Sunday, September 23, 2012

Aurora and More: April 17, 1897


The Aurora crash story tells of a mystery airship that appeared about dawn on April 17, 1897, came in low, buzzed the town square and then continued north, toward Judge Proctor's farm. As the story goes, after it wrecked into a windmill, the Martian pilot's body was found and given a burial in the town's Masonic Cemetery.

Art: "Aurora, Texas Airship Encounter - 1897," 
at top, by Jeff Westover of Swamp Gas Graphics.

There is something bizarrely unreal about the Century 16 shooting after midnight at The Dark Knight Rises: A Fire Will Rise showing in Aurora, Colorado.
Something actually truly unreal did happen in Aurora, Texas, in 1897. It is unreal because it apparently never did occur. But it survives, culturally, in a significant fashion.

But, first, the legend of Aurora developed from a real news item:

"A Windmill Demolishes It," by S. E. Haydon, The Dallas Morning News, April 19, 1897, p. 5:

Aurora, Wise Co., Tex., April 17. - (To The 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 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 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 United States 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 record of his travels - are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and can not 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 full of people to-day who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens of strange metal from the debris. The pilot's funeral will take place at noon to-morrow.  S. E. HAYDON
Remember, Aurora means "dawn."

Most of the airship stories of the 1890s are what are called "journalistic hoaxes," so I asked my friend, famed ufologist author Jerry Clark if the Aurora case fit into that category.

Jerry emailed me in return with his continued opinion on this report: "The Aurora 'case' is not exactly a newspaper hoax, if one defines such as something cooked up in the editorial office. It was a practical joke written up by an Aurora correspondent. There is no evidence that anybody at the time thought it was anything else. All the excitement erupted decades later when excitable people ignorant of the cultural and journalistic context of the tall tale managed to get themselves wound up over nothing. At certain levels of ufology, no hoax ever dies, if it's even acknowledged as one."

Talking about the Aurora, Texas airship crash of 1897, Kevin Randle struck a similar tone to Clark's, in his "Aurora, Texas - A Story That Won't Die":

A large number of people, including Hayden Hewes of the now defunct International UFO Bureau, Jim Marrs, who had most recently suggested the story was real, and even Walt Andrus, the former International Director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) at various times journeyed to Aurora in search of the truth. They all reported they found a strange grave marker in the Aurora cemetery, they found strange metal with metal detectors, and they gathered reports from long time Aurora residents who remembered the story, remembered seeing the airship, or remembered parents talking about the crash. There was also discussion of government attempts to suppress the data. To them, that made the story of the crash real.
The problem here is that I beat most of these people to Aurora by several years to conduct my own investigation. I talked to some of those same longtime residents who told me in the early 1970s that nothing had happened. I talked to the historians at the Wise County Historical Society (Aurora is in Wise County) who told me that it hadn’t happened, though they wish it had. I learned that T.J. Weems, the famed Signal Corps officer was, in fact, the local blacksmith. I learned that Judge Proctor didn’t have a windmill, or rather that was what was said then. Now they suggest that he had two windmills. I wandered the grave yard, which isn’t all that large (something just over 800 graves) and found no marker with strange symbols carved on it, though there are those who suggest a crude headstone with a rough airship on it had been there at the time. I found nothing to support the tale and went away believing, based on my own research and interviews, this to be another of the airship hoaxes. ~ Kevin Randle

If you go to Aurora and see this headstone, it's not is a marker at the supposed site of the "spaceman's" grave. The original headstone was "supposedly" stolen, and that's if there was a headstone. ~ Source.

The marker at the cemetery in Aurora notes the Airship story, as well as the site's links to Freemasonry and some interesting name game items:
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.
The joke is on me, for I did not know I would find myself here. My late maternal grandmother's first name is Nellie, and my late paternal grandmother's maiden name is Burris.

Dawn and Death. Masons and Martians. Grandmothers and Auroras.

The lexilink name game that really hit me was the one involving the name "Oates" at both Aurora, Texas, and Aurora, Colorado.

