Roswell incident

Roswell incident
July 8, 1947, issue of the Roswell Daily Record, featured a story announcing the "capture" of a "flying saucer" from a ranch near Roswell
DateJune & July 1947
LocationLincoln County, New Mexico, US
Coordinates33°57′01″N 105°18′51″W / 33.95028°N 105.31417°W / 33.95028; -105.31417

The "Roswell incident", or simply "Roswell", was the July 1947 recovery of metallic and rubber debris from a crashed military balloon by Roswell Army Air Field personnel, who issued a press release announcing possession of a "flying disc". Decades later, conspiracy theories claimed that debris from an alien spaceship had been covered up by the government. In response, in 1994 the United States Air Force published a report concluding the crashed object was a top secret nuclear test surveillance balloon from Project Mogul.

The Roswell incident took place during the flying disc craze of 1947, sparked by widespread media coverage of pilot Kenneth Arnold's alleged sighting. Amid hundreds of reports nationwide, on July 8, 1947, Roswell Army Air Field's press release was broadcast via wire transmission. The Army quickly retracted the release, falsely stating the crashed object was merely a conventional weather balloon.

The incident was forgotten until 1978, when retired lieutenant colonel Jesse Marcel was interviewed by ufologist Stanton Friedman. In that interview, Marcel revealed the "weather balloon" had been a cover story to divert public attention. Based on this, Marcel speculated that the debris might have been extraterrestrial in origin.

Jesse Marcel's interview led to complex conspiracy theories about alien spacecraft recovery and military cover-ups by ufologists. In 1979, over three decades after Roswell, conspiracy theorists began to claim that extraterrestrial occupants had been recovered by the military at Roswell. In response to claims of alien occupants, a second USAF report in 1997 reviewed testimonies about aliens and found them to be baseless, made up, or inspired by parachute dummies.

Conspiracy theories about the event persist despite explanations linking the incident to Project Mogul, a military balloon or having been described as "the world's most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim". Its myth has become a cultural phenomenon and the Roswell incident continues to be of interest in popular media. Portrayals of the incident are a prominent and enduring trope in popular culture and mass media commonly associated with "grey aliens" and "flying saucers". The city of Roswell, New Mexico has embraced this cultural iconography; featuring a little green man on its seal and hosting numerous ufology attractions and events.

Events of 1947

Project Mogul

The initial events occurred at the beginning of the Atomic Age during what historian Kathryn S. Olmsted describes as "the first summer of the Cold War". By 1947, the United States's top-secret Project Mogul had launched thousands of balloons carrying devices to listen for Soviet atomic tests. On June 4, 1947, researchers launched a long train of these balloons, designated Flight 4, from Alamogordo Army Air Field. They tracked Flight 4 flying northeast toward Corona and lost contact within 17 miles (27 km) of Mac Brazel's ranch.

'Flying disc' craze

In June 1947, media nationwide reported civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold's account of objects flying at "incredible speed". Arnold's description of what would become known as flying saucers incited a wave of over 800 sightings. Many of these accounts echoed Arnold's description with speed beyond known planes and elements from aircraft like glass domes, cockpits, fins, legs, jet pipes, vapor trails, and even propellers. On July 4, 1947, United Airlines Flight 105 reported seeing multiple 'flying discs'. During that summer, Americans associated saucers with secret military projects, hoaxes, or natural phenomena. They had not yet become synonymous with the idea of extraterrestrial visitation.

Debris recovered

When W.W. "Mac" Brazel discovered debris scattered across several acres of his ranch in mid-June, he did not view the tinfoil, rubber, tape, and thin wooden beams as unusual. Brazel gathered it and pushed it under some brush to dispose of it. The ranch had no phone or radio, leaving Brazel unaware of the ongoing flying saucer craze. On a Saturday evening, July 5, he drove into Corona, New Mexico, where patrons at a local bar informed him of the flying disc stories. Later, Brazel transported some of the silvery debris to the sheriff's office in Roswell. Sheriff George Wilcox called Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF), who assigned the matter to Major Jesse Marcel and Captain Sheridan Cavitt. Brazel took Marcel and Cavitt to the debris site to gather more of the material.

On Tuesday morning, July 8, Marcel took the debris to the 509th Commander, Colonel William Blanchard. Blanchard reported the finding to General Roger Ramey at Fort Worth Army Air Field (FWAAF), which resulted in orders to fly the material out to FWAAF that evening. By the end of the day, RAAF public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release stating that the military had recovered a "flying disc" near Roswell. Robert Porter, an RAAF flight engineer, was part of the crew who loaded what he was "told was a flying saucer" onto the flight bound for Fort Worth. He described the material - packaged in wrapping paper when he received it - as lightweight and not too large to fit inside the trunk of a car.

