Dawn of the Extraterrestrial Crashes?
Fifty years before
Roswell, a spacecraft allegedly crashed in the tiny Texan town
of Aurora. The story even comes with a pilot “not of this
world” who was buried in the local cemetery. Is the story
too good to be true, or precisely what it says?
Texas. April 17, 1897. Fifty years before Roswell, New Mexico,
an alien crash on par with what is said to have occurred in Roswell,
apparently premiered in Aurora. Though UFO researchers have catalogued
it as a “UFO crash and retrieval”, the Aurora crash
was not of an “unidentified flying object” as such,
for what happened next, clearly showed that everyone knew what
was occurring in this normally quiet corner of Texas.
Details of the Aurora crash were published in the “Dallas
Morning News” on April 19. Written by S.E. Haydon, the short
account read that two days earlier, at 6 am, residents had seen
an airship flying in a northerly direction over the town. It was
flying very close to the ground and observers thought the craft
was experiencing some type of mechanical problem. “It sailed
gradually 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
tower and destroying the judge’s flower garden.”
When they went through the wreckage, they found the badly disfigured
body of a being who T.J. Weems, identified as the “United
States signal service officer at this place and an authority on
astronomy”, declared to be a “native of the planet
Mars”. Papers found with the body contained undecipherable
hieroglyphics. Or how everything that would make Roswell famous,
Aurora had fifty years previously. The only thing missing, it
seemed, was a cover-up by the American intelligence communities...
Haydon continued: “The ship was too badly wrecked to form
any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was
built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum
and silver, and it must have weighed several tons. The town is
full of people today who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens
of the strange metal from the debris. The pilot’s funeral
will take place at noon tomorrow.” No-one ever published
a follow-up story, until several decades later, when “the
Aurora crash” was adopted by UFOlogy and became the subject
of an endless yes/no game that has continued to this very day.
The Roswell incident – whatever its nature and truth is
– occurred days after the modern UFO era began, when Kenneth
Arnold saw nine objects on June 24, 1947. The Aurora crash, too,
happened amidst massive sightings of “airships” in
the sky. This was, of course, most remarkable, as it was some
six or seven years before the Wright Brothers would have their
first flight. The “wave” began on February 2, 1897,
when the “Ontario Daily Bee” reported a sighting in
the south-central part of the state. By April, airship sightings
had spread throughout mid-western, southern and eastern states
and newspapers, including the “Dallas Morning News”,
were reporting widely on the phenomenon. The News itself was highly
skeptical of these reports, yet there is no scorn or ridicule
or an attempt to expose the Aurora story as a hoax. If Aurora
was a hoax, then the only logical suggestion to propose would
be that the News decided to get in on the airship act, and publish
a hoax of its own. But if they did that, they did it unlike their
other reporting on the airship wave; the account of the Aurora
crash is matter of fact, while their reporting on the airship
wave was more… outlandish and colourful.
The story of the Aurora crash was rediscovered in 1966, by Frank
Masquelette of the “Houston Post”. Masquelette was
able to verify that a Judge J.S. Proctor did indeed live in Aurora
in 1897. When the story came to the attention of astronomer J.
Allen Hynek, he decided to use his powers as chief scientific
consultant for the Air Force’s UFO project, Project Blue
Book. As a result, agent William F. Driskill of Dallas was sent
to Aurora, to investigate. He located the former residence of
Proctor, though the site had been made into a house and service
station. Its owner, Brawley Oates, said he knew little about the
story, but referred Driskill to Oscar Lowry. Lowry had been eleven
when the crash happened. He remembered Haydon, who was a cotton
buyer and writer who lived in Aurora. Lowry explained that the
entire story was a hoax, created by Haydon. Aurora had been a
bustling little town, until the railroads bypassed it and the
economy began to collapse. The town was also hit with a spotted-fever
epidemic, while a fire destroyed much of the western half of the
town. Oh, and the boll weevil wiped out the local cotton industry.
Haydon, said Lowry, “wanted to do something to help keep
people in town and to make it a tourist attraction. He got the
idea, I suppose, from the actual sightings he had read about and
made up this story. The T.J. Weems that was supposed to have been
a U.S. Signal Service officer was actually the town blacksmith.”
And according to Lowrie, the Proctor place never had a windmill
on it. Finally, Driskill also found the cemetery, which was a
Masonic cemetery and had a chart of who was buried where. There
apparently were no unaccounted graves. And so, it seemed, the
Aurora crash had died a death.
But, of course, it is now known that the Air Force had been given
the specific order to explain the UFO phenomenon away and discredit
the individual reports – swamp gas, anyone? And so in the
case of the Aurora crash, we have a single eyewitness, 80-years
old at the time, relating events from when he was a young boy
of eleven, whose words were written down by the Air Force (maybe
or not, factually correct) and which was the single account used
to destroy the credibility of the crash ever occurring. That was
clearly too easy, for sure?
In the late 1960s, Wise County historian Etta Pegues looked into
the story and confirmed Lowry’s version, including the non-existent
windmill. An elderly woman, Robbie Hanson, declared it was a hoax.
“I was in school that day and nothing happened.” Pegues
also argued that Cliff D. Cates would have included the incident
in his “Pioneer History of Wise County”, published
in 1897, or Harold R. Bost in his “Saga of Aurora”.
Of course, one could argue why, if a hoax, the story was not incorporated
in the account as a wild tale related to the town that brought
a bit of solace to the stricken town.
But then, the tide turned. In May 1973, Frank Kelley declared
that a metal detector had given readings at the alleged crash
site, as well as at a particular grave in the cemetery. The metal
fragments were sent out for analysis, which later turned out to
be aluminum used in 1920s cookware and which was therefore not
related to the crash itself. But it was apparently the cue for
a local man, who until then had refused all interviews, to give
an interview to Bill Case, aviation writer for the “Dallas
Times Herald”, who was investigating the story together
with Jim Marrs, then with the “Fort Worth Star Telegram”.
