You can't tell the Roswell players without a scorecard.
Here's ours, with links:
Friedman, leading Roswell researcher and chief
proponent of the theory that an alien spacecraft crashed
on the Plains of San Agustin more than 200 miles west of
Roswell. Friedman is also chief defender of the MJ-12
documents, which purport to reveal the existence of a
secret government cabal to manage the alien secret. (see
Randle, Friedman's chief Roswell research rival, who
places the crash site nearer to Roswell and argues MJ-12
is a hoax. James
Moseley, author of the ascerbic Saucer Smear UFO
Thomas, Albuquerque physicist who wrote about Project
Mogul (the prosaic non-alien explanation for Roswell) in
the Skeptical Enquirer. Kent
Jeffrey, the airline pilot whose Roswell Initiative
has been pressuruing the U.S. government to come clean on
Roswell, has recently had a change of heart, concluding
no spacecraft ever crashed here 50 years ago. Glenn Campbell,
Nevada UFO gadfly, expert on the secret military base at
Area 51 and Webmaster for Ufomind, one of the most
complete UFO sites on the Web.
Roswell Myths Crash Into Reality Believers agree something crashed in N.M. but clash on just about everything else By John Fleck Journal Staff Writer
Placitas UFO researcher Karl Pflock puts it this way: "You mention Roswell on 'Seinfeld' and you don't even need to explain it."
We know what it means.
Or do we?
In the midst of a frenzy over coming celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the alleged alien visitation that has come to be known as the Roswell Incident, it still isn't clear what that incident was.
Believers agree it is a tale of a mysterious spacecraft crashing in New Mexico in the summer of 1947, of alien bodies scooped up by secretive government operatives, of a massive and enduring cover-up.
But beyond that, there is no one accepted version of the Roswell Incident.
Eyewitness accounts conflict. There is no physical evidence to support any of them, no crashed saucer, no alien bodies on ice. The story of Roswell remains an enigma.
Did a saucer crash in mid-June or early July?
Did it crash near Corona, to the south near Roswell or more than 200 miles to the west on the Plains of San Agustin?
Was it saucer-shaped, or V-shaped, like an arrowhead?
Was it one spaceship hit by lightning, or did two collide?
Were alien bodies and spaceship debris hustled off to Patterson Field (now Wright Patterson Air Force Base) in Ohio, or to what is now Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque?
"What we know about Roswell is rather significantly less than what we thought we knew," Pflock wrote in 1994.
In conventional historical research or journalistic exposé, says Brandeis University anthropologist Benson Saler, successive investigations fill in details and amplify previous work.
"Key elements in the early stories are not usually contradicted in later stories, but more details are filled in as each story emerges," Saler and Brandeis colleague Charles Ziegler wrote in a new Roswell book co-authored with New Mexico scientist Charles Moore. "The Roswell story does not display this pattern."
Each successive account of the Roswell Incident by UFO researchers contradicts the previous as the storytellers battle for control of the tale.
There is divergence, not convergence.
Skeptics say distant memories of ordinary events have been stitched together by UFO believers into a compelling but untrue UFO tale.
It is the pattern, Saler believes, of folklore and myth.
How it all began
"Roswell" has not always meant crashed aliens. At first it was just a case of the mistaken identity of scraps of shiny material with an unusual texture, labeled by the military a "weather balloon" and largely forgotten until a small band of UFO researchers resurrected the story more than 30 years later.
The Roswell Incident started in the summer of 1947 when Mac Brazel found mysterious debris on his ranch near Corona.
Officials from Roswell Army Air Field collected the debris and July 8 issued a news release saying a "flying disc" had been found.
It was in the midst of a flurry of reports around the country of mysterious objects in the sky, the beginning of a "flying saucer" craze. But in those days, "flying saucer" didn't mean "alien spacecraft."
Military officials, nervous about their newfound Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union, were desperate to find out what the "saucers" were.
Could they be some secret Soviet craft? they wondered. The idea of space aliens wasn't mentioned in connection to the Roswell Incident.
The Roswell story evaporated hours after the news release when the Army said Brazel's "saucer" debris was just a crashed weather balloon.
Roswell was consigned to history's scrap heap until Canadian-American UFO researcher Stanton Friedman and others resurrected it in the late 1970s and early '80s.
In the years since, books with titles such as "Crash at Corona," "UFO Crash at Roswell" and its sequel, "The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell," and episodes on TV shows such as "Unsolved Mysteries" have launched Roswell into the public consciousness.
For serious UFO believers, lacking tangible physical evidence of alien visitation from any of their myriad reported UFO cases, Roswell has become a Holy Grail.
The UFO experts
Roswell's post-1970s renaissance is the product of a small group of self-described "UFO researchers" who gather witnesses' accounts and package them in books, reports and television programs for the public.
Friedman, a professional lecturer and author sometimes called "the impresario of the UFOs," is probably the most famous.
The bearded former nuclear physicist is chief author of the theory that two alien spacecraft crashed, one near Corona 75 miles northwest of Roswell and the other more than 200 miles away on the Plains of San Agustin, west of Socorro.
A second prominent Roswell researcher is Kevin Randle, co-author of "The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell" and chief advocate for a different crash site, just 40 miles north of Roswell.
Friedman and Randle base their Roswell tales on eyewitness testimony. "What's impressive to me is the quality of the people," Friedman said.
Chief among the witnesses is the late Jesse Marcel, the Roswell Army Air Base intelligence officer who first collected the debris on the Brazel ranch.
It was Friedman's rediscovery of Marcel in the late-1970s, before Marcel's death, that renewed interest in the Roswell case.
Marcel never claimed to have seen a saucer or alien bodies, but said the debris he saw from Brazel's ranch wasn't of this Earth.
