The flying saucer is one of the most well-recognized and mutable symbols to originate in the twentieth century. Emerging in the middle of the century, the flying saucer floated out of the ashes of World War II and into the Atomic Age, the Space Age, and the Cold War, where it gained the military-ese acronym UFO. In the 1950s, it alternatively symbolized fear of more conflict, this time involving the Final Frontier, and the hope that humanity could be saved from a world threatening to destroy itself by benevolent and messianic Space People. In the United States, UFO sightings were increasingly a flashpoint illustrating the tension between the American people and a less-than-responsive Federal government. As the counterculture of the 1960s became more mainstream in the 1970s, UFOs became part of a suite of paranormal and New Age beliefs that helped new religions and fundamentalist movements to fill the void left by the collapse of progressive theology.
It was in this environment that Crashed Saucer stories began to thrive. The first printed stories appear in Frank Scully's 1950 (reprinted in 1951) book Behind the Flying Saucers and tell of three crashed discs and several bodies that had been recovered from locations including Aztec, New Mexico, in 1948. This was the first major version of the crashed saucer legend specifically tied into the flying saucer sightings in the American Southwest. The Aztec story later was revealed to have been told to Scully by a pair of con-men, driving "nuts-and-bolts" saucer enthusiasts away from stories of contact with aliens, let alone the recovery of craft and bodies. This rejection did not stop the crash stories, but it did prevent any significant growth or spread. The disengagment of ufology from the Big Science of the 1950s made crash stories more acceptable research subjects. Paradoxically, crashed saucer stories may have been a conservative reaction to this same environment that embraced the paranormal at the expense of the technological (including the "nuts-and-bolts" school of ufology that held that UFOs were spacecraft from another world).
By the early 1970s, the stories began to bubble up again in numbers that a few ufologists took note. In particular, Len Stringfield and Stanton Friedman began to record and follow up on these stories. By the late 1970s, Friedman and others had focused on a crashed saucer story associated with the town of Roswell, New Mexico. The story was similar to others, the tale of the crash of an alien spacecraft in the deserts of the American West after the Second World War, and the U.S. government efforts to hide and cover-up the event from the public at large. But unlike the other accounts, what became known as "The Roswell Incident" had briefly made international news in July 1947, and witnesses to the incident were alive and claiming that something unusual had crashed in New Mexico that summer 30+ years before.
The first published version of The Roswell Incident appeared in 1980, and over the next seventeen years, the story would become an internationally known phenomenon. One or another form of the Crashed Saucer Legend (particularly in the form of the Roswell Incident), has become household knowledge for untold millions of people in the United States and worldwide. This legend has taken the form of first-hand tales, printed books and articles, television shows and film (fiction and nonfiction), video games, toys, and countless related medium. In short, whether as entertainment, speculation, or history, the basic story has had incredible reproductive success.
There are literally dozens upon dozens of different versions of the crashed saucer story. Some predate the age of the Flying Saucer, dating as far back as the great airship wave of 1897 in the United States.
The importance of Roswell for understanding the Crashed Saucer Legend is also due to the work of Charles Ziegler in UFO Crash At Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth. Ziegler approaches six printed versions of the Roswell Incident (five publically authored by ufologists, the sixth is a set of documents purported to be a secret government report on the incident and its aftermath) as folkloric texts, and breaks them down into specific elements. Ziegler does not include accounts of other saucer crashes in the work, makes no mention of fictional saucer crash stories, and shows no interest in how the Incident is presented in Roswell.
There is an undeniable reciprocal relationship between fiction, the entertainment industry, in particular television and film (either completely fictional stories, or fictionalized accounts of purportedly real UFO crashes, and the world of flying saucers and UFOs . This relationship is not primarily one-way, with film and television inspiring UFO accounts; accounts of flying saucers help to inspire fictional stories, the popularity of which then serves as an environmental pressure on the continued development of UFO lore.
Like all good stories, the Crashed Saucer legend typically begins with a backdrop that sets up the meat of the narrative. In the case of Roswell, the Flying Saucer phenomenon had only begun 1-2 weeks earlier with the Kenneth Arnold sighting on June 24, 1947. For several weeks, sightings of what became to be known as flying discs or flyings saucers were headline news around the world., before the familiar paradigms of extraterrestrials, belief, and skepticism had crystallized.
