Crashing the party: Roswell celebrates 70th anniversary of UFO incident - Albuquerque Journal

Crashing the party: Roswell celebrates 70th anniversary of UFO incident

ROSWELL – Suddenly, the silver saucer that has been suspended, stationary and silent above and behind four sallow-skinned, somber-faced, spaced-out aliens, starts to spin and spew smoke.

Caught by surprise, visitors to the International UFO Museum and Research Center – kids and adults – stand wide-eyed and transfixed, traces of smiles creasing their faces as they watch and wonder what’s next.

Dana Lenko sports alien antennae during a visit to Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center. Lenko, a fashion designer who was born in Melbourne, Australia, and lives now in Austin, Texas, said she is fascinated by the vastness of space and the mysteries of the universe. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Well, actually, that’s about all. This saucer in the museum display does not crash as many people believe – or would like to believe – an actual alien craft did 70 years ago and about 75 miles northwest of here.

The so-called Roswell Incident of 1947 is the reason the city of Roswell started a UFO Festival in 1995 and will host the 2017 festival Thursday, June 29, through Sunday, July 2.

It’s the reason stores along Main Street sell T-shirts embossed with little green men and slogans such as “Roswell – Green since 1947.”

Danielle Childers of Hendersonville, Tenn., checks out an “alien” relaxing on a couch during a tour of Area 51, a special display section in Alien Zone, one of the Roswell stores that specializes in alien and UFO-related merchandise. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s the reason why this museum was opened in 1992. And it’s the reason Dana Lenko, 35, alien-visaged antennae growing out of her long, dark hair, is among the museum visitors delighting in the spinning, smoking saucer.

Lenko is a native of Melbourne, Australia, but she has lived in this country for three years and makes her home in Austin, where she is a fashion designer. Earlier this month, she was traveling with friends in New Mexico.

“I have never been in New Mexico before,” she said. “We want to see Santa Fe and Taos. But I’ve always been very keen on the stars and the vastness of space. My dad was an amateur astronomer. He gave me a love for that and for science fiction and the films. So I wanted to see Roswell for sure. You’ve got the chance to come here where it all started.”

Strange debris

There were reports of Unidentified Flying Objects before whatever happened in New Mexico in the summer of 1947 happened. But the Roswell Incident planted the seed out of which today’s fascination with extraterrestrial visitation sprouted.

This picturesque display at Roswell’s International UFO Museum is a tribute to “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a 1951 movie about an alien who visits our planet.

It started when W.W. “Mac” Brazel, who was running a sheep operation on a ranch 30 miles southeast of Corona, in Lincoln County, found debris scattered in his pasture in the summer of 1947. It was described as lightweight wood, tinfoil, tape, paper and strips of rubber, which sounds mundane enough. Except that some of it has also been described as impervious to fire, knife and hammer and unnaturally resilient.

When Brazel told neighbors about it during the first week of July, they said he might have found wreckage from one of those flying saucers that had been in newspaper stories recently. So Brazel drove down to Roswell Army Air Field and reported his find.

The Army collected the debris and on July 8 the Roswell air field public relations officer released information saying the Army had recovered a flying disc. It made newspaper headlines, but the story was retracted by the Army almost immediately. The debris was actually from a weather balloon, the Army said. So sorry for the goof up.

That could have been that. Mac Brazel died in 1963 and the years rolled along until 1980, when, in “The Roswell Incident,” Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore wrote that the weather balloon story was a cover-up, that not only was the stuff Brazel found from a flying saucer but that the Army had discovered the crashed saucer itself and the bodies of its alien crew.

It exploded from there. There were more books with varying body counts and crash-site locations. There was a 1999 TV movie; a 1999-2002 TV series; countless TV documentaries, including one in 1995 that claimed to depict an autopsy of an alien crash victims (it wasn’t); and a 1999 episode on “The X-Files” TV series.

Wall-to-wall people

Roswell, a city of 50,000 about 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque, was not about to miss out on the action or the opportunity. Today, the “Welcome to Roswell” sign sports a tilted saucer on one corner. Through 2016, the UFO Museum had attracted 3,569,826 visitors, 13 percent of whom come from other countries. This year’s UFO festival is expected to draw 30,000 people, a boon to hotels, restaurants, service stations and stores with names such as Alien Zone, Alien Invasion, 3RD Rock From the Sun and Roswell Landing.

Stores such as Roswell Landing, pictured here, have been stocking up on alien-themed goods in preparation for the 2017 UFO Festival that begins Thursday.

“The festival is our Black Friday,” said Robert Marshall, 53, a Roswell native and an employee of Roswell Landing, which sells alien-themed merchandise such as T-shirts, coffee cups, shot glasses, key chains, magnets and so on. “We’ve been back stocking a lot of merchandise (for the festival). Upstairs is all T-shirts.”

Jessie Payne, 32, manager of Alien Zone, remembers the 1997 festival, which marked the Roswell Incident’s 50th anniversary, as being the landmark celebration to date.

“That was wall-to-wall people,” she said. “People were walking up and down Main Street for miles. You couldn’t (drive) anywhere for stopping for pedestrians.”