External audio
audio icon ABC News radio broadcast on Roswell disc

After station director George Walsh broke the news over Roswell radio station KSWS and relayed it to the Associated Press, his phone lines were overwhelmed. He later recalled, "All afternoon, I tried to call Sheriff Wilcox for more information, but could never get through to him Media people called me from all over the world." When interviewed decades later, Lydia Sleppy, a teletype operator at the KOAT station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, claimed that she was typing a story about the wreckage as dictated by reporter Johnny McBoyle until interrupted by an incoming message ordering her to end communications.

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.

— Associated Press (July 8, 1947)

'Flying disc' debunked

At Fort Worth Army Air Field, Major Jesse A. Marcel posing with debris on July 8, 1947.

Media interest in the case dissipated soon after the July 8 press conference where General Ramey, his chief of staff Colonel Thomas Dubose, and weather officer Irving Newton identified material as pieces of a weather balloon. Irving explained to reporters that similar radar targets were used at about 80 weather stations. According to Irving, balloons would be attached to a star-shaped reflective target. After launch, the balloon would expand with increasing altitude before bursting around 60,000 feet.

On July 9, 1947, the US Army identified the debris as an ordinary weather balloon. 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, 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.

Brig. General Roger Ramey, left, and Col. Thomas J. DuBose pose with debris.

The handful of news stories that followed the official explanation, offered mundane and prosaic accounts of the crash. Brazel told the Roswell Daily Record that the debris consisted of 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 later with his wife and daughter to gather up some of the debris. When interviewed, Marcel described the wreckage as "parts of the weather device" and "patches of tinfoil and rubber." While not an outright fabrication, the 1947 official account omitted any connection to Cold War military programs. Major Wilbur D. Pritchard, then-stationed at Alamogordo Army Air Field, would later describe the weather balloon story as "an attempt to deflect attention from the top secret Mogul project."

Roswell forgotten (1947–1978)

The Roswell incident, first brought to public attention in July 1947, remained relatively obscure for three decades until the emergence of UFO conspiracy theories rekindled interest in subsequent years. These theories were fueled by hoaxes, legends, and stories of crashed spaceships and alien bodies in New Mexico.

Folklore scholars have traced the development of the Roswell narrative throughout its history. According to their research, the genesis can be traced back to the waning days of World War II (1944-45), a time when Japan unleashed thousands of Fu-Go balloon bombs, designed to inflict damage and instill fear in the United States.

Crashed disc hoaxes (1947–1950)

On July 12, 1947, the US Army released photos of a hoaxed "flying disc" recovered from Twin Falls. Twin Falls crashed disc hoax (1947)

Days after Roswell, on July 11, the press reported the recovery of a 30-inch (76 cm) disc from the yard of a home in Twin Falls, Idaho. On July 12, it was reported nationally that the Twin Falls disc was a hoax. Press reported that four teenagers had confessed to creating the disc. Photos of the object were then publicly released. The object was described as containing radio tubes, electric coils, and wires underneath a plexiglass dome.

The Twin Falls hoax, with its nationally published image showing a bemused army officer holding a disc-like object of mundane construction, has been called the "coup de grâce of press coverage" on the 1947 flying disc craze. In the days following the story, flying disc "press accounts rapidly fell off".

Weeks later, on July 28, flying disc news briefly resumed when two army officers died in a plane crash after investigating a hoaxed report of recovered disc debris at Maury Island, Washington.

Aztec crashed saucer hoax (1949)

In 1949, con-artists tricked journalist Frank Scully and the magazine Variety into publishing the story of a crashed saucer with dead alien bodies near Aztec, New Mexico. The story told of humanoid bodies about three feet tall, metal that was much stronger than those found on Earth, and alien writing found in the wreckage – these elements would later reappear in some versions of the Roswell myth.

After the Scully debacle, tales of crashed saucers faded from UFO circles for decades.

Aztec tale revived (1966–1977)

In the 1960s and 1970s, amid increasing societal distrust of government, the UFO community revisited earlier claims of a UFO conspiracy.

In 1966, UFO conspiracy book Incident at Exeter featured a one-sentence mention of a crashed saucer tale about alien bodies in an Air Force morgue at Wright-Patterson Field. The passage served as the inspiration for the 1968 science-fiction novel The Fortec Conspiracy about a UFO cover up by the Air Force's Foreign Technology Division, the unit charged with studying and reverse-engineering other nations' technical advancements.

