Sixty years ago this July, something happened in the desert about 100 kilometers northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. A local newspaper at the time reported that a flying saucer had crashed and that the wreckage had been taken to the U.S. Army Air base just outside of Roswell. The military said it had been a weather balloon that crashed.
But many people who research UFOs -- unidentified flying objects -- think aliens from another planet crashed in New Mexico and they have made the Roswell incident a major focus of their attention. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Roswell, local people have decided to go along with all, much to their profit.
There are some scenic places in New Mexico for tourists to visit. But they are all about a two-hour drive from Roswell. Very few tourists came here before the aliens arrived.
Roswell's big attraction now is the UFO Museum and Research Center. Sandy James is deputy director.
"Basically, a long time ago, if you came to Roswell, you were lost. Now, if you come to Roswell, you are coming to see the museum."
People from around the world flock here to see exhibits about the July 1947 incident and other UFO stories. They also buy lots of souvenirs. James explains the attractions. "Top items that people buy would be tee-shirts, first. Coffee mugs are second, then shot glasses and key chains."
A large family from India spent more than an hour looking at the evidence of alien visits and came away convinced. One of them commented on the museum, "I see all the pictures and all the signs and I heard before some stories about the aliens."
A skeptical boy in the family says, "I believe it somewhat, but not fully. The skin of the aliens is green and my favorite color is green."
Roswell, a town of some 50,000 people, will double in size during the four days of the 60th anniversary UFO Festival in early July.
Guy Malone is organizing the festival and a concurrent conference of UFO investigators. He says the city government realizes the importance of the whole UFO story to the local economy. "It seems 11 or 12 percent of the employment base in Roswell is now tourism and hospitality-oriented such as hotels, restaurants, museums, things like that. A decade ago that figure was zero-point-something percent."
Malone says Roswell's residents are divided between those who think the famous 1947 alien incident is a bunch of nonsense that can be exploited for tourist dollars and those who really do think something happened and that the government covered it up.
"You have a whole community involved here. You do have the serious side of researchers and witnesses that can actually give you the serious side if that is what you are looking for and then there is also the campy or schtick side, too."
One of the serious Roswell residents is former Texas civil engineer Dennis Balthaser. He says his investigations have convinced him that the U.S. military did recover a crashed alien craft 60 years ago and hid it from the public.
"The United States government has had a lot of practice keeping secrets. Good examples are the atomic bomb project, which was carried out right here at Los Alamos, north of Roswell. Fifty-thousand people were involved with that project for about 10 years and it was kept secret."
Balthaser thinks it may have been the first test of an atomic bomb, here in New Mexico in 1945 and the atomic bombs kept at the Roswell army base that drew the attention of visitors from another world.
He is aware that many people, here and elsewhere, view belief in UFOs as irrational, but he thinks this would change if the U.S. government followed other governments in revealing what it knows. "Within the past six months, the government of France and the government of England (Great Britain) have both announced that they are going to open up their UFO files. The United States has made no attempt to do that."
It is not likely that any dramatic new evidence will emerge at the upcoming UFO conference here to change anyone's mind one way or the other on the Roswell incident.
Guy Malone believes the town will be able to capitalize on it for a long time to come. "I think the mystery will always endure. The mystery will always be there. Nobody is ever going to have conclusive proof of what it was or wasn't."
Local business owners agree and there are now plans for a new, much larger UFO Museum in town.
But the questions about what happened here 60 years ago will never be resolved unless, of course, the aliens themselves were to pay a return visit just to clear things up.