A torpedo-shaped sphere cruised the night sky over the West Texas town of Levelland Nov. 2, 1957, while on the ground mysterious “eggs of light” blocked the roads.
The reexamination of the so-called “Roswell Incident” in the 1990’s revived interest in Unidentified Flying Objects. Although nothing in the Lone Star past can compete with the controversial claim that a flying saucer crashed in the New Mexico desert 73 years ago, Texas history is full of out-of-this-world sightings.
Farmworkers at Bonham filed one of the earliest reports on record in 1873. Stupefied laborers swore they saw an enormous “serpentine object” float overheard in broad daylight.
This obscure episode preceded by a generation the Great Airship Mystery, the first nationwide commotion concerning UFOs. Starting on the Pacific coast in November 1896 and slowly moving eastward for six sensational months, thousands of Americans insisted they gazed upon giant flying machines two decades before the Wright brothers mastered heavier-than-air flight.
An oblong, propeller-powered craft supposedly churned against the wind over Sacramento Nov. 19, 1896. The next day a similar airship mystified Oakland, where onlookers said they heard voices, laughter and Christmas carols.
During the wacky weeks that followed, flying cigars and cylinders were spotted over Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis and countless other communities. In April 1897, an entire fleet of UFOs caused a high-altitude traffc jam over metropolitan Chicago.
A former congressman had a Kansas encounter of the much-too-close kind. As an airship hovered 30 feet off the ground, six odd-looking creatures were plainly visible inside a transparent undercarriage. The shaken ex-lawmaker said, “I don’t know whether they were angels, devils or what.”
Popular speculation picked up by the press hinted the astonishing contraptions were the secret creations of Thomas Edison, proof of the public’s boundless confidence in the inventive genius. But Edison indignantly denied any involvement and dismissed the strange phenomena as an elaborate fraud.
Meanwhile, a Dallas daily reported the crash of a spaceship at the Wise County hamlet of Aurora. According to a local correspondent named S.E. Hayden, the craft collided with a windmill and exploded, killing the lone alien occupant. The blast “scattered debris over several acres of ground” but enough remained of the intergalactic guest “to show he was not an inhabitant of this world.”
“T.J. Weems, the U.S. Signal Service offcer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gave it as his opinion that the pilot was a native of the planet Mars.” The tall tale concluded with the announcement that the deceased would be given a Christian burial by the compassionate earthlings of Aurora.
During the flying saucer frenzy after the Second World War, the “Lubbock Lights” focused media attention on the Panhandle. Streaking across the heavens on a crystal clear night in November 1951, the blue lights were observed and photographed by numerous eyewitnesses, including my own mother who fearing ridicule kept quiet about the experience for 50 years. Unable to chalk off four Texas Tech professors and an Atomic Energy Commission representative as crackpots, the Air Force blamed the light show on migratory birds.
Never at a loss for down-to-earth explanations, government investigators deduced the glowing “eggs” that materialized on highways outside Levelland in 1957 were simply ball lightning. To motorists, whose engines died when they drove too close to the eerie orbs, the offcial verdict was more far-fetched than the bizarre incident itself.
The forgotten story of the Martian mishap in North Texas was discovered in 1973 by a bored newspaperman. UFO enthusiasts descended upon tiny Aurora in search of evidence of the ancient accident but failed to find a single fragment of the shattered spacecraft.
The last straw for residents, who had politely put up with the eccentric invasion, was a request from a team of Oklahoma UFO hunters to exhume a body in the cemetery. The grave robbers were sent packing, and a guard was posted at the burial ground.
In the aftermath of this carnival-like furor, a Wise County writer proved that Hayden, the Gay Nineties chronicler, was just pulling posterity’s leg. The windmill never existed, the astronomy expert was actually a blacksmith and cemetery records showed no alien internment. Elderly Aurorans would have remembered the crash landing, yet everyone agreed nothing unusual happened in April 1897.
But hoaxes, birds and ball lightning do not explain the thousands of sightings in Texas and elsewhere during the past century or more. To borrow the tag line from a popular television show of the 1990’s, the truth may still be out there.