Where did he get his ideas, and did they ever fly?

Mysterious aeronautical sketches from the notebook of Charles Dellschau.
Mysterious aeronautical sketches from the notebook of Charles Dellschau.

 

“This house is a grievous fire hazard!  It must be cleaned up of debris,” a proud lieutenant on one of Houston’s fire brigades exclaimed as he scanned the contents of a home there in the early 1960s.

Why had he made this inspection?  Was it standard procedure for the time?  Had an anonymous and concerned neighbor turned it in?

Three elderly people were living there:  Anton Stelzig and his two aging sisters were being cared for by a hired nurse.

One of Charles Dellchau's notebooks.
One of Charles Dellchau’s notebooks.

The frustrated and exasperated nurse began her task.  It did not exactly come under her job description—that of “nurse.”  She methodically took many things to the curb, starting with the attic and working down.

Similar events happen every day, all over America—valuables are tossed aside by family members and well-meaning people entrusted with the care of elderly or disabled.  They often have no idea what real treasures are hidden amongst the junk.

Leo, Anton Stelzig’s grandson, later questioned the nurse about it and she replied, “I took care of that mess and I cleaned it all up!”  He sagged.

Among the valuable items that were thrown out were Charles Dellschau’s notebooks.  Who was Charles Dellschau other than a grouchy butcher that had emigrated from Prussia in 1853 at the age of twenty five?  He was now deceased, and the elderly people living in his home were the husband of his also deceased stepdaughter, and the husband’s two sisters.

After Charles Dellschau retired in 1899, he spent his time in the attic making illustrated notebooks dealing with aeronautics.  In fact, he claimed to have been a member of the Sonora Aero Club of California.  He had spent a few years in that area of California, but there is really no record of that organization ever existing.

The notebooks are filled with beautiful technical drawings of flying machines.  The drawings also contain codes that no one has been able to crack.  They are a big mystery.   Mind you, the idea of air travel was being toyed with, but the Wright brothers would not succeed in their flight until 1903.

During the turn of the century, believe it or not, there were sightings of many airships in the skies of the U.S., real or imagined.  Witnesses in several states reported seeing them.  Were Dellschau’s notebooks executed in reference to these sightings, drawing on his own fertile imagination?  Or, do years of hacking up carcasses require a diversion such as this to remain sane?

Several of Dellschau’s notebooks were rescued from junk shops and garbage heaps by discerning individuals.  There are over 2, 500 of his drawings and collages accented with vibrant watercolor and newspaper clippings of the time.  If only one page of his notebooks is worth $15,000.00, you can imagine the tears shed over lost books.  The pages have unique geometrical borders.  They are filled with codes in Germanic lettering.  There are helicopters that display generators, and aeroplanes with retractable landing gear.  The pilots are depicted in jaunty attire.  Dellschau claims to have been only the scribe of the Sonora Aero Club, not one of the inventors and he never piloted anything.  The club’s mission was to design aircraft using the secret formula NBGas, which could cancel out gravity.

His work often depicts aircraft crashes.  He also claimed that when inventions were completed, the Sonora Aero Club would transport their inventions in caravan wagons to avoid detection.  A few interested parties have even hinted that his work was dictated by extraterrestrial entities.

Dellschau is regarded as one of America’s earliest visionaries in the world of art.  He gave his airships romantic names, and his work has enthralled intellectual circles.  Some of it can be viewed at the Witte Museum, The San Antonio Museum, The High Museum in Atlanta and some of it is in private collections in New York and Paris.  It is…uh…quite amazing.

ScavengersSongPlease click the book cover to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    The more I think I know history, the more I realize I don’t. There are many wonderful stories and mysteries about people like Charles Dellschau, and I appreciate your giving them their day in the sun. Every one is a fascinating read.

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      Thanks, Caleb. I am well-versed on Art History, 3 hrs short of a minor in it, and have continued my studies throughout life, yet I had never heard of this fellow. A Houstonian friend, also an artist, put me on to him (how lucky) a couple of weeks ago. Most Houstonians of artistic bent have known of him for years. Next blog is not so spectacular, The Lady of White Rock Lake, a Dallas urban legend in honor of Halloween. More mystery blogs to come on one of my favorites, pygmy flints, (were they made by the wee people?) The Killer Elephant of India, Maria Rasputin and the deadly bear…it goes on and on…

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