When the case was "rediscovered" in the 1960s, the search for evidence involved looking for parts of the airship said to have been thrown into Judge Proctor's farm's well. But the quest was made difficult. 
Brawley Oates...purchased Judge Proctor's property around 1945. Oates cleaned out the debris from the well in order to use it as a water source, but later developed an extremely severe case of arthritis, which he claimed to be the result of contaminated water from the wreckage dumped into the well. As a result, Oates sealed up the well with a concrete slab and placed an outbuilding atop the slab. (According to writing on the slab, this was done in 1957.) ~ Source.
* * *
Tim Oates, nephew of Brawley Oates and the now-owner of the property with the sealed well where the UFO wreckage was purportedly buried, allowed the [UFO Hunters] investigators to unseal the well, in order to examine it for possible debris. Water was taken from the well which tested normal except for large amounts of aluminum present; the well had no significant contents. It was stated in the episode that any large pieces of metal had been removed from the well by a past owner of the property. Further, the remains of a windmill base were found near the well site, which refuted [Etta] Pegues' statements (from the 1979 Time magazine article) that Judge Proctor never had a windmill on his property. ~ Source.
"No case ever dies, no matter how many times it is exposed as a hoax." ~ Kevin Randle.

But the tale endures. The legend abides. The name game lives on.

Today, you can go to Aurora, Texas, and find the exact site of the old Proctor farm. It is the Oates gas station.

Fast forward to the Aurora shootings in Colorado. The first face of The Dark Knight Rises "massacre" presented by the media to America was that of Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates.

Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates talks to media at the Aurora Mall where 12 people were killed and 52 injured at a shooting at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, on Friday, July 20, 2012. 
San Antonio Express-News Photo: Ed Andrieski.

Chief Oates at a later news conference.


The Aurora Encounter is a 1986 American science fiction film directed by Jim McCullough Sr., written by Melody Brooke and Jim McCullough, Jr., and starring Jack Elam, Peter Brown, Carol Bagdasarian and Dottie West. Mickey Hayes, in a case bordering on exploitation, suffered from progeria, an extremely rare genetic disease of childhood characterized by dramatic, premature aging. Hayes with only makeup for his ears, played the "Aurora Spaceman." Hayes lived in Gregg County, Texas; he died on June 30, 1992, at the age of 20.

Also, the well-known Charles B. Pierce played the "Preacher" in Aurora Encounter. Pierce, an independent filmmaker whose inexpensively made documentary-style drama The Legend of Boggy Creek influenced the hit film The Blair Witch Project decades later, died at age 71, on March 5, 2010, in Dover, Tennessee. Pierce was involved with many B-movies, and was the initial concept screenwriter for the 1983 film Sudden Impact, the first "Dirty Harry" film, starring Clint Eastwood.
Sudden Impact, which made $67.6 million in the USA, is best remembered for Harry's catchphrase, "Go ahead, make my day." In 2005, it was voted in a poll by the American Film Institute as the sixth most memorable line in cinema history. United States President Ronald Reagan used the "make my day" line in a March 1985 speech threatening to veto legislation raising taxes. When campaigning for office as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in 1986, Eastwood used bumper stickers entitled "Go Ahead — Make Me Mayor." ~ Source.
For more on Pierce, see The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster (NY: Anomalist Books, 2012).


On September 17, 2012, Dangerous Minds published
by British writer Thomas McGrath. To learn more about 
this Twilight Language blog, please read it.


Red Pill Junkie said...

So a kid with progeria played the part of the spaceman in the Aurora movie. I think Nick Redfern would find that interesting ;)

This meme of the Masonic Martians reminds me of how this year saw the loss of both Ray Bradbury & Neil Armstrong.

"Rocket Summer. People leaned from their dipping porches and watched the reddening sky."

Among The Martian Chronicles the reader can find The Third Expedition. At the end of it, the poor Earthman astronauts are solemnly interred on a Martian cemetery, with a brass band playing "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean."

So it's nice to see how the Martians returned the favor, on behalf of their lost comrade ;)

Loren Coleman said...

The reason that Red Pill Junkie is saying that Nick Redfern would be interested in a "kid with progeria [who] played the part of the spaceman in the Aurora movie" is because in Redfern's book, Body Snatchers in the Desert, Redfern discusses Roswell aliens and progeria.

Devin said...

Fascinating blogpost Loren-thanks!

Anonymous said...

The hieroglphs and other aspects sound like Roswell.

BTW Roewell has a cinema called Aurora

Anonymous said...

I thought of the Colombia while reading this, apparently it began disintegrating in earnest while passing over the general vicinity of Aurora TX.