By Jeff Salter
Gosh, I’m sure I was told MANY stories as a child, but when I thought about this topic, these two jumped right to the forefront.
First, let me say that I remember first hearing these WAY back in the 1950s… and both were often repeated thereafter. The source for both was my Mom, who (at that time, anyway) was a reliable and objective reporter.
Both stories involved her paternal grandfather, Dr. Amos Robinson, a country doctor who practiced in Clarke County, Alabama, during a period which included the turn of the century and (I believe) the Great Depression.
Dr. Robinson traveled everywhere (on his rounds) by horse and carriage and was often out late into the night. On one such night, he spotted a man on the unpaved road and stopped to offer him a lift.
The man – looking disheveled and exhausted – eagerly accepted the ride and got into the back of the doctor’s carriage. [I’m not acquainted with the layout of my great-grandfather’s carriage, but he had a large family, so let’s assume it had a front and back seat.]
The hitchhiker was not much of a conversationalist, but Dr. Robinson evidently kept up more than his share of the chatter. After a while, possibly when there had been no reply to one of his comments or questions, the good doctor turned around to ask the rider if everything was okay.
But there was nobody there!
The man had vanished.
Without a sound — and carriages made plenty of noise when people got on or off — the man had disappeared.
I know what some of you are thinking: the story of the vanishing hitchhiker has been a staple of urban legends for the past 30 years. True. But my great-grandfather’s story had its origins around 1900 or so (if not sooner) — many years before the earliest known origins cited by urban legend trackers.
Is it possible my ancestor was the original source of this tale?
I’m assuming it’s true and happened exactly as my Mom recalled it being told.
That same great-grandfather frequently told of having seen an enormous “cigar-shaped” flying object crossing in the sky above him. No timeframe was given (to me), but it was obviously in the era when no known man-made objects were flying… i.e., before the Wright Brothers event of 1903.
“What was the object?” I would always ask my Mom.
She never knew because her grandfather never knew. But, as a physician, Dr. Robinson was certainly trained to be observant and had to be objective in how he assessed what he experienced.
From my perspective, as a kid in the 1950s, I already knew there had been zeppelins at some point prior to my birth, but all the checking my Mom and I did, suggested that powered flight of rigid or semi-rigid airships had originated in Europe with the first successful flights occurring around 1900. Non-rigid airships, or blimps, apparently were several years AFTERwards.
Had my ancestor’s sighting occurred at some point after those flights had made international news, then he would surely have realized he was seeing something which had already even spotted – and was well documented – elsewhere. So we have always concluded that Dr. Robinson saw whatever he saw BEFORE any of these Zeppelin flights in Europe.
It was decades later – in the 1980s, in fact – before I came across detailed scholarship in the form of a published book (which I read and possibly purchased, though I can’t find it now) which carefully documented an entire wave of airship sightings in America during a period of many months during 1896-1897 — three years or more before the first recorded flight in Germany.
The technology had been known – in theory – since the 1880s, but nobody seemed to be aware that airships were already flying in the U.S. in 1896-97. Though most of these U.S. sightings were in the West and Midwest, this book (which I cannot recall the title of) also cited some which crossed the Mississippi River and at least one perhaps even as far as Florida (I think).
Surely what my ancestor saw was one of those experimental airships, and therefore he likely saw it during that wave of 1896-97 when they were still supposedly top secret.
This blog seems to refer to the same book I read, though the title did not ring a bell.
The second link refers to the wave of sightings:
Anyway, these were two of the exciting childhood stories which intrigued me as a child — and still do.
What stories to YOU recall from childhood?