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Pt. Pleasant's Phantom Airship

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Photo from the movie, The Dirigible (1931)

During the latter part of 1896, into spring of 1897, the United States was experiencing a really weird phenomenon: phantom airships! People from coast to coast were reporting strange lights in the sky, which they believed to be some type of prototype dirigible. West Virginia even had its own sighting of this strange aerial phenomena when these strange lights were reported over Sistersville in April of 1897. 

West Virginia had a similar encounter with an early unidentified flying object over thirty years later, an incident that would take its rightful place in one area’s history with high strangeness. 

On Saturday, October 10, 1931, half a dozen witnesses in the town of Gallipolis, Ohio reported an alarming incident. Around 2:50pm, a dirigible was seen flying over town. Dr. Charles E. Holzer noticed the craft going over his hospital at about 300ft in the air. A few moments later, Robert P. Henke and his wife, along with Dr. and Mrs. Claude Carter, all of Gallipolis, watched in horror as the dirigible crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia, broke into two, and fell to the earth in flames. 

Mr. Henke had been observing the craft, which he reported as being about 100-150ft long, with field glasses when it went down. Although other witnesses reported seeing what they believed to be three human figures parachute out of the dirigible as it began to go down, Henke could only say for sure that he saw something white, which looked like a parachute, leave the craft. 

A search party was organized that evening, but was unable to find any proof of the wreck. It was seen falling over a sparsely populated area of Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia—just a short distance from Pt. Pleasant. And, as any student of Fortean phenomena knows, Pt. Pleasant has quite the long history with the strange and unexplained!

It was assumed at the time that the dirigible was en route from Akron, Ohio (home of the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation) to Huntington, WV. US Senator H.D. Hatfield had put in a request with the Navy to have one of their airships fly over the field during a football game between Huntington’s Marshall College and Washington and Jefferson. Unbeknownst to the witnesses of the crash, however, was that Hatfield’s request was denied. Not only was his request denied, but when contacted, the airfield at Akron, the US Army, AND the US Navy all reported that each one of their airships was safe and accounted for. 

Dr. Holzer, who also owned the airport in Gallipolis helped carry on the search the next morning, sending out pilot Lt. Eckford Hodgson to search the area by air. Once again, no sign of the wreckage or its potential crew was found. In fact, nothing was ever found and to this day, the incident remains a mystery. Just what happened to fall out of the sky over Mason County, West Virginia that autumn day, and what became of the person or persons who piloted the craft? 

Evening Star (Washington, DC)
11 October 1931
Source: Chronicling America

Additional Sources:

“Crash of Blimp Near Ohio Town Investigated.” The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana). 11 October 1931
“Blimp is Believed Down in Wooded Section of State.” The Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, WV) 11 October 1931


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