He said he remembered the crash first-hand; his father had taken
him to the site and he had seen the wreckage. He did not remember,
however, a body. Meanwhile, UFO researcher Hayden Hewes decided
that a Sunday morning would be the ideal time to enter the cemetery
and just dig and see what the truth of an alien body was; angry
townspeople confronted him and, with arms ready, refused him entry
into the cemetery. A manned police car even had to be placed at
the cemetery to keep watch.
Shortly afterwards, the alleged tomb was said to belong to the
Carr family, though why ownership somehow excluded the presence
of an extraterrestrial being inside, is something skeptics do
not address. It is not as if the dead Martian was able to purchase
his plot. But Hewes did withdraw from the case and labeled it
a hoax. And so with one UFO researcher out, another moved in.
Two nonagenarian former residents led a team of MUFON –
the Mutual UFO Network – investigators to a so far unnoticed
grave near the edge of the cemetery. Under the limb of a gnarled
oak tree was a peculiar, circular grave with a triangular headstone
on which there was a crudely drawn image of a cigar-shaped object.
Half of the tombstone was missing, suggesting the original grave
marker showed the full size of the “UFO”. According
to the map of the cemetery, the plot belonged to a Jno. Kennedy.
Soon afterwards, the marker mysteriously disappeared and was replaced
by a three-inch pipe. Whereas before, metal detectors had picked
up metal readings from the grave, such readings were now no longer
occurring, thus leading to the conclusion that someone had dug
up the grave and removed what was inside, without the outside
world knowing. This seems to have been done with the power and
consent of some authority, for no charges were ever filed to do
with disturbing this grave. The marker disappeared the night immediately
after the police car had stopped its surveillance of the cemetery.
Marrs and Case investigated the incident and also found tiny holes
at the grave; they suggest that someone drilled down into the
ground and extracted the metal objects from the site, which is
why afterwards metal detectors no longer registered any metallic
presence there. And it is a type of operation that requires tools
unlikely to have been in the possession of ordinary citizens.
In 2008, another unmarked grave was found dating from the 1890s,
but the grave’s condition had badly deteriorated and the
radar could not conclusively prove what type of remains existed.
back to the 1970s, when everyone in town was racking their memories.
Mary Evans, 91 year old, stated that her parents had told her
of the incident. She was fifteen at the time and her parents refused
to allow her to go over to the site. 98-year-old G.C. McCurley
said he had heard about the crash from two friends who had seen
the wreckage. Charlie Stephens, ten at the time, said he had seen
the airship trailing smoke as it headed north toward Aurora. He
wanted to explore, but his father made him finish his chores first.
The next day, he headed into town, and saw the wreckage.
And so suddenly, Aurora was set alight by the story of the crashed
UFO: all of a sudden, there were two camps, those who believed
it was absolutely true, and those who believed it was clearly
a hoax. There were demands to exhume the body, to which the opposing
camp replied that the grave was that of a victim of the spotted-fever
and to open the grave, would bring back the deadly disease. The
district court blocked the exhumation. In 1979, the “New
York Times” reported that the mere mention of the story
with the locals send them into “profound depression”.
The story was nevertheless made into a low-budget movie, making
it known to a much larger audience. But what was it? Noted UFO
researcher Jacques Vallee, who was instrumental in uncovering
stories of the airship waves, argues that Aurora is primarily
of interest as a “piece of early Americana and that it was
probably a hoax.”
But is it? Oates, the first man anyone had spoken to, but who
merely referred people elsewhere at first, would later add to
the mystery himself. Oates had cleaned out the well on his property.
When he developed an extremely severe case of arthritis, he claimed
it was the result of contaminated water in the well, as the well
had been used to dump the wreckage in. A tall story? It seems
a fact that Oates definitely identified the well as the source
of his woes, as in 1957 he had the well sealed up with a concrete
slab and placed an outbuilding on top of it. In 2008, Tim Oates,
nephew of Brawley Oates, allowed a television documentary crew
to unseal the well, in order to examine it. Water was taken from
the well which tested normal except for large amounts of aluminum
present. Nothing else of potential interest was found inside,
but then we know that Oates did remove most of the debris himself
many decades ago, so by 2008, the well might have been clear,
whereas that might not have been the case in the 1950s.
Equally, Etta Pegues had claimed that the entire story was a hoax,
and that Proctor never had a windmill. But subsequent research
showed there was a mill – clearly hurting the credibility
of the naysayers and their desire to explain the story away by
making at best erroneous and at worst, wrong claim. Furthermore,
in 2002, Jim Marrs was told by Byron West, that “my grandfather
told me that law enforcement officers from all over the state
showed up within 5 or 6 hours… They told everyone to go
home and then they gathered up the debris, loaded it on wagons
and hauled it away.” If true, this clean-up operation might
actually explain why Haydon never followed up the story: he was
told not to. And that Aurora, like Roswell, was indeed the scene
of a government cover-up.
But more than a century after the crash occurred, the status of
the Aurora crash is that of a “legend”: one can’t
prove it either way. What can be said, is that the story as it
was reported by Haydon, could have happened: there was a windmill,
which belonged to Proctor. But whether there was a crash, and
whether an alien being was recovered from the debris, for that,
we have only a handful of witnesses – while the other handful
says that it was all a hoax. So, it is a legend. That is also
how it is referred to on the marker at the cemetery’s entrance,
which briefly mentions the possibility that it contains the tomb
of, basically, ET. And though we may never be able to prove or
disprove it, it is clear that the real dawn of the saga of UFOs
that crashed occurred in Aurora.