Sunday, June 28, 2009

1909 Hoax, A Tillinghast, HPL, and Venus

Could this hoax be partially derived from the mania that ired Lovecraft's vehement disgust?


Up for auction is a page that came from a January 19, 1910 Muskogee (Oklahoma) Times-Democrat newspaper that features a story about Wallace Tillinghast and his great airship hoax.

Tillinghast announced the creation of the first, "heavier-than-air" flying craft in 1909. He explained that he had done more than one hundred flights with this machine under the cover of darkness. Tillinghast stated that he began flying under cover of darkness two months prior to his announcement, his first flight being between Worcester, Massachusetts, and New York City, a distance of approximately 300 miles, where Tillinghast and his crew claimed to have circled the Statue of Liberty at 4,000 feet. At one point, the engines were said to have shut off, and the contraption glided through the air for forty-eight minutes while the mechanics made repairs. After which, they made their way back to Worcester, by way of a route taking them through Boston. Between December 12th, 1909, and February 1910, were filled with "sightings" of the air craft purportedly designed by Tillinghast and two unnamed mechanics. Tillinghast never offered his craft for public viewing or inspection, and the media grew more skeptical, explaining the sightings were most likely the planet Venus, or fire balloons


In 1909 19 year old H.P. Lovecraft sent a letter to the editor of his local newspaper in Providence, RI) that I found quoted on a Lovecraft blog:

“To the editor …

The general ignorance of the public as regards … science … has been noted and deplored… while in the business section fo the city on Christmas Eve, about 6 P.M. the writer noticed excited groups of people on the street corners, and mystified individuals everywhere pointing to the western sky. … he beheld the planet Venus … the centre of attraction … it seems the general idea existed that the planet was nothing more than the searchlight from some airship ,,, the writer heard remarks as to the perect control to which the aeroplane must be subject … and estimates of its distance above the earth varying in a half mile to two miles. When apprised of their error, the gentlemen of the aforementioned group exhibited only mild surprise.” [2]

The reference is to:

2 Venus and the Public Eye, 26 Dec 1909, letter to the editor, Collected Essays, Vol. 3, Science, p. 99


Chrispy had a slight correspondence back in 2007 on this matter. The reply was: Brett Holman on 12 February 2007 at 2:21 pm
Thanks for that, Nemo! You and HPL are on the money. I looked into the 1909 New England sightings some years ago, and most of them occurred in the evening, when people would see an airship with a searchlight flying about to the west of their location. The thing is, this same pattern repeats all over the area, in widely separated locations — nobody saw airships to the east of their town, or to the north or the south. That’s immediately suspicious. Now, to account for multiple near-simultaneous sightings from many distant places, you either need many nearby airships (which for some reason are only visible from one direction) or one really distant “airship”, which is what everyone is looking at. Finally, Venus was at nearly its maximum brightness in December 1909 (which is very bright indeed); was extremely prominent in the same direction and the same time as the reported airships; and (this is the clincher) yet nobody reported seeing both Venus and the airship at the same time! Therefore, all they saw was the good airship Venus.

The expert on these issues is no doubt Theo the incredible newspaper clipper, Fortean, Lovecraftian, and more I could report - who recently compiled his archives of early flying ship reports. Salute, Theo!!

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