Mystery Airships and the Aurora UFO incident of 1897


17 April 1897, a UFO incident, featuring the crash of a steampunk-like airship from Mars, took place in Aurora, Texas, 25 miles northwest of Dallas.


“The Galveston News has been regaling its readers of late with voluminous dispatches from its corps of correspondents describing a mysterious flying machine that is alleged to be hovering over Texas, and seen at many places. A paper that resorts to such fakes to interest readers who pay for news is indeed heard up. It would be more interesting for the News’s editors and its correspondents to get on a jag and describe the different species of animals they saw in their deliriums.“ (Beeville [TX] Bee 23 April 1897)



The sketch of Moses S. Cole's "Aerial Vessel", printed in the “Scientifc American” in January 1887, a design sharing many features with the airships sighted ten years later.


Aurora, Texas, still boasting 3,000 inhabitants back then in the 1890s, was anything if not on the decline. A boll weevil infestation had destroyed the cotton crop, Aurora’s main source of income, after a spotted fever epidemic, the town was placed under quarantine and then the Santa Fe decided to leave the place untouched and without the railway, the danger of Aurora becoming a one-horse town forever was imminent. And then the airship crashed. On a fine Saturday morning. Right into the windmill on Judge J.S. Proctor’s property, destroying the craft, the contraption, a water tank and Proctor’s flowerbed. Unfortunately, neither the judge nor anyone else from Aurora witnessed the accident. Except S.E. Haydon who published an account of the events two days later in the “Dallas Morning News”. According to Haydon, a U.S. signal service officer from Fort Worth, one T.J. Weems, allegedly an authority on astronomy as well, confirmed on the crash site that the remains of the airship’s pilot and only occupant were clearly not that of being from this world, but from Mars. How, precisely, Mr Worth could determine the supposed Martian’s origins was not explained, but maybe they were a common sight in Wise County already, at least for the astronomers of the U.S. signal service. Of course, Martian papers were found on the body of the pilot, written in indecipherable hieroglyphics and Hays astutely assumed that they were the ship’s log. Along with parts of the wreck, made from an unknown metal, something like an aluminium alloy, the dernier cri in metallurgy, the mortal remains and the log were given, admittedly a bit presumptuous, a Christian burial at the Aurora Cemetery.



The marker of the alleged alien on Aurora's cemetery*


Cosmopolitan had just published the first instalment of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” a couple of days before the tragic accident of Aurora’s very own Martian and whether or not Mr Haydon tried to anticipate Orson Welles, the downed alien was a notable exception in the series of UFO sightings that did the rounds in the U.S. and Canada since 1896. In a time, when the meaningful borderline experiences, experienced and narrated, of expanding the frontiers of the Old West were no longer available and the settlement of the continent from coast to coast was, by and large, in the bag, it seems that quite a few eyes turned skywards to a new frontier. The first mass sighting of a blimp-like airship, hovering a thousand feet over Sacramento, powered by two pedalling men, was reported in November 1896. More curious observations were made over the following months, usually of propeller-driven dirigibles, crewed either by handsome, naked humans, male and female, or, discovered in a close encounter of the third kind in Texas, by “peculiar dressed men” belonging to the Lost Tribes of Israel now inhabiting the North Pole, having learned English from members of Hugh Willoughby’s expedition in 1553. Usually, the UFOs sighted in the 1890s looked like innovative but very mundane technology. The first dirigibles already flew in Europe, even aluminium-clad all-metal airships, and Jules Verne’s novels and their countless local dime-novel offshoots certainly did the rest to fire the imagination of the American public. Alleged encounters with alien craft and their crews, usually Martians, were rare but some had been recorded, usually by representatives of the local variants of “Yellow Journalism”, including the now well-known clichés of cattle abduction by aliens, as in Leroy, Kansas, likewise in April 1897 and the dragging of humans into spaceships, as reported Stockton, California, in November 1896, probably the earliest record of its kind from the modern era, admittedly sans tractor beams. 



San Francisco Call Headline from 1896


Haydon had a reputation of being something of the local hoaxer and his attempt to give dying Aurora, today down to a population of 853, a bit of desperately needed PR lines up with hundreds of other, similar tales, even if the Martians were something of a novelty. Most reports were exposed as hoaxes and canards back in the day already. Several investigations were conducted in Aurora since the 1970s and while the basic framework of the story was unsurprisingly true, since Haydon was a local and his article was read by locals, hardly any hard evidence was discovered beside traces of aluminium, rather not an alien substance, even back in 1897. The alleged grave of the alien aeronaut is still there, though, and authorities still don’t permit an exhumation to this day.


* the image depicted above was found on:

http://www.texasescapes.com/CentralTexasTownsNorth/Aurora-Texas.htm

And more about the UFO incident in Aurora on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora,_Texas,_UFO_incident


and the Mystery Airships of 1896 – 1897 on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_airship