Photographs by Brian Smale
THE NOTEBOOKS, BOUND WITH SHOELACES and cardboard, are filled with thousands of watercolor-and-ink drawings on cheap wrapping paper, laminated in pairs to form thick, brittle leaves, like the pages of an ancient codex. Festooned with stripes and scrolls, captioned in a code resembling an archaic alphabet, the drawings depict in blueprintlike detail a series of fantastic airships that might be the musings of a nineteenth-century futurist, each bearing a title like “Aero Goosey” or the strangely prescient “Aero Jordan.” Pasted beside each image are early-twentieth-century newspaper accounts of aeronautical triumphs (Hot Breakfast Two Miles Up) and disasters (Aeronaut Fatally Burned). Along the bottom of the drawings are longhand notations (such as “Sonora, Cal. 1858”) and ramblings in a broken English-German patois that seem to refer to otherwise unknown aviation pioneers.
These curious documents were the work of Charles August Albert Dellschau, a butcher by trade. A small man with heavy eyebrows, a fierce walrus mustache, and otherwise mild, almost mousy features, Dellschau was born in Brandenburg, Prussia, in 1830 and died in Houston 93 years later, spending his final decades living with relatives on Stratford Street. There, in a tiny upper-story room in the back of a