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19th Century UFO Reports

In the newly released ‘paranormal’ anthology Darklore Volume 2 (paperback available from Amazon US and Amazon UK, or as a limited edition hardcover – three free sample articles also now available on the Darklore website), European researcher Theo Paijmans employed technology to open up a relatively new area for UFO studies – reports in newspapers about alien and UFO encounters during the 19th century. As Theo says:

Buried deep in the countless accounts of dancing lights in the skies, fiery portents, strange atmospheric apparitions, phantom armies and specter legions, sailing cloud ships and erratic comets, we find a small set of puzzling reports of a diff erent nature, more than anything suggestive of the existence of a 19th century UFO phenomenon as complex as its 20th and 21st century counterparts. Since nowadays literally hundreds of millions of newspaper pages are digitised and can be perused online, it is now finally possible to explore and fathom the nature of the proto-UFO phenomenon at depth and assemble its data – the Dark Cohorts that silently march side by side to Charles Fort’s Damned Data, delivering a surprising new view on an enigmatic phenomenon. Owing to this pleasant side effect of the digital revolution, I was able to discover a multitude of cases previously unknown in Forteana and ufology. Therefore, what is presented in this article is entirely new, in the sense that these materials have not been published before in the Fortean and ufological studies which deal with the manifestation of the 19th
century UFO phenomenon.

Paijmans points out that as early as 1858, one journalist asked his readers “Do the Inhabitants of other Planets ever Visit this Earth?”; then matter of factly recounted what may be one of the earliest 19th century ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (CE-III) on record. One Henry Wallace had reported that on a clear day, a shadow was suddenly thrown over he and his friends, and when they looked up to see what had caused the anomaly they “beheld a large and curiously constructed vessel, not over one hundred yards from the earth.” They could make out a large number of ‘people’ on the vessel, whose average height they estimated to be around twelve feet. Wallace described the strange craft as being “worked by wheels and other mechanical appendages, all of which worked with a precision and a degree of beauty never yet attained by any mechanical skill upon this planet…”

An even earlier report of strange phenomena in the sky came from a resident of Athens, Georgia, in 1849: “Mr. Editor, are you or your readers aware that a strange phenomenon is to be seen every night about half past ten, in the south?”, the citizen wrote to his local newspaper. “It seems at first sight to be simply a star of reddish appearance – But look a moment, and you will see it blazing up, and then the light dying away. It is constantly moving, sometimes in an upward direction, and sometimes in a circle. It moves westward, and is seen for several hours. What is it?”

In his Darklore article, Paijmans points out phenomena that simply cannot be explained away as mistaken sightings of Venus. 12-year-old George Campbell described what he and his father witnessed in Sherman, Texas in 1898:

Last night Papa and I were riding along in the ‘Eighty-foot Road’, about two and a half mile north of town, when all at once everything got very bright. We saw a great ball of fire coming down toward the ground. It got within about three feet of the ground and seemed to rest for a while and then it went back up until it got clear out of sight. There was a buzzing sound all the time.

Young George described the object “as being about ten feet in diameter and that it hurt one’s eyes to look at it,” but that even though he and his father were close to the object “he did not feel any heat.”

Many paranormal investigators will find much of interest in the previous account, but for true Fortean weirdness – with elements of Jacques Vallee’s Magonia hypothesis, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the 1897 Airship flap, and archetypal paranormal sounds – it’s hard to go past the next report uncovered by Theo Paijmans during his research, as told by Walter Stephenson of Tennessee, in 1907:

Stephenson was…just finishing a long chase with his dogs and sat down on a log to rest, when he espied upon the Eastern horizon a speck, which he took to be a large kite. He paid little attention to the object, and shifted his gaze temporarily to other scenes. Soon his attention was attracted to a whirring noise, and looking upward, he saw that the speck which he had a few moments before discovered in the eastern sky had approached almost directly over him, and that the object was in reality a huge balloon, but of a pattern and appearance he had never in his life before seen. He discovered that the floating mass was rapidly approaching the earth. Of a sudden, the observer says, strains of music calculated to charm the spheres burst from the balloon, which circled round and round and finally landed at Kideman springs (sic).

A number of strange people emerged from the car, which was closely curtained with a substance that fairly glistened in the sunshine that temporarily burst through the obscuring clouds, and all going to the big, flowing spring, knelt by it in a supplicating attitude and so remained for a minute or more. Mr. Stephenson says that while this was going on he sat quietly within speaking distance, and when the strange visitors arose to their feet and he supposed their devotional excercises were over, he asked if he might be permitted to inquire who they were, and what their mission? He said that instantly a visard was lifted by one of the company and the benign face of a lady showed from underneath and said in German: “Haben sie Beten?” (did you pray?”) and instantly all were aboard, the airship rose, circled about for a minute or more, and was gone in a westerly direction.

Paijmans’ ground-breaking article also goes into reports of “flying swords”, fairy-like abduction scenarios, and more. Fascinating research, great to see new information like this being mined through the use of the latest technology.


Darklore Volume 2 is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK, in both paperback format and in a limited edition hardcover. Three free sample articles are available on the Darklore website in their original format (PDF downloads).

  1. Brilliant
    It’s a fantastic feature, and Greg’s right to call it groundbreaking — not much research has been done in pre-20th century UFO reports. The steampunk drawings can also be a bit misleading, as the reports themselves (barring the eloquent Victorian speech) read like they could have happened today. For example:

    Soon his attention was attracted to a whirring noise, and looking upward, he saw that the speck which he had a few moments before discovered in the eastern sky had approached almost directly over him, and that the object was in reality a huge balloon, but of a pattern and appearance he had never in his life before seen.

    This is often drawn as a steampunk zeppelin contraption, such as the illustration in this TDG post, despite nothing in the report describing it in such a way. In fact, there’s very little differentiating it from modern UFO encounters: a whirring noise, large round object like nothing seen on Earth, etc. But the artist’s rendition is to be expected; as author John Irving wrote, we imagine memories better than we remember them.

    Great stuff, can’t wait to read the rest of Darklore Vol. 2.

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