UFOgate    The 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?
by Philip Coppens

Aurora, 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. But 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.