"Hangar 18" and Robert Spencer Carr (1974)

On October 11, 1974, science-fiction author turned UFO conspiracy theorist Robert Spencer Carr was being interviewed by radio station WKRC in Cincinnati when he, on air, publicly claimed that alien bodies were being kept at "Hangar 18" at Wright-Patterson. The claim garnered substantial press attention, and led to official denials. The Air Force explained that there is no "Hangar 18" at the base and noted Carr's claims bore a close similarity to the 1966 science-fiction novel The Fortec Conspiracy.

During the interview, Carr also relayed a tale of Senator Barry Goldwater requesting and being denied access to a restricted area. Reached for comment, Goldwater admitted to having requested a tour and been denied, but Goldwater said he'd never heard any rumors of alien bodies.

By September 1979, Carr's claims included a surgical nurse who witnessed an alien's autopsy. In November 1979, local papers reported that Roswell was being location-scouted for an upcoming film titled Hangar 18. That film, which dramatized Carr's claims, was released in 1980.

Decades later, Carr's son recalled that his father had been a habitual liar who often "mortified my mother and me by spinning preposterous stories in front of strangers... befriending a giant alligator in the Florida swamps, and sharing complex philosophical ideas with porpoises in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't the tall tales themselves that hurt so much but his ferocious insistence that they were true.... They were dead serious, and you had by God better pretend you believed them or face wrath or rejection."

Claims that alien bodies were being hidden by the military were also popularized by longtime UFO researcher Leonard H. Stringfield. Stringfield claimed analysis of bodies and UFO crash debris was being conducted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, however no connection to Roswell was specified. In July 1978, Stringfield spoke about alleged crash retrievals at the international MUFON symposium held in Dayton, Ohio. Also in attendance were Donald Keyhoe, J. Allen Hynek, and Ted Bloecher Stringfield wrote a seven part series of his 'research' titled Status Report I-VI as a follow-up to this talk.

Jesse Marcel re-ignites interest in Roswell (1978)

The Roswell incident was largely forgotten until February 1978, when ufologist Stanton Friedman visited a Baton Rouge, Louisiana television station to promote an upcoming lecture at Louisiana State University. While there, a director gave Friedman the name of a local "ham radio buddy" who claimed to have handled exotic debris.

Jesse Marcel, the army officer who had accompanied the Roswell debris from the ranch to the Fort Worth press conference, was interviewed by Friedman. Marcel reported that the Roswell "weather balloon" was a cover story. In that interview, and others like it, Marcel said he now believed the Roswell debris was extraterrestrial.

External videos
video icon Interviews with Jesse Marcel Sr. and Jr. included in an Unsolved Mysteries episode
video icon Interview with Jesse Marcel Jr.

On December 19, 1979, Marcel was interviewed by Bob Pratt of the National Enquirer, and on February 26, 1980, the tabloid brought large-scale attention to the Marcel story. On September 20, 1980, the TV series In Search of... aired an interview where Marcel described his participation in the 1947 press conference:

They wanted some comments from me, but I wasn't at liberty to do that. So, all I could do is keep my mouth shut. And General Ramey is the one who discussed – told the newspapers, I mean the newsman, what it was, and to forget about it. It is nothing more than a weather observation balloon. Of course, we both knew differently.

In 1980, the book Roswell Incident (1980) popularized Marcel's tale, adding a story of alien bodies on the Plains of San Agustin. In all his statements, Marcel consistently denied the presence of bodies. Marcel's son Jesse A. Marcel Jr. M.D. spent 35 years stating that in 1947, when he was 10 years old, his father had shown him alien debris recovered from the Roswell crash site, including, "a small beam with purple-hued hieroglyphics on it".

Roswell in UFO conspiracy theories (1978–present)

In 1981, tabloid The Globe told stories of bodies being brought to Roswell. In 1989, in response to an Unsolved Mysteries episode discussing the story of Roswell bodies, mortician Glenn Dennis recounted a tale of a nurse who had assisted in an alien autopsy.

Between 1978 and the early 1990s, UFO researchers such as Stanton T. Friedman, William Moore, Karl T. Pflock, and the team of Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt interviewed several dozen people who claimed to have had a connection with the events at Roswell in 1947.

Balloon debris near Roswell, though publicly called a weather balloon, was later revealed to stem from Project Mogul. Meanwhile, hoaxes from the 1940s about crashed saucers and dead bodies were incorporated into Roswell Incident mythology.

