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Alien Graveyard: The Shocking True Story Behind the Aurora Encounter 

It's a bird, it's a bat, it's…an alien?!

ufo-shaped clouds above mountains, black and white photo
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  • Photo Credit: Marc Thunis / Unsplash

In 1897, an unidentified flying object reportedly crashed in Aurora, Texas—resulting in the death of the alien pilot. The incident gained attention in UFO lore as one of the earliest recorded UFO crash stories, although its authenticity remains highly debated.

The term UFO—short for “unidentified flying object”—was not coined until after 1947, when civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to have spotted “a group of bat-like aircraft flying in formation at high speeds” near Mount Rainier, “moving like a saucer would if skipped across water.”

They're now “officially” coined “UAPs”, for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena—as in the recent congressional UAP Hearing.

While Arnold’s report helped to kick off a popular UFO craze that swept the country for decades, people have been seeing strange vehicles and lights in the sky for a long time. 

The Mystery Airships

Between November of 1896 and April of 1897, American newspapers were brimming with stories about “mystery airships,” which thousands of people claimed to have spotted. As with the later flying saucers, descriptions of these enigmatic airships varied, though most claimed that they looked somewhat like a dirigible, as can be seen in an illustration in the San Francisco Call, dated November 22, 1896. 

Many of these individuals also claimed to have spoken with the pilots of these strange aircraft. Unlike later UFO accounts, however, the craft were rarely attributed to extraterrestrials. Instead, most seemed to believe that they were the work of a very human inventor, with some laying the blame at the feet of none other than Thomas Edison. In 1897, Edison denied working on any such device, and referred to a coded letter purported to be between himself and an airship pilot as a “pure fake.” 

Not all accounts ascribed the airships to such earthly origins, however, and perhaps the most striking of them all appeared in The Dallas Morning News on April 19, 1897. Under the headline, “A Windmill Demolishes It,” the article begins with an assumption that the reader is familiar with these strange airships which have been appearing around the country. 

So—what happened in Aurora, Texas? Are aliens really buried there? 

The Crash Over Aurora, Texas

a photo of Haydon's article about the UFO
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  • S.E. Haydon's article "A Windmill Demolishes It" from the Dallas Morning News, April 19,1897, talking about the Aurora Incident.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Behaving erratically compared to its earlier appearances, the ship is said to have sailed low over the town of Aurora, Texas before colliding with a windmill on the property of one Judge J. S. Proctor.

The crash caused the craft to go “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.” 

According to the article, which was written by S. E. Haydon, the craft had but a single occupant – the pilot, who was “not an inhabitant of this world.”

Haydon quotes a Mr. T. J. Weems, “the United States signal service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy.” Weems is quoted as saying that, in his opinion, the pilot was “a native of the planet Mars.” 

The Remains of the Ship

The ship itself was “too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power,” according to Haydon, but was “built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver.”

The piece goes on to say that the townsfolk all gathered around to view the wreck and to claim pieces of the “strange metal.” However, it is the last sentence of Haydon’s piece that is perhaps the most striking and leaves the greatest part of the legacy of the Aurora crash.

“The pilot’s funeral will take place at noon to-morrow,” Haydon writes. 

According to most accounts, the pilot was buried “with Christian rites” in the Aurora Cemetery, the grave marked with a stone onto which was carved a simple depiction of the mysterious airship itself. A Texas Historical Commission marker outside the cemetery still stands, mentioning the alleged alien grave within, although the original gravestone has since vanished. 

That wasn’t the end of the story, however. While townsfolk made off with some souvenirs from the crash, much of the wreckage was reportedly dumped down the judge’s well. Around 1945, Brawley and Bonnie Oates bought the property that had once belonged to Judge Proctor.

The Oates’ are reported to have cleaned out the debris from the well so that it could be put back into use. However, Brawley Oates soon developed a severe case of arthritis, which he blamed on contamination from the debris dumped into the water supply. In 1957, he sealed the well with a concrete slab. 

Investigations of the Aurora Incident

Over the years, especially as the UFO craze swept the nation, several investigations were made into the Aurora incident, though many of them were so long after the fact that much potential evidence had been lost, and witnesses passed away.

A 1973 investigation by the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, found surviving witnesses who claimed to have seen the wreck as children, and uncovered the stone that supposedly marked the alien pilot’s grave. A metal detector picked up readings from the gravesite, but the cemetery association declined requests to exhume the putative grave. 

Other investigations were conducted in 1998, 2005, and 2008. The latter was conducted by the TV show UFO Hunters, which obtained permission from Tim Oates, the nephew of Brawley Oates and the current owner of the property, to unseal the old well and test the water within.

The water tests came back normal, except for large amounts of aluminum. Similarly, ground-penetrating radar found an unmarked grave in the Aurora Cemetery, but could make no conclusions about the nature of the remains within, and the cemetery association once again refused exhumation. 

The Verdict

So, is there an alien buried in a small north Texas graveyard? Some say yes, while others suggest that the entire incident was little more than a hoax cooked up to try to save a dying town.

Barbara Brammer was a mayor of Aurora for a time, and in her capacity as mayor, she looked into the town’s famous legend. She came to the conclusion that the whole thing was probably a hoax concocted by none other than S. E. Haydon himself. 

A 1979 Time magazine interview with Aurora resident Etta Pegues made a similar claim. Haydon was apparently known as something of a jokester in the area, and Pegues asserted that he fabricated the story “as a joke to bring interest to Aurora. The railroad bypassed us, and the town was dying.” 

Whether a true instance of first contact with alien visitors or merely a hoax to help save a dying town, the Aurora incident caught the public imagination, and has since been dramatized and adapted into TV shows such as UFO Hunters and Ancient Aliens, as well as the 1986 movie The Aurora Encounter, starring Jack Elam.

Anyone who goes there looking for an alien graveyard today is unlikely to find a mysterious stone or any remaining wreckage from the crash, but the historical marker outside the Aurora Cemetery remains to commemorate the incident—or the legend. 

Featured photo: Marc Thunis / Unsplash