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Glenwood couple sees airship on a dark night

Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical Society

The object seemed to frisk about

And dart from left to right.

And pierce the gloom, now here, now there,

With rays of ambient light.

T’was then a bright and happy thought

Illumed his happy pate,

As turning to his frau, he gasped,

“The airship! Sure as fate!”

– Charles E. Hubbard,

Avalanche Echo, April 29, 1897

Dora Dugard stood upon the front porch of her Colorado Avenue home before retiring the evening of April 20, 1897. As she scanned the darkened sky for signs of inclement weather, she was stunned by what she saw in the evening sky over Glenwood Springs. She paused, thinking the slow moving light might be a meteor, or perhaps her movements misinterpreted the light of a star or planet. But sure enough, this light slowly and steadily moved silently eastward toward Lookout Mountain.

She called to her husband, James, a painter by profession with good reputation. James initially thought that he was viewing a celestial body. However, as he steadied himself against the house, he gazed at the object for an hour before it disappeared from view to the east. As Dora and James discussed this phenomenon, they could only draw one conclusion. They had just encountered the much discussed airship.

Stories such as this had been circulating in the press since November 1896, when a cigar shaped airship had first been spotted in California. From that moment on, newspapers across the west and mid-west reported eye-witness accounts of airships. James Dugard contacted Henry Holmes of the Avalanche newspaper to report his sighting.

A reporter interviewed Dora and James individually. No inconsistencies were found in their accounts. Their experience was printed on the newspaper’s front page two days later.

However, there was a public backlash. Even though dirigibles had existed in some form in the United States since the 1840s, the technology had not been perfected. James Dugard’s credibility was mocked. Even the local Woodmen of the World organization held a hearing on the matter, questioning the motives of Dugard and Avalanche newspaper editor Holmes. The hearing implied Holmes had cooked up a publicity stunt to outsell its competitor The Glenwood Post.

During the next two weeks, the reports of the airship in Colorado grew. Twenty miners in Aspen reported seeing the craft as they left their evening shift. Men in Cripple Creek reported it hovering over the town. A Fulford sawmill worker reported seeing the craft, and soon thereafter a prospector came to the town reporting that it had crashed on New York Mountain. Fulford became deserted and snowshoes were scarce as residents headed to the purported cash scene. However, no debris was presented confirming the crash.

By the first week of May 1897, even the Avalanche newspaper had tired of the story. Printed within its pages was a fanciful article that the airship had crashed. Its pilot was Santa Claus who had been experimenting with alternative forms of flight.

The airship sightings ceased in May 1897. But questions still linger. Was this an elaborate hoax concocted by newspapers to boost circulation? Was this a case of national hysteria? Were we, as UFO researchers suggest, visited by life from space?

Or, did a scientist, or group of scientists, finally perfect a form of flight, construct several airships, and test them across a large portion of the United States, taking no credit for their discovery? The answer is as elusive as airships passing in the night.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448. “Frontier Diary” appears the first Tuesday of every month.