Roswell was actually one of the last major events of this first wave. The location of the Roswell crash in some ways helps to explain this wave. New Mexico would have been the most visible center of human scientific experiment, specifically atomic weapons (in 1947 A-bombs had been exploded only in New Mexico and in Japan, and the only atomic military unit in the world was based in Roswell) and rocketry (American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard operated out of Roswell years before the Incident, and captured German V-2 ballistic missiles were tested at White Sands, to the west of Roswell). Aliens were checking on human scientific development, specifically atomic research and rockets, the beginning of human exploration of space. Contactees and fictional accounts quickly embraced the connection between human experimentation and alien intervention, specifically that mankind was on the brink of spreading their dangerous warlike ways into space and would be armed with nuclear weapons, an intolerable situation for vigilant aliens.
Beginning with The Roswell Incident in 1980 (Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore) some accounts of the Roswell Incident include radar tracking of the crash from White Sands. In some accounts, radar had been tracking saucers for several days, and recognized the crash as that of a saucer (Philip J Corso 1997). In others, the crash is interpreted as that of a conventional airplane. Friedman actually points to high-powered radar as a potential cause for the Roswell crashes. Intriguingly, the concept of radar evidence for a UFO crash predates its inclusion into The Roswell Incident in 1980. Frank Scully attempts to link the March 2, 1950 photo of a saucer taken at the Tonantinzlta Astronomical Observatory in Mexico to one of the crashes described in his 1950 book . The crashed saucer in the film The Thing from Another World (1951) is captured on radar and by photography. The 1962 crash of something in Nevada was tracked by radar acording to arch-UFO debunkers, the U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book.
Perhaps in keeping with the grass-roots aspect of the UFO phenomenon, visual sightings prior to a UFO crash are more common than radar tracks in the literature. In the case of Roswell, the early focus on the crash date of July 2 is due in large part to a sighting of a glowing orange disc over Roswell by Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot on that date. The original July 8, 1947 Roswell Daily Record story about the recovery of a flying disk discuss the Wilmot sighting, but do not link it to the crash. This changes in 1980 in The Roswell Incident, where the northwestern vector of the Wilmot disc is also in the direction of Corona, and provides a date for the crash. Later accounts provide other visual witnesses, but none gain the acceptance level of the Wilmot sighting. The Wilmot sighting becomes less prominent in many accounts after 1994 (when the crash date is shifted to July 4), but can still be found in some discussions of the Roswell Incident, even if these accounts do not adhere to the July 2 date.
In the case of a 1950 account of a crash in Ohio and the 1962 account of a crash in Nevada, military aircraft scramble after the UFO, or even give chase at visual range prior to the crash. This element has never been added to stories of Roswell, or to any of the crash stories that involve occupants.
Crashes occur primarily in the post-WWII years up into the early 1960s. Some predate as far back as the middle of the 19th century, while in other accounts saucers continue to crash up into the present day (or night, as when a time of day is mentioned in crash accounts, it is after sundown). Most accounts focus on the heyday of flying saucers, from 1947-1953. Despite the pre-eminence of the Roswell crash in July, spring seems to be a dangerous time for saucer and airship pilots. Many of the 1897 airships crashed in April, and Frank Scully’s infamous Aztec, New Mexico crash was in March, 1948. One exception is the crash of a UFO in Missouri in early July 1947 (Skeptical Inquirer May/June 2002), revealed in later purported Majestic documents after July-based Roswell had become nearly synonymous with UFOs. Early accounts of the Roswell Incident, including the original in The Roswell Incident claim the July 2 date. Starting in 1994, July 4 becomes the preferred crash date. This date is highly symbolic, especially if we consider the role of Roswell in the story of the Majestic group, which serves in ufology as a dark reflection of the U.S. Government. This date is proposed in Randle and Schmitt’s revised book on Roswell in 1994, and by the film Roswell of the same year, which openly took its cues from Randle and Schmitt’s first book.
Only in fictional accounts (films in 1983, 1984, 1994; television on The X-Files in 1994, Dark Skies in 1996, Taken in 2002; and in Corso 1997, generally considered fiction by other Roswell researchers) are saucers brought down by human weapons. This concept became particularly popular after the election of American President Ronald Reagan, who made the development of space-based energy weapons an priority of his administration in the form of the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars.” Friedman potentially places the blame on military radar, but not weaponry.
Most Roswell Incident accounts place the blame on a tremendous lightning strike, or a general malfunction of some sort. After the Majestic documents were published, which specifically mention that the craft exploded, the emphasis shifts to the malfunction theory and away from lightning.
