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You want a famous date in Lafayette history? How about April 12, 1897?
That’s when our newspaper ancestor, the Lafayette Evening Courier, told its first UFO story.
It went like this:
“Nearly every town in this part of the United States claims to have seen the phantom airship, the ‘Flying Dutchman’ of the midnight air. … Some strange object is being seen in the air (with) funny little lights, red, white and green, (that) flit about …”
This led the Courier’s rival, the Morning Journal, to report in early May 1897 that “a well-known young man told of seeing a cigar-shaped flying ship with lights and two men aboard. It landed in a meadow on a dark road between Stockwell and Crane Station while the man was bicycling about 9 p.m.”
This eyewitness said he had been “wheeling” (bicycling), presumably on country roads now numbered 560 South, 900 South, 500 East, 525 East, 700 South and Stockwell Road, near today’s Woodland Elementary School.
The “well-known young man” (call him WKYM) continued:
“It was dark, I was alone and moving. … All at once there was a loud, hissing noise similar to the escape of steam from a locomotive. … My hat was almost lifted from my head by the wind of an object passing over my head. I threw my hands up to catch my hat. My wheel struck a rock or something and I fell on my back on the road.
“Only a few yards away in a small meadow I saw the strangest object that any mortal has ever seen.
“It looked like a perfecto-shaped cigar about 20 feet long and perhaps 8 feet in diameter at the biggest point. A box or car was suspended from the cigar-shaped arrangement by a network of tubular wires. The cigar-shaped affair was pointed toward me. From the end there flashed a large light. It was a scintillating blaze and different colors came and went with startling rapidity.
“Two men were standing on the ground by the side of the strange object and seemed to be busy with several of the wires. I heard one say, ‘I wonder where we are?’ He spoke with a foreign accent and I thought at the time he was some French scientist. His companion replied in excellent English, and I supposed he was an American.”
When WKYM decided to overcome his fright and make friends with the strangers, he told the Journal: “The men saw me. Lights flashed from both ends of the cigar-shaped arrangement. In another instant it rose like a thing of life and was many hundred feet high in the time it takes to tell it.”
But the Courier created its own credibility gap when it quoted WKYM as having said: “I picked up my wheel, took a small pull at an amber-colored fluid I had purchased at Lebanon, and pedaled for home as fast as I could.”
About this series
Each week, the Journal & Courier is reprinting some of the best of Bob Kriebel’s Old Lafayette columns. Today is a look at an 1897 reported UFO sighting in Tippecanoe County. This is taken from a column published April 12, 2009.