

"They watched it until it disappeared in the direction of the City and saw it turn toward the north just before it passed from view. Now, these people would not try to tell me ghost stories, and I know that they saw just what they described.

"I certainly think that some shrewd inventor has solved the problem of aerial navigation and that we will hear all about it within a short time. It would not be any more wonderful than the invention of the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph or the X ray, and it would seem that some one must hit on the proper appliances when so many smart men have been working on the problem."

It has been stated that the airship passed over the Seal Rocks a short time ago and played its light on the seals, and it may be that this was the occasion when it was seen from the heights.

Three Lights in View as the Mystery Sailed.

Colonel W. H. Menton, the excursion agent of the Southern Pacific Company, lives in the Supreme Court building at the corner of Larkin and McAllister streets. He is confidant he saw the mysterious aerial peregrinator Sunday night This is his story as he told it yesterday:

"Last night, at about 20 minutes of 8 o'clock, the elevator-boy came to my door and told me if I wanted to see the airship to go to the window. My wife and two lady friends went at once to the window, and looking out toward the park, say at an apparent height of about 100 yards, saw three lights. One shot its rays toward the northwest, another toward the southwest, and one, the most brilliant, poured its light directly toward the earth. These lights had the appearance and intensity of search lights.

"I am sure," continued Colonel Menton, "that it was neither a star, meteor nor any other wanderer of the heavens. The light was far brighter than any of the electric lights I saw just below, in and about the park.

"It was traveling toward the west, and we saw it distinctly for ten or fifteen minutes. We all gazed at it until it disappeared in the distance. It neither rose nor fell, but maintained an even course parallel with the earth."

And Some Time Later Was Seen Over the Twin Peaks.

M. H. Cohen of 510 Baker street, a conductor on the Hayes-street car line, saw an object in the sky at 7:05 last Sunday evening, which he believes was the airship. The object seemed to be 300 or 400 feet above the earth. Speaking of the sight yesterday he said: "I first saw it at Market and Eighth streets. It seemed to be moving across the Golden Gate and a flash was occasionally displayed. I called the gripman's attention to it, and he looked and said, "It might be the airship."

Two gentlemen on the rear end of the car saw it. I told the receiver and the night watchman about what I bad seen. The car left the ferry at 7:13 o'clock, and at First street I saw the object again directly over the Twin Peaks. The forward light seemed to be steady. I informed Frank Allen, the machinist at the car house, and he remarked that he had seen a similar object and called the attention of two ladies to it.

"I did not see the object again until I got to the top of P:erce-street hill. Then it seemed to be coming back again from Twin Peaks. "We left the park at 7:51, and looting back from Ashbury street got a good view of it A light was flashed downward for a few minutes. The night was dark, and while the flashes of light could be seen distinctly, the object could only be seen vaguely. There were thirty passengers on the car who saw it. The gripman's name is G. W. Britton. Another person who saw the object in the air was J. Wyatt, conductor on the car following mine."

Is Inconsistent, but Refuses to Father the Invention.

Dr. E. H. Benjamin, the man who has either by chance or for a purpose been suggested as the inventor of the airship, was seen at 633 Ellis street last night by a Call reporter. He had retired and was asleep, but arose, partly dressed, and cordially invited his late visitor into his room, a large single bedchamber at the front of the boarding-house and with a bay-window overlooking Ellis street. Dr. Benjamin is a sinewy built man above the average height, and with a large mustache and brown hair and gray eyes.

He frankly denied having any connection with or personal knowledge of an airship, but his avowals of willingness to impart the information were it his to give were not consistent with his acknowledgments that a man with so very valuable an invention, not completely perfected and not yet securely patentable, would be justified in lying in a straightforward manner in order to divert from himself all attention that might result in his being persistently followed and the whereabouts and design of the flying device made known.

