Roswell: Endless Entertainment
Back in July 2007, I travelled to Roswell, New Mexico, where I was due to lecture on my book Body Snatchers in the Desert – a book that most within Ufology hated and dearly hoped would not prove to be the answer to the pesky, long-gone affair that has obsessed so many for so very long. Anyway, just before I hit the road to Roswell I prepared a lengthy article on the looming anniversary, but which has never been published. Until now. So, I figured why not bring it to your attentions? I think it’s all still pretty much relevant, six years later. You may agree or disagree. But, whatever your view on the article, it goes like this…
Ah yes, Roswell: where would Ufology be without its cosmic (or not) Holy-Grail? Roswell is, of course, the one case that, for many, keeps the extra-terrestrial-hypothesis alive and kicking. For me, today, Roswell is nothing more than an X-Files version of Jack the Ripper: namely, an ancient case, an event filled to the brim with a variety of theories, one that will never be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, but also one for which whole swathes of the UFO research community must continue to fly the flag. Belief and faith are very strong things.
Situated in south-eastern New Mexico, the town of Roswell, with a bustling population of just under 50,000 people, is today the state’s fifth largest city. It has a thriving farming industry, it is a major producer of the nation’s petroleum, and was the birth place of both Hollywood actress Demi Moore and the late country-and-western singer, John Denver. And, all thanks to a controversial (and, some say, out-of-this-world) incident that occurred sixty years ago, Roswell is today one of the leading tourist attractions in the United States.
Every year, countless UFO believers, X-Files fans and holiday-makers flock to Roswell hoping to learn if aliens from across the galaxy really did crash to earth on a fateful day back in early July 1947. The American Government and the Air Force firmly say no. Conspiracy theorists and UFO researchers enthusiastically say yes. And, as a result, widespread publicity inevitably abounds. All of which, of course, makes the people of Roswell very happy.
Indeed, in much the same way that the Loch Ness Monster generates a sizable and welcome income for the Scottish Tourist Board, so Roswell owes a significant amount of its own revenue to the legendary little green men that are said to have fallen to their deaths in the desert all those years ago.
Even the briefest of strolls along the bustling North Main Street that runs through the centre of Roswell makes for a truly surreal experience: the outside of the local McDonald’s restaurant is shaped like a classic flying saucer. Mums and dads can treat their kids to meals of ET burgers and chips. Posters of UFOs and Flying Saucers adorn the shops. The town’s lamp-posts are topped off with alien heads, complete with huge black-eyes. And when you get thirsty, why not pay a visit to the Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar?
To celebrate their status as a true Mecca for alien investigators, as well as those who just want to know what all of the fuss is really about, every year the people of Roswell hold a weekend-long UFO festival to commemorate the day that forever changed their otherwise unremarkable town. And, as the first weekend in July of this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Roswell crash, the festival organisers are preparing to be overwhelmed by thousands of people, each and everyone eager to learn the latest news, views and revelations on the alien top secrets of Roswell.
In addition to lectures from British and American UFO authors, this year’s festival also boasts appearances by rock-singer Alan Parsons; actor and comedian Dean Haglund, who had a recurring role on The X-Files; and Chase Masterson, co-star of television’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series, who was recently voted one of the fifty sexiest women of the year by Femme Fatales Magazine. And not without justification! Then there is the not-to-be-missed “alien golf” tournament. In other words, a good time should be had by one and all.
And what do the locals think of their town’s out-of-this world reputation? One local man said to me in 2005: “I’ve seen Roswell go from a small town to like something out of Star Trek. But we’re a friendly town; and the UFO story brings people in. Whatever it was that crashed, Roswell has a lot to be thankful for. It’s put the town on the map. Every July, when the UFO people arrive, it just gets crazy.”
Indeed, this is echoed by Roswell’s official website that states: “Roswell has something to offer all of our special visitors, whether from this planet, or a distant galaxy.” But, needless to say, the town of Roswell hasn’t always been quite so unusual. In 1869, Van C. Smith, a Nebraskan businessman, and his partner Aaron Wilburn visited what was then an utterly desolate area and constructed two buildings: namely a grocery shop and a post-office.
Two years later, having secured ownership of the land from the government, Smith named the dusty, desert location after his father: Roswell Smith, a prominent Indiana-based lawyer. Van C. Smith then began to develop the land on a large scale, and thus was well and truly born a sleepy little New Mexican town called Roswell. Even before the alleged UFO crash of 1947 supposedly occurred, however, Roswell had two brief claims to fame.
First, it was where, in the 1930s, early rocket-pioneer Robert Goddard carried out his experiments; and, second, the Roswell Army Air Field base was home to the 509th Bomb Group that dropped the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought the Second World War to a shuddering end. But even the devastating power of the atom cannot compete with UFOs, and has been completely eclipsed by all-things- alien.
