January 14, 2016 | By Baukje Stamm |
His story is one shrouded in mystery, almost lost forever, intertwined with secret societies, hidden codes, otherworldly theories and seemingly impossible inventions before his time.
In the fall of 1899, Charles A.A. Dellschau (1830–1923), a retired butcher from Houston, embarked on a project that would occupy him for more than 20 years. What began as an illustrated manuscript recounting his experiences in the California Gold Rush became an obsessive project resulting in 12 large, hand-bound books with more than 2,500 drawings related to airships and the development of flight.
Dellschau’s designs resemble traditional hot air balloons augmented with fantastic visual details, collage and text. The hand-drawn “Aeros” were interspersed with collaged pages called “Press Blooms,” featuring thousands of newspaper clippings related to the political events and technological advances of the period.
After the artist’s death in 1923, the books were stored in the attic of the family home in Houston. In the aftermath of a fire in the 1960s, they were dumped on the sidewalk and salvaged by a junk dealer.
In 1969, used furniture dealer Fred Washington bought 12 large discarded notebooks from a garbage collector, where they found a new home in his warehouse under a pile of dusty carpets. Art history student, Mary Jane Victor, was scouring through his bazaar of castaways when she came upon the mysterious works of a certain Charles Dellschau.
Victor immediately notified the Art Director of Rice University, Dominique de Menil, Houston’s leading fine art patron, who snapped up four of the books and promptly put on an exhibition at the university entitled, “Flight”. Charles Dellschau, a Prussian immigrant had finally been discovered, nearly 50 years after his death in 1923.
The Wright Brothers wouldn’t even make their famous first flight until 1903, but Dellschau draws dapperly-dressed men piloting brightly-coloured airships and helicopters with revolving generators and retractable landing gear. No records have ever been found of the Sonora Aero Club but Dellschau’s artworks hide a secret coded story. Whatever it was that he had to say was apparently too private even for his own notebooks and even today, much of the mystery has yet to be revealed.
A Mr. Pete Navarro, graphic artist and UFO researcher, heard about the “Flight” exhibition in 1969 and became enthralled. He believed there was a connection between Dellschau’s drawings and mysterious mass of “airship” sightings at the turn of the century across 18 states from California to Indiana. In 1972, he discovered that 8 remaining books of Dellschau were still sitting at the junk shop, unwanted and unclaimed. He bought the lot and spent the next 15 years obsessively decoding Dellschau’s work.
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