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By Jason Epperson
There are 37,855 McDonald’s restaurants in the world. Only one is outer space-themed. Next door, a two-story alien holds up a Dunkin’ Donuts sign. Nearby, Walmart has a flying saucer painted on it, and the Arby’s sports a big “aliens welcome” sign. In July 1947, something happened in Eastern New Mexico during a severe thunderstorm. Was it a flying saucer? Was it a weather balloon? What happened? Whatever it was, it sparked an alien fever that continues to this day.
On June 14, 1947, William Brazel, a foreman working on the Foster homestead, noticed clusters of debris about 30 miles north of Roswell. Brazel told the Roswell Daily Record that he and his son saw a “large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper, and sticks.” He paid little attention to it but returned on July 4 with his son, wife, and daughter to gather up the material. The next day, Brazel heard reports about people seeing “flying discs” in the sky and wondered if that was what he had picked up. He ran into the Sheriff in town and told him that he may have found one of these flying discs.
The Sherrif called the Roswell Army Air Field, and a “man in plainclothes” accompanied Brazel back to the ranch where more pieces were picked up.
The Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release, which was immediately picked up by numerous news outlets:
“The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”
The next day, the Roswell Daily Record described it like this:
“The balloon which held it up, if that was how it worked, must have been 12 feet long, Brazel felt, measuring the distance by the size of the room in which he sat. The rubber was smoky gray in color and scattered over an area about 200 yards [180 m] in diameter. When the debris was gathered up, the tinfoil, paper, tape, and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable Scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction. No strings or wires were to be found, but there were some eyelets in the paper to indicate that some sort of attachment may have been used.”
It clearly sounds like a weather balloon….
A message then sent to the FBI quoted a Major from the Air Force as saying that “The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a balloon by cable, saying that it resembled a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector.
The Army ordered the object be flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field, where Warrant Officer Irving Newton confirmed the object as being a weather balloon and its “kite” a nickname for a radar reflector used to track the balloons from the ground. Another news release was issued, this time from the Fort Worth base, describing the object as being a “weather balloon.”
A press conference was held, featuring debris of foil, rubber, and wood said to be from the crashed object, which matched the weather balloon description. Historian Robert Goldberg wrote that the intended effect was achieved: “the story died the next day”.
The Roswell incident faded from the attention of UFO enthusiasts for more than 30 years. That is until nuclear physicist, and author Stanton Friedman came across the story in the early 1980s and began the search for information and witnesses.
That research brought him to Roswell looking for the public information officer who issued the press release, Lt. Walter Haut. He still lived in Roswell and remembered the press release and the orders from his commanding officer. 30 years later, there were lots of questions about why the Army basically confirmed they had a flying saucer, and then almost instantaneously retracted it.
Friedman interviewed Jesse Marcel, the only person known to have accompanied the Roswell debris from where it was recovered to Fort Worth, where reporters saw the material that was claimed to be part of the recovered object.
Friedman’s investigation also led to many others, both military and private, who had information to add to the Roswell Incident story.
Several hundred people who claimed to have had a connection with the events at Roswell were interviewed. Hundreds of documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. The conclusion of many was that at least one alien spacecraft crashed near Roswell, alien bodies had been recovered, and a government cover-up of the incident had taken place.
The accounts given by Friedman and others in the following years elevated Roswell from a forgotten incident to perhaps the most famous UFO case of all time.
Subsequent books, articles, and television specials brought the 1947 incident notoriety.
The first conspiracy book about Roswell was “The Roswell Incident” by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, who had previously written popular books on the Philadelphia Experiment and on the Bermuda Triangle. They suggested that aliens were hovering over the New Mexico desert to observe US nuclear weapons activity, but crashed after being hit by lightning.
The authors claimed to have interviewed over 90 witnesses, and contended that debris which was recovered by Marcel at the Foster ranch, visible in photographs showing Marcel posing with it, was substituted for debris from a weather device as part of a cover-up, and was not permitted a close inspection by the press.
