Robert G. Neeley, Jnr. UFOs of 1896- 1897: The Airship Wave. Fund For UFO Research, 1988.
These two reports, which are 263 and 324 pages long respectively, supply the very best study of the American 1896-97 phantom airship scare. A great deal of speculation has surrounded this scare and has helped bolster all types of theories about UFOs in general. Unfortunately, few writers have bothered to conduct original research into the matter.
Thomas Bullard's The Airship file provided researchers with a vast amount of transcriptions from the newspapers of the period, now Neeley's studies try to make sense of this raw material. The Chronicle is a chronologically arranged catalogue of the main bulk of the reports and the entries are very similar in format to that of Peter Rogerson's INTCAT study. Granville Oldroyd, David Clarke, and myself have put the British 1912-13 phantom airship scare newspaper reports into the chronological sequence of the sightings.
As I prepared this l became worried about such an approach. A chronological survey is alright if there is something objectively 'out there' but it would be very interesting to produce a content analysis of the press during such scares to show the number and length of newspaper items. The reported sightings always seem to hit a few maximum peaks and then slowly wind down. l suspect that newspaper reports hit even higher peaks in terms of number and length of items and then rapidly disappear from the front page to the inside pages. Such a study would be able to consider the role of the newspaper medium in the generation and perpetuation of such scares.
The second part of Neeley's study is a more considered look at the scare. This includes long discussions about CE3 hoaxes, the stories of inventors, and a look at the physical evidence, plus a review of Fortean stories in the newspapers of the period, listings of cases that could be explained in terms of mundane phenomena, insufficient data, etc. This is an excellent model for UFO researchers, especially since 4935 newspapers were reviewed to compile these two reports!
In terms of time, money and effort Neeley put into this work the price for these reports is incredibly cheap. The only fault I have with this work is that many of the pages are badly copied and some are downright unreadable! Given that this is such a huge body of work it will be some time before Neeley' s work can be fully utilised and digested, but I am sure it will explode the glib theories and silly stories which have been spread about this scare. Certainly it offers a body of material that shows the intricacy and immensity of a wave that makes modern-day UFO waves seem like storms in a teacup.
- Nigel Watson, from Magonia 33, July 1989.