In 1897 a UFO was sighted over Quincy, IL!
In April of 1897, hundreds of Quincy area residents would report a strange airship flying over the city. The airship was first noticed at around 11pm by men on the levee who thought a steamer was coming down the river. The airship was reported as having a bright light on the front reminiscent of a steamboat and floating several hundred feet above the river. There was also a hissing noise reported. Similar airship sighting were being reported in numerous locations throughout the Midwest, including numerous sightings in Omaha.
Was this the sighting of a prototype dirigible by Quincy’s own Thomas Baldwin? Let’s explore this theory.
As a boy, Thomas Baldwin called Quincy home. as a boy; his parents died during his early teens. When Thomas was fourteen, he began selling newspapers during the day and working as a street lamplighter at night so that he would support himself. In Baldwin’s later teens, he found a job working the circus. Baldwin was hurt once while performing for the circus. After he recovered, the circus asked him to make a parachute jump from a balloon, which he agreed to do in 1887. This act lasted a few months, then Baldwin returned to Quincy to begin building his own balloon and parachute. Within a few weeks, he had finished his own balloon which was 90 feet high, 120 feet in circumference, and its total volume was 40,000 cubic feet. On Monday, July 4, 1887, Baldwin jumped his way to fame during a Fourth of July celebration. His act was wonderfully popular, and he started to tour the country with it.
In the early 1890’s Baldwin yearned for a new challenge. Baldwin wanted to achieve controllable flight, so his balloons would not float helplessly with the winds. He began to develop “dirigibles,” balloons with motors and rudders that would direct flight.
Around the same time, the War Department would issue a report to: “invited attention to the increasing efficiency of Military dirigible balloons operated by the first class Powers of Europe. They urged appropriations … to make a start toward similar development of the new reconnaissance aid to armies in war… “, Meanwhile, the Signal Corps successfully used balloons in the War with Spain at the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898.Baldwin may have known the army was in the market for these new aircraft and begin to prototype the aircraft he would eventually sell to the Army. On Aug. 3, 1904, in Los Angeles, Baldwin made aviation history in his dirigible “California Arrow” by ascending in a lighter-than- air craft and sailing in a controlled flight along a predetermined course back to the point of beginning.
From 1904 through 1907, Baldwin constructed and flew several dirigibles throughout the United States at exhibitions such as St. Louis’ Louisiana Purchase Exposition. From 1908 through 1910, Baldwin promoted military and civilian uses of dirigibles, including dirigible passenger lines.
Through his expeditions, Baldwin would have had a unique knowledge of America’s heartland, where many of the airship sightings were reported. He would have also known to use the Mississippi River as a navigational aid, which is still common of pilots today.
We know that just over a decade later in 1908, that Baldwin would produce a dirigible for use by the United States Army Signal Corps, the Aeronautical Division of the United States Army.
Dirigible sold to the US Army by Thomas Baldwin, would be known as the Signal Corps Dirigible no. 1
The dirigible, Baldwin no. 8, reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour . It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59. The airship was designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.
The similarities to the description reported by witnesses of the event, including a long cigar shaped object, flown by several men with wings on either side is nearly identical to similar to Baldwin’s eventual dirigible purchased by the U.S. Army.
While it may never be known what was seen in the skies over Quincy that spring night in 1897, it is certainly possible that Quincy’s own Thomas Baldwin could have been behind it.
Modern Balloons and Airships provides an in depth look at the origins and use of airships throughout the 20th Century!
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