A corner of the UFO phenomenon that has remained rather spectacular and alluring is that of the UFO crash. By far the most famous of these is the July 1947 crash of some sort of flying object at Roswell, New Mexico, which has gone on to spawn countless conspiracy theories and tales of alien bodies and secret bases in the desert testing out alien technology. Roswell can also arguably be said to lay claim to being the incident that really launched the UFO craze into the public consciousness in the United States and put the idea of sinister government UFO research on the map, the name Roswell being nearly synonymous with any purported UFO crash thereafter and a name known by people who don't even follow the field. The Roswell incident has become by far the most famous UFO crash, becoming a pop cultural icon in the process, and is largely thought to mark the beginning of serious mainstream consideration of mysterious craft coming down from the sky to smash into the earth. Yet, Roswell is not, as many may believe, the first, and there have been supposed mysterious crashes of UFOs and even alien bodies found that predate it by some margin.
One of the earliest UFO crash stories in America happened before there was even a Roswell at all. In 1884 there was a very bizarre incident that allegedly happened at the tiny town of Max, Nebraska. The town was just a dusty, nondescript speck on the map, with only 914 living there at the time, a place where not much ever happened at all, but on June 6, 1884, all of that would change. On this day a rancher named John W. Ellis and a group of other cowboys were rounding up a herd of cattle when they heard a “terrific whirring noise over their heads” and turned to see “a blazing body falling like a shot to Earth.” Whatever it was hit nearby beyond an embankment, and when they went to investigate they found a strange metallic object embedded in the earth, which had left in its wake a deep gash in the ground. One of the frightened herdsmen, a man named Alf Williamson, was purportedly burned when he drew too close to the object. There was apparently a lot of debris from the mysterious craft lying about as well, and one report in the Nebraska State Journal would say of this:
One piece that looked like the blade of a propeller screw, of a metal of an appearance like brass, about 16 inches wide, three inches thick and three-and-a-half feet long, was picked up by a spade. It would not weigh more than five pounds, but appeared as strong and compact as any known metal. A fragment of a wheel with a milled rim, apparently having had a diameter of seven or eight feet, was also picked up. It seemed to be of the same material and had the same remarkable lightness.
It is a very compelling report, but it happened so long ago and was so little covered in the news at the time that it is impossible to ascertain how real any of the report is or what could have happened to the supposed fragments of the craft. What happened to this craft after that? Are there still pieces of this thing out there somewhere? Who knows? Another very early account of a supposed UFO crash that happened just a few years later even allegedly featured a dead alien pilot. In April of 1897, the small town of Aurora, Texas, was rocked by a rather spectacular event. It was reported that a large, slow-moving aircraft like nothing anyone had ever seen came down from the sky to go smashing into a windmill to send debris scattering everywhere, as well as a dead humanoid creature the townsfolk called the “Martian pilot.” This apparently happened after numerous people in the region had reported a strange "airship," an article in the Dallas Morning News would say of the incident:
Aurora Cemetery "About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing around the country. It was traveling due north and much nearer the earth than before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour, and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went into 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 aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
The body of the alien was then supposedly given a proper burial at the local cemetery, and it has all become a fixture of local lore, as well as an almost legendary case in the UFO field. Various people have tried to dig up more information on this, even talking to supposed living relatives of the original witnesses and scouring the cemetery with metal detectors, but the supposed alien body has never been found. In 1973, a group called the International UFO Bureau claimed to have located the site of the alien’s grave, but they were denied the proper permits to have it exhumed, leaving it a mystery as to just who or what is buried there. A North Texas State University professor also allegedly unearthed some fragments at the site of where the windmill once stood, which he said “consisted primarily of iron which did not seem to exhibit magnetic properties,” but it is unknown what happened to these or what they actually were.
One account in later years from 1920 was related by a man named Clark Linch, of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. On June 3, 1920, Linch took a break from working on his father’s farm in order to do some fishing at the nearby river. It was 10 AM on a pleasant day, and he planned to go out fishing for just a few hours and then come back to work. As he sat out at the riverside waiting for a fish to bite, he allegedly saw “an egg-shaped object the size of a cream can” come down to smash into the ground about 15 feet away on the bank, where it sat for around 15 minutes before taking off again. He would say of his rather odd encounter:
I wasn't in any hurry to jump up and run over to it, and I'm glad I didn't. It might have killed me. Just when I thought about going over to take a closer look at it, it took off without any sound and without turning around. The grass where it hit was pressed down. I didn't know what to believe about it at the time, and I still don't. I've concluded that it wasn't anything from Earth. It was so small; it couldn't have been occupied by intelligent life as we know it.
