July 31, 1996
Roswell, New Mexico is a place where UFOs are casually accepted like any other community might take for granted the ice cream truck that cruises down the street in the summer. It’s simply part of the fabric of the town. “Oh, yeah, we’ve seen them,” residents say nonchalantly. For all we know, little green men may advise the city fathers over a game of cards on Sunday nights. We visited for the same reason everybody else does (certainly not for the summer cultural arts series) — to see the old Army Air Corps base near where the infamous 1947 flying saucer crash took place, or didn’t, depending on who you believe.
The Roswell incident has become somewhat of an American myth, akin to Bigfoot, New Orleans voodoo, and Navajo skinwalkers. Sure all of these things could exist; I’m open minded. Gee whiz, I figured, maybe in Roswell I could talk to some locals, take a drive to the crash sight and accidently kick up a shard of unmalleable alien metal for the grandkids.
Roswell is a quaint, clean and quiet town of 50,000 that sits politely on the sun-baked eastern plains of New Mexico, closer to Lubbock, Texas than Albuquerque. There’s a long main street named Main Street. Robert Goddard, the physicist who launched the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926, practiced rocketry here. And on Main Street in Roswell, two “UFO museums” are the big attraction (besides the waffles at the Dutch Kitchen).
The Enigma UFO Museum’s big claim to fame is a large-scale model of the crashed UFO and its mangled little, almond-eyed alien passengers. It’s cool in an eighth-grade science project kind of way. The rest of the place is covered with vintage space posters, UFO pictures, star maps and Star Wars/Trekkie stuff. The souvenirs were decent. There was an on-request video viewing of a documentary on the incident. I wish I could say more but it was barely worth the $2 entrance fee.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center (ha-ha) was a little better with chirpy, true-believer, senior-citizen guides (hoping to be in the good graces of whatever space crew brings the “Cocoon” to Roswell, no doubt) proudly showing off the diorama of the “alien-on-a-gurney” scene from the recent, “so-fake-I-thought-I-was-watching-the-Comedy channel” Roswell alien autopsy film.
This is the film recently aired by the Fox network, supposedly shot by a government intelligence officer/cameraman during the official autopsy of the alien bodies after the alleged 1947 crash. The purported cinematographer, whose identity has never been revealed, said the film sat undeveloped for the last 48 years and, because he needed some scratch, thought it might be a good idea to dig the old cannisters out, develop them and show the world the truth about what happened in 1947. Consider this. The biggest event in the history of human civilization and this guy’s got the film evidence stashed in his closet next to his bowling trophies and autographed pictures of Jerry Lewis.
The rest of the “research” center consisted of displays of UFO pictures, basic astronomical info on meteors and comets, and some cool alien guitar picks in the souvenir shop.
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. Well, it was a nice drive in the country and it was fun in a cheesy, Americana, kitschy kind of way, but I certainly didn’t get the vibe — until, driving back north toward home, I detoured a couple of miles west off U.S. 285, stopping in the approximate area of the crash.
There, amidst the gently sloping plains, covered in thin grass and sand beneath a stormy spring sky, with not a tree, fence post or telephone pole in sight, not a noise to be heard but the immense silence of the high desert, I tried to conjure up the image of aliens cruising at supersonic speed over hill and dale, cow and coyote. Why were they here? What were they looking for? Why did they crash? Did the driver fall asleep at the wheel? Or was he (it?) turned around, yelling at the little alien brats to stop fighting or he was “going to turn this ship around and head straight back to the mother ship, right now, I’m not kidding!”
OK, let’s look at this little town in a different light. Here’s a place where the first American research rockets were launched by Robert Goddard. Roswell Air Base was home to the sole American atomic attack force immediately after World War II. White Sands Missile Range is about an hour down the road. The Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was exploded, is about an hour away. Los Alamos is close by, too. If you were an alien on routine anthropological patrol, and you detected a civilization’s first atomic blast, you would head to the Roswell area, too.
I now present to you the most exciting aspect of my trip to Roswell. While the museums will leave most only mildly amused, I think the following verbatim transcript of the newspaper account, from a front page copy I purchased at the Enigma UFO Museum, may tingle the spine a bit and leave you with the sense of wonder and paranoia about visitors from outer space that gripped the nation and the world in the years after World War II.
The following account is from the Roswell Daily Record, Roswell’s newspaper of record, Tuesday, July 8, 1947.
RAAF CAPTURES FLYING SAUCER ON RANCH IN ROSWELL REGION
No Details of Flying Disk Are Revealed. Roswell Hardware Man and Wife Report Disk Seen.
“The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Airfield announced at noon today that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.
According to information released by the department over the authority of Major J.A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity after an unidentified rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox here, that he had found the instrument on his premises.
Major Marcel and a detail from his department went to the ranch and recovered the disk, it was stated.
After the intelligence officer here had inspected the disk it was flown to “higher headquarters.”
The intelligence office stated that no details of the saucer’s construction or its appearance had been revealed.
Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot apparently were the only persons in Roswell who have seen what they thought was a flying disk.
They were sitting on their porch at 105 South Penn. last Wednesday night at about ten minutes before ten o’clock when a large glowing object zoomed out of the sky from the southeast, going in a northwesterly direction at a high rate of speed.
Wilmot called Mrs. Wilmot’s attention to it and both ran down into the yard to watch. It was in sight less than a minute, perhaps 40 or 50 seconds, Wilmot estimated.
Wilmot said it appeared to him to be about 1,500 feet high and going fast. He estimated between 400 and 500 miles per hour.
In appearance it looked oval in shape like two inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth or like two old fashioned wash bowls placed together in the same fashion. The entire body glowed as though lights were showing through from inside, though not like it would be if a light were merely underneath.
From where he stood Wilmot said the object looked to be about 5 feet in size, and making allowance for the distance it was from town he figured it must have been 15 or 20 feet in diameter, though this was just a guess.
Wilmot said he heard no sound but that Mrs. Wilmot said she heard a swishing sound for a very short time.
The object came into view from the southeast and disappeared over the treetops in the general vicinity of Six-Mile Hill.
Wilmot, who is one of the most respected and reliable citizens in town, kept the story to himself hoping that someone else would come out and tell about having seen one, but finally today decided that he would go ahead and tell about seeing it. The announcement that the RAAF was in possession of one came only a few minutes after he had decided to release the details of what he had seen.”
Story and photos by Joseph Falco