Thursday, May 31, 2012

Folks and Happenings in Sutton's History

There is a stream of interesting people and events in the 141 year history of our town and way too many of those have disappeared from our collective memories. Here is another attempt to preserve a little of the information about Sutton’s story.

Flying Saucers

First up is a good story headlined in the Thursday, July10, 1947 issue of The Sutton News relating an incident from the night of June 27th. Sutton resident Henry Fuehrer told the editor of The News that he saw flying discs and that he was as positive of it as he was that he was alive. Henry insisted that they were not “spots before the eyes,” but were “…flying discs, and I counted seven of them. They first flew northward to the west and northwest of where I stood at my home, and a few minutes later they flew back, toward the south.”
The spectacular headline announcing Mr. Fuehrer’s flying saucer sighting, 1947

Just three days earlier on June 24th private pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed he saw a string of nine, shiny “unidentified flying objects” flying past Mount Rainier at speeds he clocked to be a minimum of 1200 miles per hour. Arnold’s experience is credited as the first modern UFO sighting. The terms “flying saucer” and “UFO” were immediate press references.

So only three days after the first modern UFO sighting, Sutton was in the UFO story (or could have been if Henry hadn’t kept quiet for ten days.) But it was a crowded field already. Radio personality Alex Dreier mentioned the Washington sighting and within a few days similar reports percolated up in over thirty states.

Airline pilots told similar stories, anonymous scientists allegedly from the Manhattan Project referred to experiments in “transmutation of atomic energy,” the military was quiet and reports continued to pour in.

Henry wasn’t alone in Nebraska. A fellow in Ohiowa claimed his sighting occurred on June 23rd edging out the pilot in Washington. Omaha and Scottsbluff residents also weighed in.

Nor was Henry alone in Sutton. The next week’s News included a small item with similar claims from Henry Trautman and Dr. H. J. Ochsner. It’s a good time to drop such a story when your childhood dentist shows up in it. Moving on…

Gold Fever

Our next newspaper find is in the December 31, 1936 issue of The Sutton Register and links Sutton to the most famous of the lost gold mines, the Lost Dutchman’s mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

The mine was named after German immigrant Jacob Walz, or Waltz (so really Deutschman vs Dutchman mine) Walz frequently came down out of the mountains with gold nuggets during the 1880’s. Walz was secretive about the source of his gold. One story involved three Mexican youths whom he found while escaping from Apace Indians. The youths told him about the gold and he killed them. Prospectors tried to follow Walz into the mountains, many disappearing or dying for their efforts.

The legend and the searching continued and in 1937 William Mehlhaf of Sutton and some friends believed that they had some new clues or particular insight into the mystery. Mehlhaf hired a guide and headed into the Superstitions on his quest.

Pending a more thorough search through subsequent newspapers, we’ll leave the story right there. My guess is our intrepid Sutton prospector was not successful.

Sutton’s Hot Air Explorer
Sutton's Intrepid Explorer

We’ve mentioned Walter Wellman before. He started a weekly newspaper in Sutton when he was 14 and later worked for newspapers in Cincinnati and Chicago but his first interest was flying. Wellman believed that the future of air travel was the hot air balloon.

Kiddo, aka Trent
He aspired to be the first man to the North Pole traveling there in a hot air balloon of course. Wellman purchased his airship the America from a French company. He made unsuccessful attempts in 1907 and 1909 then lost interest upon hearing of Cook’s claim to have reached the pole. In 1910 he tried a trans-Atlantic flight in the America. This attempt led to his crew making the first aerial radio distress call. The Royal Mail steamship Trent rescued Wellman, his crew and their mascot cat “Kiddo” who was renamed “Trent” in honor of the rescue ship.

The story of Sutton’s Hot Air Explorer is on the historical society blog at

“Kiddo” the cat has his own web site at where is told the story linking Sutton with the historic first air-to-ground radio transmission and where you can discover that profound and memorable text.

The Sutton Cartoonist

Herbert Johnson, cartoonist/artist
Our next fellow in this series is the political cartoonist Herbert Johnson. He was born in Sutton in 1878 to an Iowa couple, J. W. and Mary Johnson. J. W. listed himself as a 29-year old “Broker” on the 1880 Sutton census.

Herbert attended the University of Nebraska where his cartoons appeared in the Daily Nebraskan, the Cornhusker annual and the Arrow-Head, a student publication. He then headed east and into the journalism business. Johnson’s political cartoons and magazine covers were published for twenty-four years in the Saturday Evening Post and the Country Gentleman magazines and were characterized as “like raisins in a cake, or sand in the spinach.”

Sutton’s Big-Time Merchant

Our last story comes from The Sutton Register of March 18, 1937. This item noted the 50th anniversary of the business of William Gold, founder of Lincoln’s major downtown department store, Gold & Co. Gold’s dominated downtown Lincoln retail until 1964 when it was acquired by J. L. Brandeis of Omaha which also later disappeared.

“But what does this have to do with Sutton,” you ask impatiently. Charles Brown of the Register described the half page ads in his father’s newspapers of the mid-1880’s in which William, then called “Billy” Gold advertised merchandise in his “Gold’s Store” in downtown Sutton before heading to Lincoln to do business. Didja know that? I didn’t.

This Article first appeared in the April,2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at or at 402-773-4203.

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