New Mexico, described as the "Land of Enchantment," might just as well be called the "land of mystery." The town of Roswell, a farming and ranching community in the southeastern part of the state, has come to be associated with unidentified flying objects. This stems from an incident 56 years ago when a strange, flying object crashed from the sky into a rancher's field. Eyewitnesses reported seeing everything from dead aliens to unusual materials and hieroglyphic-type writing. Officials at the nearby military base maintained that the wreckage was fallen weather balloons. But inconsistencies in the story has kept the mystery of Roswell alive for over half a century.
The residents of Roswell clearly have a sense of humor. Along the town's main street, the Crash Down Diner has a replica of a silver spaceship attached to the roof; there's a bookshop that advertises "Just say 'No' to Aliens"; and a furniture store announces its "UFO-Sale" with a line of little cardboard alien creatures waving from the window. But for those with memories of the events of July 1947, Roswell's alleged extraterrestrial experience is serious business.
"See I never told this story until 10 years ago," said Glenn Dennis. "No one knew. Because if I had told this about aliens and all that, they probably would have figured I sniffed too much formaldehyde. So I just kept my mouth shut."
Mr. Dennis is co-founder of the UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, which attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year. In 1947 Mr. Dennis was a young mortuary worker contracted to the military when he got a call from an official at the Roswell Army Airbase asking about childsize caskets and how to preserve tissue exposed to the elements. More strange things followed, he says, including running into a nurse at the base who was "very upset" and told him she had accidentally walked in on the autopsy of a decomposing alien. He says she made a sketch for him of what she saw.
"When she walked into this supply room, that's where these guys were examining this crash bag," he said. "She was recording it and then she just flew all to pieces. Started screaming and by 3:30 p.m. that afternoon she was gone. And none of us have found her to this day."
What is certain about what happened is this: Around July 4, 56 years ago, a Mac Brazel, a rancher employed on the Foster Ranch outside of Roswell comes up upon a field, about a kilometer long, of unrecognizable debris, that appears to have fallen from the sky. He reports this to the nearby military base and officials go to the ranch to investigate. On July 8 the Roswell Army Air Field's public information office issues a press release across the country.
Headline edition, July 8 1947: The Army Airforce has announced that a flying disc has been found and is now in possession of the Army. Army officers say the missile, found sometime last week, has been inspected at Roswell, New Mexico and sent to Wright Field Ohio, for further inspections.
Within hours of the press release, higher military officials retracted the statement, saying it was a mistake, that the real crash content was a weather balloon. Jesse Marcel, Jr. is the son of Major Jesse Marcel, who was first called out to investigate the debris field. Mr. Marcel, who was 11 at the time, recalls something very different.
"My father was called out one night to the ranch where this thing had landed, picked up some of the debris, loaded it into the back of our 1942 Buick and swung by the house to show my mother and myself what he had out there," he recalled. "He put it on the kitchen floor, woke up my mother and myself and said, 'Come look at this.' I looked at the debris on the floor, there was just a lot of metallic parts, some black plastic material. He wanted us to look for electronic equipment. I found something unusual. You could see some sort of writing, sort of purple, metallic geometric shapes.
"So the story died three days after it happened and didn't start again until 1978," said Dennis Balthaser, a consultant and researcher for the UFO Museum in Roswell. He says it wasn't until the 1970's that several books came out that began to re-examine the Roswell incident. He says many of the eyewitnesses interviewed said they were warned by the government never to speak to anyone about what they saw. Mr. Balthaser says his own relentless research made him too, the target of government surveillance.
"I was told by a retired intelligence man that I'm being monitored," he said. "That's fine. I'm not doing anything to violate national security. I'm sitting here with you telling you what I know. And if this is violating national security, then tell me what happened. Because it wasn't a weather balloon. Not if I'm violating national security. If Roswell is a hoax, prove it to us. If it's a hoax then I'll go fishing."
In 1997, the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident, the U.S. Airforce released their final report to address questions about reported bodies found at the Roswell crash site. No longer stating it was "weather balloons," Colonel John Haynes said the bodies were probably "project test dummies carried by Air Force high altitude balloons" related to something called "Project Mogul." The only problem with that explanation, say UFO researchers, is that Project Mogul did not start until 1953, six years after the crash.
Today most of the residents of Roswell, New Mexico embrace their reputation of being known as "UFO Capital of the World." Every July 4 holiday, the town holds its annual UFO Festival. Festival coordinator Carl Lucas puts it this way: "There are always those grumps and those nay-sayers who are embarrassed who say, 'I don't want to be known as the UFO Capital of the World.' Sure, Roswell has a cheese factory where all the mozzarella cheese you can eat anywhere in the United States of America is made right here in Roswell. But we're not the Wisconsin of the desert. We're the UFO Capital of the World, that's what we're known for," he said.
And now, an archeological team with the University of New Mexico has returned to the Roswell crash site to begin new research on soil samples using the latest technologies. The results of the dig will be the subject of a new cable television documentary to be aired on the Sci-Fi Channel later this year, possibly bringing to light the truth about what really was found on the Foster ranch in 1947.