By Allison Jornlin
On the night of April 11th 1897 at around 8 p.m., Milwaukee had a visitation. Witnesses all over Milwaukee saw something strange in the sky. A mysterious object passed over the city that night. They called it the “airship” because the terms “flying saucer” and “UFO” wouldn’t be coined for another 50 years.
One downtown police officer reported seeing the airship while standing on Broadway. He described the airship as looking like four bright stars put together. It flashed the colors of white, red, and green. Although a local astronomer argued the airship must have been only a star, this policeman stood by his story. He claimed that the craft dipped and bobbed wildly several times before it sped off toward the northwest and disappeared from view, unusual behavior for a star. Many other witnesses concurred that its rate of speed was unmistakable for the movement of ordinary stars.
A central police lieutenant, however, claimed the airship was the product of hoaxers flying a kite from the North Point Lighthouse grounds. He contended the airship was nothing more than a kite with a light attached, strung out on an incredible two miles of string. Even a Milwaukee Sentinel reporter questioned this explanation. The airship was seen all over the city. How could it have been a night-flying kite, even one controlled by an impossibly long tether? When reliable independent witnesses spotted the airship over Sheboygan later that same night the kite explanation became even less plausible.
The airship was the talk of the town in the morning. The question, “Have you seen the airship?” replaced customary greetings. The Milwaukee sightings were part of a larger phenomenon that began in 1896. From that year until late 1897, airships were being spotted in the skies all over the U.S. and in other countries as well. A series of airship reports also came to light from 1909 to 1912. What were these mysterious airships? Some were proven to be hoaxes, but others like the Milwaukee case defy explanation. The dizzying aerial feats attributed to the mysterious airship were much too advanced for the less-steerable balloons or zeppelins of the time. Some believe airships were secret experimental aircraft. Still others believe them to be the forerunners of modern UFOs.