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From Texas to Syros: The Greek Connection with the 1897 Phantom Airship Wave

By Thanassis Vembos


The legendary phantom airship flap in USA was a wave of sightings of mysterious dirigible-like flying machines that thousands of people across the United States claimed to have observed during late 1896 and early 1897. Mystery airship reports are seen as a cultural predecessor to modern claims of extraterrestrial-piloted flying saucer-style UFOs.

Reports of the alleged crewmen and pilots usually described them as human-looking. It was popularly believed that the mystery airships were the product of some inventor or genius who was working secretly, not ready to make the knowledge of his creation public yet.


It has been frequently argued that it is highly unlikely these mystery airships represented test flights of real human-manufactured dirigibles as no record of successful sustained or long-range airship flights are known from the specific period. Nevertheless, it would have been impossible to keep such a thing secret.

There are dozens of cases, more or less believable and/or documented. One of them concerns us.


In Rockland, Texas on April 21, 1897, around 11 pm, John M. Barclay said that he saw “an oblong machine with wings and brilliant lights.” He was awoken by his dog barking. When he looked outside, he saw the ship, which landed in a pasture nearby. Barclay went out to see what was going on, and he brought his rifle. He said that as he got near the ship, an “ordinary mortal” came out to talk to him and asked him to put down his gun. Barclay asked who they were. “Never mind about my name; call it Smith,” the crewman replied. “I want some lubricating oil and a couple of cold chisels if you can get them, and some bluestone. I suppose the saw mill hard by has the two former articles, and the telegraph operator has the bluestone. Here’s a ten-dollar bill; take it and get us those articles and keep the change for your trouble.”.


Mind you that a $10 bill in 1897 is more than $250 today.


Barclay wanted to approach and enter the ship, but “Smith” did not give him permission. But he added that his kindness was appreciated and in some future day would take him on a trip.


Barclay located some oil and the chisels, but he couldn’t get the bluestone. He returned and tried to give the man back the ten-dollar bill, but it was refused. They shook hands. Barclay asked the generous pilot where he was from and where he was going.


“From anywhere,” Smith answered. “But we will be in Greece the day after tomorrow.”


When I had first read about this, many many years ago, I thought that it would be another one of the notorious “promises” of the ufonauts that never comes true and I did not pay much attention. John Keel has written a lot about the empty promises of the UFO occupants.


Around 2010, searching in the Athens Library I discovered a small booklet written by some Dimitrios Varas (published in the town of Agrinion, 1972) with the impossible title “Ageless Greece and Greece of April 1967 Attract All Continents to the Light and Humanity to the Hellenic-Christian Ideals”.

The cover of Varas’ book
The cover of Varas’ book

In Greece there was a military coup on April 21, 1967 and the dictatorship (lasted until 1974) promoted the “Hellenic-Christian Ideals”, a kitsch and shallow ideological mixture, combining the glory of ancient Greece and the modern Greek Orthodox religion.


In this book, Varas (a dreadfully inept author) recites a farrago of unconnected facts with such a chaotic manner that it is absolutely impossible to cite a cohesive and meaningful passage from the book.


He correlates the 1967 military coup and especially the date (April 21) with “world shattering” events starting with the invasion of Jerusalem by the Israelis during the Six Day War the same year and leading to the UFO phenomenon. It is more than obvious that Varas was a keen supporter of the 1967-74 military dictatorship.


The thing is that during 1967 there was a significant UFO activity in Greece. Varas refers to the case of October 3, when a high-flying slow-moving UFO was seen by hundreds of people at Thessaloniki and the next day over Alexandroupolis (this was also a radar-confirmed sighting) and the day after that over Istanbul, in neighboring Turkey. All these three cities are on the same straight line (slightly off-center West to East).


Maybe it is an interesting coincidence that John Barclay’s encounter took place exactly 70 years before the military coup in Athens! But there is more.  


Varas makes reference to another book, of a theologian named Ioannis Boumis (1912-1988), published in Thessaloniki (“Eschatology, Critique, 2nd Dialogue on Heavenly Kingdom and its Prophecies”, 1971).

The cover of Boumis’ book
The cover of Boumis’ book

I managed to find this booklet also. It is also a farrago of chaotic analysis, slightly better than Varas’ book. The most interesting is that Boumis refers to the 1897 Barclay Texas case and the airship crew that “will be in Greece the day after tomorrow”. Boumis seems to be fairly well-informed about the 1897 airship wave in an era when nearly nobody in Greece knew about it.


We read on p. 84:


“My older brother, Evangelos Boumis and his friend Evangelos Barbetas, an industrialist from Syros [an island of the Aegean] both certify that they saw a group of luminous wheels or discs in the sky of the island in 1897. Combined with the War of 1897 and the contemporary wave of extraterrestrial disc visitations, especially in USA, we find them in Greek skies exactly during these dramatic days of 1897”.


The Greco-Turkish War of 1897 was a short war fought between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire from April 18 to May 20. Its immediate cause involved the status of the Ottoman province of Crete, whose Greek-majority population had long desired union with Greece. It was a humiliating defeat for Greece, since the Ottomans won on the field, but an autonomous Cretan State under Ottoman suzerainty was established the following year.


Boumis continues: “I have lots of letters from my brother that describe the exceptional phenomenon observed by the two respectable friends and other people also”.


I searched every Greek newspaper of April 1897 I could find, trying to confirm the Syros sighting –or anything else. Unfortunately the result was disappointing. Obviously, during the pinnacle of a Greek-Turkish war it is high improbable to find anything in the newspapers about some obscure heavenly sighting in a Greek island.


Unfortunately it is such an old story that cannot be investigated further…


(Check my other articles on mysteries and paranormal phenomena in Greece here: )

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