An Unearthly Encounter: Roswell UFO Museum, NMJune 20, 2011 No Comments
Dad and I just love a good mystery. We always make it a point to seek out the odd and the unusual wherever we go. When we decided to head west this summer, Roswell, New Mexico was at the top of my list of places to see. We finally made it earlier this month.
The Roswell Incident
The Roswell Incident occurred in 1947 and remains one of the greatest mysteries of all time. In late June or early July (depending on which version you follow), “something” crashed in the New Mexico desert near Roswell. Multiple eyewitnesses reported strange lights in the sky immediately before the crash. A few claimed to have approached the crash site and found a destroyed spaceship filled with deceased humanoid, but decidedly not human, occupants.
A man by the name of Mac Brazel collected some of the debris from the crash site. He and his family claimed that the objects had strange properties, including a tinfoil-like material that, when crumpled, unfurled itself into a perfectly flat state. Brazel took his collection to the sheriff’s office in Roswell. Sheriff Wilcox contacted friends at the nearby Roswell Army Air Field.
Exactly what happened next is anyone’s guess. Over the next few days, newspapers and radio stations around the country reported that a flying saucer had crashed near Roswell. The military press release dated July 8, 1947 confirmed that a flying disk had been taken into army custody.
Seemingly overnight, however, the story changed. The military issued a new press release claiming that the crashed object was actually a weather balloon. Photos of weather balloon material, allegedly retrieved at the crash site, were published in the newspapers. The matter seemed to have been put to rest.
Interest in the story revived in 1978, when Major Jesse Marcel was interviewed by UFO researcher Stanton T. Friedman. Marcel was part of the military group that recovered debris from the crash site in 1947. He was also the only identified person to accompany the debris from the site to Fort Worth, Texas, where it was analyzed.
Recounting numerous details that he claimed had been suppressed by the government, Marcel alleged that there had been an elaborate cover-up. His stated belief was that the debris he handled was “not of this world.” Hundreds of witnesses stepped forward, offering additional details and clarification. Medical professionals, including a nurse and a mortician, claimed to have been involved in autopsies of the alien bodies. A new, seemingly plausible, version of events began to emerge.
The truth about the Roswell Incident may never be known. Since the historic Marcel interview of 1978, the incident has spawned dozens of articles, books and films, sparked a schism in the UFO research community, and captured the imaginations of millions. Unless the entire Roswell file is someday declassified, the evidence for both sides remains largely circumstantial.
What is clear, however, is that the city of Roswell has alien fever. The incident is what put the sleepy town of Roswell on the map, and local commerce is eager to cash in on the craze.
Our Visit to Roswell
A town of fewer than 50,000 people, Roswell is a desert oasis more than 200 miles from any major city. We camped at an RV park in Lakewood, roughly halfway between Roswell and Carlsbad. Lakewood’s population is just over 300, almost all of whom live at the RV park. After a seemingly endless drive through the Chihuahuan Desert, Roswell rose in front of us like a major metropolis.
The Roswell UFO Museum is the centerpiece of a Main Street filled with souvenir shops and restaurants that feature aliens as a dominant theme. Look for little green men in murals and window displays, tiny green footprints leading the way to one shop or another, and T-shirts emblazoned with UFO-themed slogans.
As of 2011, admission to the UFO Museum is $5 for adults, $3 for military members and seniors over 65, and $2 for kids aged 5 to 15. Ages 4 and under are free. Proceeds go toward a new, bigger museum that is currently in the works.
You will receive a sticker that allows you to come and go from the museum all day. There is no restaurant on-site, but museum staff members are happy to share suggestions for excellent and inexpensive lunch spots within walking distance.
One side of the single-story museum is dedicated to presenting the events of the Roswell Incident in a clear and easy to follow way. Informational signage, copies of witness statements, newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts, photographs and mockups create a timeline of events. Dad and I were both impressed that the museum does not attempt to push a particular viewpoint on the incident. Equal time and space is dedicated to both the “alien crash” and the “weather balloon” versions of the events. Visitors are encouraged to take in all of the details and come to their own conclusions.
The other side of the museum is dedicated to a more general overview of UFO research. Photographs of both UFOs and known hoaxes are presented. Area 51, the mysterious government base in Nevada, is discussed in some detail. Informational signs and eyewitness reports are used to classify various types of alleged encounters.
Tips for Parents
No matter which side of the debate you happen to embrace, the Roswell UFO Museum provides possibly the most comprehensive overview of the Roswell Incident available to the general public. Dozens of kids were at the museum the day we visited, and all seemed absolutely fascinated.
Prep your kids in advance by providing a brief background on the Roswell Incident and UFO research in general. Framing the experience as a giant mystery and encouraging kids to look for clues is a great way to keep them involved and interested. The museum also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of critical thinking, taking in all sides of any issue and using reasoning skills to draw your own conclusions.