In 1991, retired Brigadier General Thomas DuBose corroborated Marcel's claims that the weather balloon was cover story, while both men consistently denied the existence of bodies. In 1994 and 1997, the US Air Force Roswell Reports identified the material as part of a top secret atomic surveillance balloon from Project Mogul launched on June 4 which had last been tracked near Corona.

The Roswell Incident (1980) by Berlitz and Moore

In October 1980, Marcel's story was featured in the book The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. The authors had previously written popular books on fringe topics such as the Philadelphia Experiment and the Bermuda Triangle.

The book argues that an extraterrestrial craft was flying over the New Mexico desert to observe nuclear weapons activity when a lightning strike killed the alien crew and, that after discovering the crash, the US government engaged in a cover-up.

The Roswell Incident featured accounts of debris described by Marcel as "nothing made on this earth." Additional accounts by Bill Brazel, son of rancher 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. Anthropologist Charles Zeigler described the 1980 book as "version 1" of the Roswell myth. Berlitz and Moore's narrative was dominant until the late 1980s when other authors, attracted by the commercial potential of writing about Roswell, started producing rival accounts.

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".

The authors claimed to have interviewed over 90 witnesses, though the testimony of only 25 appears in the book. Only seven of these people claimed to have seen the debris. Of these, five claimed to have handled it. Two accounts of witness intimidation were included in the book, including the incarceration of Mac Brazel.

This version of the myth began the elevation of Marcel's narrative above that of Cavitt, who gathered material from the site alongside Brazel and Marcel. Cavitt's mundane description of the debris contradicted Marcel and was likely omitted as not supporting UFO-community beliefs. Later authors would selectively quote Cavitt's assertion that the debris was not a German rocket or Japanese balloon bomb. Independent researchers would find patterns of embellishment in Jesse Marcel's accounts, including provably false statements about his military career and educational background.

First claim of alien bodies (1980)

The Roswell Incident (1980) was the first book to introduce the controversial second-hand stories of civil engineer Grady "Barney" Barnett and a group of archaeology students from an unidentified university encountering wreckage and "alien bodies" while on the Plains of San Agustin before being escorted away by the Army. The second-hand Barnett stories, set 150 miles to the west of Corona, were described by ufologists as the "one aspect of the account that seemed to conflict with the basic story about the retrieval of highly unusual debris from a sheep ranch outside Corona, New Mexico, in July 1947".

Many alleged first-hand accounts of the Roswell incident actually contain information from the Aztec, New Mexico, UFO incident, a hoaxed flying saucer crash which gained national notoriety after being promoted by journalist Frank Scully in his articles and a 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers.

Majestic Twelve hoax (1987)

On May 29, 1987, a team consisting of Friedman, Moore, and television producer Jaime Shandera released the "Majestic Twelve documents". On December 11, 1984, Shandera had received the documents in the mail from an unknown source. The MJ-12 documents purported to be a 1952 briefing prepared for President Eisenhower. They have been called "version 2" of the Roswell story. In this variant, the bodies are ejected from the craft shortly before it exploded over the ranch. The propulsion unit is destroyed and the government concludes the ship was a "short range reconnaissance craft". The following week, the bodies are recovered some miles away, decomposing from exposure and predators.

On July 1, 1989, Bill Moore gave a speech at the MUFON annual symposium where he acknowledged spreading "disinformation", claiming he did so on behalf of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. By 1991, the documents were exposed as forgeries, with a signature and stray marks copied from a different letter.

Mortician Glenn Dennis during a 1990 interview.
External videos
video icon Unsolved Mysteries segment 9/20/1989 that led to Dennis's call
video icon Glenn Dennis's story as dramatized by Unsolved Mysteries 9/18/1994

On August 5, 1989, Stanton Friedman interviewed former mortician Glenn Dennis. Dennis claimed to have received "four or five calls" from the Air Base with questions about body preservation and inquiries about small or hermetically sealed caskets; he further claimed that a local nurse told him she had witnessed an "alien autopsy". Glenn Dennis has been called the "star witness" of the Roswell incident.

On September 20, 1989, an episode of Unsolved Mysteries had included second-hand stories of "Barney" Barnett seeing alien bodies captured by the Army and pilot "Pappy" Henderson transporting bodies from Roswell to Texas. The episode was watched by 28 million people. Mortician Glenn Dennis called the show's hotline claiming to have knowledge of the events.

In September 1991, Dennis co-founded a UFO museum in Roswell along with former RAAF public affairs officer Walter Haut and Max Littell, a real estate salesman. Dennis appeared in multiple books and documentaries repeating his story. In 1994, Dennis's tale was dramatized in the made-for-TV movie Roswell and by the television show Unsolved Mysteries.

