An anniversary quietly passed in March without much notice in Aurora, Texas.
And the folks in the town of just 1,701 people would like to change that because they're still hoping that their claim to fame is a UFO and an alien named “Ned.”
"Well, I've heard 10 different stories,” said Frankie Miller, a local retiree and frequent visitor to Tater Junction, the only diner in town. “I've heard about the Martian that crashed up here on Aurora Hill and what they did with the bodies and all this stuff.”
The story is Aurora’s biggest. The Dallas Morning News wrote about it in 1897. In the report, they wrote about a "terrific explosion" that occurred when a flying saucer collided with a windmill, and that the"badly disfigured" and deceased pilot "was not an inhabitant of this world."
There's an historic marker bearing that same story at the old Aurora Cemetery. Amid the gravestones of Aurora's founding fathers and mothers, we were able to have a conversation with the city administrator while she sat on a large rock.
"There's still a huge divide between the believers and the non-believers,” said Tony Wheeler, Ph.D. “I had ordered the placement of this rock here because people wanted to know where he was."
The "he" Wheeler is referring to is the UFO pilot, the one they've since named "Ned" after the late caretaker of the cemetery. The UFO pilot is the one who early Aurora settlers supposedly offered a "good Christian burial” at a spot underneath a large twisted tree, where visitors have since used ink markers to scrawl alien images and even the phrase “dig me up” on the rock.
"I think it's a fun story," Wheeler said. "I'm not entirely sure it happened."
But after a short walk to Aurora’s tiny city hall, a believer is awfully easy to find.
"This has been one of the biggest cover-ups ever,” said author Jim Marrs. “At this point, I think it really happened."
Marrs is an author, conspiracy theorist and newspaper reporter who covered the story decades ago. He says that in the 1970s, he and a friend were using a metal detector when they found evidence of metal fragments at the gravesite. But then, the next day, the readings were gone.
"He said, 'I think it was the government,' and I said, 'I think you're right,'” he said with a laugh. "I think they've been aware of what really happened at Aurora and have been keeping tabs on it ever since it happened."
But keeping tabs on the story from his outpost at Tater Junction, Frankie Miller had a suggestion: find the UFO, the shattered metal pieces of the spaceship and the windmill it crashed into that the locals decided to bury in a farmer's well.
"He might be in that old well up there if you can find that old well,” Miller said.
So, we did.
"It's been a story forever,” said Jackie Stone as he walked us to the back of his property and to the old hand-dug well he now keeps partially filled in and covered with a section of chain link fence.
It was his grandad’s well, a grandad who always told him the story of the crash and swore that the large trees nearby are where Ned and his disintegrating flying saucer met their fate. Other researchers claim to have found small metal fragments in those trees too.
"It's a damn good story,” Stone said. “It's a good story and it's not going away."
Whatever happened here 120 years ago, or at least the story that started her 120 years ago, helped put Aurora, Texas on the map. Now as they re-embrace the legend of Ned the folks of Aurora are hoping that spot on the map can finally get a little bit bigger.
They're building a stainless steel monument at the entrance to town. It includes a small flying saucer, an alien offering a peace sign, and a windmill to signify how Ned supposedly met his fate. The UFO is part of the Aurora city logo, they're even putting it on coffee cups, hoping Ned, even 120 years later, can bring a few more tourist dollars to town.
"We have to have one claim to fame. Everybody does,” said Tater Junction waitress Diana Gail Meadows. "I want to believe it. I really do. Roswell became famous and people became rich and people flocked to the desert because of the alien. And if it causes people to flock here, then I'm happy for that."
So, at this point you're asking yourself, why not just dig up the alien grave and see if old Ned is still inside? Because the city administrator says they can't.
"There's a law in the state of Texas that says you have to notify the next of kin before you exhume remains. And, obviously, we do not know any other Neds,” she said with a laugh.
So, whether they ever dig or not, the legend lives on, 120 years and counting.
"Oh yeah, I think so,” said Jim Marrs when asked if he was a true believer. "But believing is not quite exact. I believe in a God. I know there are UFO's!”
"There's a good possibility,” said Frankie Miller. “A real good possibility.”
A real good possibility at least that the legend of Ned, buried in the cemetery or not, will likely outlive us all.
The city’s Aurora Alien Encounter Conference, a celebration of the 120th anniversary and originally scheduled for last month, has been moved to September 16, 2017. Information can be found at the city website www.auroratexas.gov.