Marcel is one of a number of witnesses who say they saw weird debris. On this, Friedman, Randle and the other Roswell researchers agree.
But once the tale moves beyond strange debris to tales of a crashed saucer and alien bodies, the stories diverge and the UFO researchers begin to feud over whose witnesses to believe.
The Roswell appeal
Pflock, a newcomer to the Roswell saga, became interested in the case because he believes there are unexplained UFO sightings that suggest alien spacecraft have visited Earth.
The possibility of physical evidence -- a crashed saucer recovered by the government and hidden away -- makes Roswell a powerful lure for UFO believers, who long for something more concrete than unverified eyewitness accounts.
Roswell frequently is held up as the best example of such an event.
"That's the major light drawing the moth to the flame," Pflock said.
That is why, for example, an alleged fragment from the Roswell saucer drew international attention when it surfaced in Roswell last year, though it later was shown to be a hoax, a piece of metal made by a Utah jeweler.
Pflock began studying Roswell in 1992, and his 1994 report on his investigations was published by a mainstream UFO organization called the Fund for UFO Research.
In that report, Pflock questioned much of the evidence on which the classic versions of the Roswell tale are based, but he left open the possibility that a spaceship did crash in New Mexico 50 years ago.
But Pflock kept digging after the report's publication, and recently broke from the faith by going public with his doubts about the Roswell Incident.
He did it with a letter widely distributed in the UFO community.
"Based on my research and that of others," he wrote, "I'm as certain as it's possible to be without absolute proof that no flying saucer or saucers crashed in the general vicinity of Roswell or on the Plains of San Agustin in 1947. The debris found by Mac Brazel ... was the remains of something very earthly, all but certainly something from the Top Secret Project Mogul," an effort to develop balloons capable of listening for Soviet nuclear tests.
How, then, to explain the witnesses who claim to have seen something unusual, the stories that give rise to the classic Roswell tale of a crashed saucer and alien bodies?
Skeptics offer this:
A mysterious object came to Earth near Roswell in the summer of 1947, and was discovered by Brazel.
It was nothing more than pieces of an unusual scientific balloon experiment, but the unfamiliar debris was confusing enough that, in the midst of that summer's media "flying saucer" craze, some witnesses thought it must be one of the mysterious saucers.
Pflock points out their descriptions of the debris -- metallic fabric glued to strange sticks, for example -- match the material known to have been used in Project Mogul.
The story died when the Air Force said the "saucer" was a balloon, but Roswell was resurrected years later as tales of alien bodies and government cover-ups became part of the UFO culture's lore.
It was then, skeptics believe, that UFO researchers such as Friedman, interviewing witnesses 30 years after the fact, drew out hazy memories of unconnected events and assembled them into what we now know as the Roswell Incident.
Key evidence in support of that argument came last week from the Air Force, which released a report documenting a secret 1950s program in which dummies were dropped from balloons in New Mexico.
The military units that swooped down on the crash scenes -- a common feature of the UFO stories -- were real military units that had been tracking the balloon experiments, according to the Air Force report.
Bernard Gildenburg, a Tularosa man who worked on the balloon tests, noted that the UFO believers' descriptions of the alien bodies closely match the actual balloon dummies.
Gildenburg, who helped in the preparation of the Air Force report, points out there were no stories of bodies at the time of the incident in 1947. They didn't appear until Friedman and others began revisiting the events at Roswell more than 30 years later.
By that time, it was possible for hazy memories to be connected in a misleading game of connect-the-dots, the skeptics believe.
"Air Force activities which occurred over a period of many years have been consolidated and are now represented to have occurred in two or three days in July 1947," the Air Force report says.
Pflock remains convinced there is something to the UFO phenomenon. There have been too many of what he considers credible unidentified flying object sightings to believe otherwise, he said.
"In my gut," Pflock said in an interview, "I'm convinced that at least some of the UFO sightings have been alien spacecraft."
But a rational evaluation of the evidence about the Roswell Incident, he said, has convinced him Roswell isn't such a case.
By abandoning Roswell, Pflock has abandoned what most UFO believers think is their best case.
When he went public, the attacks began.
On the Internet, Pflock was labeled a "debunker," a term of derision in the UFO community.
The same fate also recently has befallen another former Roswell stalwart, airline pilot and UFO investigator Kent Jeffrey.
Jeffrey headed an international effort called The Roswell Initiative to pressure the U.S. government to release documents related to Roswell and aliens, but he recently joined Pflock in concluding there was no crash, drawing a storm of criticism and the label "debunker."
"People don't want to accept the facts when the facts conflict with their preconceived beliefs," Jeffrey said.
"Speaking out against the Roswell crash is heresy in UFO circles," said Nevada UFO gadfly and self-described Roswell and UFO agnostic Glenn Campbell.
That is because Roswell is "a keystone of the faith" among UFO believers, Campbell said.
Stuff of legends
Friedman acknowledges there are many conflicting witnesses and conflicting versions of Roswell.
"Yes there's confusion," he said. "Yes there's people lying."
All he can do, he said, is continue his research to try to sort out the claims.
Anthropologists Ziegler's and Saler's analysis suggests it's understandable Friedman would present his work as a research endeavor.
The traditions of the UFO subculture require the story be told "in the format of an investigative report," they write. What it really is, they believe, is "the folk narrative of an embedded culture."
Friedman bristles at the Saler/Ziegler argument.
"Anybody saying I'm chasing urban myths," he says, "is crazy."
Pflock believes the Roswell stories are just that, myths. But he recognizes the evidence he has harvested probably will make little difference.
"The legend, or the legends, maybe plural," he said, "have gained a life of their own."