Space aliens story helped put Roswell on the map

60 years later, UFO Festival and questions about little green men and their flying machine attract droves of tourists

Associated Press/July 1, 2007
By Justin M. Norton

Driving alone down a stretch of desolate highway en route to Roswell, I begin to understand why conspiracy buffs have argued that aliens crash-landed in the desert here 60 years ago.

Darkness engulfs desert fields. A misshapen yellow moon hangs in the sky. Husks of abandoned buildings litter the roadside. Has an alien invasion taken place? I notice a blinking light in the sky but quickly discern that it's an airplane.

Being out here alone is enough to make you think twice.

"I do know this. There are other things out there in the universe," said John Turner, 78, who was working the desk of the International UFO Museum and Research Center on Roswell's North Main Street when I visited.

I have secretly wanted to visit Roswell since I was a boy. What I got during my brief visit was a lesson in how a small city in the middle of the Southwest became enshrined in American pop culture.

The 60th anniversary of the so-called Roswell Incident will be marked Thursday through July 8 during the city's annual UFO Festival. City officials expect 50,000 people to attend the event, which will include lectures, book-signings, tours, entertainment and, according to organizers, perhaps an alien abduction or two.

Long-term plans call for a UFO-themed amusement park, complete with an indoor roller coaster that would take passengers on a simulated alien abduction. The park, dubbed Alien Apex Resort, could open as early as 2010.

The Roswell Incident occurred in July 1947 outside the city. A rancher named W.W. "Mack" Brazel, who went to check on his sheep after a night of storms, claimed he found strange debris. Neighbors told Mr. Brazel the objects might be pieces of a flying saucer.

On July 8, 1947, a nearby military office issued a press release saying that pieces of a "crashed disk" were recovered. An article on the front page of the Roswell Daily Record claimed that a flying saucer was captured. (That issue of the newspaper is reproduced and sold to tourists.) Other news agencies picked up on the event, albeit in a cursory fashion.

What exactly happened remains murky, but it inspired me to drive hundreds of miles to a town of roughly 45,000 people.

After a fitful sleep at a Best Western, I rubbed my scalp to search for any curious implants or scars and went out early to spend the morning downtown.

I was greeted at the UFO Museum (a former movie theater) by an alien dummy wearing a Santa Claus hat. The museum takes visitors through a timeline, beginning with newspaper clips and affidavits from many who claim to have intimate knowledge of the crash. For an extra donation, visitors can take an audio tour with a portable cassette player.

The convoluted timeline of what happened after the Roswell Incident shows why there are conflicting stories.

The museum freely mixes documentary materials and kitsch. Among the displays are explanations of crop circles and an exhibit detailing how Roswell has been portrayed in pop culture.

The museum's most popular and photographed exhibit is purely fictional: the set of an alien autopsy scene from the 1994 television movie Roswell. The vivid exhibit, in which doctors prepare to examine an emaciated alien corpse, is on permanent loan to the museum.

The gift shop takes up a good chunk of the first floor and offers extraterrestrial gifts: alien plush dolls, alien shot glasses and magnets that say "I Believe." Books and documents about the Roswell incident also are for sale.

There's also a research library for those inclined to further study the alien phenomena.

"We'll tell people the story of what happened and tell them to make up their own mind," Mr. Turner said.

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