By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Long before there was the riddle of Roswell, Texas had its own strange story of the crash of an unidentified flying object and the recovery of its pilot. It happened in the Wise County community of Aurora, west of Fort Worth--a decade before Orville and Henry Wright got their flimsy plane off the ground.
According to an account that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on April 19, 1897, "...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 colorfully written article, authored by Aurora correspondent S.E. Haydon, went on to explain 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 badly disfigured. "Mr. T.J. Weems, the United States signal service officer and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he [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 Cemetery.
Thus began the cult legend that has inspired a movie ("The Aurora Encounter," 1986) and kept the tiny community of 376 on the UFO map.
And while generally relegated to the category of hoax, it has long fascinated the cosmic researchers. In 1973, Dallas Times Herald aviation writer Bill Case visited Aurora to launch his own investigation of the event, interviewing several old-timers. G.C. Curley, 98 at the time, assured the reporter that he and two of his boyhood friends had actually seen the crash site and the "torn up body" of the airship's pilot. Several others told him of hearing passed-along stories of the event.
Most remarkable was Case's claim that, with the aid of a metal detector, he had discovered the grave site of the extraterrestrial visitor in the nearby cemetery. It was, he reported, marked by a small headstone that featured what he described as a crudely drawn, cigar-shaped object, complete with a series of circular "windows."
Soon, the International UFO Bureau, a group that investigates extraterrestrial phenomena, came running, seeking a court order to have the grave opened and the body exhumed. Aurora Cemetery Association members said no-way-in-hell and the local sheriff began guarding the entrance. Vigilant though he was, the headstone that marked the alleged alien grave ultimately disappeared.
Today, only a historical marker at the entrance to the graveyard alerts visitors to the presence of the heavenly visitor supposedly buried there over a century ago.
In time, the exact location of the unmarked grave was forgotten and Aurora historian Etta Pegues provided her own take on the story: "It was all a hoax cooked up by [newspaper correspondent] Haydon and a bunch of men sitting around the general store," she wrote. She added that Haydon had a well-known reputation for telling tall tales. Some in the community, she added, suspected that Judge J.S. Proctor, owner of the property where the airship was said to have crashed, might actually have instigated the story.
Standing behind the counter at the "alien green"-painted Area 114 Gift Shop, Iona Reed says, "People around here don't like to talk about it anymore."
Does she believe something actually crashed no more than 100 yards from where her daughter's gift shop now sits on the side of Highway 114? She smiles, shrugs and points to a 45-minute video produced and narrated by veteran conspiracy writer Jim Marrs. "It tells the whole story," she says. For only $19.95 plus tax.