UFO sightings in 1897

On Friday, April 9, 1897, during the 1896-1897 wave of “Mystery Airship” sightings across the United States, a mysterious Unidentified Flying Object was observed in the sky above the city of Chicago, Illinois.

Note: The Mystery Airship sightings of 1896-1897 predate the invention of any known power-driven aircraft.

On Friday, April 9, 1897, a large crowd of people gathered along Oakley Street on the North Side of Chicago and watched what was described by various witnesses as a “red light,” a “manifestation,” or an “airship.” Eventually thousands of people saw the mystery airship in Chicago. Later that evening, sightings also were reported at Evanston, Illinois; Lake Mills, Wisconsin; and Wausau, Wisconsin – creating the impression that a single mystery object was traveling in a northwesterly direction.

The April 10, 1897 edition of the Chicago Record reads:

Airship Sighted Over Chicago & Evanston!
People are tripping over themselves these days trying to get the best look at this green and white-lighted giant air-ship that has had the people all over the mid-west in a dither. Some people think the end of the world is near…
The mystery will surely be cleared up in a few days. Mr. Carr, an æronaut, has built an experimental balloon and is financed by a New York theatrical wig manufacturing company…
Mr. Carr states his machine works marvelously, but cannot go against the wind… power is storage battery with propeller! Professor Hough of Northwestern University and head astronomer of the observatory stated when asked to train his telescope on the object: ‘I am busy with sights on Jupiter and it would be too troublesome to change to look at this new thing.’ The next day, Hough said: ‘The thousands of people that are reporting this so-called strange airship are in reality looking at Alpha Orionis in the Constellation Orion!

This great scientist was too ‘busy with sights on Jupiter… it would be too troublesome…’ Too troublesome to view for the first time a ship from another world! Although he refused to look at the object, he seemed to know exactly what thousands of other people were seeing! How would he know since he only had the advantage of total ignorance?

The April 12 edition of the Chicago Record reads:

Giant Airship Continues Over Chicago & Environs!
People all over the city are in an uproar, and while everyone is viewing this grand sight on the south side, two amateur photographers who are news dealers in Rogers Park, looked out and saw the airship. Their photo shows the North Western Railway station and above it the purported airship! The photographers are Walter McCann & G. A. Overocker. This airship was seen to come in over the lake and traverse the whole city for several days.

The photograph depicts a newspaper artist’s rendition of photographers Walter McCann & G. A. Overocker photographing the above-mentioned mystery airship over the North Western Railway Station at Rogers Park near Chicago.
This image, which is entitled “The Air Ship As Photographed in Chicago,” appeared in the April 13, 1897 edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which credits the Chicago Times-Herald for the illustration.

The same report of April 11th states: “A gentleman brags he has mystery airship problem solved. He is an inventor and desires that he be allowed thirty-five acres to demonstrate his airship for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. The gentleman didn’t sign his name, but the reporter hopes the dilemma will be settled by his promises.

The same report again: “Old German residents say that this very same type airship came over Germany thirty years before & the people were scared to death… said the Devil’s army was approaching & these were his vehicles!

And: The residents of Milwaukee cannot be talked out of what they are seeing… thousands report the authenticity of a giant, beautiful airship with colored lights… the police records are full of the story for they have been called to answer what it is!

From the April 12 edition of the Chicago Tribune: One chap knows all about the airship. He says: ‘These thousands of people didn’t see a steel hull because this is the airship my friend has built in California and is on its way here to Chicago. Although, I must say, he sure has made good time for he isn’t due until next week and the hull is paper, not steel. My friend, O. Chanute is on board too and I will introduce all of you to him when he arrives!’ This chap is the Secretary of the Chicago Æronautical Society, Max L. Harmar.

Aurora UFO crash in 1897

On April 19, 1897, an article in the Dallas Morning News written by S.E. Haydon described an UFO crash. The UFO is said to have hit a windmill on the property of a Judge J.S. Proctor two days earlier at around 6am local (Central) time, resulting in its crash. The incident (similar to the more famous Roswell UFO incident 50 years later) is claimed to have resulted in a fatality of the pilot. The pilot was “not of this world” and was said to be an alien. The pilot was buried at the Aurora cemetery. A stone was placed as a marker for the grave, but has since been removed.

Reportedly, wreckage from the crash site was dumped into a nearby well located under the windmill damaged by the UFO crash, while some ended up with the alien in the grave. Adding to the mystery was the story of Mr. Brawley Oates, who purchased Judge Proctor’s property around 1935. Oates cleaned out the debris from the well in order to use it as a water source, but later developed an extremely severe case of arthritis, which he claimed to be the result of contaminated water from the wreckage dumped into the well. As a result, Oates sealed up the well with a concrete slab and placed an outbuilding atop the slab. According to writing on the slab, this was done in 1945.


The hoax theory is primarily based on a 1980 Time magazine interview with Etta Pegues, an 86-year-old Aurora resident who claimed that Haydon had fabricated the entire story, stating that Haydon “wrote it as a joke and to bring interest to Aurora. The railroad bypassed us, and the town was dying.” Pegues further claimed that Judge Proctor never operated a windmill on his property, a statement later disputed in an episode of UFO Hunters, which found, what they claimed to be, the base of a wooden water pump tower constructed around the well. Paranormal researcher Jerry Drake on the April 12, 2020, episode of the Monster Talk live podcast challenged that finding, noting the well was clearly a bucket well of modern construction, estimated to be built sometime after 1940, and not a well designed for use with a windmill.

UFO Files investigation

On December 19, 2005, UFO Files first aired an episode related to this incident, titled “Texas’ Roswell“. The episode featured a 1973 investigation led by Bill Case, an aviation writer for the Dallas Times Herald and the Texas state director of Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).

MUFON uncovered two new eyewitnesses to the crash. Mary Evans, who was 15 at the time, told of how her parents went to the crash site (they forbade her from going) and the discovery of the alien body. Charlie Stephens, who was age 10, told how he saw the airship trailing smoke as it headed north toward Aurora. He wanted to see what happened, but his father made him finish his chores; later, he told how his father went to town the next day and saw wreckage from the crash.

MUFON then investigated the Aurora Cemetery and uncovered a grave marker that appeared to show a flying saucer of some sort, as well as readings from its metal detector. MUFON asked for permission to exhume the site, but the cemetery association declined permission. After the MUFON investigation, the marker mysteriously disappeared from the cemetery and a three-inch pipe was placed into the ground; MUFON’s metal detector no longer picked up metal readings from the grave, thus it was presumed that the metal was removed from the grave.

MUFON’s report eventually stated that the evidence was inconclusive, but did not rule out the possibility of a hoax.

UFO Hunters investigation

On November 19, 2008, UFO Hunters first aired another television documentary regarding the Aurora incident, titled “First Contact“.

The documentary featured one notable change from the UFO Files story – Tim Oates, grandson of Brawley Oates and the now-owner of the property with the sealed well where the UFO wreckage was purportedly buried, allowed the investigators to unseal the well, in order to examine it for possible debris. Water was taken from the well which tested normal except for large amounts of aluminum present; the well had no significant contents. It was stated in the episode that any large pieces of metal had been removed from the well by a past owner of the property. Further, the remains of a windmill base were found near the well site, which refuted Ms. Pegues‘ statements (from the 1979 Time magazine article) that Judge Proctor never had a windmill on his property.

In addition, the Aurora Cemetery was again examined. Although the cemetery association still did not permit exhumation, using ground-penetrating radar and photos from prior visits, an unmarked grave was found in the area near other 1890s graves. However, the condition of the grave was badly deteriorated, and the radar could not conclusively prove what type of remains existed.

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