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Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947, announcing the "capture" of a "flying saucer."
|Location||Chaves County, New Mexico, United States|
Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947, announcing the "capture" of a "flying saucer."
|Location||Chaves County, New Mexico, United States|
The Roswell UFO incident took place in the U.S. in June or July 1947, when an airborne object crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. Explanations of what took place are based on both official and unofficial communications. Although the crash is attributed to a secret U.S. military Air Force surveillance balloon by the U.S. government, the most famous explanation of what occurred is that the object was a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life. Since the late 1970s, the Roswell incident has been the subject of much controversy, and conspiracy theories have arisen about the event.
The United States Armed Forces maintains that what was recovered near Roswell was debris from the crash of an experimental high-altitude surveillance balloon belonging to what was then a classified (top secret) program named Mogul. In contrast, many UFO proponents maintain that an alien craft was found, its occupants were captured, and that the military engaged in a massive cover-up. The Roswell incident has turned into a widely known pop culture phenomenon, making the name "Roswell" synonymous with UFOs. Roswell has become the most publicized of all alleged UFO incidents.
On July 8, 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) public information officer Walter Haut, issued a press release stating that personnel from the field's 509th Operations Group had recovered a "flying disk", which had crashed on a ranch near Roswell. Later that day, the press reported that Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force Roger Ramey had stated that a weather balloon was recovered by the RAAF personnel. A press conference was held, featuring debris (foil, rubber and wood) said to be from the crashed object, which seemed to confirm its description as a weather balloon.
Subsequently the incident faded from the attention of UFO researchers for over 30 years. In 1978, physicist and ufologist Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Major Jesse Marcel who was involved with the original recovery of the debris in 1947. Marcel expressed his belief that the military covered up the recovery of an alien spacecraft. His story spread through UFO circles, being featured in some UFO documentaries at the time. In February 1980, the National Enquirer ran its own interview with Marcel, garnering national and worldwide attention for the Roswell incident. Additional witnesses added significant new details, including claims of a large-scale military operation dedicated to recovering alien craft and aliens themselves, at as many as 11 crash sites, and alleged witness intimidation. In 1989, former mortician Glenn Dennis put forth a detailed personal account, wherein he claimed alien autopsies were carried out at the Roswell base.
In response to these reports, and after United States congressional inquiries, the General Accounting Office launched an inquiry and directed the Office of the United States Secretary of the Air Force to conduct an internal investigation. The result was summarized in two reports. The first, released in 1995, concluded that the reported recovered material in 1947 was likely debris from Project Mogul. The second report, released in 1997, concluded reports of recovered alien bodies were likely a combination of innocently transformed memories of military accidents involving injured or killed personnel, innocently transformed memories of the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs like Operation High Dive conducted in the 1950s, and hoaxes perpetrated by various witnesses and UFO proponents. The psychological effects of time compression and confusion about when events occurred explained the discrepancy with the years in question. These reports were dismissed by UFO proponents as being either disinformation or simply implausible. But at the same time, several high-profile UFO researchers discounted the possibility that the incident had anything to do with aliens.
On June 14, 1947, William Brazel, a foreman working on the Foster homestead, noticed strange clusters of debris approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of Roswell, New Mexico. This date—or "about three weeks" before July 8—appeared in later stories featuring Brazel, but the initial press release from the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) said the find was "sometime last week," suggesting Brazel found the debris in early July. Brazel told the Roswell Daily Record that he and his son saw a "large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks." He paid little attention to it but returned on July 4 with his son, wife and daughter to gather up the material. Some accounts have described Brazel as having gathered some of the material earlier, rolling it together and stashing it under some brush. The next day, Brazel heard reports about "flying discs" and wondered if that was what he had picked up. On July 7, Brazel saw Sheriff Wilcox and "whispered kinda confidential like" that he may have found a flying disc. Another account quotes Wilcox as saying Brazel reported the object on July 6.
Wilcox called RAAF Major Jesse Marcel and a "man in plainclothes" accompanied Brazel back to the ranch where more pieces were picked up. "[We] spent a couple of hours Monday afternoon [July 7] looking for any more parts of the weather device", said Marcel. "We found a few more patches of tinfoil and rubber."
As described in the July 9, 1947 edition of the Roswell Daily Record,
The balloon which held it up, if that was how it worked, must have been 12 feet long, [Brazel] felt, measuring the distance by the size of the room in which he sat. The rubber was smoky gray in color and scattered over an area about 200 yards in diameter. When the debris was gathered up, the tinfoil, paper, tape, and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable Scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction. No strings or wires were to be found but there were some eyelets in the paper to indicate that some sort of attachment may have been used.
A telex sent to an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office from the Fort Worth, Texas office quoted a Major from the Eighth Air Force (also based in Fort Worth at Carswell Air Force Base) on July 8, 1947 as saying that "The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a ballon [sic] by cable, which ballon [sic] was approximately twenty feet in diameter. Major Curtan further advices that the object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector, but that telephonic conversation between their office and Wright field had not [UNINTELLIGIBLE] borne out this belief."
Early on Tuesday, July 8, the RAAF issued a press release, which was immediately picked up by numerous news outlets:
The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff's office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff's office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher's home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.
