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Hidden History: Flying machines in central Idaho

Hidden History: Flying machines in central Idaho

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New Hampshire UFO

This 1870 photograph taken from the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire is said to be the earliest known photo of a UFO.

The modern UFO era started in 1947 when Boise pilot and businessman Kenneth Arnold saw nine mysterious objects flying near Mount Rainier in Washington.

But more than 30 years earlier, others had reported seeing flying machines 25 miles north of Mackay near Mount Borah.

Al West, a prominent stockman and proprietor of the Dickey Stage Stop, reported hearing “a swishing, rumbling sound that apparently came out of nowhere in particular,” said the Twin Falls Weekly Times in November 1915, quoting an earlier article published in the Mackay Miner.

As the sound came nearer, West looked up and “beheld a large flying machine hurtling through space at lightning like rapidity.”

As he watched it disappear into the sky, West decided to say nothing about the mysterious machine, fearing the joshing he knew was in store for him. About a year before, Fred Westenfeld and his cousin had seen a similar sight in the same vicinity and were severely ridiculed for their story, the newspapers said.

When West arrived home, however, he was met at the door by his wife asking if he had seen the flying machine, and he changed his mind about going public with his story.

The Times offered several explanations for the flying machine, including the idea that European countries already engaged in World War I had set up wireless communication stations in remote areas of Custer County.

“For some time the federal government has entertained a belief that somewhere in the mountain regions of Idaho a secret wireless station was being maintained in the interests of European powers now at war,” the Times wrote. “...(A)ttempts have been made to locate the plant that apparently has communication with Canada and then with Europe.”

The flying machine, the newspaper theorized, was in the service of such a wireless station.

Some claim the earliest photograph of a UFO was taken in 1870 from the summit Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at or call her at 208-735-3233.


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