Aurora, Texas rests between Fort Worth and Dallas. Settlement began in the 1850s, and the town reached its highest population (around 3000) in the 1880s. In 1888 a spotted fever epidemic cleared much of the town. A year later, plans for the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad were revealed; they would bypass Aurora in favor of nearby Rhome. Apparently, however, Aurora remained of interest to outsiders.

On the morning of April 17, 18971, a slow-moving airship, shaped rather like a cigar, sailed into a local windmill and burst to pieces. Metal debris littered the crash site. Locals also recovered a document written in "unknown hieroglyphics." More shocking was the body of the small pilot, badly damaged, though "enough of the original" remained "to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world." Indeed, a local "signal service officer" and "authority on astronomy" opined that the extraterrestrial was "an inhabitant of the planet Mars."

The following day, the small town reportedly gave the small man a Christian burial. The story, too, was buried until the early 1970s, when UFO enthusiasts attempted to locate and exhume the remains of the alien. The town refused permission, but UPI and the Associated Press picked up the news in 1973 and suddenly, Aurora, Texas gained a status somewhat akin to that of Roswell, New Mexico.2 One reporter even found a surviving witness— sort of. A local woman, ninety-one years old in 1973, recalled that her parents had gone to the crash site but had not permitted her to come, because they feared it might be dangerous.

Some interested parties claim to have found a grave with a spaceship-like marking on it. Others dispute that this is the case. However, the interest led to the placing of a state historical plaque at the cemetery. It mentions, among other details, the "legend" that an extraterrestrial lies buried somewhere on the site.

The newfound publicity also resulted in a low-budget film, The Aurora Encounter, in 1986. Perhaps its most interesting feature is the casting of Mickey Hays, a child with progeria, as the alien pilot. The film, of course, develops the little man's adventures in the old west. DJ Shadow sampled some of the soundtrack for "Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain."

What are we to make of this tall tale? Did an alien crash in small town Texas in the nineteenth century? Did the citizens bury him? Does his body rest there still?

I would like to believe this story. It has a charm that Roswell lacks. However, the evidence weighs rather heavily against its veracity.

Attention-getting newspaper hoaxes were commonplace in this era. This one ties in very directly with the most famous suspect story of 1897, the Great Airship Mystery. The article expressly identifies the ship as "the airship which has been sailing through the country." Of course, the spaceship looks exactly like one of those newfangled dirigibles. It comes from Mars, which had become a source of speculation regarding extraterrestrial life after Giovanni Schiaparelli identified supposed canals in 1877. The story promotes a town that was on the verge of dying.

All physical evidence of the crash has conveniently disappeared.

An investigation in the 1970s turned up a piece of metal that was 95% aluminum and 5% iron. While this is fascinating, no evidence connects this item to the crash a century earlier. One wonders why significant amounts of debris do not remain, or what befell the documents the pilot reportedly carried.

T.J. Weems, identified as a Signal Corps officer and expert on astronomy in the original article, was apparently the local blacksmith. Just possibly, this was a clue to the inhabitants that the story should not be taken seriously. In any case, in a town so small the truth behind the tale would have become apparent quickly.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Haydon fabricated the story as an amusement for his readers or to attract attention to the town, which was in trouble and which, to this day, maintains a population of fewer than 900. Etta Pegues, four at the time of the alleged incident, said in 1979 that Haydon wrote with both motives in mind ("Close Encounters of a Kind"). He likely did not anticipate that his work would continue to amuse people and draw tourists to Aurora more than a century later.

1. Some sources give the date of the crash as April 19, but the original article is clearly dated April 17. All quotations unless otherwise indicated have been taken from the article by S.E. Haydon. It appeared in the Dallas Morning News the day of the alleged crash.

2. Roswell had yet to gain that reputation. The 1947 incident was quickly forgotten, and the cultural obsession with UFOs developed without reference to it. It was rediscovered in the late 1970s, enhanced with hitherto unmentioned claims of alien bodies, and then retrofitted into UFO lore.

Additional sources:

"Aurora Texas UFO Incident." Wikipedia.

B.J. Booth. "The Aurora, Texas Crash of 1897." The UFO Casebook.

"Close Encounters of a Kind." Time. March 12, 1979.

Jim Hickman. "Aurora Texas UFO Crash of 1897: Myth or Mystery?" The Hickman Report 2000.

Kevin Randle. "Aurora Texas: A Story That Won't Die." A Different Perspective March 27, 2005.

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