Colonel William H. Blanchard, commanding officer of the 509th, contacted General Roger M. Ramey of the Eighth Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ramey ordered the object be flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field. At the base, Warrant Officer Irving Newton confirmed Ramey’s preliminary opinion, identifying the object as being a weather balloon and its "kite," a nickname for a radar reflector used to track the balloons from the ground. Another news release was issued, this time from the Fort Worth base, describing the object as being a "weather balloon".
In 1978, nuclear physicist and author Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Jesse Marcel, the only person known to have accompanied the Roswell debris from where it was recovered to Fort Worth where reporters saw material which was claimed to be part of the recovered object. The accounts given by Friedman and others in the following years elevated Roswell from a forgotten incident to perhaps the most famous UFO case of all time. By the early 1990s, UFO researchers such as Friedman, William Moore, Karl T. Pflock, and the team of Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt interviewed several hundred people who had—or claimed to have had—a connection with the events at Roswell in 1947. Additionally, hundreds of documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, and some were supposedly leaked by insiders, such as the so-called Majestic 12 papers. Their conclusions were at least one alien craft had crashed in the Roswell vicinity, aliens—some possibly still alive—were recovered, and a massive cover-up of any knowledge of the incident was put in place.
Over the years, books, articles, television specials, and a made-for-TV movie brought the 1947 incident significant notoriety. By the mid-1990s, public polls such as a 1997 CNN/Time poll, revealed that the majority of people interviewed believed that aliens had indeed visited Earth, and that aliens had landed at Roswell, but that all the relevant information was being kept secret by the US government.
Various narratives evolved, starting with Friedman's 1978 interviews with Marcel, through publication of the first book on Roswell in 1980, to new accounts and new books appearing into the early 1990s. Many new witnesses had by then emerged, as had new accounts that detailed recoveries of alien corpses and alien autopsies. Skeptics such as Phillip Klass and Richard Todd published objections to the plausibility of these accounts, but it was not until 1994 and the publication of the first United States Air Force report on the incident, that a strong counter-argument to the presence of aliens was widely publicized. Various authors enumerated different alien scenarios which often contradicted each other, based on what the documentary evidence suggested and on which witness accounts were accepted or dismissed. This was especially true for the various claimed sites for the crash and recovery sites of alien craft (various authors had different witnesses who described different locations for these events).
The outline from UFO Crash at Roswell (1991) by Randle and Schmitt is common to many of these accounts:
A UFO crashed northwest of Roswell, New Mexico, in the summer of 1947. The military acted quickly and efficiently to recover the debris after its existence was reported by a ranch hand. The debris, unlike anything these highly trained men had ever seen, was flown without delay to at least three government installations. A cover story was concocted to explain away the debris and the flurry of activity. It was explained that a weather balloon, one with a new radiosonde target device, had been found and temporarily confused the personnel of the 509th Bomb Group. Government officials took reporters' notes from their desks and warned a radio reporter not to play a recorded interview with the ranch hand. The men who took part in the recovery were told never to talk about the incident. And with a whimper, not a bang, the Roswell event faded quickly from public view and press scrutiny.
The first book on the Roswell UFO incident was The Roswell Incident (1980) by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. The authors claimed to have interviewed over ninety witnesses. Though he was uncredited, Friedman carried out some research for the book. The Roswell Incident featured accounts of debris described by Marcel as "nothing made on this earth." Additional accounts by Bill Brazel, son of Mac Brazel, neighbor Floyd Proctor and Walt Whitman Jr., son of newsman W. E. Whitman who had interviewed Mac Brazel, suggested the material Marcel recovered had super-strength not associated with a weather balloon. The book introduced the contention that debris which was recovered by Marcel at the Foster ranch, visible in photographs showing Marcel posing with the debris, was substituted for debris from a weather device as part of a cover-up. The book also claimed that the debris recovered from the ranch was not permitted a close inspection by the press. The efforts by the military were described as being intended to discredit and "counteract the growing hysteria towards flying saucers". Two accounts of witness intimidation were included in the book, including the incarceration of Mac Brazel.
The book included a report of Roswell residents Dan Wilmot and his wife seeing "two inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth" passing overhead on July 2, as were other reports of mysterious objects seen flying overhead. The Roswell Incident introduced an alien account by Socorro, New Mexico resident Barney Barnett, who had died years earlier. Friends of Barnett said he described the crash of a flying saucer and the recovery of alien corpses in the vicinity of Socorro, about 150 miles (240 km) west of the Foster ranch. He and a group of archaeologists stumbled upon an alien craft, and its occupants on the morning of July 3, only to be led away by military personnel. Further accounts suggested that the aliens and the craft were transported to Edwards Air Force Base in California. The book suggested that either there were two crafts that crashed, or that debris from the vehicle Barnett described had subsequently landed on the Foster ranch after an explosion.
