Talking Arkansas UFOs with Brian Irby

Old State House Museum - Monday, October 12, 2015

As Halloween approaches, our Brown Bag Lecture Series continues on Thursday, October 15th at noon with Brian Irby of the Arkansas History Commission, who will discuss UFO sightings in Arkansas more than a hundred years ago.

We asked Brian a few questions about this very interesting topic!  

OSH: What you will be discussing at your lecture? 

BI: I’ll be talking about a rash of UFO sightings from 1897 and I’ll compare them to another rash of sightings in Arkansas from 1965. I’ll talk a little about the differences between the two events and make some observations about what I think is going on. I think a comparison between the two events says some interesting things about society as a whole.

OSH: What was the significance of this event for Arkansas history?

BI: I think it is a rather minor event in Arkansas history, but I think it can say a lot about Arkansas’s society. It is kind of interesting in the way that society reacts to the two events. In the 1897 rash of sightings, people reacted more with curiosity than with fear. I think that’s interesting. What does that say about the culture of 1897? And there is also an interesting aspect to the 1897 sightings in that people tended to ascribe the airships to human inventors instead of people from out of this world.

OSH: How did you become interested in this topic? 

BI: I write a semimonthly blog on Arkansas history mysteries. I’ve looked at the White River Monster and the Gurdon Light. The 1897 airship became the most recent topic for me to tackle. Plus, I thought it would be interesting to look into a very old mystery like this and see what we can learn as students of history from the event.

OSH: If you could tell Arkansans one thing about your topic, what would it be? 

BI: Sometimes these mysteries like the 1897 UFO sightings can say more about our society than it can about creatures from another planet.

OSH: What is the most surprising thing you learned in your research? 

BI: The most surprising thing to me was that people did not automatically ascribe the airship to life from another planet. If our society today saw weird things in the sky, we would automatically start the debate about whether or not we are seeing alien spaceships. In 1897 they did not do that. And it is also interesting to me to see how the stories people tell about the airships build over time. It is almost like seeing the old party game, “telephone,” where you start with one story and then as the story is told and retold it becomes more and more elaborate and different from the original story. I think that’s fascinating.

More info here: