Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

February 5, 2024

The Aurora Incident

In April of 1897, several people reported seeing a strange cigar-shaped airship gliding over Texas. There were dozens of sightings in mostly North and North Central Texas, including multiple sightings in Hill, Tarrant, Fannin, Ellis, Grayson, Bowie, Collin, Hunt and Johnson counties. 

Accounts varied somewhat from one source to another but witnesses generally described a 50-60 foot vessel shaped like a cigar with propellers on each end, large wings and big floodlights. Some sources even claimed to have talked to the pilot and crew, who were alternately described as being from the North Pole, New York and Mars. 

The alleged sightings reached a peak when S.E. Haydon wrote a story for the Dallas Morning News about the airship’s crash near Aurora and the discovery of a pilot who was “not of this world.” 

“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 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 on board, 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.”

A Mr. T.J. Weems, identified in Haydon’s article as “an authority on astronomy,” was of the opinion that the pilot was a native of the planet Mars. Haydon reported that papers found on the pilot were written in “some unknown hieroglyphics.” 

While all of this seems like a remarkable enough news story, the natural follow-up would be to cover the spaceman’s funeral, which Haydon reported was to have taken place at noon the following day. No such story ever appeared. We might assume that a Martian funeral would qualify as news in any century, but maybe not. 

The town where this supposedly happened, Aurora, was one of those little towns around the turn of the last century with a great future behind it. The boll weevil took the cotton crop, spotted fever ravaged the population and the railroad quit building long before it got to Aurora. The town was dying. 

Haydon, we should note, was the Aurora correspondent for the Morning News. Locals remembered him as something of a practical joker and suggested that his joking nature found its way into his journalism. A 1997 Time magazine article quoted long-time Aurora resident Etta Peques as saying that Haydon made the whole thing up in an effort to bring people to the town before it died. That’s the general consensus but, of course, some people smell a conspiracy. 

The International UFO Bureau found out about the story in the 1970s and a horde of media types and UFO enthusiasts descended on the little town. The UFO Bureau wanted to exhume a body in the cemetery in the belief that it was the Martian but the city’s answer was a hard “No.”  

The Aurora cemetery has an historical marker that mentions the airship mystery. A headstone marking the site where the airship pilot was buried disappeared about the same time the wider world discovered Haydon’s old article. 

As for the rash of Texas UFO sightings in April of 1897, one theory holds that men who had been working on the railroad all the livelong day made up the stories at night and spread them along various stops along the way. A conductor known as “Truthful Skully” went on record as saying that he saw a very small man repairing the airship in Wood County.  

The story has spawned a couple of TV segments and at least one bad movie, The Aurora Encounter in 1986. The fact that it didn’t happen the way Haydon described it—in fact, it never happened at all—hasn’t stopped people from believing the story. Website postings list it as part of a long line of government cover-ups, right up there with the mysterious alien controversy in Roswell, New Mexico. 

S.E. Haydon’s story didn’t have much in the way of collaborating evidence or reliable witnesses, but it had staying power. We’re still telling it. As songwriter Mason Williams once sang, “Who needs truth if it’s dull?” 

Southern Livestock

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