First UFO spotted in Madison skies in 1897
Madisonians tried to laugh it off when an unidentified flying
object, presumed to be an "airship", flew over the city back in the
In a time when airships were in the experimental
stage - none of them around here - and the airplane was still a dream, the
airborne thing was seen on the northeast end of town on the night of April
11 and again on April 14, 1897.
Years later, on Sept. 21, 1910, a second
sighting of a mysterious soaring object was reported by local residents.
The first time it was seen the subject was treated with levity; the second
appearance, 13 years later, was reported seriously.
airborne things earned the names of UFOs and "flying saucers" after 1947
when a California man spotted a chain of "saucerlike things" in the upper
air while he flew over the Cascade mountains in Oregon, his story sparked a
rash of UFO sightings for decades, most of them fraudulent.
It would seem
at this distance in time the UFO event of 1897 came up after a Chicago man
who saw the thing that September day and had snapped a "true photograph" of
it. His statement was supported by another Chicagoan who saw the first man
take a picture of it.
That report of a cigar-shaped object with a
propellor at the rear and its lower portion composed of white metal shaped
like ship's keel caught the fancy of Madisonians.
residents who had read about it in the newspaper became skywatchers.
State Journal on April 12, 1897, carried a story in which unnamed townsmen
told of seeing an "object like an airship." It was "probably a star," said
Brilliant lights were reported, "especially by those who used
opera glasses." The thing "wavered up and down just as the boats of the
Aerial Rapid Transit line might be expected to do," the newspaper story
A Fifth Ward man said the object was shaped like a catamaran.
Another man said he read the name "Star Tickler" on the object's side.
lady who was brought up with the Indians and has very sharp hearing, says
she caught a glimpse of a face laughing as if it would split and heard a
voice say, 'has the sucker fishing began down there yet?' "
A few people
phoned the Washburn Observatory on the University campus where a person
answered and told them he didn't feel disposed to take the matter
seriously. The ship, he said, had first been viewed in California in
"Perhaps the gazers saw the lights of steamers on (Lake) Mendota.
Unfortunately the boating season is not yet open," said the Journal
The second UFO phenomenon occurring in 1910 was wotnessed by a
number of family members living in the North Livingston and North Brearly
The people, according to a State Journal story, saw "a
ship approaching from the north, headed south across Lake Mendota." They
described it as "slowing down, descending, hovering, as if seeking a place
to land, then flying off to the southwest." (Sounds like more recent
reports of UFOs).
The witnesses were Mrs. Nils Starck, 218 N. Livingston
St., widow of a local realtor; Mrs. Mary Malaney, 208 N. Brealty St., a
clerk at the Keeley, Neckerman and Kessenich store; members of the families
of Joe Helmus, 210 N. Livingston St., a house painter.
A special Air
Force commission, named to investigate UFOs since 1947, recently has begun
to wind down, its research, with no firm conclusions about the existence of
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