In 1991, Glenn Dennis and Walter Haute opened a UFO museum in Roswell.

Pflock observed that Dennis's story "sounds like a B-grade thriller conceived by Oliver Stone." Scientific skeptic author Brian Dunning said that Dennis cannot be regarded as a reliable witness, considering that he had seemingly waited over 40 years before he started recounting a series of unconnected events. Such events, Dunnings argues, were then arbitrarily joined to form what has become the most popular narrative of the alleged alien crash. Prominent UFO researchers, including Pflock and Kevin Randle, have become convinced that no bodies were recovered from the Roswell crash, with Randle writing in 2020 that he had "decided that the Dennis tale was bogus"

Competing accounts and schism

The early 1990s saw a proliferation of competing accounts.

UFO Crash at Roswell (1991) by Randle and Schmitt The 1994 film Roswell: The UFO Cover Up, based on the 1991 book, depicted a Roswell alien as a "gray", like those from the 1977 Spielberg blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In 1991, Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published UFO Crash at Roswell, which has been called "version 3" of the Roswell story. They added testimony from 100 new witnesses, including those who reported an elaborate military cordon and debris recovery operation at the Foster ranch. The book included the new claims of a "gouge ... that extended four or five hundred feet " at the ranch.

Randle and Schmitt reported Gen. Arthur Exon had been directly aware of debris and bodies, but Exon disputed his depiction, saying his comments had been based exclusively on second-hand rumors. The 1991 book sold 160,000 copies and served as the basis for the 1994 television film Roswell. Also in 1991, retired USAF Brigadier General Thomas DuBose, who had posed with debris for press photographs in 1947, publicly acknowledged the weather balloon cover story, corroborating Marcel's previous admissions.

External videos
video icon Thomas DuBose interview in Recollections of Roswell (1992)

The Barnett "alien body" accounts were mentioned in the 1991 book, though the dates and locations were changed from the accounts found in 1980's The Roswell Incident. In this 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 there already."

Mortician Glenn Dennis's claims of an alien autopsy was detailed in the book.

Though hundreds of people were interviewed by various researchers, only a few of these people claimed to have seen debris or aliens. Most witnesses were just repeating the claims of others. Pflock notes that of these 300-plus individuals reportedly interviewed for UFO Crash at Roswell (1991), only 41 can be "considered genuine first- or second-hand witnesses" and only 23 can be "reasonably thought to have seen physical evidence, debris". Of these, only seven have asserted anything suggestive of otherworldly origins for the debris.

Crash at Corona (1992) by Friedman and Berliner

In 1992, Stanton Friedman released Crash at Corona, co-authored with Don Berliner. The book, later termed "version 4" of the Roswell story, introduced new "witnesses" and added to the narrative by doubling the number of flying saucers to two, and the number of aliens to eight – two of which were said to have survived and been taken into custody by the government.

The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell (1994)

In 1994, Randle and Schmitt authored another book, The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell which included a claim that alien bodies were taken by cargo plane to be viewed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Zeigler refers to the 1994 book as 'version 5' of the Roswell story.

The existence of so many differing accounts led to a schism among ufologists about the events at Roswell. 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 issue 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 "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.

Air Force response (1994–1997) and aftermath

After an October 1993 inquiry from US congressman from New Mexico Steven Schiff, 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 1994, concluded that the material recovered in 1947 was likely debris from Project Mogul, a military surveillance program employing high-altitude balloons (a classified portion of an unclassified New York University project by atmospheric researchers). The Air Force reports were dismissed by UFO proponents as being either disinformation or simply implausible, though skeptical researchers such as Philip J. Klass and Robert Todd, who had been expressing doubts regarding accounts of aliens for several years, used the reports as the basis for skeptical responses to claims by UFO proponents. 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 "no credible evidence from any witness has turned out to present a compelling case that the object was extraterrestrial in origin."

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. Fox television broadcast the footage, hosted by Jonathan Frakes, in the United States on August 28, 1995, under the title Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction. Fox re-broadcast the program twice, each time to higher ratings, with the November 1995 broadcast winning its time slot again with 11.7 million viewers and a 14% share. At same day, the footage was broadcast on UK's Channel 4. The program was also repackaged for the home video market.