Marcel said he "heard about it on July 7" when the sheriff Brazel had called him, but said, "[On] Sunday, July 6, Brazel decided he had better go into town and report this to someone," and that Brazel in turn called Marcel, suggesting—though not stating that Marcel was contacted on July 6. In 1947, Marcel was quoted as saying that he visited the ranch on Monday, July 7. Marcel described returning to Roswell the evening of July 7 to find that news of the incident had been leaked. Calls were made to Marcel's house, and he had a visit from a reporter, but he would not confirm the reports to the press. "The next morning, that written press release went out, and after that things really hit the fan." The book suggested that the military orchestrated Brazel's testimony in order to make it appear that a mundane object had crash landed on the ranch. "Brazel [...] [went] to great pains to tell the newspaper people exactly what the Air Force had instructed him to say regarding how he had come to discover the wreckage and what it looked like [...]".
In 1991, with the benefit of publicity from new witness interviews, Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published UFO Crash at Roswell. In this account, the timelines of the incident were slightly altered. The date when Brazel reported the debris and Marcel went to the ranch was said to be Sunday, July 6, not the next day, as some of the original accounts suggested, and The Roswell Incident left unclear. Marcel and an unidentified counter-intelligence agent were said to have spent the night at the ranch. The two gathered material on Monday, then Marcel supposedly dropped by his house on the way to the Roswell base in the early hours of Tuesday, July 8.
Some new details emerged, including accounts of a "gouge [...] that extended four or five hundred feet" at the ranch and descriptions of an elaborate cordon and recovery operation. Several witnesses in The Roswell Incident described being turned back from the Foster ranch by armed military police, but extensive descriptions were not given. The Barnett accounts were mentioned, though the dates and locations were changed from the accounts found in The Roswell Incident. In the new account, Brazel was described as leading the Army to a second crash site on the ranch, at which point the Army personnel were supposedly "horrified to find civilians [including Barnett] there already."
Glenn Dennis had emerged as an important witness in 1989, after calling the hotline when an episode of Unsolved Mysteries featured the Roswell incident. His descriptions of Roswell alien autopsies were the first account that said there were alien corpses at the Roswell Army Air Base. No mention, except in passing, was made of the claim found in The Roswell Incident that the Roswell aliens and the craft were shipped to Edwards Air Force Base. The 1991 book purported to establish a chain of events with alien corpses being seen at a crash site, the bodies then being shipped to the Roswell base as witnessed by Dennis, and then flown to Fort Worth, and finally to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, the last known location of the bodies.
The book introduced an account from General Arthur E. Exon, an officer stationed at the alleged final resting place of the recovered material. He stated there was a shadowy group, which he called the "Unholy Thirteen", who controlled and had access to whatever was recovered. He later stated:
In the '55 time period [when Exon was at the Pentagon], there was also the story that whatever happened, whatever was found at Roswell was still closely held and probably would be held until these fellows I mentioned had died so they wouldn't be embarrassed or they wouldn't have to explain why they covered it up. [...] [U]ntil the original thirteen died off and I don't think anyone is going to release anything [until] the last one's gone.
In 1992, a third book, Crash at Corona, was published. Written by Friedman and Don Berliner, it suggested a high-level cover-up of a UFO recovery, based on documents which were anonymously dropped off at a UFO researcher's house in 1984. The documents were purported to be 1952 briefing papers for incoming president Dwight Eisenhower, describing a high-level government agency whose purpose was to investigate aliens recovered at Roswell and to keep such information hidden from public view. Friedman had done much of the research for The Roswell Incident with William Moore, and Crash at Corona built on this research.
The title of the book was Corona, New Mexico rather than Roswell, New Mexico, because Corona is geographically closer to the Foster ranch crash site. The timeline of events that the book gives is the same as the previous account, with Marcel and Sheridan Cavitt, a counter-intelligence agent who was likely the "man in plainclothes" described by Brazel in 1947, visiting the ranch on July 6. The 1992 book says, however, that Brazel was "taken into custody for about a week" and escorted into the offices of the Roswell Daily Record on July 10, where he gave an account that he had been told to give by the government.
A sign of the disagreements between various researchers is evident, as Friedman and Berliner moved the Barnett account back to near Socorro and introduced a new eyewitness account of the site. This new account is from Gerald Anderson who provided vivid descriptions of both a downed alien craft and four aliens, of which at least one was alive. The authors note much of the evidence had been dismissed by the authors of UFO Crash at Roswell and that this had been done "without a solid basis". The 1992 authors also mention "a personality conflict between Anderson and Randle" meaning that Friedman was the author who investigated his claim. The book, however, does largely embrace the same sequence of events as the account in UFO Crash at Roswell, where aliens are seen at the Roswell Army Air Field, based on the Dennis account, and then shipped off to Fort Worth, and subsequently to Wright Field. The book suggests that as many as eight alien corpses were recovered from two crash sites: three dead and perhaps one alive from the Foster ranch, and three dead and one living from the Socorro site.
In 1994, Randle and Schmitt published The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell. While it restated a majority of the case as laid out in their earlier book, new and expanded accounts of aliens were included, and a new location for the recovery of aliens was detailed. Additionally, an almost completely new scenario for the sequence of events was laid out. For the first time, the airborne object was said to have crashed on the evening of July 4 instead of July 2, which was the date used in all the previous books. Another important difference was the assertion that the alien recovery was well under way before Brazel traveled to Roswell with his news about the debris on the Foster ranch. Apparently several objects had been tracked by radar for a few days in the vicinity before one crashed. In all previous accounts, the military was made aware of the alleged alien crash only when Brazel came forward. Additionally, Brazel was said to have given his news conference on July 9, and the 1994 book claims that his press conference and the initial news release announcing the discovery of a "flying disk" were all part of an elaborate ruse to shift attention away from the "true" crash site.