And even though, today, the strange events of early July 1947 are, for the most part, merely a source of fun and entertainment for those that want to spend a day in town, the fact remains that the incident that firmly put Roswell on the map so long ago, and gave it its place in the history books, is one that is still shrouded in deep mystery and intrigue.
No-one, not even the US Government in fact, disputes that something crashed to earth in the blistering hot and barren deserts of New Mexico in the summer of 1947. The event has been the subject of numerous books, official investigations undertaken by the U.S. Air Force, countless television documentaries, a hit movie starring actor Martin Sheen, and has left in its wake a legacy of controversy and a web of intrigue that continue to reverberate and rumble sixty years later.
It is a matter of record that in early July 1947, the then Army Air Forces announced to the entire world that they had recovered the broken remains of a “flying disc” that had been found on a farm near Roswell by a rancher named William “Mack” Brazel.
The intense media interest and speculation that followed for twenty-four hours was only brought to a close when the military hastily retracted that sensational statement: the flying disc story was a huge mistake and the wreckage originated with nothing stranger than a weather-balloon. Why trained military personnel from Roswell’s elite 509th Bomb Group could not tell the difference between a flying saucer and a weather-balloon was never explained.
Today, the Air Force tells a third story: that the debris found at Roswell came not from a UFO nor from a weather-balloon, but from a top-secret balloon project – called “Mogul” – that was designed to monitor the atmosphere for evidence of early Soviet atomic bomb tests.
But what about the small, mangled alien bodies that some people claim to have seen at the crash site? In a 1994 report, the military’s official word was that the stories of extra-terrestrial corpses having been found in the New Mexico desert, and whisked away in secret were all complete nonsense. Three years later, the Air Force decided to modify its position.
In July 1997 – as everyone in the town of Roswell was busily gearing up for the fiftieth anniversary celebrations – the Pentagon revealed that, yes, bodies were found, after all; however, they were simply “crash-test-dummies” used in high-altitude balloon experiments. The media bought the story. That is, until an astute journalist pointed out to the Government that its own records showed that the experiments with dummies did not even begin until early 1953, and more than five years after Roswell.
Little wonder, therefore, that the Roswell saga continues to provoke both deep interest and cries of “cover-up” a full six decades later. But UFOs, weather balloons, and crash-test-dummies are not the only theories that have been put forward in an attempt to lay the mystery of Roswell to rest once and for all. According to some researchers, a captured German wartime V-2 rocket was the cause of the legend. Others suggest – given the fact that Roswell was home to the 509th Bomb Group that turned Nagasaki and Hiroshima into radioactive wastelands in 1945 – some sort of atomic accident happened.
A far darker story – and one that is told in my own book on the case, Body Snatchers in the Desert – addresses claims that in 1947 New Mexico the U.S. Government was secretly engaged in several balloon-based, high-altitude-exposure experiments using human guinea-pigs, and that a number of such experiments failed; something which subsequently led the Air Force to bury the truth behind a mass of confusing and conflicting stories about dead aliens, crash-test-dummies, and weather balloons.
When I last visited the town of Roswell in December 2005, I asked one particular question of a number of Roswell residents: what would happen if Roswell was solved tomorrow and it was proven that aliens didn’t crash to earth in 1947? The replies were intriguing, to say the least: “No-one believes anything the government has said so far, so why should we believe their next story?” replied one local.
“‘It doesn’t matter; people will still keep believing,” said another. But certainly the most notable and telling statement was that of the shop-owner who derived a sizeable income from the sale of alien toys, novelty gifts, t-shirts, and videos: “I don’t even want to think about a question like that,” was his only, and tight-lipped, reply.
Perhaps aliens really did crash at Roswell, New Mexico sixty years ago. On the other hand, maybe the U.S. Air Force is correct and nothing stranger than a balloon and crash-test-dummies fell to earth in 1947. Or could there be yet another explanation that currently remains buried deep within a batch of secret files that sit on a dusty shelf in a secure government archive? No-one really knows. But that is the point.
It is not so much the answers that attract people to Roswell. Rather, it is the fact that like an American version of Britain’s Jack the Ripper, or the aforementioned Loch Ness Monster, Roswell continues to remain a mystery – and people, of course, love mysteries. And the fact that this particular mystery is shrouded in claims of high-level cover-up and conspiracy, as well as a multitude of conflicting and ever-changing explanations from the U.S. Government, only heightens the interest.
If the full story behind the admittedly still-intriguing Roswell affair is one day ultimately resolved, then UFO fans may be proved right, after all. On the other hand, if nothing stranger than the remains of a secret, military balloon were the cause of the so many tales that are part and parcel of the Roswell legend, then just like that same balloon, Roswell’s tourist industry may burst in truly spectacular fashion.