The program was an overnight sensation, with Time magazine declaring that the film had sparked a debate "with an intensity not lavished on any home movie since the Zapruder film". The program was quickly debunked, with multiple participants complaining that misleading editing had removed their opinions that the footage was hoax. That year, hit TV show The X-Files featured alien autopsy footage that the skeptical Agent Scully decries as "even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox network". The following year, the film was satirized by the X-Files episode Jose Chung's From Outer Space.

In 1998, Fox aired a new special, The World's Greatest Hoaxes and Secrets Revealed!, which debunked the 1995 Alien Autopsy footage. Santilli admitted in 2006 that the film was a fake, though he continued to claim it was inspired by genuine footage now lost. A fictionalized version of the creation of the footage and its release was retold in the comedy film Alien Autopsy (2006).

The Day After Roswell (1997)

In his 1997 autobiography, former Lt. Col. Philip J. Corso wrote that M. Sgt. Bill Brown showed him a purportedly-nonhuman body. Corso wrote that it was being transported through Fort Riley (Kansas) in 1947 suspended in liquid inside a glass coffin within a wooden crate. According to Corso, he found paperwork tucked down in the crates identifying their contents as corpses from "a craft that had crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, earlier that week", and a shipping manifest that listed Wright Field and Walter Reed Army Hospital. Corso further claimed that years later, he helped oversee a project to reverse engineer recovered crash debris. Philip Klass analyzed his claims line by line and exposed many inconsistencies and factual errors. Corso's story was noted for its similarities to the film "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" which had been released six years prior. In both that film and Corso's narrative, civilians secretly attempt to reverse-engineer extraordinary technology of unknown origin.

Body Snatchers in the Desert (2005)

In 2005, Nicholas Redfern authored Body Snatchers in the Desert : The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story, a book that suggests the Roswell crash may have been the result of a top secret high-altitude balloon test. According to Redfern's narrative, the test used deformed Japanese POWs acquired after a battle in 1945 on a small island in the Pacific. Redfern suggests the test was part of a program resulting from an import of Japanese scientists after the war in similar vein to Operation Paperclip. The Japanese scientists are alleged to have brought POWs with them to continue experimenting radiation, cosmic ray & high altitude effects on people, including people with progeria.

Witness to Roswell (2007)

In 2007, Donald Schmitt and Tom Carey published the book Witness to Roswell, which prominently featured a document said to be a sworn affidavit by Walter Haut, who had written the first Army press release about the Roswell crash in 1947. The document, alleged to have been left by Haut and opened only after his death in 2005, includes a description of the 1947 crash debris having been discussed by high-ranking staff and how Haut had seen alien bodies. The claims, however, drew an unimpressed response even from ufologists: Dennis Balthaser said that the document was not written by Haut, and that by 2000 Haut's mental state was such he could not recall basic details about his past, making the detail contained in the affidavit seem dubious. Physicist and skeptic Dave Thomas commented: "Is Roswell still the 'best' UFO incident? If it is, UFO proponents should be very, very worried."

Other debunked theories

In 2011, American journalist Annie Jacobsen's Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base featured a claim that Nazi doctor Josef Mengele was recruited by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to produce "grotesque, child-size aviators" to cause hysteria. The book was criticized for extensive errors by scientists from the Federation of American Scientists. Historian Richard Rhodes, writing in The Washington Post, also criticized the book's sensationalistic reporting of "old news" and its "error-ridden" reporting. He wrote: "All of claims appear in one or another of the various publicly available Roswell/UFO/Area 51 books and documents churned out by believers, charlatans and scholars over the past 60 years. In attributing the stories she reports to an unnamed engineer and Manhattan Project veteran while seemingly failing to conduct even minimal research into the man's sources, Jacobsen shows herself at a minimum extraordinarily gullible or journalistically incompetent."

In September 2017, UK newspaper The Guardian reported on Kodachrome slides which some had claimed showed a dead space alien. First presented at a BeWitness event in Mexico, organised by Jaime Maussan and attended by almost 7,000 people, days afterwards it was revealed that the slides were in fact of a mummified Native American child discovered in 1896 and which had been on display at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum in Mesa Verde, Colorado, for many decades.

In February 2020, an Air Force historian revealed a recently declassified report of a circa-1951 incident in which two Roswell personnel donned poorly fitting radioactive suits, complete with oxygen masks, while retrieving a weather balloon after an atomic test. On one occasion, they encountered a lone woman in the desert, who fainted when she saw them. The personnel could have appeared, to someone unaccustomed to then-modern gear, to be alien.

