Did 'Martian' crash his flying saucer in Texas in 1897?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 1 2002 12:00 a.m. MDT

AURORA, Texas — In 1897, a flying saucer came sputtering over Aurora's town square and crashed into Judge Proctor's windmill, destroying the good judge's flower garden and killing the hapless alien.

Aurora was astounded.

Townsfolk combed the wreckage and found scribbled hieroglyphics, apparently a record of the space creature's travels. They scratched their heads, declared the dead thing to be a Martian and buried him along with his strange metal craft. They even gave him a tombstone.

At least that's how the story goes.

Tiny Aurora, northwest of Fort Worth, has swapped tales of little green men, alien technology and government cover-ups ever since. Now, Janet Derting has opened a lime-green haven for alien enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists everywhere.

She named her store Area 114 after the two-lane state highway that bisects the town and stocked it with Aurora T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers — even a candy called Shiny Mutant Pops.

Aurora will finally get some respect from the UFO community.

"The whole world knows about Roswell and Area 51," she said. "But we were the first one. The first government cover-up."

The idea came to Derting on a recent trip to Las Vegas, which is close to Area 51.

Like much of eastern Wise County, Aurora is swarming with newcomers. The signs on the edge of town still say Pop. 376, but the total is closer to 1,000 now.

Derting and her husband, Steve, Aurora's mayor, don't want the town's legend lost in a crush of subdivisions, and she hopes her store will educate the unwitting.

There are tables covered with alien books, including Time/Life books on space creatures and examinations of the real Lee Harvey Oswald. Alien yo-yos are for sale, along with alien candles, alien-themed gourds and T-shirts painted with crop circles.

"Hey, this is good for the town," said Jim Marrs, a conspiracy theorist in nearby Paradise who wrote "Alien Agenda." "In Roswell, every little storefront has little aliens in the window. That doesn't mean people buy into it, but they're not above capitalizing on it.

"Sprawl is moving out to this area by leaps and bounds," he said. "There's younger people out here with fresher ideas who will believe it, at least as a story."

There are many reasons Roswell, N.M., flourished as an alien capital while Aurora stayed hidden, Marrs said.

For one, the country folk of Wise County wanted it kept quiet.

"They don't want a horde of wild-eyed fanatics coming in and digging up their yards," said Marilyn Maddox, who works at Area 114 on Tuesdays.

Still, Marrs said, the story has persisted. Whenever it resurfaces, he said, interested alien hunters call the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or Rosalie Gregg, chairwoman of the Wise County Historical Commission.

Both parties have long insisted the saucer crash was a hoax dreamed up by the townsfolk.

"We have an interview with a fella who was 11 years old and lived there at the time," Gregg said. "He had all his sensibilities about him when we spoke, and he said that it did not happen."

But the town is still divided.

On the day of Area 114's grand opening, a man came in holding a medallion he insisted had been unearthed at the crash site.

"I'm pretty convinced something happened there," Marrs said. "I'm not going to say it was a spaceship because I don't know."

It was enough to persuade the Dallas Morning News in 1897. The only space-related story in the Fort Worth Register — aside from a man in Cisco, bound for Cuba with a cigar-shaped airship full of dynamite — involved accounts by "credible witnesses" of a mysterious aircraft passing over Rhome nearby.

But on April 19, 1897, the Dallas paper carried accounts of statewide alien sightings on its front page, including a story about the Aurora crash.

"The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board," wrote reporter S.E. Haydon, "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.

"Mr. T.J. Weems," the story continues, "the United States signal service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he was a native of the planet Mars."

Marrs, a former Star-Telegram reporter, visited the Aurora Cemetery in 1973 along with a fellow reporter from the Dallas Times-Herald. They brought a metal detector along and passed it over the ground, laughing that the positive readings were probably some sort of Star Trek paraphernalia.

Marrs said, "The stone had like an inverted 'V' on it with three circles. If you duplicate it and put it together with a mirror image, that design makes a little saucer with portholes in it."

Rubberneckers hit Aurora after news stories appeared, and soon after, the headstone vanished. Marrs said when he returned with the other reporter years later, the metal detector no longer showed any readings on the alien's grave.

"There's some strange stuff," he said.

Derting said she just hopes to lure some of the inquisitive folk.

Her store has a Web site — www.auroraalien.com — and soon science-fiction fans will be able to buy accoutrements online.

As for what happened 105 years ago?

"I think it's possible," Derting said. "I'd be really naive to think in this vast huge universe we were the only intelligent beings." People are naturally curious about space life, Marrs said, and are increasingly open about their suspicions that it exists. As the legend of Aurora grows, fewer people will shut their doors to the idea of extraterrestrials for fear of being hauled away. The uncertainty only makes the idea more attractive.

"Somewhere in all that smoke," Marrs said, "there's fire."

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