By James Donahue
Back before people had such things as radio, television and movies to keep them entertained, they liked to spin
tall tales around the cracker barrel in some popular town gathering place.
During that brief period that newspapers knew their hey-day, and again before the invention of radio and moving
pictures, the stories got transposed from the cracker barrel to the printed page. While the people in the towns recognized
the stories for what they were, they sometimes confound contemporary historians digging through the microfilmed archives.
Consequently, the stories sometimes get retold as factual events.
One interesting story that emerged from a newspaper in Aurora, Texas, was the 1897 report of a UFO that flew into
the town water tower. The story bears a strange . . . almost uncanny similarity to events that reportedly happened in Roswell,
New Mexico, about a half-century later. It was even told a few years before Orville and Henry Wright made their historic flight
of the first aircraft.
That someone would envision a UFO for a story at that early time should not come as a surprise. The concept of
flight was talked about, and tried, for years before it was actually accomplished. Michelangelo envisioned flying craft and
even the helicopter in his sketches.
The Aurora story was printed by the Dallas Morning News on April 19, 1897. The story said "early risers of Aurora
were astonished at the sudden appearance of an airship. 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"
The story by Aurora correspondent S.E. Haydon explained how several tons of silver and aluminum-looking debris
from the crash were scattered for acres and that the body of a dead pilot, thrown from the craft, was severely disfigured.
"Mr. T.J. Weems, the United States signal service officer and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that [the
pilot] was a native of the planet Mars," Haydon reported.
He wrote that the funeral for the celestial visitor was scheduled for the following day with burial in the Aurora
People were so enamored by the story of a 19th Century UFO crash that the hoax has since gotten out of hand. It
even inspired a 1986 film called The Aurora Encounter. A cult following has developed, and the town of Aurora with a population
of just under 400, now lives on the fame of an event that probably never happened.
The story exploded to life in 1973 when Dallas Times Herald writer Bill Case visited Aurora to do his own investigation
of the event. Case interviewed some of the old-timers and got 98-year-old G. C. Curley to say that he and two of his pals
saw the crash site and the body of the pilot. Other people said they heard the airship pass overhead prior to the crash.
Case even claimed that he used a metal detector to find the gravesite of the alien pilot in the town cemetery.
He said the headstone featured a crude marking of a cigar-shaped object with circular windows.
After the Case story appeared, the International UFO Bureau, a group that investigated extraterrestrial phenomenon,
came to Aurora. The group sought a court order to have the grave opened and the body examined. The local cemetery association
fought the request, and the affair ended up with the local sheriff guarding the entrance. Alas, the headstone supposedly disappeared.
The headstone has been replaced by a historical marker at the entrance to the cemetery. It tells of the presence
of the burial site somewhere in the cemetery, although nobody seems to know exactly where it is.
Local historian Etta Pegues hasn't been fooled by all the publicity. "It was all a hoax cooked up by Haydon and
a bunch of men sitting around the general store," she wrote. She said Haydon had a well-known reputation for telling tall
tales. Some in the community suspected that Judge J.S. Proctor, owner of the property where the airship was said to have crashed,
might have instigated the story.