Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dellschau and Phantom Airships

Much has been written about the so-called modern-era of Ufology, namely that which was kick-started by Kenneth Arnold's now historic (or infamous, depending on your perspective) "flying saucer" encounter over the Cascade Mountains, Washington State, in the summer of 1947.

But what of earlier years? Certainly, there have been some very good works on the Ghost-Rocket mystery that swamped Scandinavia in 1946; and the Foo-Fighters of the Second World War.

And there have been some intriguing works that deal with the so-called "Phantom Airships" of the late-1800s. But, on this latter issue, none are quite like The Secrets of Dellschau by Dennis Crenshaw (in collaboration with Pete Navarro).

As well as being written fluently, and in a very descriptive style that flows and entertains, the book has at its heart a fascinating tale, and an even more fascinating character: a man named Charles A. A. Dellschau, for whom the word "enigma" was surely created.

Indeed, one might almost be forgiven for thinking that The Secrets of Dellschau is a work of fiction - such is the level of high-strangeness at its heart. That it is, however, definitive non-fiction, only makes the book - and the story it tells - even more extraordinary.

In essence, Dellschau was a man with many secrets; and a man who unfortunately took many of those secrets with him to the grave. But, that doesn't take away the fact that - thanks to Crenshaw and Navarro - we still have at our disposal a tremendous body of material on the man, his life and his machines.

And, you may well ask: what machines are those? Now, we get to the heart of the story.

As the book demonstrates, Dellschau (a Prussian who moved to the U.S. in his twenties) was a brilliant artist who was seemingly obsessed (and I do mean, literally, obsessed) with creating artwork of fantastic flying-machines. But, as the book also shows, those same flying-machines may not have been merely the products of Dellschau's imagination.

They - or, at least, some of them - may have really existed. They may have been the secret work of a controversial and enigmatic group known as the Sonora (California) Aero Club. And, as the book suggests, perhaps some of their strange craft even provoked the "Phantom Airship" tales of the late 19th century.

Of course, this matter will undoubtedly be debated for years to come. But, what really made the book so engrossing for me, is the way in which Crenshaw draws in the reader, exposes them to a mystery that would be worthy of the skills of Sherlock Holmes, and demonstrates the sheer intrigue and mystery that surrounds this profoundly odd story.

Part-historical mystery; part-Fortean tale; part-X-Files; part-detective story; part-conspiracy; and all-engrossing, The Secrets of Dellschau is a great read for anyone wanting to learn about what may very well have been at the heart of some of the strangest tales of unidentified flying contraptions seen in the skies of 1800s North America.


jgm said...

Thank you very much for this review. I've been interested in this subject since a lengthy article appeared about in the Houston Press in 1998. I'm glad to see someone has finally undertaken the task of writing an in-depth book about it.

For those who want to learn more about the subject, the article is still available at

Walty said...

Yes, I agree. I first learned about Dellschau from Greg Bishop and have been interested in learning more but info has been rare. I'll look for this book...