In late March 1897, around seven years before the Wright Brothers undertook their first controlled flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, airships were in the news after several hundred residents of Missouri, Kansas claimed to witness a strange sight as a huge airship hovered over farms, ranches and small towns in a three state area. Reportedly it swept a huge searchlight along the ground and terrified residents who witnessed this strange event. The story made the local Kansas Newspapers but then went national and then worldwide.
The story would have died a death, many were sceptical but then on 1st April 1897 (April Fools day, don't forget) Alexander Hamilton,a farmer from LeRoy, Kansas claimed that the air machine had hovered over his farm and one of his cows had been sucked up into the machine. Later cow parts were discovered in a three mile radius.
That same night as many as 10,000 witnesses would give statements to the press about the airship. It was said to have flown over Kansas City, going through a series of erratic manoeuvres. Some witnesses even claimed that the airship was the planet, Venus...one man told the Kansas City Times that, 'Venus does not dodge around, fly swiftly to the horizon, swoop rapidly towards the ground and then fly away to be lost in the Southern sky.'
From descriptions given to the newspapers the aircraft seemed to be - shaped like an Indian canoe with a basket some 25 to 30 feet in length. Four light wings extended from the basket and these wings were triangular with a giant bag, thought to be a gas balloon, above the basket. The craft had powerful lights that lit up the night sky it was said that these lights were as bright as those of a locomotive.
There were yet more sightings of the strange craft - The Kansas City Free Press reported that, 'the airship is not of this world, but it is likely operated by a party of scientists from the planet, Mars who are out on a tour of the universe for scientific study.'
Whatever the truth of the story it remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the Old West.