They had no idea what it was but they knew it came from outer space. A Traveler’s Story.
July 26, 2013
A VG Serial: Other Voices, Other Towns
The Scene: Aurora is a nice, quiet, non-descript little town, lying north of Fort Worth that would be completely neglected or ignored if, old timers said, a spacecraft had not come crashing down to earth behind the home and atop the windmill of Judge W. S. Proctor. That was in 1897, and columns within Texas newspapers were filled with the glorious report.
The Setting: The cemetery of Aurora is old and quite respected. Its graves date back to the 1860s. But only one grave remains of interest, and nobody knows where it is. If the urban legend is true, and it does stubbornly persist, the pilot of the spacecraft was buried deep in a sacred patch of Aurora’s soil. It’s just that the tombstone was stolen so many decades ago, and, even though newspaper photographs of the grave marker remain, the location of its existence remains a mystery.
The Story: Dr. Alfred Kraus walked patiently and calmly toward the summit of a small shale and limestone rise just beyond Brawley Oates’ chicken coop, where the man from outer space had crashed and died on Texas soil. At least, that’s what he had heard for so many years, and his scientific curiosity had finally led him to that hard-scrabble patch of stubborn land on the edge of Aurora, to a hilltop once shadowed by the rusty, complaining blades of Judge W. S. Proctor’s windmill, wiped out – so the report said – by the explosion of an unknown spacecraft on that fitful spring day in 1897. Dr. Kraus paused amidst a blanket of Yellow Stone wildflowers and carefully swept his metal detector across the caliche face of the knoll that rose up from the Wise County prairie like an ancient burial mound.
If there had been a crash, Dr. Kraus reasoned, scraps of hot, twisted metal would have surely been scattered upon the sun-blistered countryside. And if the metal lay hidden amongst the rocks and Yellow Stone wildflowers, he was bound and determined to find it. Dr. Kraus, possessed by the same affliction that taunts the curiosity of most university professors, simply wanted to know the truth about the fire and thunder that lit up the skies above Aurora. He would prove that a creature from outer space had indeed crashed into Judge Proctor’s farmstead, or he would separate fact from fiction, truth from contradiction, and leave the myth to wither and fade away like those Yellow Stone wildflowers that huddled between the shale and limestone scars of a barren earth.
The metal detector hummed with the enthusiasm of a bored bumblebee. The chickens raised cane down behind the wires of Brawley Oates’ little coop, scratching and cackling and bragging about the eggs they had just laid. In the distance, just on the far side of the last turn in the road, Aurora, or what was left of it, lay dying. Or maybe it was already gone.
Aurora had been built, back in the 1870s, on a promise. Some day the railroad would be headed its way, so fifteen businesses and a few more than 450 good, honest, hard-working farmers and merchants settled down around the trading post. The Dallas Pacific & Southwest Railroad even charted and graded a right-of-way through the little town. But alas, twenty people suddenly died from a strange disease that would later be diagnosed as spotted fever, and the railroad, just as suddenly, abandoned its plans to link Aurora with the rest of Texas. The town squared its shoulders and grew despite being shunned.
By April of 1897, Aurora was well occupied with two lawyers, five doctors, one undertaker, one brass band for Sunday afternoon concerts, two cotton gins, one hotel, and a newspaper. It was a quiet little town. Not much of importance ever happened at all.
Then the rumors began to spread about those “mysterious airships” that had been seen in the evening skies above Forney, Tioga, Mansfield, and Waxahachie. Some said, with quivering lips, that the silver ships, shaped like cigars, were at least two hundred feet long. Some couldn’t forget the powerful headlights that beamed down from the snub noses of the ships. Others reported that two gasoline engines turned the propellers that kept each craft aloft. A few even swore that the vessels were piloted by creatures who were dressed in blue sailor suits, and one claimed that three beings climbed down from an airship, sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” and passed out temperance tracts.
In early April of 1897, John Barclay was awakened on his Rockland, Texas, farm by frantically barking dogs and a high-pitched whine from the sky. He ran outside and saw a flying object hovering twenty feet off the ground, he said, with “protrusions and blinding lights.” The craft landed, a man climbed out, requested common hardware to repair the craft, paid Barclay with a ten-dollar bill, and took off “like a bullet out of a gun.” The craft landed again near Josserand, Texas, and two short, dark men asked Frank Nichols for permission to draw water from his well. Four days later, an attorney in Aquila, Texas, reported seeing an oblong object overhead as he rode home in a horse-driven carriage. A large, bright light was sweeping the ground around him. Rumors kept on spreading like strange rumors always do. Repeated once, passed on twice, and printed in a God-fearing newspaper heralded any piece of gossip as gospel.
Aurora, however, was undaunted. The town’s three thousand good, honest, hard-working farmers and merchants did not pay much if any attention at all to such wild tales, regarding them only as the frenzied results of alcoholic tongues or maybe a good dose of religious hysteria. They went to bed on the night of April 16, and at three minutes past dawn the next morning, a silver cigar appeared above the southern horizon. It didn’t stay there long, remaining only until it hovered at last low over the earth beside those rusty, complaining blades of Judge Proctor’s windmill.
Dr. Kraus opened the yellowed clipping and again read the account that the honorable S. E. Hayden, an Aurora cotton buyer, had written seventy years earlier for a Dallas newspaper:
About 6 o’clock this morning, the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the air ship which has been sailing throughout the country.
It sailed directly over the public square and when it reached the north part of the 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.
T. J. Weems, the U.S. Signal Service Officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gave it as his opinion that he (the pilot) was a native of Mars.
Papers found on this person – evidently the records of his travels – are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and cannot be deciphered. The ship was too badly wrecked to form conclusions as to the construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal resembling a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have weighed several tons. The town, today, is full of people who are viewing the wreckage and gathering specimens of strange metal from the debris. The pilot’s funeral will take place tomorrow.
For the next several years, there was gossip that the metal had been suddenly and unceremoniously confiscated by the military and never returned. Maybe. Probably. It did sound reasonable anyway. The people who had viewed the wreckage and collected those specimens of strange metal from the debris, were left with empty hands. Maybe they should have asked the military to sign a document or something. Then again, those wearing starched uniforms and possessing starched faces did not look as though they would have been willing to sign anything. They just took the scattered pieces from the wreckage and left. No hello. No goodbye. No good riddance. Nothing at all.
Dr. Kraus gazed out across the shale and limestone rise as the earth began to bite off the edge of the sun. He had heard the words of the unbelievers. Judge Proctor never even owned a windmill, some said. T. J. Weems, the so-called authority on astronomy, was nothing more than a blacksmith. Yet the rumor obstinately hung around that the remains of the creature from outer space had been given a final Christian burial in the community cemetery. At the foot of an unknown grave Dr. Kraus had found a hand-hewn stone marker with no name. Instead, it had been carved with the outline of a flying object that looked a lot like a cigar.
All day Dr. Kraus had scoured the knoll with his metal detector, searching for remnants of the mysterious airship. Some believed in the man from outer space. Some didn’t. Dr. Alfred Kraus could only base his scientific judgment on the merit of those antique metal relics that he himself had uncovered among the rocks and Yellow Stone wildflowers that blanketed the small shale and limestone rise. He walked away from Aurora with old stove lids, horse bridle rings, and a 1932 license plate.
Chapters of Other Voices, Other Towns: The Traveler’s Story, are published daily.
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