Collisions with other objects can also bring down UFOs. In 1897 a Martian airship was destroyed in a collision with a windmill in Aurora, Texas. Fictional craft crashed with space debris or satellites in 1978 and 1980, respectively. Most amusingly, Karl Pflock, while a proponent of extraterrestrial visitation, independently agreed with the U.S. Air Force that the debris found by Mac Brazel was the remains of a Mogul spy balloon, used to listen for Soviet atomic testing. In 1994, Karl T.Pflock suggests that an extraterrestrial craft was indeed brought down in New Mexico in 1947, perhaps in a collision with the very same Mogul balloon train! This idea was adopted in the fictional television miniseries Taken in 2002.
Fictional accounts of saucer crashes seem to have no problem placing their crash scenes in remote locations, such as the Arctic, or at least outside of North America. Some of the earliest non-fiction accounts in 1949 and 1950 placed their crash site in Mexico, an element that did not thrive in later years. Instead, the bulk of well-publicized crash stories are set in the United States, and primarily in the American West. The most important of these are located in New Mexico, outside of Aztec in the north, around Corona in the center of the state, and near Roswell in the south.
There is a lot of debate about exactly where the spacecraft (singular or plural) that make up the “Roswell” incident crashed. The original July 8, 1947 press release announcing the capture of a disk stated that the device was recovered on a ranch in the vicinity of Roswell, but within days the location was specified as being on the Foster Ranch in central New Mexico, near Corona. When the Roswell Incident is revived in the late 1970s, the Corona site was still primary, but Stanton Friedman’s research also championed a crash site in western New Mexico, on the Plains of San Augustin. Because it is discussed in the July 1947 press releases and media accounts, the Corona site has continued to be central to all Roswell Incident accounts. In September 2002, it was even surveyed and excavated by a Cultural Resource Management archaeological project (contracted by the Sci-Fi Channel) looking for evidence of the 1947 crash.
The public release of the Majestic documents in 1988 added a new wrinkle. According to these documents, occupants of the craft that left the debris at the site on the Foster ranch described in earlier accounts ejected and landed at a site approximately two miles away. In 1992, Friedman accepted this crash site, with the addition of a ship crash site another mile further away but still in Central New Mexico. He also continues to champion a second crash site on the Plains of San Agustin, involving a second saucer, but this point of view has had little success in Roswell. Visitors to Roswell would have to drive across the state to get to the general location (there is no specific geographical location), now marked by another Space Age attraction, the Very Large Array radio telescope array.
Critics have derided the addition of a second saucer as evidence for a lack of a critical approach to witnesses and evidence on the part of Roswell researchers. Early reports of flying saucers and UFOs, including Kevin Arnold’s 1947 wellspring sighting, typically reported several saucers flying in formation or acting in tandem in other ways. While there are still reports of multiple UFOs in a single sighting, through the years reports of solitary objects have become far more common at the expense of saucer formations. Perhaps this reflects changes in military aviation technology since WWII. In the middle of the century aerial missions might be carried out be dozens or hundreds of aircraft flying in formation, but through the years smaller numbers of increasingly expensive jets carry out military activities. Formation flying is primarily the purview of aerial stunt teams and public over-flights to mark special occasions.
In 1994, Randle and Schmitt identify a new crash site, much closer to Roswell itself, now owned by Hub Corn (given the lack of other landmarks, the current owner's name is often used to distinguish this site from others). While the Hub Corn site had some limited acceptance in the literature during the 1990s, and became a significant tourist spot due its proximity to Roswell, it has not become a permanent fixture of the Roswell Incident. At the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell and on earlier versions of its website, the Hub Corn site is labelled as “alleged” on a crash site map, and other displays provide evidence that nothing unusual happened at the Hub Corn site. Through witness affidavits and crash site maps, the IUFOMRC seems to give more implicit support to the Pine Lodge site, around 55 miles west of Roswell, which is best known from the testimony of Jim Ragsdale starting in 1995.
By nature of the story, if a saucer crash-site is to be covered up at a later date it should be in a rural or remote area. This was not so much the case with crashed airships in 1897, which could come down in reservoirs, gullies, cow pastures, and even outside of bars. In most cases, the site may be remote, but access is not difficult. The Roswell crash site at Pine Lodge in the mid-1990s is an exception, requiring a new road to be cut into the wilderness to allow the passage of military trucks. In the case of Roswell, we have a debris field, and a crash site.
