On April 28, 1987, the NATIONAL ENQUIRER featured an article on page 6 entitled “UFOs Have Been for Centuries.” The article was written by Franklin R. Ruehl, the article cited many instances of UFO sightings worldwide as far back as 1707; near the conclusion of the article, was the statement “……. in May 1888 a mammoth, serpent like UFO was again seen in the United States. The site was Darlington County, South Carolina……. the object glided overhead and emitted a hissing sound …”
Although Mr. Ruehl does not cite his sources of information about the Darlington County UFO, it was obviously gleaned from the book The Complete Books of Charles Fort published in 1941 by the Fortean Society, and reprinted in 1974; Fort spent much of his life researching and gathering material on phenomena from the “borderline between science and fiction”. Fort gives the NEW YORK TIMES of May 30, 1888 as his source for the Darlington County UFO, which reported the sighting of “….a huge serpent in the sky, moving without visible means of propulsion…..”
Darlington County had only one weekly newspaper at that time – “The Darlington News.” The Historical Commission has a complete file for the year 1888, and has searched the months of May and June to see how this event was reported locally.
Apparently during the greater part of the month of May, 1888, most of the southeastern United States was under the influence of a stationary, turbulent weather system; in the last half of May, “terrible storms” were sweeping over Ohio and Pennsylvania. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that “the recent cool, wet weather has retarded the growth of cotton in South Carolina”. In late May, a report from Spartanburg County reported two drowning in a river “swollen by recent heavy rains”. Marion County reported crop damage from “heavy rain, bad winds and hail”; in Chesterfield County the rains caused a freshet on Thompson’s Creek, causing a detour for travelers en route to Society Hill; and from Dovesville: “we are threatened with a blizzard from the Northeast and have had continuous rains since last Sunday”.
There were no accounts of a UFO—that term had not then been coined—nor was there any account of a “hissing serpent in the sky”. However, the solution may lie in a report from Society Hill; “…on May 30th a waterspout burst between Mr. John Hill’s place and that of Mr. James Cox in Marlboro County ……..Mr. Reynolds who was riding in his buggy, says that he could not see his horse for a time and that the land in level places was over ankle deep in water ”
Could this waterspout have been the “hissing serpent in the sky” that the NATIONAL ENQUIRER wrote about?