He would claim that the object flew off at very slow speeds, with a strange wobbling motion and sort of limping along, making him think the thing had perhaps crashed and been damaged somehow. When Linch examined where the object had been, he found merely an area of pressed down grass, but no scorch marks or other damage. At the time he kept his strange experience to himself, and it would not be until 1955 that he would tell anyone about what had happened, explaining “You didn't talk about flying saucers in 1920.” Despite decades having passed, he still vividly remembered the incident, and knew the date because it was his birthday and the year he got married. What did he see out there at that riverside?
Even more spectacular is another report of a UFO crash complete with alien bodies and a government cover-up that predates Roswell by 6 years. The account comes from the book UFO Crash / Retrievals: The Inner Sanctum, by UFO researcher Leo Stringfield. He claimed that he had received a letter from a woman named Charlette Mann, who had a very strange story to tell. She claimed that in 1984 her grandmother on her deathbed had told her about an incident experienced by her grandfather, a Reverend William Huffman, who had told her of having been involved with being called to bless alien bodies in the wake of a UFO crash outside of Cape Girardeau, Missouri in the spring of 1941. Huffman told her that he had been brought to the crash site thinking he was going to an airplane crash and that he would be saying last rights to human victims, but as soon as he arrived, it was immediately clear that this was no normal aircraft and these were not human victims, but rather a spaceship and several small, hairless beings. Charlette would explain of what had happened to her grandfather:
Upon arrival it was a very different situation. It was not a conventional aircraft, as we know it. He described it as a saucer that was metallic in color, no seams, did not look like anything he had seen. It had been broken open in one portion, and so he could walk up and see that. In looking in he saw a small metal chair, gauges and dials and things he had never seen. However, what impressed him most was around the inside there were inscriptions and writings, which he said he did not recognize, but were similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. There were 3 entities, or non-human people, lying on the ground. Two were just outside the saucer, and a third one was further out. His understanding was that perhaps that third one was not dead on impact.
It was hard for him to tell if they had on suits or if it was their skin, but they were covered head to foot in what looked like wrinkled aluminum foil. He could see no hair on their bodies and they had no ears. They were small framed like a child, about 4 feet tall, but had larger heads and longer arms. Their faces had large, oval-shaped eyes, no noses, just holes and no lips, just small slits for mouths. There had been mention of a ball of fire, yet there was fire around the crash site, but none of the entities had been burned and so father did pray over them, giving them last rites. There were many people there, fire people, photographers, and so they lifted up one, and two men on either side stood him up and they stretched his arms out, they had him up under the armpits and out here.
When Huffman had finished his blessings and his duty, he was then told in no uncertain terms to say nothing of what he had seen there, but he had eventually told his wife. Charlette also claimed that her grandfather had secretly kept a picture from the scene of the crash, which allegedly showed one of the dead alien bodies being held up by two military men. She had been shown this picture by her father, who had gotten it from her grandfather, and indeed she claimed that this was the reason she had pushed her grandmother to tell her the truth of what had happened that day. Charlette would say of the creature in the mysterious photograph:
As I recall from the picture I saw, he was about 4 feet tall, appeared to have no bone structure, soft looking. He had a suit on, or we assume it was a suit, it could have been his skin, and what looked like crinkled, soft aluminum foil. I recall it had very long hands, very long fingers, and I think there were three but I cannot swear to that.
It is unclear what happened to this picture, or whether it ever even existed or not, and indeed the whole account is a bit murky and difficult to get to the facts on. Several people related to Charlette, as well as the living brother of the Cape Girardeau County sheriff in 1941, Clarance R. Schade, have corroborated these events, and Charlette Mann has been called a very sincere and trustworthy person by those who have interviewed her since, but UFO researchers who have visited the area and dug for more information have failed to uncover much more information on the case. It is largely known from Stringfield’s book and some interviews with Charlette herself, and without further evidence it is hard to say just what exactly happened out there in the spring of 1941.
What can we say about such reports? With no real evidence there is no way to know how real any of them are, or whether they were merely hoaxes and urban legends and lore. One thing we can say is that they show that the notion of alien spacecraft coming down to crash into the earth did not begin with Roswell, and that this sort of report has been going on for some time. Whether it is aliens, tall tales, or some explainable phenomena, such reports certainly capture the attention, and serve as strange historical oddities that have remained elusive to our understanding.