The book featured a new witness account describing an alien craft and aliens from Jim Ragsdale,[who?] at a new location north of Roswell, instead of closer to Corona on the Foster ranch. Corroboration was given by accounts from a group of archaeologists. Five alien corpses were supposedly seen. The book states that although the Foster ranch was also a source of debris, no bodies were recovered from it. The book also features expanded accounts from Dennis and Kaufmann, and a new account from Ruben Anaya which describes New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Joseph Montoya's claim that he saw alien corpses at the Roswell base.
More disagreement between Roswell researchers forms part of the book. A full chapter is devoted to dismissing the Barnett and Anderson accounts from Socorro, a central part of Crash at Corona and The Roswell Incident. "[...] Barnett's story [and] the Plains [of San Augustin, near Soccoro] scenario, must be discarded", say the authors. An appendix is devoted to describing Majestic 12 as a hoax. The two Randle and Schmitt books remain highly influential in the UFO community; their interviews and conclusions widely reproduced on websites. Randle and Schmitt claimed to have "conducted more than two thousand interviews with more than five hundred people" during their Roswell investigations.
By 1994 when The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell was published, a schism had emerged within the UFO community about the events in the Roswell UFO incident. The Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), two leading UFO societies, disagreed in their views of the various scenarios presented by Randle–Schmitt and Friedman–Berliner; several conferences were held to try to resolve the differences. One of the center issues under discussion was where Barnett was when he saw the alien craft he was said to have encountered. A 1992 UFO conference attempted to achieve a consensus among the various scenarios portrayed in Crash at Corona and UFO Crash at Roswell, however, the publication of The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell had "resolved" the Barnett problem by simply ignoring Barnett and citing a new location for the alien craft recovery, including a new group of archaeologists not connected to the ones the Barnett story cited.
In 1995, film footage purporting to show an alien autopsy and claimed to have been taken by a US military official shortly after the Roswell incident was released by Ray Santilli, a London-based video entrepreneur. The footage caused an international sensation when it aired on television networks around the world.
In 2006, Santilli admitted that the film was mostly a reconstruction, but continued to claim it was based on genuine footage now lost, and some original frames that had survived. A fictionalized version of the creation of the footage and its release was retold in the comedy film Alien Autopsy (2006).
During the mid-1990s, the United States Air Force issued two reports which accounted for the debris that was found and reported on in 1947, and which also accounted for the later reports of alien recoveries. The USAF reports identified the debris as coming from a top-secret government experiment called Project Mogul, which tested the feasibility of detecting Soviet nuclear tests and ballistic missiles with equipment that was carried aloft using high-altitude balloons. Accounts of aliens were explained as resulting from misidentified military experiments that used anthropomorphic dummies, accidents involving injured or killed military personnel, and hoaxes perpetrated by various witnesses and UFO proponents. The Air Force report formed a basis for a skeptical response to the claims many authors were making about the recovery of aliens, though skeptical researchers such as Philip J. Klass and Robert Todd had already been publishing articles for several years that raised significant doubts about the accounts of aliens in the incident.
Books published into the 1990s suggested there was much more to the Roswell incident than the mere recovery of a weather balloon, however, skeptics, and even some social anthropologists saw the increasingly elaborate accounts as evidence of a myth being constructed. After the release of the Air Force reports, several books, such as Kal Korff's The Roswell UFO Crash: What They Don't Want You To Know (1997), built on the evidence presented in the reports to conclude "there is no credible evidence that the remains of an extraterrestrial spacecraft was involved."
Hundreds of people were interviewed by the various researchers, but critics point out that only a few of these people claimed to have seen debris or aliens. Most witnesses were repeating the claims of others, and their testimony would be considered hearsay in an American court of law and therefore inadmissible as evidence. Of the 90 people claimed to have been interviewed for The Roswell Incident, the testimony of only 25 appears in the book, and only seven of these people saw the debris. Of these, five handled the debris. Pflock, in Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe (2001), makes a similar point about Randle and Schmitt's UFO Crash at Roswell. Approximately 271 people are listed in the book who were "contacted and interviewed" for the book, and this number does not include those who chose to remain anonymous, meaning more than 300 witnesses were interviewed, a figure Pflock said the authors frequently cited. Of these 300-plus individuals, only 41 can be "considered genuine first- or second-hand witnesses to the events in and around Roswell or at the Fort Worth Army Air Field," and only 23 can be "reasonably thought to have seen physical evidence, debris recovered from the Foster Ranch." Of these, only seven have asserted anything suggestive of otherworldly origins for the debris.