The debris field has become larger and more elaborate over time. In his July 9th, 1947 interview, William “Mac” Brazel describes the field as being about 200 yards (180 meters) in diameter. In 1991, the field is only 70-100 (60-90) yards wide but ¾ of a mile (1.2 kilometers) long. By 2002, the field is 300 yards (270 meters) wide and still ¾ of a mile long. In 1991, the debris field also features a gouge and a burned and vitrified circle. Apparently, the craft crashed or crash landed, and took off again before either blowing up or crashing somewhere else. The gouge is roughly 130-160 (120-145 meters) yards in length. It was this gouge that the contract archaeologists sought in 2002 using remote sensing techniques and excavation. The description of the Roswell Incident offered by the IUFOMRC website in 2002 includes a shallow trench or gouge, several hundred feet in length. A similar kind of linear field or gouge is described by a National Guard pilot in 1950 for the site of a saucer crash two years earlier in Ohio.
Crash sites aren’t as well described as the Corona debris field. In the earliest accounts, a saucer crashed “in a mesa” in 1949, or gently glided to earth in 1950 The description of a saucer wedged up against the side of an arroyo is only described in a small number of Roswell accounts, but it is one of the most important images of the Roswell incident and ranks only second in iconography in Roswell itself behind images of aliens.
Though the shape of the saucer can change, this image is repeated again and again on restaurant and hotel marquees, in models and dioramas, paintings and murals. Like a religious icon, it can be boiled down to a single element and still be recognized. Any business wishing to attract UFO-related costumers in Roswell need only create a thee dimensional representation of a saucer, and place it in contact with the roof or wall of their building, canted at something approximating a 45 degree angle, and that communicates the message.
The only other equally or more reducibly simple icons in UFO lore are the image of the saucer itself in profile or in ¾ view, and the slanted almond-shaped eyes of a Gray alien.
Debris is at the heart of any crashed saucer story. A UFO that can crash is a physical thing, and a fallible thing at that. In many ways, the fascination with the Roswell Incident amongst ufologists in the 1980s and 1990s was a rebuke of other schools of thought within the field that proposed UFOs to be psychic phenomenon, social hallucinations, or other equally immaterial and inaccessible creatures. In these stories, UFOs are mechanical objects that can malfunction and be destroyed, meaning that their creators are like us, fallible beings that rely on machines for transport and survival. In fact, the death of alien beings in such a crash is a sorrowful thing, it can be related to human tragedy, and is in several actions and accounts of crashes.
Even though these machines are machines, the debris they produce demonstrate technology far superior to comparable earthly vehicles, to the point that the debris holds magical properties. Since 1897 the materials from crashed spaceships have proven to be of metals not found on this world. While the Roswell materials in particular are much lighter than they should be if made from earthly metals, the debris from UFO crashes has been abnormally strong and could not be cut since 1949.
Early reports of the Roswell material in the late 1970s describe how the metal can not be broken or bent or burnt, though by the early 1990s, the metal (especially foil) can bend, but immediately returns to its original form. Strips and beams, of metal or wood, have also been found in crash debris since 1950. These strips or beams have been covered with symbols, engravings, or even alien hieroglyphic writing since 1979, though Frank Scully’s 1950 saucer crashes produced booklets with written script. According to Jesse Marcel, Jr., the writing was purple. Several renderings of these symbols have been made, and the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell has a replica of a symbol-laden I-beam. Though written books are not found in crash debris after 1950, paper or parchment-like material is described in a few accounts of the Roswell crash, including Whitley Strieber’s fictionalized version of the crash in Majestic. By far the Roswell crash is the best well described UFO crash when it comes to debris, again perhaps because debris is central to the original July 8, 1947 media accounts.
Crashed airships, saucers, and UFOs typically measure about 30-40 feet in diameter, but have generally gotten slightly smaller over the years. The turtle shaped saucer which crashed in the Sierra Madre of Mexico in 1949 was 100 feet in diameter, and other saucers from 1950 range from 36—99.9 feet in diameter, and around 6 feet in height (the diameter in feet of all of Frank Scully’s saucers is divisible by nine). In later years, UFO size is not as frequently described, but when it is, it typically hovers around 30 feet in diameter.
