What was the mysterious, fiery object that appeared in the skies above Hull, bathing the town in blue light? Mike Covell talks to Paul Johnson about the region's first UFO sighting.
It appeared suddenly over the Humber, an immense moon-like globe with a black bar across the centre of its face. For a moment it bathed Hull and the Humber in a mysterious blue light. Then, it split into seven smaller fireballs and vanished.
Was it a weather phenomenon, a comet, or Hull's first UFO sighting? To the people who witnessed it over the town in June 1801, it may even have seemed like a sign from God.
Local historian Mike Covell has conducted extensive research into local UFO reports.
He said: "The common misconception is that UFO sightings began in America in 1947, when Kenneth Arnold saw some unidentified objects flying over the Cascade Mountains. The famous Roswell incident – when an alien craft supposedly crashed in New Mexico – happened the same year.
"But in Hull we can trace the phenomena back to June 1801, when Hull and the Humber was the scene of one of the earliest sightings of an unidentified flying object. It featured in the local and national press and science periodicals."
After its initial disappearance, the UFO then reappeared "looking like the face of the moon", before again splitting into five circular balls of light, according to a report in the Hull Packet newspaper (below).
Mike said: "Whatever it was came from the south-west towards Hull. There was a great deal of discussion about it at the time. Could it have been a celestial object – a comet or a meteorite – or was it something else?"
It is not the only local case of its type to make headline news. Mike has built up an extensive collection of UFO clippings, from the 19th century to the present day.
In 1909, Hull became part of the so-called "Scareships" craze – sightings of unidentified airships, seen over a number of towns.
"In May 1909 these Scareships were witnessed over Hull, near Coltman Street, when a Mr Walker contacted the police and the press reporting what he had seen," said Mike.
"It flew over Hull and headed for the Humber but the next night other eyewitnesses reported the same thing, independent of each other, before Mr Walker's sighting had been reported in the press."
In 1913, the Scareships returned, arriving in Hull in February of that year before being seen all over the country.
Mike said: "The press reported that one had been seen hovering over Hull for an hour. Crowds of Hull residents, including policemen, stood and watched the object hovering over Paragon Station with red and white lights reported on the unidentified aerial object."
Of course, the sightings may simply have been test-flights of airships – unfamiliar technology to many at the time. UFO reports peaked in the 1940s, following the American sightings, and then again in the 1990s, probably because of the huge success of the X Files TV series.
One of the strangest cases was reported in 1967, when a UFO was said to have landed in a park on the Longhill estate.
"The story goes that on Wednesday, November 15, 1967, a group of Hull children saw a cigar-shaped craft descend and hover over the park, leaving burn marks on a hill," said Mike.
"Two police officers on duty visited the 'landing site' and noticed burn marks on the hill but no sign of any such craft. Initially they thought the children had been up to no good but their stories were very consistent.
"Other eyewitnesses across Hull described seeing a cigar-shaped object flying over the city, while another eyewitness claimed it was a helicopter from the Yorkshire Electricity Board. The matter was never fully resolved."
Whatever is behind the sightings of UFOs, Mike believes they are unlikely to stop.
He said: "The new series of the X Files is on the way and so it wouldn't surprise me at all if a new generation start watching the skies and we get a whole new series of UFO reports."
UFO's over Salt End and Bransholme
MIKE Covell has collected hundreds of official reports of sightings from the National Archives.
One of the most credible reports involved several police officers in Hull, Hedon and Thorngumbald, who saw a light in the sky over Saltend.
A report dated October 17, 2002, details how officers saw an object which "appeared as the size of a 'normal' bright star but of different colours – blue, green, red and white", moved fast, stopped and started and changed shape. The lights began at 3am and were visible for around 45 minutes.
One Hull resident said the lights appeared to be "communicating" with each other.
UFOs were also spotted in the skies over Bransholme.
A beam of light was seen spinning around the sky on September 8, 1985. A round object was then reported to have risen from the ground.
It was described as being the size of a house, with a ring of red lights around its base. A humming noise accompanied the light show.
The object was seen heading east across fields flying at a height of about 50ft.
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Hull is a bit of a UFO hotspot - we even have a report of a white disk with black windows being seen in the late 1990's (or possibly very early in 2000), over Walkington, a village near Hull... which was witnessed by 6 people!