As for the accounts from those who claimed to have seen aliens, critics identified problems ranging from the reliability of second-hand accounts, to credibility problems with witnesses making demonstrably false claims, or multiple, contradictory accounts, to dubious death-bed confessions or accounts from elderly and easily confused witnesses. Pflock noted that only four people with supposed firsthand knowledge of alien bodies were interviewed and identified by Roswell authors: Frank Kaufmann; Jim Ragsdale; Lt. Col. Albert Lovejoy Duran; Gerald Anderson. Duran is mentioned in a brief footnote in The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell and never again, while the other three all have serious credibility problems. A problem with all the accounts, charge critics, is they all came about a minimum of 31 years after the events in question, and in many cases were recounted more than 40 years after the fact. Not only are memories this old of dubious reliability, they were also subject to contamination from other accounts the interviewees may have been exposed to. The shifting claims of Jesse Marcel, whose suspicion that what he recovered in 1947 was "not of this world" sparked interest in the incident in the first place, cast serious doubt on the reliability of what he claimed to be true.
In The Roswell Incident, Marcel stated, "Actually, this material may have looked like tinfoil and balsa wood, but the resemblance ended there [...] They took one picture of me on the floor holding up some of the less-interesting metallic debris [...] The stuff in that one photo was pieces of the actual stuff we found. It was not a staged photo." Timothy Printy points out that the material Marcel positively identified as being part of what he recovered is material that skeptics and UFO advocates agree is debris from a balloon device. After that fact was pointed out to him, Marcel changed his story to say that that material was not what he recovered. Skeptics like Robert Todd argued that Marcel had a history of embellishment and exaggeration, such as claiming to have been a pilot and having received five Air Medals for shooting down enemy planes, claims that were all found to be false, and skeptics feel that his evolving Roswell story was simply another instance of this tendency to fabricate.
Critics[who?] also point out that the large variety of claimed crash flights suggests that events that spanned years have been incorporated into one single event, and that authors[who?] have uncritically embraced anything that suggests aliens, even when the accounts contradict each other. Pflock said, "[T]he case for Roswell is a classic example of the triumph of quantity over quality. The advocates of the crashed-saucer tale [...] simply shovel everything that seems to support their view into the box marked 'Evidence' and say, 'See? Look at all this stuff. We must be right.' Never mind the contradictions. Never mind the lack of independent supporting fact. Never mind the blatant absurdities." Korff suggests there are clear incentives for some people to promote the idea of aliens at Roswell, and that many researchers were not doing competent work: "[The] UFO field is comprised of people who are willing to take advantage of the gullibility of others, especially the paying public. Let's not pull any punches here: The Roswell UFO myth has been very good business for UFO groups, publishers, for Hollywood, the town of Roswell, the media, and UFOlogy [...] [The] number of researchers who employ science and its disciplined methodology is appallingly small."
Gildenberg and others[who?] said there were as many as 11 reported alien recovery sites and these recoveries bore only a marginal resemblance to the event as initially reported in 1947, or as recounted later by the initial witnesses. Some of these new accounts could have been confused accounts of the several known recoveries of injured and dead servicemen from four military plane crashes that occurred in the area from 1948 to 1950. Other accounts could have been based on memories of recoveries of test dummies, as suggested by the Air Force in their reports. Charles Ziegler argued that the Roswell story has all the hallmarks of a traditional folk narrative. He identified six distinct narratives, and a process of transmission via storytellers with a core story that was created from various witness accounts, and was then shaped and molded by those who carry on the UFO community's tradition. Other "witnesses" were then sought out to expand the core narrative, with those who give accounts not in line with the core beliefs being repudiated or simply omitted by the "gatekeepers." Others then retold the narrative in its new form. This whole process would repeat over time.
Finally, critics have expressed profound frustration at the very notion that crashed saucers have been, as often claimed, repeatedly recovered—in the United States, U.S.S.R., Germany, and Iran, reportedly. One marvels that so many races of aliens—who are sufficiently ingenious to circumnavigate the galaxy—are so bumbling as routinely to crash on backwater Earth!
Prominent skeptics Joe Nickell and co-author James McGaha identified the myth-making process, which they called the "Roswellian Syndrome". The authors used the Roswell event as an example, but pointed out that the same syndrome is readily observable in other reported UFO incidents. The authors identified five distinct stages of development of the Roswell myth:
Incident: The initial incident and reporting on July 8, 1947
Debunking: Soon after the initial reports, the mysterious object was identified as a weather balloon, later confirmed to be a balloon array from Project Mogul which had gone missing in flight.
Submergence: The news story ended with the identification of the weather balloon. However, the event lingered on in the ‘fading and recreative memories of some of those involved’. Rumor and speculation simmered just below the surface in Roswell and became part of the culture at large. In time, UFOlogists arrived, asked leading questions, and helped to spin a tale of crashed flying saucers and a government conspiracy to cover up the true nature of the event.
Mythologizing: After the story submerged, and, over time, reemerged, it developed into an ever-expanding and elaborate myth. The mythologizing process included exaggeration, faulty memory, folklore and deliberate hoaxing. The deliberate hoaxing was usually self-serving for personal gain or promotion (for example, the promotion of the 1950 sci-fi movie The Flying Saucer) and in turn fed the folklore.