Early crashed airships, like their flying counterparts, were galvanized metal cylinders, equipped with wings and propellers. Shiny aluminum-esque round discs dropped out of the skies in the late 1940s and early 1950s By the 1970s and 1980s, captured discs were elongating again, becoming ovoid or teardrop shaped (Jerome Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial and the 1986 film Flight of the Navigator). With the advent of the Roswell Incident in ufology, a plethora of shapes come into vogue, but most fall into the category of the classic disc saucer (1994 film Roswell) or a delta-winged craft with a narrow cylindrical body vaguely reminiscent of the bat-winged stealth aircraft fielded by the U.S. Air Force starting in the 1980s, and mirroring the growing popularity of triangular UFO reports.
While lights in the sky are still probably the most common UFO report, triangles (typically black) have become pre-eminent in reports of structured craft. Popular depictions of the crash in Roswell are almost completely dominated by the icon of the classic saucer.
The propulsion and performance characteristics of crashed saucers are rarely described in crash accounts, with the major exception of Frank Scully’s 1950 saucers that propelled themselves along by manipulating gravity waves. Corso’s 1997 Roswell delta-wing craft uses a very similar principle, though the concept of magnetic “waves” is replaced by “vectors.” The Majestic documents state, though, that the propulsion unit of the Roswell craft was destroyed in an explosion. Discussion of the craft interior is also minimal or non-existent in most non-fictional accounts, and the accounts that do describe interior details do not seem to have had much reproductive success. These sorts of details seem to be more in line with stories of crashed saucer research sites, such as the details given by Bob Lazar concerning the saucer he claims to have worked on at Area 51 in the 1980s.
Though an early 1897 airship tale describes 12’ tall alien beings, the idea that strange craft should be piloted by "littlemen" has had a strong following since the end of the nineteenth century. The Martian pilot who struck a windmill in Aurora, Texas in 1897 was small. By the saucer era, little men (typically not green) are measured, presumably after recovery by the U.S. military. Like humans, little humanoid aliens have grown in stature through the twentieth century. Pilots described in 1950 ranged from 23” in height to 40” in height, or roughly between two and three feet.
As little men crash stories start to proliferate again in the 1970s, the little men are taller, at about four feet. The aliens depicted in the 1994 film Roswell, judging by the dummy displayed at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, stand about 4’8” and Corso in 1997 describes his aliens as being four to four and a half feet in height. While the jump in height to four feet might be attributed to the influence of abduction accounts, it does not explain what appears to be a secular trend for increased stature in the alien population. Assuming a linear growth rate, some rough calculations suggest that we will see our alien overlords eye-to-giant-black-eye in about 2040 CE.
Alien crewmembers of downed saucers are uniformly humanoid in shape, with two arms, two legs, and head with a human set of sensory equipment. This is a lower level of variation than in the general reported population of alien beings. Most of the differences are in specific small bits that hang off of the human body. Though the time depth of this feature is uncertain, modern aliens have larger than human proportion heads, typically light bulb or upside-down-pear shaped. In some cases aliens have relatively spindly bodies.
Only some crash accounts are explicit about the skin of alien bodies. Giant 12’ aliens reported in 1897 had bronze skin. Frank Scully’s (1950) aliens typically had a fair complexion, but in most cases their skin had become brown from exposure to the atmosphere. As abduction cases grew more popular, Gray aliens started to be described in saucer crashes. The film Roswell specifically describes the skin of one alien as slightly scaly, but stretchable. Corso (1997) goes into detail about the protective capabilities of alien skin to protect against radiation and shock. In Roswell itself, popular depictions of aliens generally follow some variant on the Gray model, but are split between gray and green skin.
Just as aliens have grown through the twentieth century, they’ve lost their hair. Nineteenth-century airship pilots were not particularly hairless, and also sported facial hair in some cases. By 1950, Frank Scully’s little saucer men had a little peach fuzz on their faces, but this soon disappeared as well. If dressed at all, aliens typically wear a one-piece coverall, often with a metallic sheen.
As alien crash victims began to meld with post-Hill abduction reports, they took on their distinguishing characteristics: a small or non-existent nose, small or non-existent ears, a slit-like mouth, and large slanted solid-black eyes. Just this pair of eyes, divorced from the rest of a Gray, can be a potent symbol (either by themselves, or added to another context).
Probably the most visually impressive exhibit at the IUFOMRC is their "alien" body. In reality, this alien is a prop from the Showtime 1994 Roswell. Penthouse magazine supposedly paid a great deal of money for photos of a real live dead Roswell alien, which ended up being photos of this prop.