Cultural impact

Tourism & commercialization

The City of Roswell's welcome sign, featuring a flying saucer

Roswell's tourism industry is based on ufology museums and businesses, as well as alien-themed iconography and alien kitsch. A yearly UFO festival has been held since 1995. There are several alleged crash sites that can be visited for a fee, as well as alien museums, festivals and conventions, including the International UFO Museum and Research Center, founded in 1991.

Popular fiction

In the 1980 independently distributed film Hangar 18, an alien ship crashes in the desert of the US Southwest. Debris and bodies are recovered, but their existence is covered up by the government. Director James L. Conway summarized the film as "a modern-day dramatization of the Roswell incident". Conway later revisited the concept in 1995 when he filmed the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men"; In that episode, characters travel to 1947, triggering the Roswell incident, with their ship being stored in Hangar 18.

Beginning in 1993, the hit television series The X-Files featured the Roswell incident as a recurring element. The show's second episode "Deep Throat", introduced a Roswell alien crash into the show's mythology. The Roswell incident was most prominently featured in "My Struggle", while the comical 1996 episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" satirized the recently-broadcast Santelli Alien Autopsy hoax film. After the success of The X-Files, Roswell alien conspiracies were featured in other sci-fi drama series, including Dark Skies (1996–97) and Taken (2002).

In the 1996 film Independence Day, an alien invasion prompts the revelation of a Roswell crash and cover-up extending even to concealing the information from the President of the United States, to facilitate plausible deniability, according to the Defense Secretary. The 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sees the protagonist on a quest for an alien body from the Roswell Incident.

In a 2001 episode of the animated comedy Futurama, titled, "Roswell That Ends Well", protagonists from the 31st century travel back in time and cause the Roswell incident. The 2006 comedy Alien Autopsy revolves around the 1990s-creation of the Santilli hoax film. The 2011 Simon Pegg comedy Paul tells the story of Roswell tourists who rescue a grey alien. Starting in 1998, Pocket Books published a series of young adult novels titled Roswell High; From 1999 to 2002, the books were adapted into the WB/UPN TV series Roswell, with a second adaption release in 2019 under the title Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell in spirituality

Scholar of religion Christopher Hugh Partridge has characterized the Roswell incident as a key element within UFO spirituality. He states that "Roswell is now firmly established as what might be described as a key ufological 'spiritual site' " within ufology. Similarly in his book The Gods Have Landed, James R. Lewis highlights the event's role in the emergence of UFOs into the public consciousness.

Partridge places UFO religion within the context of theosophical esotericism, noting that the term 'UFO religion' gained prominence after the 1947 Roswell incident. He draws parallels between UFO spirituality and New Age thought, highlighting shared beliefs, including a belief in a Spiritual Hierarchy.

Furthermore, Partridge observes that, post-1947, many of these groups maintained the belief that extraterrestrial beings served as 'heralds of a new era.' Examples of this include:

These beliefs have contributed to the spiritual significance attributed to the Roswell incident. There are other beliefs that do not specifically refer to the Roswell incident but include extraterrestrial beings, such as Xenu in Scientology.

Modern views

Despite the lack of conclusive evidence supporting the existence of an alien spaceship, there are individuals who firmly maintain the belief that a spacecraft crashed near Roswell. B. D. Gildenberg has called the Roswell incident "the world's most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim".

Pflock said, "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: " 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 ... number of researchers who employ science and its disciplined methodology is appallingly small."

B. D. Gildenberg notes the existence of multiple reported alien recovery sites, which bear little resemblance to the original event reported in 1947 or the subsequent accounts provided by initial witnesses. Some of these new accounts could potentially be confused recollections of known recoveries of injured and deceased servicemen from military plane crashes in the area between 1948 and 1950. Other accounts might be based on memories of recoveries involving test dummies as suggested by the Air Force in their reports.

Multiple persons who were mentioned to have visited the site later provided sworn witness testimony in response to inquiries by Ufologists who had tracked them down over the ensuing years.

'Weather balloon' as cover story for Project Mogul

In 1994 and 1997, US Government reports concluded that the Roswell Incident stemmed from a Project MOGUL balloon.

Beginning in 1978, Jesse Marcel publicly reported that the claims of a weather balloon had been a cover story. In 1991, retired USAF Brigadier General Thomas DuBose corroborated Marcel's admission. In 1993, in response to an inquiry from US congressman Steven Schiff of New Mexico, 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. A 1994 Air Force report concluded that the material recovered in 1947 was likely debris from the then top secret Project Mogul, a military surveillance program employing high-altitude balloons (a classified portion of an unclassified New York University project by atmospheric researchers). Ufologists had previously considered the possibility that the Roswell debris had come from a top-secret balloon. During the final year of World War 2, Japan had launched thousands of paper and silk balloons carrying bombs designed to cause damage and spread panic in the United States. In March 1990, Ufologist John Keel proposed that the Roswell debris had been from a Japanese balloon bomb. An Air Force meteorologist roundly rejected the theory, explaining a Japanese balloon "could not possibly have stayed aloft for two years".