Reemergence and Media Bandwagon Effect: Publication of books such as The Roswell Incident by Berlitz and Moore in 1980, television shows and other media coverage perpetuated the UFO crash story and cover-up conspiracy beliefs. Conspiracy beliefs typically mirror public sentiments towards the US government and oscillate along with those attitudes.
The authors predicted that the Roswellian Syndrome would "play out again and again", not only in the Roswell story, but also in other UFO and conspiracy-theory stories.
One of the immediate outcomes of the Air Force reports on the Roswell UFO incident was the decision by some prominent UFO researchers to view the Roswell incident as not involving an alien craft. While the initial Air Force report was a chief reason for this, another reason was the release of secret documents from 1948 that showed that top Air Force officials did not know what the UFO objects being reported in the media were, and their suspicion that the UFOs might be Soviet spy vehicles.
In January 1997, Karl T. Pflock, one of the more prominent pro-UFO researchers, said “Based on my research and that of others, 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....The formerly highly classified record of correspondence and discussions among top Air Force officials who were responsible for cracking the flying saucer mystery from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s makes it crystal clear that they didn't have any crashed saucer wreckage or bodies of saucer crews, but they were desperate to have such evidence [...]"
Kent Jeffrey, who organized petitions to ask President Bill Clinton to issue an Executive order to declassify any government information on the Roswell incident, similarly concluded that no aliens were likely to have been involved.
William L. Moore, one of the earliest proponents of the Roswell incident as a UFO event, said this in 1997: "After deep and careful consideration of recent developments concerning Roswell...I am no longer of the opinion that the extraterrestrial explanation is the best explanation for this event." Moore was co-author of the first book on Roswell, The Roswell Incident.
In a podcast interview with Canadian filmmaker Paul Kimball released on August 25, 2013, Kevin Randle stated that while he still personally believed that an extraterrestrial spacecraft crashed in New Mexico, the evidence does not support that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt. "We really can't get to the extraterrestrial," stated Randle. "We can eliminate practically everything else that you care to mention, but that still doesn't get us to the extraterrestrial."
Around the same time in the late 1990s, a serious rift developed between two prominent Roswell authors. Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt had co-authored several books on the subject, and were generally acknowledged, along with Stanton Friedman, to be the leading researchers of the Roswell incident. The Air Force reports on the incident suggested that basic research that was claimed to have been carried out was not in fact carried out, a fact verified in a 1995 Omni magazine article. Additionally, Schmitt claimed he had a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and was in the midst of pursuing a doctorate in criminology. He also claimed to be a medical illustrator. When checked, it was revealed he was in fact a letter carrier in Hartford, Wisconsin, and had no known academic credentials. At the same time, Randle publicly distanced himself from Schmitt and his research. Referring to Schmitt’s investigation of witness Dennis’s accounts of a missing nurse at the Roswell base, he said: "The search for the nurses proves that he [Schmitt] will lie about anything. He will lie to anyone ... He has revealed himself as a pathological liar [...] I will have nothing more to do with him."
Additionally, several prominent witnesses were shown to be perpetrating hoaxes, or suspected of doing so. Frank Kaufmann was a major source of alien reports in the 1994 Randle and Schmitt book The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell. He was the witness whose testimony it was charged was “ignored” by the Air Force when compiling their reports. However, after his 2001 death, he was shown to have been forging documents and inflating his role at Roswell. Randle and Mark Rodeigher repudiated Kaufmann’s credibility in two 2002 articles.
Glenn Dennis, who testified that Roswell alien autopsies were carried out at the Roswell base, and that he and others were the subjects of threats, was deemed one of the “least credible” Roswell witnesses by Randle in 1998. In Randle and Schmitt’s 1991 book UFO Crash at Roswell, Dennis’s story was featured prominently. Randle said Dennis was not credible “for changing the name of the nurse once we had proved she didn't exist.” Dennis’s accounts were also doubted by researcher Pflock.
UFO researcher David Rudiak, and others before him, claimed that a telegram which appears in one of the 1947 photos of balloon debris in Ramey's office contains text that confirms that aliens and a "disk" were found. Rudiak and some other examiners claim that when enlarged, the text on the paper General Ramey is apparently holding in his hand includes key phrases "the victims of the wreck" and "in/on the 'disc'" plus other phrases seemingly in the context of a crashed vehicle recovery. However, pro-UFO interpretations of this document are disputed by other photoanalyses, such as one facilitated by researcher James Houran, Ph.D., which suggest that the letters and words are indistinct. Other objections question the plausibility of a general allowing himself to be photographed holding such a document, raise issues with the format of the memo, and ponder the logic of Ramey having in his possession a document he, as Rudiak argued, has supposedly sent, which says "...the wreck you forwarded..." and yet is supposedly addressed to the Headquarters of the Army Air Force in Washington, not the Roswell Army Air Field.
In 2002, the Sci-Fi Channel sponsored an excavation at the Brazel site, in the hopes of uncovering debris that the military failed to collect. Although these results have so far been negative, the University of New Mexico archaeological team did verify recent soil disruption at the exact location that some witnesses said they saw a long, linear impact groove. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who headed the United States Department of Energy under President Clinton, apparently found the results provocative. In 2004, he wrote in a foreword to The Roswell Dig Diaries, that "the mystery surrounding this crash has never been adequately explained—not by independent investigators, and not by the U.S. government."
