Welcome to Aurora... located just off US 287 west of Rhome heading toward Bridgeport (near Fort Worth), a community that in the late 1800s boasted of being the burial site of a crashed space alien pilot who apparently slammed into a local windmill.
So convincing (or well known) was the story that the Texas Highway Department erected a historical marker near the cemetery where the "creature" is said to be buried.
Sound like an April's Fool joke? It's not! In fact, it may be one of contemporary history's first crashed flying saucer stories, predating Roswell by nearly 50 years.
We'd better start this story at the beginning.
The Handbook of Texas Online has this to say about the town: Aurora is on State Highway 114 ten miles southeast of Decatur in southeastern Wise County. The site is on a gentle rise and is surrounded by mesquite and live oak trees.
Settlement began there in the late 1850s. Impressed by the beauty of the place, William O. Stanfield suggested Aurora for the name of the community. For the first twenty years the population grew rapidly, and the town became a trading center for county farmers. A post office was opened in 1873, and the town was incorporated on August 21, 1882. By the mid-1880s Aurora had two schools, two cotton gins, two hotels, fifteen businesses, and a population variously estimated at between 750 and 3,000.
An outbreak of spotted fever began during the latter part of 1888, and by 1889 fear of the epidemic had caused a mass exodus from the town. Two years later, when the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad abandoned its plan to lay tracks through Aurora, most of the few remaining inhabitants moved to Rhome, two miles to the southeast, the new site of a railroad stop. Ironically, as its decline continued, the town became the focus of the state's attention.
On April 18, 1897, S. E. Hayden, an Aurora cotton buyer, wrote a story describing the crash of a mysterious airship just outside of town. Hayden's fictional article was apparently an attempt to bring attention to the community, but it caused a sensation because stories were already current of unidentified flying objects near Fort Worth. Hayden's tale, however, failed to revive Aurora. In 1901 postal service was discontinued.
The construction of State Highway 114 through Aurora in 1939 probably saved the community from extinction. In the early 1970s Aurora underwent a rebirth as the town became a bedroom community of Fort Worth. In 1986 it had an estimated 376 residents. In 1990 the population was up to 623.
The historical marker near the Aurora Cemetery reads as follows:
The oldest known graves, here, dating from as early as the 1860s, are those of the Randall and Rowlett families. Finis Dudley Beauchamp (1825-1893), a Confederate veteran from Mississippi, donated the 3-acre site to the newly- formed Aurora Lodge No. 479, A.F. & A.M., in 1877. For many years, this community burial ground was known as Masonic Cemetery. Beauchamp, his wife Caroline (1829-1915), and others in their family. An epidemic which struck the village in 1891 added hundreds of graves to the plot. Called "Spotted Fever" by the settlers, the disease is now thought to be a form of meningitis. Located in Aurora Cemetery is the gravestone of the infant Nellie Burris (1891-1893) with its often-quoted epitaph: "As I was so soon done, I don't know why I was begun." This site is also well-known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here. Struck by epidemic and crop failure and bypassed by the railroad, the original town of Aurora almost disappeared, but the cemetery remains in use with over 800 graves. Veterans of the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts are interred here.
Newspapers from April 1897 reported that the alien craft hit a windmill and was torn to pieces, along with its occupant. A 1986 movie, "Aurora Encounter," tells the tale. The official historical marker was installed by the state, although nobody knows exactly where the grave is located.
For the 100th anniversary of the crash of an unknown airship in Aurora, the TV show "Sightings" had a special called '100 years of UFO Cover ups,' that featured the alleged recovery of an alien body in Aurora.
The well known Internet site, Rense.com, adds this about the Aurora story:
Here is the story as written in 1897 in the April 19 edition of the Dallas Morning News:
About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing around 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 the 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 into 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 were 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. Army Signal Service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy gives it as his opinion that 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 is today full of people who are viewing the wreckage and gathering specimens of strange metal from the debris. The pilot's funeral will take place tomorrow.
The article was written by E. E. Haydon who was a part-time reporter for the Morning News. As startling as the news was, no other newspaper ran the story. News of the incident remained dormant for almost a century (May 24, 1973) when newspapers around the country published the following United Press International account:
"Aurora, Tex. -- (UPI) -- A grave in a small north Texas cemetery contains the body of an 1897 astronaut who "was not an inhabitant of this world," according to the International UFO Bureau. The group, which investigates unidentified flying objects, has already initiated legal proceedings to exhume the body and will go to court if necessary to open the grave, director Hayden Hewes said Wednesday.
"After checking the grave with metal detectors and gathering facts for three months, we are certain as we can be at this point [that] he was the pilot of a UFO which reportedly exploded atop a well on Judge J.S. Proctor's place, April 19, 1897," Hewes said. He was not an inhabitant of this world."
A few days later, another UPI account datelined Aurora quoted a ninety-one-year-old who had been a girl of fifteen in Aurora at the time of the reported incident. She said she "had all but forgotten the incident until it appeared in the newspapers recently." She said her parents had gone to the sight of the crash, but had refused to take her along. She recalled that the remains of the pilot, "a small man," had been buried in the Aurora cemetery.
Not to be outdone, the Associated Press, in a story datelined Denton, Texas, reported that "a North Texas State University professor had found some metal fragments near the Oates gas station (former Proctor farm). One fragment was said to be 'most intriguing' because it consisted of primarily of iron which did not seem to exhibit magnetic properties." The professor also said he was puzzled because the fragment was "shiny and malleable instead of dull and brittle like iron."
What really happened in Aurora in 1897 may never be known. Was it a hoax or an actual account of alien visitation? Could the secrets to the universe be buried deep in Aurora soil?
Visiting Aurora may not give you that answer, but it will give you a chance to get out and discover the "stranger side of Texas."