By La Crosse TribuneWas it a bird? Was it a plane? No, wait, planes had not been invented yet. So what was it that La Crosse residents saw in the evening skies of April 10-11, 1897?
Most of the country, from California to Michigan, was asking the same question after a mysterious bright light, which reportedly could move in several different directions, became visible at various times in the western two-thirds of the country.
The most popular explanation of the time was that the mysterious light was an “airship” equipped with electric lights and some kind of searchlight. One person in La Crosse who observed the light through opera glasses reported seeing an oblong object suspended from the light. This had been reported in other parts of the country as well, with the yet-to-be-famous UFO parlance of “cigar-shaped” being the most-often-used description.
The sightings elicited much speculation and wonder, as well as a number of hoaxes and exaggerations, but no fear or panic. The event was even put to commercial use as a number of La Crosse drinking establishments began offering various concoctions known as The Airship.
It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of people considered the mysterious light to be man-made in origin. In a letter to the La Crosse Daily Press, one person thought the object was from Mars, or some other planet, stating that the “occupants may be studying the life of our planet, as we would like to study the life and inhabitants of others, if we were wise enough or well enough versed in science to reach them.” This person’s theory was deemed to be extremely odd by the newspaper, although 50 years later it would prove to be popular during the UFO craze of the 1940s and 1950s.
This “light” that was observed across most of the country was never fully explained. Reliable airship flights were only three to five years away, but the fact this light was observed at the same time in places hundreds of miles apart would seem to indicate the mysterious object was more celestial in nature.