On October 26, 2007, Richardson (who at the time was a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. President) was asked about releasing government files on Roswell. Richardson responded that when he was a Congressman, he attempted to get information on behalf of his New Mexico constituents, but was told by both the Department of Defense and Los Alamos Labs that the information was classified. "That ticked me off," he said "The government doesn't tell the truth as much as it should on a lot of issues." He promised to work on opening the files if he were elected as President.
In October 2002, before airing its Roswell documentary, the Sci-Fi Channel hosted a Washington UFO news conference. John Podesta, President Clinton's chief of staff, appeared as a member of the public relations firm hired by Sci-Fi to help get the government to open up documents on the subject. Podesta stated, "It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the true nature of the phenomena."
In February 2005, the ABC TV network aired a UFO special hosted by news anchor Peter Jennings. Jennings lambasted the Roswell case as a "myth ... without a shred of evidence." ABC endorsed the Air Force's explanation that the incident resulted solely from the crash of a Project Mogul balloon.
Stanton T. Friedman continues to defend his view that the Majestic 12 (also known as Majic-12) documents, which describe a secret government agency hiding information on recovered aliens, are authentic. In an afterword dated April 2005 to a new edition of his book Top Secret/Majic (first published in 1996), he responds to more recent questions on their validity and concludes "I am still convinced Roswell really happened, [and] that the Eisenhower Briefing Document [i.e., Majestic 12] ... [and others] are the most important classified documents ever leaked to the public."
In June 2007, Donald Schmitt and his investigation partner Tom Carey published their first book together, Witness to Roswell. In this book, they claim a "continuously growing roster of more than 600 people directly or indirectly associated with the events at Roswell who support the first account - that initial claim of the flying saucer recovery." New accounts of aliens or alien recoveries were described, including the account of Walter Haut, who wrote the initial press release in 1947.
A new date was suggested for the crash of a mysterious object—the evening of Thursday, July 3, 1947. Also, unlike previous accounts, Brazel took the debris to Corona, where he showed fragments to local residents in the local bar, hardware store, and elsewhere, and to Capitan to the south, where portions of the object ended up at a 4th of July rodeo. Numerous people are described as visiting the debris field and taking souvenirs before Brazel finally went to Roswell to report the find on July 6. Once the military was alerted to the debris, extensive efforts were undertaken to retrieve those souvenirs: "Ranch houses were and [sic] ransacked. The wooden floors of livestock sheds were pried loose plank by plank and underground cold storage fruit cellars were emptied of all their contents."
The subsequent events are related as per the sequence in previous books, except for a second recovery site of an alien body at the Foster ranch. This recovery near the debris field is the same site mentioned in 1991's UFO Crash at Roswell. The authors suggest that Brazel discovered the second site some days after finding the debris field, and this prompted him to travel to Roswell and report his find to the authorities.
Neither Barnett nor the archaeologists are reported to be present at this body site. While noting the earlier "major problems" with Barnett's account, which caused Schmitt and previous partner Randle to omit Barnett's claim in 1994's The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell, the new book further notes another site mentioned in the 1994 publication. This site closer to Roswell "turned out to be bogus, as it was based upon the testimony of a single, alleged eyewitness [Frank Kaufmann] who himself was later discovered to have been a purveyor of false information." Jim Ragsdale, whose alien account opened that book and who was claimed to have been present along with some archaeologists, is not mentioned in the new book.
The 2007 book includes claims that Major Marcel saw alien bodies, a claim not present in previous books. Two witnesses are cited who say Marcel briefly mentioned seeing bodies, one a relative and another a Tech Sergeant who worked with Marcel's intelligence team.
Much additional new testimony is presented to support notions that alien bodies were found at the Foster ranch and at another main crash site along with a craft, then processed at the base in a hangar and at the hospital, and the bodies finally flown out in containers, all under very tight security. The book suggests Brazel found "two or three alien bodies" about two miles east of the debris field, and describes the rest of a stricken alien craft along with the remainder of the crew remaining airborne for some 30 more miles before crashing at another site about 40 miles north/northwest of Roswell (but not the same site described by Kaufmann). The authors claim to have located this final crash site in 2005 where "an additional two or three dead aliens and one live one were discovered by civilian archaeologists," but offer no more information about the new site.
Walter Haut, the Roswell Army Air Field public affairs officer, had drafted the initial press release which went out over the news wires on the afternoon of July 8, 1947, announcing a "flying disc". This was supposedly the only direct involvement Haut had in public statements and signed affidavits. The book presents a new affidavit that Haut signed in 2002 in which he claims much greater personal knowledge and involvement, including seeing alien corpses and craft, and involvement in a cover-up. Haut died in 2005.
