“One day last week a marvelous apparition was seen near Coney Island,” begins a surreal New York Times article from September 1880 describing “An Aerial Mystery,” as the title reads.
According to the piece, a man with “bat’s wings and improved frog’s legs” and a “cruel and determined expression” on his face was spotted by multiple reputable witnesses flying in a swimming-like motion toward New Jersey at a height of some 1,000 feet.
A similar flying object had previously been spotted flying over St. Louis and later Kentucky, the article reported.
The piece hypothesizes that the man was an aeronaut, but then questions why such an innovator would not choose to exhibit his invention in a traveling show around Europe.
It then suggests that the flying man may be a certain “Mr. Talmage,” a prominent religious leader and famously dramatic preacher who for a time ran reportedly sensational services at the Central Presbyterian Church in Bed Stuy. The Rev. Dr. Talmage died of brain inflammation in 1902 and is today buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.
So, was the Coney Island flying man a hoax, a rumor, or an inexplicable natural happening? We can only speculate.