"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

The mystery around one very curious inventor was related in the (East Liverpool, Ohio) "Evening Review," July 18, 1940:
The murder of the "Flying Dutchman" 79 years ago remains one of East Liverpool's unsolved crimes.

The verdict of the jury, "We do find Christian Olsen met his death at the hands of a person or persons unknown" wrote the last chapter to the most intriguing story.

Christian Olsen, a Dane by birth came here early in 1861. He gave no explanation except that he wished to build a flying machine. Residents merely considered him eccentric and paid little attention to him until a large box of freight-bearing foreign shipping tags, arrived at the station.

The inventor rented an empty loft of a barn at Third and Broadway and, much to the amazement of the town people, began to build an ingenious machine which he called a "flying machine".

He became a man of mystery and was nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman." He didn't resent this appellation, in fact he rather liked it. Despite their amusement the people regarded him with awe and when they discovered he paid all his obligations with gold money, their awe became mixed with respect.

A few of the more intrepid villagers tried to break through the wall of reserve Olsen built about his activities, but to no avail. The barn became a mecca for curiosity seekers. After several unsuccessful attempts to question the Dane, no one dared intrude beyond the closed gate of the loft's door which opened on an outside staircase.

One chilly spring afternoon a group of school children came trooping down Broadway from the log school on Fourth st. It was their custom to stand and stare up at the loft where the flying machine was being built.

Some of the more daring boys even would venture up a step or two. This afternoon was no exception. The pupils were indulging in their usual game of speculation, when without warning, the gate of the loft swung open and Christian Olsen emerged on the platform and looked down at the children. He said nothing, but finally beckoned to one of the older boys to come up to the loft.

The boy, selected from the group, was an acknowledged leader of youth activities.

Despite his claims for courage his steps lagged noticeably as he climbed up to the loft. His legs grew weak and his heart pounded in an uncomfortable fashion. The Dane stood on the platform, a slight smile on his broad, pleasant face.

The children watched their comrade disappear into the cavernous depths of the loft. They were too frightened to talk. They waited breathlessly for his return and after what seemed to be an endless span of minutes some of the older boys decided to go after the boy's father and the village constable.

"Here he comes!" shouted one of the boys and a sigh of relief went up from the anxious waiters as their chum appeared, apparently unharmed.

From that day until the brutal murder of the inventor three months later the boy worked faithfully for Christian Olsen. He carried his meals to the inventor and was the only contact the Dane had with the village.

Months later, after the death of the "Flying Dutchman," June 4, 1861, the boy gave the only genuine account to be found of activities beyond that closed gate.

"I nearly was scared out of my wits," the lad related later, "when he closed and locked that gate. I nearly jumped out of the window. He asked me all kinds of questions and finally said he wanted a trustworthy boy who would get his meals, run errands for him and keep the loft clean. I was to hear nothing and tell nothing.

"Every week he paid me in gold. A number of strange men visited him. They were trying to get him to sell his machine which was one of the funniest things I ever saw. It seemed to have leather wings that worked with coils of springs which he wound up. He always seemed to be afraid of something happening to the machine and wouldn't trust anyone to touch it.

"Once in a while he left me in charge while he paid a short visit across the street at the home of Enoch Bullock. Then on the night of June 3. he said I might invite two of the boys to come in. The machine was completed. They came and he was excited and happy. He showed us how it worked.

"One or two strangers were there. He said they were his partners. After supper he cleared us out, locked up his shop and went down to the Black Bear tavern to celebrate. The next time I saw him he was in Doc Ogden's house. His body had been taken from the railroad track by Jackman, Frederick Mill (near the present Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station).

"He had been murdered in his shop and his body taken down and put on the tracks. I never saw the men who visited his shop again."

The murder caused a furor in the village, but no clues leading to his assailant ever were found. The machine was stored in an attic over Kefferts tin shop on Broadway and stayed there for 20 years. In 1892 it was destroyed partially by fire.


  1. Olsen’s mysterious partners are the obvious suspects. Perhaps they believed that he had made a revolutionary breakthrough and tried to force him to hand over the secret. But the description of “leather wings that worked with coils of springs” suggests that he was building an ornithopter, a machine designed to fly by flapping its wings like a bird. If so, there was virtually no chance that it would ever get off the ground and this may have resulted in a violent quarrel with his backers once they realised that they’d wasted their money.

    Olsen’s use of “gold money” is also suggestive. It’s showy, attention-seeking behaviour that takes more effort than using plain old dollar bills. Some genuine inventors could also be showmen when they needed to, but it does sound as if Olsen was putting on a performance and making sure that everybody noticed it. Perhaps the “flying machine” was a con and his marks found out.

  2. Never let strangers or investors see you pay every bill with gold...


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