This New York Times article from 1880 describes 'a man with bat’s wings and improved frog’s legs' flying over Coney Island. There are also references to similar sighting in St. Louis and Kentucky. Could this be an early Mothman sighting?:
New York Times - 12 September 1880
AN AERIAL MYSTERY
One day last week a marvelous apparition was seen near Coney Island. At the height of at least a thousand feet in the air a strange object was in the act of flying toward the New Jersey coast. It was apparently a man with bat’s wings and improved frog’s legs. The face of the man could be distinctly seen, and it wore a cruel and determined expression. The movements made by the object closely resembled those of a frog in the act of swimming with his hind legs and flying with his front legs. Of course, no respectable frog has ever been known to conduct himself in precisely that way; but were a frog to wear bat’s wings, and to attempt to swim and fly at the same time, he would correctly imitate the conduct of the Coney Island monster. When we add that this monsterÂ waved his wings in answer to the whistle of a locomotive, and was of a deep black color, the alarming nature of the apparition can be imagined. The object was seen by many reputable persons, and they all agree that it was a man engaged in flying toward New-Jersey.
About a month ago an object of precisely the same nature was seen in the air over St. Louis by a number of citizens who happened to be sober and are believed to be trustworthy. A little later it was seen by various Kentucky persons as it flew across the State. In no instance has it been known to alight, and no one has seen it at a lower elevation than a thousand feet above the surface of the earth. It is without a doubt the most extraordinary and wonderful object that has ever been seen, and there should be no time lost in ascertaining its precise nature, habits, and probable mission.
That this aerial apparition is a man fitted with practicable wings there is no reason to doubt. Some one has solved the problem of aerial navigation by inventing wings with which a man can sustain himself in the air and direct his flight to any desired point. Who is this adventurous flyer and what is his object? are questions of immediate and enormous importance. Of course, the first impulse of the unreflecting mind will be to exclaim that the mysterious flyer is an aeronaut who has invented practicable wings, and is secretly experimenting with then before making his invention public. This is directly at variance with the known habits and customs of aeronauts.
Had any aeronaut invented a pair of wings he would have advertised, long before his invention was perfected, that he was in possession of a machine wherewith to make an aerial voyage to Europe in twenty-four hours, and that he was prepared to exhibit it for a few weeks to every one who would pay 50 cents to see it. A little later he would have taken up a subscription to pay the expenses of his proposed voyage in the interests of science, and would probably have published a book on the science of aeronautics. Then he would have suddenly disappeared, taking his wings with him, or accidentally burning them, and after the first outburst of indignation on the part of a swindled public would have been totally forgotten. This has been the invariable practice of these ingenious aeronauts who have claimed to be the inventors of balloons or other apparatus capable of navigating the air. That the mysterious flying man has not followed this custom makes it perfectly clear that he is not a professional aeronaut. Beyond any question, either the flying man or some Scientific Person at present unknown has invented the bat’s wings and frog’s legs with which the flying man now sails through the air. Why has not the inventor patented his invention and had himself duly written up by the press? The reason is obvious. The flying man is engaged in some under taking which he cannot safely proclaim. In other words, he is an aerial criminal, a fact which explains the cruelty and determination visible on his countenance, and what can be the nefarious object which this probable wretch has in view? It cannot be simply theft and robbery, for it would manifestly beÂ impossible for him, in his flying costume, to perpetrate burglary or highway robbery, or to pick pockets. It cannot be plumbing, for obvious reasons, neither can it be the sale of books published by subscription only. Yet the flying villain must have an object, and we have a right to assume that only a peculiarly nefarious object could induce a man to fly to New-Jersey or St. Louis in hot weather and without an umbrella or mosquito net. It has not escaped notice that of late Mr. Talmage has been wandering in the West in search of entertaining varieties of crime wherewith to embellish his sermons. It is also known that he returned to this City just before the flying man of Coney Island was seen. Now, if there is a man in this country whose arms and legs are fitted to endure the muscular strain inseparable from the act of flying, that man is Mr. Talmage. He has preached for years with those graceful limbs, and must have developed and hardened their muscles to an extent which would fill every other professional acrobat with envy. What is more probable than that Mr. Talmage has equipped himself with wings in order to study interesting types of immorality from the lofty height of a thousand feet! He has flown over St. Louis and Kentucky — precisely the places which might be expected to yield a rich reward to an investigator of crime; and he is now flying to and fro over Coney Island, preparatory to preaching a scathing sermon on the wickedness and indecencies of our bathing resorts. Here we have a natural and probable explanation of the flying man, and it is earnestly to be hoped that no one, with mistaken zeal for field sports, will attempt to shoot the preacher on the wing with a shot-gun. There is not a shot-gun in existence which will do any good at a distance of a thousand feet.
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