Original Air Date: Nov. 8, 1998
It's no classic but the silly 80s film " The Aurora Encounter" very loosely detailed the local legend of an alien crashing in Aurora, Texas in 1897.
However, the story was first told in the pages of the Dallas Morning News, where it's been in black and white for more than 100 years. A tale published on April 19, 1897 tells the story about an event two days prior.
According to the article, an airship that had been sailing across the country collided with Judge Proctor's windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion. The pilot is supposed to have been the only one on board. And while his remains were badly disfigured, he was not an inhabitant of this world. Moreover, the townspeople reportedly viewed the wreck and gathered specimens of a strange metal from the debris.
Later editions state matter-of-factly that the spaceman was given a Christian burial.
"Whatever it was, it was here," author and former Fort Worth Star Telegram reporter Jim Marrs said of the crash site, a high point in Wise County. "More or less exploded and went to pieces. There were pieces scattered all over the place here."
In the early 70s, Marrs and Dallas Times Herald reporter Bill Case began to re-examine the old legend.
"If it were just the Aurora story, it would be very easy to say that somebody just made that up," Marrs said.
He studied newspapers from 1896 to 1898 and found them filled with eyewitness accounts and hand-drawn sketches of airships -- .many silver and cigar-shaped. (Keep in mind the Wright brothers didn't build a flying machine until 1903.)
"I came across dozens of other accounts, including the great airship that was seen over Chicago. They were still talking about that. They saw these things over San Francisco -- all through the Midwest. There were stories all around in this area … Everybody couldn't have been having the same hoax all at the same time," Marrs said.
In 1973, Marrs and Case found three people who'd been living near Aurora at the time of the crash.
"As far as the living witnesses go, there were two that said it happened. They had personal knowledge of it but one said it was a hoax, but admitted she had no personal knowledge of it," Marrs said.
Old-timers directed Marrs and Case to the spaceman's grave, with its odd-shaped and chiseled headstone. Marrs concluded it was only half of the original which, as a whole, would likely have depicted a saucer-like object.
Case ran a metal detector over the grave and got readings in three distinct places. Pieces of metal from the crash site were also analyzed by a physicist at North Texas State University, who found one of the samples "puzzling."
"It is made up primarily of iron," wrote Dr. Tom Gray. "But is not magnetic … it is also shiny and malleable, instead of dull and brittle like iron."
"In both my accounts and Bill Case's accounts, we raised the possibility that maybe they ought to exhume the grave. Well, that set the folks of Aurora in an uproar," Marrs said.
A lawsuit was threatened and an armed guard placed at the cemetery gate.
"The very night they took the police guard away the little headstone turned up missing," Marrs said. "That's why today there's few people left who know exactly where this grave is."
Marrs said he and Case discovered that the headstone was not the only thing missing.
"We came back up here and he took his metal detector, and he ran it back over the gravesite. It didn't show anything," he said.
Small holes were found where before the two reporters had picked up readings on the metal detector.
"Something happened. Something did happen in Aurora but exactly what, I guess we won't know," Marrs said.
Billy Marcum grew up with the legend of the Aurora crash. He and other boys in Wise County had pieces of what they believed at the time was the space ship.
"Just a little small chunk -- not anything of any size," Marcum said.
It's been a long time and Marcum could not find the keepsake when we visited. He's not sure about the story either.
"I can see where it would be a hoax. Never see any tangible evidence. Of course the chunks we were given could have been aluminum," Marcum said. "Possibly it did happen. Possibly something really did happen at that time."
Others in town, such as cemetery caretaker Ned Adock, are absolutely convinced it didn't happen.
"I don't think there's anything to it. Just a hoax," he said.
Adcock rolled out the cemetery plot map and pointed to the plot in question. On it is a name: Jno. Kennedy.
The cemetery association would clearly prefer that the spaceman story quietly go away. Apparently without local consent, the state erected outside the cemetery gate a historical plaque that includes the tale about the pilot who died in an airship crash and was buried here, but labels it "legend."
KDFW FOX 4
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