Monday morning, April 19, 1897, readers of the Dallas Morning News
saw this small headline: “A Windmill Demolishes It.” Beneath it
appeared a 283-word dispatch from S.E. Haydon describing the crash
of an alien “airship” at Aurora
in Wise County.
“It was traveling due north,” the story said. “Evidently some of
the machinery was out of order, for it was…gradually settling toward
the earth. It sailed directly over the public square, and when it
reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge
Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion,
scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill
and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.”
The only occupant was the “pilot of the ship,” and “while his remains
are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up
to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.”
T.J. Weems, the local U.S. Signal Service officer, “gave it as his
opinion that he (the pilot) was a native of the planet Mars.”
In addition, Haydon continued, papers found on the body “are written
in some unknown hieroglyphics, and can not be deciphered.”
While the ship had been too badly damaged for any conclusions to
be drawn “as to its construction or motive power, it was built of
an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and
Needless to say, the crash had attracted numerous visitors to town.
The same story appeared in the Fort Worth Register, with the exception
of a new concluding sentence: “The pilot, who was not an inhabitant
of this world, was given a Christian burial in the Aurora
No one in 1897 took the newspaper story seriously. Back then, fiction
in the guise of news, from manufactured quotes to outright hoaxes,
was as common as patent medicine ads. In fact, the Aurora
story was one of hundreds of stories reporting “airship” sightings
that spread from west to east across half the nation in 1896-1897.
The first reported sighting in the Lone Star State came on April
12, 1897, when two Ennis men said they saw an unknown aerial object
silhouetted against the moon. Throughout the rest of the month,
Texans from Childress
and from Uvalde to Texarkana
claimed to have seen strange things in the sky.
What made the Aurora story different is that its author reported
that the craft that crashed into Proctor’s windmill came from another
world. Despite its sensational nature, for more than 69 years, the
Aurora story remained dormant.
in January 1967, Dallas Morning News columnist Frank X. Tolbert
got a letter from a reader enclosing a copy of Haydon’s account
of the Aurora crash. Knowing a good tale when he saw one, Tolbert
wrote a column about it.
What Tolbert didn’t know was that the year before, Dr Alfred E.
Kraus at what is now West Texas State University in Canyon
had quietly looked into the Aurora story on behalf of the Condon
Committee, an Air Force-funded investigation into UFOs conducted
by the University of Colorado under the direction of Dr. Edward
Condon. Kraus talked with Aurora old-timers, searched the purported
crash site with a metal detector and reported to Condon that there
was nothing to the story.
Still, it was an intriguing legend, ripe for further journalistic
exploitation. On March 25, 1973, Dallas Times-Herald reporter Bill
Case reported that a team of “ufologists” was “combing a cemetery
in the ghost town of Aurora…for
the grave of a UFO pilot….”
Interest centered on a grave beneath a large oak marked by a rock
bearing an unusual design, a horizontal delta containing three small
Case weighed in with another story on March 28. He had interviewed
65-year-old Brawley Oates, an Aurora
native who since 1945 had lived on the land where the crash reportedly
“I’ve heard the story all my life,” he told Case. “…I’m not sure
this was a UFO. But I believe something of this kind exists. There
are too many similar reports from too many places to be coincidental.”
Case’s biggest-yet Aurora
story ran that May 17: “Metal unearthed may be UFO.” It revealed
that Frank N. Kelley of Corpus
Christi, a “scientific Texas treasure hunter” had found unusual
fragments of metal at the supposed crash site.
Kelley had used a metal detector on the hilltop where the windmill
reportedly had stood as well as at the Aurora
Cemetery. The pipe-smoking treasure hunter said he found more
than a dozen pieces of unidentified metal.
that, the Aurora
investigation took off in the national media like a NASA booster
rocket. The Associated Press rewrote Case’s article and distributed
Prior to this, the small community had been cooperative with UFO
investigators and reporters, though the Oakes family had barred
access to their property except for “official” investigators. However,
Cemetery dated to 1861 and the ancestors of many local residents
lay buried there. Immediately after a pronouncement that the mystery
grave should be exhumed, the Aurora Cemetery Association filed a
petition in state district court seeking an injunction and that
ended the Aurora investigation.
By the early 21st century, yet another journalist quoted someone
who maintained the alien had actually survived the 1897 crash. Accepted
at first by the locals, the little guy became overly fond of the
earthly vices of whiskey and gambling and ended up getting gunned
down by Texas Rangers.
© Mike Cox
- January 23, 2014 column
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