To boost its everyday traffic, Alien Zone features Area 51, a special section where, for a $2 to $3 admission fee, patrons can see displays depicting aliens adapting to earthly avocations such as lounging on couches and drinking beer.

On a recent day, Kevin Childers, 33, a medical doctor from Hendersonville, Tenn., and his wife, Danielle, 30, checked out Area 51. The Childers said their interest in Roswell had been piqued by “Unacknowledged,” a recent documentary about the suppression of alien-encounter incidents, a recurring theme in the UFO books, articles and films.

The Childers said they were having a good time in Roswell.

“We are here purely for the entertainment,” Kevin Childers said. “No tinfoil hats for us.”

Something happened

Roswell Landing’s Marshall said 95 percent of the people who come into the store are from somewhere else. He said those are the people who want alien T-shirts and coffee mugs.

He said it’s different for people, such as himself, who were born in Roswell.

“You hear about it so much you don’t pay attention to it anymore,” he said. “But something happened. When the Army tells the Roswell Record (newspaper) they have found a flying saucer, and then the next day they have to come back and say it was a weather balloon.”

Sylvia Smith, left, and her father, David Smith, of Rifle, Colo., select T-shirts at Alien Zone in Roswell. Roswell is expecting as many as 30,000 visitors during the upcoming 2017 UFO Festival.

One explanation, and it sounds reasonable, is that the Army was not covering up for a flying saucer find but for Project Mogul, an operation, top secret at the time, aimed at discovering whether or not the Soviet Union was testing atomic bombs. The project employed high-altitude balloons equipped with sensitive microphones that could detect sound waves generated by atomic testing. Maybe it was a Project Mogul balloon that crashed into Brazel’s sheep pasture.

Frank Kimbler, 61, one of the guest speakers at this year’s UFO Festival, thinks the Project Mogul theory is just so much gas.

“A craft of unknown origin crashed in the New Mexico desert and scared the hell out of the American military and out of people (witnesses) to the point they won’t talk about it today,” Kimbler said.

An assistant professor of earth sciences at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, Kimbler will be giving a festival lecture titled “Roswell Crash Site: The Quest for Physical Evidence.” Over the last seven years he has been scouring the Brazel debris field, using metal detectors, remote sensing and radiation-detecting devices to search for pieces of debris overlooked by the Army, artifacts that may shed some light on what happened there in 1947.

“All we have is handed-down stories,” he said. “I need to take some of my science and see if I can find some physical evidence. I’ve found some aluminum-type alloys. For good science, you need to have samples tested at three independent laboratories. But as soon as I start to get an answer, things disappear – in the mail or somehow.”

Nazi UFOs

Guy Malone, 48, of Roswell has organized a series of UFO Festival lectures that challenge the extraterrestrial hypothesis. He himself is doing presentations titled “Are Aliens Demons? Evidences That Suggest ‘Yes'” and “Roswell 1947: What Really Happened?”

Malone’s theory is that the Roswell Incident is about something more devious and sinister than an alien crash and subsequent government cover-up. He thinks it might have involved the crash of an experimental aircraft being developed for the United States by German scientists.

Malone said that following World War II, a secret effort, known as Operation Paperclip, smuggled hundreds of German scientists, engineers and technicians – many of them former members of the Nazi party – into this country.

“Hitler was notorious for developing flying craft of different shapes and propulsion devices,” Malone said. “The U.S. wanted the technology because the Russians were trying to scoop up these (Germans), as well as other countries.” He said some of the Germans were sent to Fort Bliss in Texas and New Mexico and White Sands in New Mexico.

Malone believes the cover-up was an attempt to keep new technology under wraps and conceal from the public the fact that Nazis were working for the U.S. government.

Don Schmitt, 62, the co-author of five books about the Roswell Incident, said he was a skeptic when he started investigating the case in 1989.

“But the moment we started talking to people who actually handled the material (debris found by Brazel), we started thinking ‘What if we are wrong?’,” Schmitt said during a phone interview from his Wisconsin home. He said the first 10 witnesses all said the same thing about the debris, that it was like metal but it wasn’t, it was like plastic but it wasn’t, that it couldn’t be cut or burned or creased. Now, he says, he is 99 percent sure the crash involved something from another world.

Schmitt and his writing partner, Thomas J. Carey, will give several lectures at the UFO festival, one titled “The Misadventures of Two Roswell Investigators.”

“The investigation is still fluid,” he said. “We are planning our sixth archaeological dig (at the Brazel debris field). We may come away with nothing, but we can say we did it.”

Mysterious universe

Back at the UFO Museum, Pamela Cortez, 46, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is checking out the exhibits. She has come to New Mexico to visit her daughter and two grandkids, all of whom live in Carlsbad.

Cortez’s favorite museum display features statements by persons involved directly or indirectly with the Roswell incident. She thinks an alien spacecraft did slam into a New Mexico pasture 70 years ago.

“I believe it’s true. I believe the government hides a lot of stuff from us.”

Fashion designer Lenko, she of the alien antennae, is more cautious.

“I believe – in a more scientific way – that there might be other inhabitable planets out there,” she said. “It would be a bit arrogant of us to think that in this whole wide universe there is no other life. There’s a big universe out there, a lot of mysteries. It is very exciting.”

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