The Great Texas Airship Crash: Aurora, Texas April 17, 1897

In an event that has been called a “colorful piece of Americana”, the Aurora, Texas airship crash is viewed as farfetched and contrived by skeptics and the first Roswell by the UFO community. The story began when a cotton broker and part-time reporter, S.E. Haydon, wrote an article for the Dallas Morning News that chronicled the crash of an airship in the small town of Aurora, approximately forty miles northwest of Fort Worth.

About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing throughout the country. It was traveling due north, and much nearer the earth than before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour, and gradually settling toward earth. It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town [it] 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 water tank and destroying the judge's flower garden. The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.

Mr. T. J. Weems, the U.S. Signal Service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he [the pilot] was a native of the planet Mars. Papers found on his person-evidently the records of his travels are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and cannot be deciphered. This 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 today is full of people who are viewing the wreckage and gathering specimens of strange metal from the debris. The pilot's funeral will take place at noon tomorrow.

~Dallas Morning News, April 19, 1897

Legend states that the pilot of the craft and a portion of the debris from the airship were buried in the Aurora cemetery and a small rock with a crude carving of his craft was placed above his burial site. The rest of the debris from the Proctor farm was placed inside of a well on the farm and the site was covered over.

In the days leading up to the Aurora story there had been reports from many locations around north Texas regarding sightings of mysterious airships. Although some of the reports were extravagant, it appears that most of the descriptions of the airship paralleled each other. The craft was being propelled by some form of a machine and was cigar shaped. These two facts are common in most of these stories. Mr. C. G. Williams of Greenville, Texas stated that he had come into contact with the “cigar shaped” airship and its inventor in a field near Greenville. He went on to say that the inventor and two assistants were making adjustments to the craft as it sat on the ground.

By the time that the 1897 Aurora story blasted onto the pages, airships were not new to mankind. Although balloons had been around for centuries, controlled flight of balloons would officially be obtained in 1784, when Jean-Pierre Blanchard, using a balloon with a hand turned propeller, crossed the English Channel. A year later he attached fixed wings to his balloon and once again crossed the channel with his hand cranked propelled balloon. Many historians would agree that Blanchard’s 1784 and 85 flights were the birth of controlled flight airships. In 1852, Henri Gifford successfully tested the first powered flight when he attached a small steam engine to his “cigar shaped” balloon. The 1880’s would see the birth of electric powered and gas powered airships. By the 1890’s, the balloon was being replaced by rigid airships.

Is it possible that the rural farming community of Aurora did not know the full scope of the emerging technology in airships? Aurora, Texas was plagued with a series of tragedies in the 1890’s that could answer that question. The town experienced a spotted fever epidemic that wiped out a large portion of the population. The cotton crop failed at least twice in that decade and the railroad lines had never made it to Aurora. The airships of the time would have been completely foreign to the residents of rural America. Many sightings of the “mysterious airships” were being seen throughout rural north Texas in April of 1897. If the inventor of a craft was performing flight tests over the region, then, it is possible that the pilot could have collided with Judge Proctor’s windmill resulting in a “terrific explosion” that could have disfigured the pilot beyond recognition. But is that what really happened?

In the late 1960’s, columnist Frank Tolbert from the Dallas Morning News began  investigating the Aurora story about the same time that Aurora came to attention of the UFO community. Tolbert uncovered information that some railroad telegraph operators in Iowa actually started the reports of the “mysterious airships” and the story spread to Texas. A railroad man in Fort Worth, named Joseph E. Scully, claimed that he and his crew sighted an airship near Hawkins, Texas. Because Scully was well respected in the railroad community no one ever questioned the validity of airships flying around north Texas. But Scully knew that the stories had been contrived by the telegraph operators and Tolbert would later label the incident as “The Great Truthful Scully Hoax”. Years later, UFO researcher, Kevin Randle, uncovered an aging telegraph operator who claimed that he was the individual who put the false stories over the wires. In the end Frank Tolbert wrote that the Aurora crash was “probably a non-event” and concluded that the story was in conjunction with falsified airship stories.

Then in 1973 the story of the Aurora crash gained national media when the crudely carved stone in the Aurora cemetery disappeared and the supposed gravesite of the pilot, now being called the” spaceman’s grave” was allegedly desecrated. The event apparently happened in the late night hours of June 14, 1973, and was written about by Dallas Morning News writer Bill Case on July 4. Case had already been writing a series of stories when the late night theft occurred so Case went to Aurora to get to the root of the 1897 event. He interviewed a number of Aurora residents including Oscar Lowery. Oscar was eleven years old in April of 1897 and didn’t remember any crashes or explosions around that time. He went on to say that the U.S Signal Service officer, T.J. Weems was actually the blacksmith in Aurora. Case looked into town records and found no mention of the crash or the “spaceman”. Even more interesting, Bill Case found no record of the burial of the pilot within the cemetery records or the town’s records. Etta Pegues, Aurora’s town historian was ten years old in 1897. She added a lot to the story when she stated in 1973 that Judge Proctor had never had a windmill on his property.  It was later said of Bill Case’s investigation into the Aurora airship crash, by another researcher, "It appears now that the incident was exploited for publicity!”

In the years that have followed, UFO investigators and organizations have descended on Aurora, Texas in an attempt to find proof that what was reported in the Dallas Morning News on April 19, 1897, by S. E. Haydon, is proof that an extraterrestrial craft crashed in the town, and that the body placed in the Aurora cemetery was the body of an alien visitor. Investigators with metal detectors have scoured the former farm of Judge Proctor turning up only license plates, and aged pieces of iron. The well in which the debris from the crash was supposedly dumped has been excavated and yielded nothing out of the ordinary. The Town of Aurora has refused exhumation requests of the alleged “spaceman” and contends that they will continue to do so. Because of the amount of damage that was being created by visitors to the site, the town passed an ordinance banning investigations within the cemetery, however before that happened, ground penetrating radar failed to reveal anything conclusive. Furthermore, there are no individuals, museums or historical societies that possess a single piece of the wreckage or the papers containing the strange “hieroglyphs” that detailed the pilot’s travels. There are no personal records, (diaries, personal records, bills for removal of the debris or burial of body, etc.) that have surfaced indicating that the incident ever even occurred.

StrangeHistory.org has concluded that the one statement by historian and author, Etta Pegues, explains what happened in Aurora, Texas on April 17, 1897. "It was all a hoax cooked up by Haydon and a bunch of men sitting around in the general store." Reporter S. E. Haydon knew that the town was dying. Using the “Scully Hoax” that was taking place at the time as a catalyst, Haydon talked to several people of the town about how to turn the town into a tourist attraction, thus saving the town. On April 19, 1897 he made his attempt with his story to the Dallas Morning News and The Great Aurora Airship Crash was born. To date no evidence of the crash has been proven.

But there was a house fire in the early morning hours of April 17, 1897!

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