Tilting at Windmills

04 17 windmillI have a mystery to tell you about today. On this day in 1897, a UFO crash landed in Aurora, Texas. Or did it? It is claimed that the crash caused one fatality… the pilot. There is supposed to be an alien body buried in the local churchyard.

Between 1896 and 1897 there were several reported sightings across the USA of a cigar-shaped airship. On April 17th at about 6 am, according to a contemporary newspaper report, the early risers of Aurora spotted the airship. It was travelling much closer to the ground than it had been at previous sightings and much more slowly, about 10 – 12 miles an hour. There seemed to be something wrong with its machinery and it was getting lower all the time. It passed right over the town square and headed north. Then it collided with a windmill belonging to a man called Judge Proctor. The windmill was completely destroyed, along with a water tank and the Judge’s flower garden. The debris was scattered over several acres.

It seems the only person on board was the pilot. The report says that the body was badly disfigured, but enough was recovered to prove that: ‘he was not an inhabitant of this world’. A Mr T J Weems, an officer of the United States Signal Service, was of the opinion that the pilot had come from Mars. The pilot had with him, papers that were written in undecipherable hieroglyphs. The ship was too badly wrecked for anyone to tell what it was like or how it worked, but it seems to have been made from a metal resembling a combination of aluminium and silver. It was estimated to weigh several tons. The report, of April 19th 1897, goes on to say that the town was full of people picking up pieces of the wreckage and that the pilot’s funeral would be the following day.

The wreckage from the crash was dumped in a well that was underneath the wrecked windmill. In later years, the new owner of Judge Proctor’s property, Brawley Oates, cleaned out the well, because he wanted to use it. Afterwards he developed a severe case of arthritis which he blamed on poisoned well water. In 1957, he sealed up the well and put a building on top of it.

It is possible that the entire thing was a hoax. The newspaper report, which appeared in the Dallas Morning News, was written by a resident of the town called S E Haydon and he may have made the whole thing up. The town of Aurora was having a pretty tough time. Their cotton crop had been destroyed by boll weevil. Much of the town had been destroyed in a massive fire. There had been an outbreak of ‘spotted fever’ which had almost wiped out the people who hadn’t died in the fire. The town was quarantined. Then they were bypassed by a planned railroad. It may have been Haydon’s attempt to save a dying town. He never sent a follow up story. He might have written a second report about the alien’s funeral, but he didn’t. It was also later claimed that Judge Proctor had never even had a windmill.

But then, in 1973, an organisation called ‘MUFON’ which likes to investigate the sites of alleged UFO crashes, turned up two more eyewitnesses. Mary Evans, who had been fifteen at the time, remembered her parents going to the crash site. She had been forbidden from going but she remembered that an alien body had been found. Charlie Stephens, who was ten, had seen the ship pass over, trailing smoke. He too had not been allowed to go to the crash site, but his father had gone to town the next day to see the wreckage. MUFON checked out the cemetery and found a grave marker that seemed to show some sort of flying saucer. They also picked up readings with a metal detector. They asked for permission to dig up the grave but they were refused. Later, the grave marker mysteriously disappeared and was replaced by the three-inch pipe. Their metal detector no longer picked up any readings. They concluded that the metal had been removed from the grave, but they couldn’t rule out a hoax.

In 2008, a television programme called ‘UFO Hunters’ investigated again. They were allowed by Tim Oates, grandson of Brawley, to unseal the covered well. They found no debris, but they did find unusually large amounts of aluminium in the water. They also found the remains of a windmill base. It had been there after all. They investigated the cemetery but, as in 1973, were refused permission to dig. They found the grave, using ground penetrating radar, close to other 1890s burials. But the grave was so badly deteriorated that they couldn’t tell what was in it.

I don’t want to draw any conclusions about this story, because I like a mystery. Perhaps is was a hoax to raise the profile of the town. Perhaps it was a military experiment gone wrong. The US Signal Service were quite enamoured of balloons at one time. Perhaps it was a crashed space ship from another world. In an infinite universe, all things are possible.

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