UFO or Hoax?

In the Spring of 1897, citizens of Texas towns began excitedly reporting night sightings of “airships” sailing above the countryside. Starting on April 6th in Denison TX, a sighting of a brilliantly illuminated “airship” flying about a quarter of a mile high, and moving at a speed “upward of 50 miles per hour” was reported by a “trustworthy man.” The next evening in Gutherie, Oklahoma, multiple people claimed to have seen a fast-moving craft flashing bright search lights. The number of airship and moving light sightings quickly grew over the next eleven days that April, with Texas sightings reported from Corsicana, Weatherford, Paris, Dallas, Fort Worth, Bonham, and a long list of other Texas towns.

On Saturday, April 17th, 1897, the residents of Aurora, a small town in the northwest corner of what is today the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, were shocked when, about 6:00 in the morning, a large flying object came across the sky, traveled over the town square at a declining speed, finally crashing into a three-story water-well tower on Judge J.S. Proctor’s property outside of town. The object then exploded, sending wreckage flying across the farm and leaving the remains of Proctor’s tower and water tank in his flower garden.

Two days later the Dallas Morning News carried an account of the crash written by S.E. Haydon, an Aurora resident. Haydon reported that there had been one passenger aboard, assumed to be the pilot. According to The Fort Worth Register, the body was badly disfigured; however, witnesses believed that based on what could be seen, “he was not an inhabitant of this world.” The Morning News went on to report that metal from the airship was extremely heavy and looked like it might be an unknown alloy of aluminum and silver. Documents covered with undecipherable hieroglyphics were reportedly found on the corpse’s body. T.J. Weems, an Army Signal Officer stationed at Fort Worth, visited the sight of the crash and speculated that the corpse was “a Martian.”

Alien or not, the Aurora citizens collected the remains and on Sunday morning gave it a Christian burial in the Aurora Cemetery. Wreckage from the crash was dumped into a well on Proctor’s farm. The well was subsequently sealed. Some wreckage may have been buried in the grave with the suspected alien.

Interestingly, the reports of sightings didn’t stop with the Aurora crash. Between the crash and May 13th, fifty-four additional sightings were reported.!Around 1945, Brawley Oats purchased Proctor’s property, cleaned out the well, and used it for water. Later he developed serious arthritis which he believed was caused by well water contaminated with high levels of aluminum. He sealed the well with concrete and built a farm outbuilding over it in 1957.

A hoax story grew up around the incident based on research conducted by a one-time mayor of Aurora, Barbara Brammer who believed that the fact Aurora was losing residents at the time of the crash inspired Haydon to create a story to generate interest in the town. This point of view was also forwarded 100 years after the event by former Aurora citizen Etta Pegues who claimed that Judge Proctor never had a windmill. This was refuted later when a UFO Hunters investigation unearthed the base of the wind tower.

Further investigations by the television program UFO Files in 2008, turned up two eyewitnesses to the event, both in their 90s at the time of their interviews. Mary Evans said that she remembered that her parents went to see the crash site, but would not take her. Charlie Stephens, age 10 at the time, claimed to have seen the airship trailing smoke as it headed toward Aurora. He wanted to see the crash site, but was told to finish his chores instead. His father did go to the see the wreckage.

Over time, the Aurora Cemetery Association has refused several requests for exhumation of the grave. The UFO Hunters program staff did find an unmarked grave near other 1890 graves, but radar could not determine what remains existed.

Was Aurora the site of an airship crash resulting in the death of its alien pilot, or was it a hoax?!Five generations of the Haydon family passed down the crash story as a true event, consistent with their ancestor’s report to the Dallas Morning News. The State of Texas sidestepped the question of truth or hoax when it erected a historical plaque labeling the Aurora crash as a legend. It’s an interesting, unsolved mystery. !What brought the Aurora crash to mind for me (more than 125 years later) was the growing number of unexplained bright, fast moving light sightings around the country in 2022 (especially in December) and the increased government focus on UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects), which recently have been reclassified by the government as UAPs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon. Are today’s reported sightings a repeat of the mysterious UFO sightings of 1879? A question yet to be answered. One thing we do know is the government has a new interest in the topic.

Here are a few of the recent, publicly-announced government activities researching events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or as known natural phenomena. In other words, UFOs or UAPs.!•In November 2021,The Department of Defense Announced the establishment of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group—the successor to the U.S. Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.

•After only eight months of existence, the Pentagon’s office tasked with investigating and tracking UAPs — or unidentified aerial phenomena—announced it will look beyond the stars for objects of interest.

•May 2022, U.S. House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation held a hearing on UAPs and the status of Department of Defense research—the first congressional hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years!

•July 2022,The Pentagon announced that it has renamed and expanded the authority of the government’s chief UFO office. Formerly known as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Group, the office will now be known as the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office. The renamed office will also look into unidentified objects that are submerged in water or deemed “transmedium.” Don’t you just love government terminology?

•October 2022, NASA selected 16 individuals to participate in its NEW independent study team on unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAPs). The agency is not part of the Defense Department’s Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.

What these organizations find and report remains to be seen. But the history of the UFOs or UAPs—if you prefer—all started with a reported crash in the small Texas town of Aurora in 1897.

This has been another episode of Texas Brave and Strong—The best little podcast in Texas.

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