Note: Although Aubeck and I have discussed some of his ideas in the past, I did not ask him about this incident because I wanted to form my own opinion of what the two authors wrote without knowing their thought process behind the investigation. I’ll ask about it after this piece runs.
The story goes that around 2 PM on April 8, 1665, six fishermen in Stralsund saw a flock of birds take the form of a ship in the sky, followed by several other ships, which then fought a battle. By 6 PM, the ships had gone, and at that point a large, dark-colored disk appeared in the sky. Locals connected this event to the fact that all the fishermen who saw the event fell ill the next day. No one else saw anything, which would tell me that the story is, shall we say, unreliable.
Unfortunately, this is one case where I can’t look at all the primary sources since most are in early modern German, and that is not among the languages I can read fluently. I can read the 1671 Latin version, and thus as best I can tell, Aubeck and Shough appear to offer a mostly correct translation of the oldest source, a 1665 leaflet published in Leipzig, which reads thus in German and their English translation:
Nach welcher über eine kleine weile mitten aus dem Himmel ihnen eine runde platte Form wie ein Teller und wie ein grosser Mannshut umbher begriffen vor Augen kommen von Farben eben als wenn der Mond verfinstert wird: so schnurgleich über der St. Niclas-Kirche stehend geschienen; und alda auch biß auff den Abend verblieben ist. Nachdem die Schiffer nun voller Angst und Furcht dieses erschreckliche und verdächtige Spectacul nicht länger anschauen noch dessen Ende abwarten können; haben sie sich in ihre Hütten verfügen müssen: drauff sie in nachfolgenden Tagen theils an Händen und Füssen theils am Häupt und andern Gliedern ein groß Zittern und Beschwerden empfunden.
... a little while later, out of the middle of the sky appeared to them a round flat form like a plate and like a big man’s hat umbher begriffen with colors like the moon when eclipsed. It seemed to stand directly above St Nicholas Church; and stayed there until the evening. After which the sailors, now full of fear and dread, could no longer watch nor wait for the end of this terrible and suspicious spectacle; they retreated to their huts where in the following days they found their hands and feet, and their heads and other body parts, burdened by a great shaking.
But if you’re planning to use a passage to determine whether there is evidence of alien spacecraft or what-have-you, you’d think knowing what it literally says would be an important priority.
Aubeck and Shough suggest in their notes that the object may have appeared like a 1950s-style UFO, because they offer one reading of the German phrase they left untranslated as suggesting that the plate was “gripping around” the hat, which I assume they imagine as being dome-like in form. (Even the authors recognize this is a less likely interpretation.) I’m going to guess that the German author was actually thinking of seventeenth-century style “big hats,” the so-called “Cavalier hats,” which were famous for their enormous brims, making them look like giant plates sitting on their wearer’s heads. This cannot exclude the possibility that the author was thinking of a high hat, but in context, the emphasis on the broad brim would seem to be the better concept. The Latin translation uses the phrase pilei vulgaris, the common folks’ round felt hat.
From this they proceed to offer a bunch of computer simulations of the sky in order to try to eliminate various hypotheses about what the object might have been before concluding that no known celestial objects, birds, or weather events could account for the sighting. “So, what is dark, round, visible from miles away and hangs in the sky for over an hour? As riddles go, this one is unusually tricky.” I think the two authors are misguided and are asking the wrong question: The question is not what the prodigy was in reality but whether the prodigy existed at all. (The authors do briefly acknowledge that the sighting may not be true.)
Let me take a stab at this. We have a few key facts: (1) According to all the texts the authors present, the only witnesses were six sailors on a boat. (2) No one else saw anything, despite an epic sky battle apparently occurring over a major city. (3) The sailors all came down with the physical symptoms of disease within 48 hours of witnessing the event, and indeed one had been sick from the time they returned, according to a Berlin account of April 10, 1665 (how it was reported so fast in Berlin, I have no idea; the authors give the text, like many in the piece, uncredited from a translation of Illobrand Von Ludwiger appearing on page 3 of his book). Occam’s razor would tell us that the most logical conclusion is that the fisherman had some spoiled food and gave themselves some bizarre pre-modern illness (or otherwise contracted a contagion from their sicker friend, bad fish, contaminated water or beer, or whatever), and hallucinated the whole thing, egging each other on as they ranted about their various visions, whose shapes and colors—generated from the common stock of visions from altered states of consciousness—they interpreted through their own cultural experience, namely portents, battles, and boats. This solution elegantly accounts for all the facts, omits none (as Aubeck and Shough ignore the battling ships), and requires fewer assumptions, least of all any about the sighting “causing” illness in witnesses. The chain of causation is more likely the reverse. It certainly is not an established fact—nor would I claim it to be—but the fact that it is a possible solution means that there’s really no reason to try to explain what doesn’t need explaining in terms of a reality that the thousands of people in Stralsund did not share with these sailors. Aubeck and Shough, starting with the premise of looking for physical explanations therefore miss the alternative. When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
“The Stralsund event is therefore a remarkable case and—true or not—ought to be considered among the first alleged ‘flying saucer’ sightings in history,” the authors write. Here we can agree: There is just as much evidence in favor of this “flying saucer” as any of the Venusian disks that buzzed American skies in the 1950s.