Alien bodies found after days in the scorching sun of New Mexico (whether near Aztec, Corona, or Roswell) are typically roasted to a golden brown. This was particularly true in early SW crash accounts, such as those of Scully or Los Angeles businesswoman Alma Lawson, when in addition to simple exposure, the alien skin was browned perhaps because the air acted as a corrosive agent. Later accounts continue to discuss damage and predator action (as in the Majestic documents). In the 1897 Aurora, Texas case and in a fictional 1967 crashed saucer story (The Bamboo Saucer), local villagers bury the unfortunate crew.
Based on the death toll from fatal crashes, early flying saucers ranged in size from two-seater sports coupes to longer-range sixteen-being craft. Tales of the Roswell crash (and an earlier crash in Missouri) focus on a three to four seat mid-sized sedan, a fact reflected by the image of an alien nuclear family on the City of Roswell’s webpage concerning UFOs.
Early stories of contact with Space People in the 1950s focused on Venus, or previously unknown planets as the home world for extraterrestrial visitors. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming number of early crashed saucers came from Venus (apparently not a galactic leader in reliable precision engineering). The little ship destroyed by a windmill in Aurora, Texas, in 1897 came from Mars, but most other crashed ships did not (if we do not count the cylinders from H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds). After American and Russian robotic probes began crashing on other planets in the solar system, alien origins became more remote. Leading Roswell researcher Stanton Friedman is also a champion of the claim, stemming from the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, that the small gray abducting aliens come from a planet in the binary star system Zeta Reticuli, as did the dead Roswell aliens. While some researchers or accounts focus on a specific origin for the doomed craft, most crash stories detail the end of the journey, and not the beginning.
A Time magazine article from January 1950 skeptically mentions a story about live Venusians from a crashed saucer being kept alive in a special carbon dioxide chamber. The concept of UFO crash survivors is an appealing one, and appears in fictional accounts starting as early as 1951 in The Thing From Another World. Like the frozen pilot of The Thing, crash survivors revive in the early 1980s in films such as The Thing, E.T., Wavelength, and Starman, a few years after ufology rediscovered crashed saucers. Perhaps ironically, an influential story of living aliens associated with the Roswell crash originates with Gerald Anderson in 1992, who contacted the television show Unsolved Mysteries and claimed to have seen three dead aliens and one survivor on the Plains of San Agustin as a six-year old boy in 1947. By 1997, the surviving alien is a standard part of the story, but is killed on site by military misunderstanding. Surviving aliens can communicate with mental telepathy in Corso’s telling, but such powers are more common in Roswell narratives in other media (Strieber’s Majestic novel, the film Roswell). Fictional aliens have had mind control powers since the 1950s, which re-emerges in abduction accounts stories of telepathy, but this particular element is not a major part of the nuts-and-bolts crashed saucer stories.
Typically, civilians either stumble upon crashed saucers, or mistake the crash event for that of a conventional plane. On the other hand, from the beginning, fictional saucers have been found by the military, on purpose or by accident, and in later incarnations of the Roswell story, some crash sites are found by the military first. The luck of military search and rescue teams improves through time and begins to mirror the success of their fictional counterparts, though in the 2002 fictional television miniseries Taken, civilians get to find the Roswell sites, but the military makes its own crash site at a later date.
In the case of Roswell, rancher William “Mac” Brazel is usually credited for finding the debris field near Corona. With the exception of his public apology on July 9, 1947 for creating such a stir (Brazel explains he waited several weeks between finding the debris on June 14th and bringing it into town), in most versions Brazel finds the debris field the morning after the crash occurs. In the July 9, 1947 tale by Brazel, he is accompanied by his eight-year old son Vernon, but according to website and the timeline handed out at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in July 2002, he was actually accompanied by another little boy, Dee Proctor, the seven-year old son of Brazel’s neighbors. The presence of a young boy with Brazel mirrors the relationship between Jesse Marcel Jr. and his father’s revelation about Roswell debris in accounts after 1991. By 1991, Brazel’s sheep refuse to cross the debris field, perhaps because they sense something otherworldly about the shiny metal?