In 1991, Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published “UFO Crash at Roswell.” Some new details included accounts of a gouge in the ground that extended four or five hundred feet at the crash site.
In 1992, Stanton Friedman re-entered the scene with his own book “Crash at Corona,” co-authored with Don Berliner – an author of books on space and aviation. This book contended there were actually two flying saucers and eight aliens – two of which were said to have survived and been taken into custody by the government.
Randle and Schmitt responded with another book, updating their previous narrative with several new details, including the claim that alien bodies were taken by cargo plane to be viewed by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Lt. Col. Philip J. Corso reported in his autobiographical book that the Roswell Crash did happen and that when he was assigned to Fort Riley in Kansas in July 1947, 5 trucks entered the base from Fort Bliss, Texas. He claimed while he was patrolling the base he was brought into the medical facilities and shown the remnants of bodies that were from an “air crash.”
By the mid-1990s, the majority of Americans believed that aliens had indeed visited Earth, and that aliens had landed at Roswell, but that all the relevant information was being kept secret.
It turns out, the government was at least concealing something. In 1994, the Air Force released a report saying that the craft wasn’t a weather balloon, it was really a top-secret high-altitude balloon designed to sniff out Soviet atomic tests.
Were they lying again? The debate between skeptics and believers continues, meanwhile the town of Roswell enjoys the notoriety.
The International UFO Museum & Research Center, located at 114 N. Main Street, is a nonprofit corporation founded in the fall of 1991 by Walter Haut, who issued the original Army press release, Glenn Dennis and Max Littell. The museum opened to visitors in the fall of 1992.
It’s housed in an old movie theater and is totally quaint and kitschy. The walls are covered mostly with documents and alien artwork, and the exhibits are mostly recreations of what an alien might look like.
In addition to the Roswell Incident, the museum features crop circles, UFO sightings, ancient astronauts, and extraterrestrial abductions.
The UFO Museum’s Research Center Library houses more than 7,000 books and over 30,000 magazines, periodicals, pamphlets, and more than 1,500 DVDs related to UFO. You can use it like you would any library.
Once visitors began making their way to Roswell seeking more information on the 1947 Incident, a number of local residents, in conjunction with the UFO Museum and the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, came up with the idea of celebrating the anniversary of Roswell Incident every year during the first week of July.
Since 1996, the Roswell UFO Festival has drawn thousands of visitors. There are lectures from leading UFO researchers, including Stanton Friedman. Main Street Roswell brings together numerous vendors of food, memorabilia, music, and live entertainment. They have alien costume contests for humans and pets, an evening light parade, carnival rides, and Fourth of July fireworks.
There’s other stuff to do besides the museum, including the new UFO Spacewalk blacklight experience and alien-themed gift shops.
Roswell isn’t all aliens, though. We particularly love Bottomless Lakes state park, home nine small, deep lakes located along the eastern escarpment of the Pecos River valley. The escarpment is an ancient limestone reef, similar to the limestone mountains around Carlsbad Caverns, 80 miles to the south. Most of the nine lakes are almost completely surrounded by cliffs. There’s also the superb Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a habitat for migratory birds such as the sandhill crane, whose annual arrival is a sight to behold.
Wired Magazine on Roswell UFO: https://www.wired.com/2010/07/0708army-announces-roswell-new-mexico-ufo-sighting/
Roswell UFO Museum Website: https://www.roswellufomuseum.com/about-us
General Accounting Office Review of the Roswell Incident: https://fas.org/sgp/othergov/roswell.html
Roswell Daily Record 2018 Article on Marcel Family Artifacts: https://www.rdrnews.com/2018/07/05/marcel-family-shares-never-before-seen-artifacts-treasure-trove-for-ufo-researchers-historians-will-shine-light-on-roswell-incident/?cli_action=1573879311.716
Pentagon Denies Crash in Roswell, NY DailyNews: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/feds-issue-ufo-report-fly-article-1.762233
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