RoswellIt is absolutely certain that something happened in Roswell, New Mexico, in July of 1947. What is less clear is whether Something Happened.
Shortly after the first documented sighting of flying saucers, by airman Kenneth Arnold in June 1947, a funny thing happened in the tiny desert town of Roswell. The very first media report of the incident on July 8 made no bones about it:
"The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.
"According to information released by the department, over authority of Maj. J. A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox here, that he had found the instrument on his premises.
"Major Marcel and a detail from his department went to the ranch and recovered the disk, it was stated.
"After the intelligence officer here had inspected the instrument it was flown to higher headquarters. ..."
Mac Brazel, the "unidentified rancher," had come to the local authorities after finding some suspicious debris on his property in nearby Corona, New Mexico. The exact nature of the debris remains the topic of much debate, but an infamous picture of Major Jesse Marcel depicts a mass of material that looks more like Reynolds Wrap than anything else.
Brazel spent the next 40 years being grilled about the incident from the media and the military. He told the Roswell newspaper, "I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon. But if I find anything else besides a bomb they are going to have a hard time getting me to say anything about it."
Once the material had been retrieved by Army personnel, Marcel issued a sensational press release reading: "The many rumors regarding the flying disk became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eight Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the co-operation of one of the local ranchers and the Sheriff's Office of Chaves county."
More than 50 years later, people are still arguing about it.
The Army started backtracking immediately, issuing a quick follow-up report that there was no flying disc at all, and that the wreckage retrieved at the ranch was in fact a weather balloon the first of many, many, many UFO incidents that would subsequently be chalked up to weather balloons.
The incident was forgotten fairly quickly by the outside world. Life went on, and Roswell continued its quiet little life until the 1970s, when a resurgence in UFO mania (and a new tool for researchers known as the "Freedom of Information Act") brought the eyes of the world back to the government's first and only official confirmation of a flying saucer incident.
While the public had moved on from Roswell, it soon became clear the government had not. While publicly dismissing the notion of flying saucers and little green men, and citing an inordinately large number of close encounters with weather balloons (come to think of it, have you ever seen a weather balloon?), it quickly became clear that behind the scenes, everyone from the president on down had been obsessively fixating on UFOs for the previous 30 years.
The Roswell incident alone was responsible for enough paperwork to fell a small forest, and that's just the memos we know about. J. Edgar Hoover spent a busy week or two fielding inquiries after the Roswell incident. In September 1947, the Air Force began investigating UFO reports in force. According to an FOIA-requested document, the air force issued "a directive assigning a priority, security classification and code name for a detailed study of flying disc reports" based on its opinion that the "phenomena reported appeared to be real and that there were objects in existence which would approximate the shape of a disc." The projects (code named "Grudge" and "Sign") would later be popularly lumped together under the heading "Project Blue Book."
For simplicity's sake, it's probably best to break down the outstanding issues relating to the Roswell crash into a couple of basic premises. Whatever it was that crashed at Roswell, odds are pretty good it wasn't a "weather balloon." There are three prevailing theories about what it actually was:
I'm just saying, don't rule anything out.