Another new firsthand account from MP Elias Benjamin describes how he guarded aliens on gurneys taken to the Roswell base hospital from the same hangar. Similarly, family members of Miriam Bush, secretary to the chief medical officer at Roswell base, told of having been led into an examination room where alien corpses were laid out on gurneys. In both accounts, one of the aliens was said to be still alive. The book also recounted earlier testimony of the Anaya family about picking up New Mexico Lt. Governor Joseph Montoya at the base, and a badly shaken Montoya relating that he saw four alien bodies at the base hangar, one of them alive. Benjamin's and Bush's accounts, as do a few lesser ones, again place aliens at the Roswell base hospital, as had the Glenn Dennis story from almost 20 years before. The book notes that Dennis had been found to have told lies, and therefore is a supplier of unreliable testimony, but had nevertheless told others of incidents at the Roswell base long before it became associated with aliens in the late 1970s.
The 2007 publishing of the Walter Haut affidavit in Witness to Roswell, wherein Haut described a cover-up and seeing alien corpses, ignited a controversy in UFO circles. While many embraced Haut's accounts as confirmation of the presence of aliens from a person who was known to have been on the base in 1947, others raised questions about his credibility.
UFO researcher Dennis G. Balthaser, who along with fellow researcher Wendy Connors interviewed Haut on-camera in 2000, doubted that the same man he interviewed could have written the affidavit he signed. "[The 2000 video] shows a man that couldn't remember where he took basic training, names, dates, etc., while the 2002 affidavit is very detailed and precise with information Haut couldn't accurately remember 2 years after he was video taped." Witness to Roswell co-author Donald R. Schmitt, he notes, admitted that the affidavit was not written by Haut, but prepared for him to sign, based on statements Haut had made privately to Schmitt and co-author Tom Carey over a period of years. And further, notes Balthaser, neither he nor Carey were there when Haut signed the affidavit and the witness' name has not been revealed, casting doubt on the circumstances of the signing.
Balthaser had further questions about what he saw as problems with the 2002 account. If the cover-up was decided at a meeting at Roswell, he asked, "why was it necessary for Major Marcel to fly debris from Roswell to General Ramey’s office in Ft Worth, since they had all handled the debris in the meeting and apparently set up the cover-up operation?" He also wondered which Haut statements were true: a 1993 affidavit he signed, the 2000 video interview, or the 2002 affidavit.
Bill Birnes, writing for UFO Magazine, summarizes that whatever disagreements there are about the 2000 video and the 2002 affidavit, "I think Walter Haut's 2002 affidavit really says it all and agrees, on its material facts, with Walter's 2000 interview with Dennis Balthaser and Wendy Connors. Dennis said he agrees with me, too, on this point."
A comparison of the affidavit and interview shows that in both accounts Haut said he saw a craft and at least one body in a base hangar and also attended a Roswell staff meeting where General Ramey was present and where Ramey put a cover-up into place.
Birnes also says that Carey said that while Haut may not have written the affidavit, "his statements were typed, shown to him for his review and agreement, and then affirmed by him in the presence of a witness... The fact that a notary was present and sealed the document should end any doubt as to the reality of its existence."
Julie Shuster, Haut's daughter and Director of the International UFO Museum in Roswell, said that Schmitt had written the affidavit based on years of conversations he and Carey had had with him. Writing in the September 2007 MUFON newsletter, she said she and Haut reviewed the document, that "he did not want to make any changes," and in the presence of two witnesses, a notary public from the museum and a visitor, both unidentified, he signed the affidavit.
In April 2011, the FBI posted a 1950 document from agent Guy Hottel which discussed a report by an investigator for the Air Forces (sic) of "three so-called flying saucers" and their occupants having been recovered in New Mexico. The document says:
Though no dates are mentioned regarding the events, the memo has a typed date of March 22, 1950, and two differently-sized date stamps: one March 29, 1950 (larger, at bottom) and one March 28, 1950, the latter of which has a handwritten number above it: 62-838-94-209, the last part with "-209" being somewhat widely spaced from the former. (Other things are typed and handwritten on the copy of the memorandum that is included with this article.)
No location more specific than "New Mexico" is seen.
Some sources connected the memo to the Roswell UFO incident of 1947. Other sources said the memo had been in the public domain for years, and was revealed as a hoax as far back as 1952 in an article in True magazine. They said the hoax was perpetrated by several men who were peddling a device purported to be able to locate gold, oil, gas or anything their victims sought, based on supposed alien technology. The two men, Silas Newton and Leo A. Gebauer, were convicted of fraud in 1953.
In 2013, the FBI issued a press release regarding the memo. In addressing the memo's context, the Bureau wrote, "Finally, the Hottel memo does not prove the existence of UFOs; it is simply a second- or third-hand claim that we never investigated. Some people believe the memo repeats a hoax that was circulating at that time, but the Bureau’s files have no information to verify that theory."
American journalist Annie Jacobsen's Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base (2011), based on interviews with scientists and engineers who worked in Area 51, dismisses the alien story. It suggested that Josef Mengele, a German Schutzstaffel officer and a physician in Auschwitz, was recruited by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to produce "grotesque, child-size aviators" to be remotely piloted and landed in America in order to cause hysteria similar to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds (1938). The aircraft, however, crashed and the incident was hushed up by the Americans. Jacobsen wrote that the bodies found at the crash site were children around 12 years old with large heads and abnormally-shaped, over-sized eyes. They were neither aliens nor consenting airmen, but human guinea pigs. The book was criticized for extensive errors by scientists from the Federation of American Scientists.
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