In 1990, Ufologist Robert G. Todd had first connected Roswell to Project Mogul.

Sheridan Cavitt sworn testimony

Sheridan W. Cavitt was a Counterintelligence Corps Special Agent for the US Air Force, he is a witness who was corroborated by Marcel to have visited the site. He provided a sworn witness statement that he encountered balloon debris at the site which was included in the first official Roswell Report.

A scholarly consensus emerged concluding that the military decided to conceal the true purpose of the crashed device – nuclear test monitoring – and instead inform the public that the crash was of a weather balloon. The balloon had been launched from Alamogordo Army Air Field a month earlier. It carried a radar reflector and classified Project Mogul sensors for experimental monitoring of Soviet nuclear testing.

Air Force declassification officer Lieutenant James McAndrew concluded:

When the civilians and personnel from Roswell AAF 'stumbled' upon the highly classified project and collected the debris, no one at Roswell had a 'need to know' about information concerning MOGUL. This fact, along with the initial mis-identification and subsequent rumors that the 'capture' of a 'flying disc' occurred, ultimately left many people with unanswered questions that have endured to this day.

'Alien bodies' as later hoaxes or test dummies

The Air Force concluded that reports of recovered alien bodies were likely a combination of innocently transformed memories of accidents involving military casualties with memories of the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs such as the 1950s Operation High Dive. Recollection of these test dummies could be mixed with a myriad of hoaxes or misconceptions. Project MOGUL did not involve test dummies but U.S. Air Force high altitude balloons did drop test dummies from high altitudes and they both operated in the New Mexico Desert.

Critics suggest claims of alien bodies face credibility problems with witnesses making contradictory accounts. Death-bed confessions or accounts from elderly and easily confused witnesses to one party are also considered problematic. Pflock noted that only four people with supposed firsthand knowledge of alien bodies were interviewed by Roswell authors. Additionally all reports of bodies came about a minimum of 31 years after the fact.

Roswell as modern myth and folklore

According to anthropologists Susan Harding and Kathleen Stewart, the Roswell Story was a prime example of how a discourse moved from the fringes to the mainstream according to the prevailing zeitgeist: public preoccupation in the 1980s with "conspiracy, cover-up and repression" aligned well with the Roswell narratives as told in the "sensational books" which were being published. Additionally, skeptics and some social anthropologists saw the increasingly elaborate accounts of alien crash landings and government cover-ups as evidence of a myth being constructed.

Prominent skeptics Joe Nickell and co-author James McGaha identified a myth-making process, which they called the "Roswellian syndrome". In this syndrome, a myth is proposed to have five distinct stages of development: incident, debunking, submergence, mythologizing, and reemergence and media bandwagon effect. The authors predicted that the Roswellian syndrome would "play out again and again", in other UFO and conspiracy-theory stories.

Charles Ziegler argues that the Roswell story exhibits characteristics typical of traditional folk narratives. He identifies six distinct narratives and a process of transmission through storytellers, wherein a core story was formed from various witness accounts and then shaped and altered by those involved in the UFO community. Additional "witnesses" were sought to expand upon the core narrative, while accounts that did not align with the prevailing beliefs were discredited or excluded by the "gatekeepers".

Statements by US Presidents

In a 2012 visit to Roswell, President Barack Obama joked "I come in peace."

When asked during a 2015 interview with GQ magazine about whether he had looked at top-secret classified information, Obama replied, "I gotta tell you, it's a little disappointing. People always ask me about Roswell and the aliens and UFOs, and it turns out the stuff going on that's top secret isn't nearly as exciting as you expect. In this day and age, it's not as top secret as you'd think."

In a 2014 interview, former President Bill Clinton reported that his administration had investigated the incident, saying "When the Roswell thing came up, I knew we'd get gazillions of letters. So I had all the Roswell papers reviewed, everything".

In June 2020, then-President Donald Trump, when asked if he would consider releasing more information about the Roswell incident, said "I won't talk to you about what I know about it, but it's very interesting."

In December 2020, Obama joked with Stephen Colbert: "It used to be that UFOs and Roswell was the biggest conspiracy. And now that seems so tame, the idea that the government might have an alien spaceship."

See also


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