Sixty years ago this July 4, 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. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Roswell.
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 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," he explains.
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, according to James.
"Top items that people buy would be tee-shirts, first. Coffee mugs are second, then shot glasses and key chains," James says.
A woman from India spent nearly an hour with her family looking at the exhibits and came away convinced.
"I see all the pictures and all the signs and I heard before some stories about the aliens," she says.
Roswell, a town of some 50,000 people, will double in size during the 60th anniversary UFO Festival July 5 through 8.
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," Malone says. "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. One of the local residents who rejects the government's official explanation is Dennis Balthaser.
"The United States government has had a lot of practice keeping secrets," he says. "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," notes Balthaser. "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. But local businesses are benefiting from the increased tourism and there are plans now for a much larger museum. Guy Malone believes the town will be able to profit from its association with the alleged alien visit for some time to come.
"I think the mystery will always endure," he says. "The mystery will always be there. Nobody is ever going to have conclusive proof of what it was or wasn't."
In fact, the mystery over what happened out in the New Mexico desert 60 years ago will probably never go away, unless, of course, the aliens were to return to clear things up.