During a long conversation he said in part:

"I am a dentist and have been for twelve years. I am 34 years old and a bachelor. 1 have a married uncle in Placerville; his name is F. W. Benjamin and he is a practicing physician of some means. George Collins is my attorney, for I have known George for a long time and whatever little law business I have wanted done I have had him do it. I saw him to-day and he laughed heartily when I told him that they had me the inventor of the airship. He is a shrewd fellow. Well, I only wish I was the inventor. But I am inclined to think I would be afraid to go up in it.

"It is true that I am an inventor, but along other lines. My inventions have to do with dentistry, and consist in patented crowns and bridges for teeth and a reducer to draw the gold bars in making gold caps without seams. Then I have a number of other little dental inventions. Since my name appeared this morning in connection with this affair my friends have joshed me a good deal about being the inventor, and I have told some of them that they may have a ride with me to-morrow if the night is favorable. I have given some thought to the possibility of inventing an airship.

"I firmly believe that there is an airship somewhere near here, and that it will not be long before the public sees it, for as yet, as I understand the newspaper accounts, no one has really got a good view of an airship so much as of a brilliant, moving searchlight. I expect to be followed for a while and given a warm reception until people are convinced that I am not the man they are looking for."

The Alleged Inventor Recently Visited In the Interior.

Dispatches were received last night from Woodland and Oroville concerning Dr. Benjamin. The list of towns claiming him while he has been supposed to be the inventor of an airship is lengthening, like the list of towns that claimed Homer. A Woodland dispatch claimed that Dr. Benjamin visited Woodland first about eight years ago, when he was traveling for Sherman & Clay.

He became acquainted with Dr. L. B. Holmes and many others, and treated patients in the office of Dr. Holmes, who considered him a proficient workman. He has not been in Woodland for about a year and a half. He told some friends that he would soon complete an invention that would revolutionize the world. The fact that he has a wealthy uncle in Oroville probably gave rise to the rumor that an Oroville millionaire had built the airship.

A dispatch from Oroville alleges that Dr. Benjamin in a native of Carmel, Me. He was in Oroville November 15 visiting his uncle.

Court Judges Asking for Passes and Others Seeking: Positions.

George D. Collins, who claims to be the attorney for the inventor of the airship, has evidence that there are persons who believe that there is a real airship afloat. One of these, a boy who has been in the navy, has written to him making application for position of cabin-boy or deckhand. A large part of his time is taken up answering questions. Judges of the courts have already made application for passes, he says, and he has no end of chances to discuss the mechanism of the vessel. With all this, Mr. Collins throws a dash of cold water on some enthusiasts who base their theories upon alleged utterances of his.

"I am sorry to see," he said yesterday, "that the newspapers have been attributing to me such an extensive knowledge relative to this airship. In truth I know very little about it.

"On Thursday last there came to my office a former client of mine for whom I had prosecuted a claim against the Crocker estate about six months ago, and asked me to get gut a patent for him for an airship he said he had invented. I said I could not do anything unless he produced a model, and he said he would have one made at once. He attempted to give me a description of the invention, but I told him it would be of no use to me. I am now awaiting his return with the model. He may call any day. When he brings the model I will make application for his patent.

"I know nothing about the airship. I do not know what it is made of, what power propels it, nor where its inventor now is. I am just as skeptical and incredulous regarding it as anybody can be.

"The reason I believe this airship that people claim to have seen is his invention is that on the day he called he remarked : 'Did you see an account of my airship passing over Sacramento in the newspaper this morning?'

"I told him I had not seen it.

"He then said: 'l passed over Sacramento last night and arrived on the other side of the bay this morning at 3 o'clock. I have solved the problem of atmospheric navigation.' "

Balloon In the Sky.

OROVILLE, Cal., Nov. 23. — Several people in this vicinity saw a moving light in the heavens Sunday evening. To-day's investigations result in learning of a Portuguese, living in Cherokee, who sent up an experimental balloon last evening inflated with gas from a fire attached to it in which turpentine and resin are the principal parts. There is no doubt this is the light seen here. The Portuguese says he does not think his balloon sailed more than twelve miles. It was his intention to send up another to-night but rain prevented it.

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