If you thought stories in the old newspapers couldn’t get any stranger than some of the Twilight Club’s minutes, guess again. According to the May 25, 1897, Hamilton County Ledger, 121 years ago this month a UFO flew over Noblesville!
If the newspaper is to be believed, around 8 p.m. on May 24, Noblesville was visited by the “mysterious machine known as the airship.” It initially appeared as a faint light in the eastern sky, but rapidly moved west, accompanied by a strange noise.
Judge-elect John F. Neal and druggist Frank E. Ross were the first people to spot it. They immediately hotfooted it over to Charlie Pike’s photography studio and got Pike to set up his camera on the southeast corner of the square to capture the phenomenon as it went by.
Less than 10 minutes later, the airship flew over the courthouse and Pike supposedly got his shot, which he passed on to the Ledger. However, in those days photos hadn’t yet begun to appear in newspapers, so what actually ran on the Ledger’s front page was a drawing.
The sketch shows something that looks vaguely like an open boat with fins or wings passing to the left of the courthouse clock. The “boat” is suspended from a large cigar-shaped object with a propeller at one end and it appears to be carrying two people.
By the time the photo was taken, a substantial crowd of onlookers had gathered. Among them were several men whose observations and comments appeared in the Ledger article.
Deputy Sheriff Elihu Hawkins noted a colored light on the airship, while county school superintendent E. A. Hutchens saw large fans working and Judge Richard R. Stephenson was “confident the ship was manned by three men.”
Presbyterian minister Dr. John M. Davies thought the “the glorious ship of Zion was ‘coming around the bend’” and became so distracted he was a half hour late to his prayer meeting.
The Rev. William Karstedt of the United Brethren Church, believed it was an iceberg (!) and pulled on his “Canadian fur coat.” Reverend E. S. Conner of the Christian Church decided it was a delusion. Evangelist A. D. Buck considered it “the most ‘unholy’ sight he ever saw.”
Elbert Shirts, the cashier at the Citizens State Bank, was worried the “blasted thing” would get tangled in telephone wires.
George Griffin of Griffin Brothers hardware store exclaimed, “I’ll be dadbob if that don’t beat Ab Mounjoy’s boat!”
The following morning teacher and justice of the peace David Supple informed the newspaper that the ship had stopped at the Twilight Club’s headquarters and taken the club’s president, Ike Hiatt, onboard for a tour.
Did a UFO really visit? Well, the witnesses quoted in the Ledger article were prominent Noblesville citizens. However, most, if not all, appear to have been members of the Twilight Club. That’s enough to make me take the tale with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, a rash of mysterious airship sightings were reported in this country between November of 1896 and May of 1897. They began in California and later spread to the Midwest.
Some of these sightings were undoubtedly hoaxes or publicity stunts, but it’s possible some could have involved experimental aircraft. Although the Wright brothers didn’t fly at Kitty Hawk until 1903, balloons were used for spying during the Civil War, and attempts had been made to build airships like dirigibles for many years prior to 1896.
If the airships were indeed real, they must have been unsuccessful because no one ever took credit for them.
We may never know the truth. (But if we can believe Fox Mulder, the truth is out there).