Since the publication of The Roswell Incident, the main ship crash site is usually found by an archaeological survey team. There can be minor variations in the specifics (the team may have been geologists, or have included a civil engineer). Mark Allen Peterson in 1991, argues through a content analysis of “respectable” and “non-respectable” media that anthropologists are generally associated in the public eye with the strange and unusual. Anthropologists are more commonly represented in the tabloid press (and in strange fiction such as horror or science fiction) than in the mainstream press. Initially associated with the discovery of a ship on the Plains of San Agustin, the concept of an archaeological team on-site has become a part of the Roswell Incident, though perhaps because of the lack of interest in the Plains of San Agustin crash site, this team neither shows up in the versions of the story available in Roswell itself, nor in the film Roswell. Of the six versions of the Roswell story analyzed by Ziegler, only one, the original Majestic documents, does not mention an archaeological team, only civilian witnesses that were debriefed.
As stated above, civilians are apt to find more crashed saucers than are military forces, who eventually come along after civilians contact them. In the Roswell case, William “Mac” Brazel waits from one to three days (with the exception of the three week gap he describes in his July 9, 1947 interview) after discovery to contact Sheriff Wilcox in Roswell. In some versions he takes some of the material to the neighboring Proctor household. Most published versions of the Roswell Incident have Brazel contacting George Wilcox on July 6. As earlier versions anchored the crash date to the Wilmot sighting on the evening of July 2, this leaves a three day window between Brazel’s discovery of the material and his contact with Sheriff Wilcox and the Army. Early versions describe how after finding the debris, he gathered some up and brought it with him on July 5 while taking some wool into Corona. It is here (or on a July 3 visit to his neighbors) that Brazel hears about flying saucers for the first time, including the possibility of a reward for finding one. He then makes a special trip into Roswell the next day with some of the debris, and the chain of events leading to the July 8 press release begins. In these accounts, Brazel is able to show the debris to his family and to neighbors during this time. Starting in 1994, the reassignment of the crash date to July 4, 1947 presumes a much busier Brazel, immediately recognizing the strange qualities of the crash debris (and the gouge in the debris field) and visiting Roswell the day after he discovers the material. Brazel’s own July 9 statements say that he waited several weeks to report the wreckage he found in the middle of June, though this is considered a lie by most Roswell researchers. The exhibits in the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell hint at, but not definitively, a July 4 crash date, though the timeline handed to visitors follows the July 4 time sequence.
Brazel himself makes a July 8, 1947 appearance on KGFL radio in Roswell, but at some point is whisked away by military authorities, and coached on lying for his July 9th interview saying he was sorry for causing such a fuss. The exact amount of time that Brazel is in military hands varies in different accounts.
As part and parcel of crash accounts that involve military radar tracks, a military recovery team leaves soon after the radar-tracked crash, usually at sunup the next day (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Randle and Schmitt 1994). This concept has been present throughout the accounts of the Roswell Incident, especially in relation to a second crash site on the Plains of San Agustin, though it is not limited to those accounts. Typically, the second, more important, crash site with bodies or a saucer is found by the military at the same time or immediately after discovery by engineers, campers, or an archaeological research team. In these accounts, the coverup may already be underway when Brazel informs the Roswell sheriff of his discovery a few days later.
Though not as exciting and action-filled, the narrative thread of the Roswell story concerning Army involvement with the Foster Ranch debris site reported by William “Mac” Brazel is more complex. Most versions agree that soon after Brazel brings debris to Roswell Sheriff Wilcox’s office on July 6, 1947, the military shows up. Specifically, Jesse Marcel accompanies Brazel to his home, stays there overnight, and examines the debris field on the morning of July 7. However, with the exception of the initial July 8, 1947 press release and the current (2002) International UFO Museum and Research Center timeline, other accounts of the Roswell story mention that a second military man in plain clothes accompanied Marcel to the debris site. As the Roswell story built steam after 1980, this man was clearly identified as Army counterintelligence agent Sheridan Cavitt. By the early 1990s, this man becomes more anonymous, and is either simply described as a counterintelligence agent, or as a man in plain clothes. The 1994 film Roswell renames him Sherman Carson, but increases his role in the coverup, especially regarding Jesse Marcel. The decreased interest in Cavitt’s specifics may have a lot to do with the fact that Cavitt agreed to describe what he saw in July 1947, and his accounts support the finding of a balloon device, not an extraterrestrial craft, on the Foster Ranch.
Relying on Jesse Marcel’s son, Jesse Marcel Jr., as a significant witness, (Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt, UFO Crash at Roswell - in 1991, specifically mention that Marcel brought some of the debris home to show his family in the early morning hours of July 8, 1947. First introduced in 1991, this element plays an important emotional and narrative role in the film Roswell, and has been preserved in the International UFO Museum and Research Center’s presentation in Roswell.
Depending on the discovery of a second site in the particular Roswell narrative, Colonel Blanchard orders a more thorough cleanup of the Foster ranch site and informs his superiors of the debris on either July 7th or July 8th before going on leave. These events are linked to a change in the travel plans of a military inspection group led by Lt. General Nathan F. Twining, who would play a major role in military interest in UFOs in the next few years. The group, including other high-ranking officers, flies to Alamogordo instead of their original planned inspection of a Boeing aircraft on July 7th.
The make up of the gear and personnel of military recovery teams typically include trucks, area lighting for night work, and specialists. The 1973 account of a crashed saucer in Arizona echoes Scully’s informants, specialists flown in to advise on recovery and analysis. The 1973 account also foreshadows the stories of specialist transport to Area 51 in the late 1980s, where specialists are flown on private non-descript airplanes, and then loaded onto buses with blacked out windows. In the case of the 1962 Nevada UFO/bolide crash, Project Blue Book flew in its director Lt. Col. Robert Friend and scientific advisor Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
In the case of Roswell, the military recovery team becomes more detailed in 1988, as the Majestic documents describe the use of aerial reconnaissance, and by 1991 witnesses describe the placement of an MP perimeter to keep out civilians and other unauthorized personnel. The 2002 version of the IUFOMRC website descibes a several day cordon while the site is cleaned up. Few other accounts describe the use of special equipment and biohazard suits as in Corso’s (1997) account.
The debris begins to fly out of New Mexico soon after discovery. Following public accounts, most accounts have some debris flown to Ft. Worth, Texas on July 8 for further analysis, in many accounts under armed guard. But Randle and Schmitt have debris flying out as soon as July 6.
In 1997, the U.S. Air Force suggested that the recovery of dummies used in testing may have inspired reports of alien bodies. Of course, the IUFOMRC is all to happy to point out that these tests did not begin until several years after 1947.
From the beginning, however, all accounts are unanimous that the U.S. military decides to cover-up the accident, typically to prevent panic ala Orson Welles' 1938 radioplay of War of the Worlds, though in some cases looking ahead to the potential for reverse-engineering advanced technology. While fictional accounts of contact between humans and aliens or their material culture utilize more exotic cover-ups such as left-over weapons from WWII (Film Quatermass and the Pit 1967), epidemics (Film 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968), and nerve-gas disasters (Film Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977), the Roswell story has consistently been laid at the feet of a balloon, first a weather balloon in 1947, and then by the mid-1990s a train of balloons to support audio equipment used in the Mogul spying program. This element first arises in the office of General Ramey in Ft. Worth Texas during a press conference on July 9, 1947. By 1991, it is reasoned that the debris in Ramey’s office was switched with that from a weather balloon, and that Marcel was ordered to lie or stay quiet about this act. In the last few years, there has been some interest in attempts to either find real saucer debris in the pictures from this press conference, or to reconstruct a message on a piece of paper photographed in Ramey’s hand that proves there really was a saucer crash.
Citizens are sworn to secrecy as early as 1973, but beginning with Randle and Schmitt’s 1991 account of the Roswell crash, civilians have been threatened with reprisals from the U.S. Military if they don’t keep quiet about what they have seen. Intimidation in crashed saucer accounts usually comes from military sources, and not the shadowy Men in Black that haunt other parts of UFOland. Concerning the use of violence to enforce the cover up, fictional accounts raced ahead of other versions, such as in the case of the ominous Men in Dark Suits that chase astronauts investigating a crashed UFO in the film Hangar 18 in 1980. William “Mac” Brazel is picked up by the military at some point soon after his July 8th radio interview, and is sequestered by the Army for anywhere from one to three days. During this time, he is allowed to make his July 9th statement that he did not find a flying saucer, and in some versions is bribed with money for a new pickup truck and refrigerator shed on his property (Corso 1997; Randle and Schmitt 1991; Film Roswell 1994).
“Mac” Brazel is not the only civilian cajoled into silence by the military in Roswell. Though many researchers today reject his claims, starting in 1991Roswell mortician Glenn Dennis describes being consulted by Roswell Army Hospital about obtaining four small child-size caskets, and about techniques for preparing a body for storage. When he goes to the Roswell Army Hospital to check on the situation, he is escorted off the premises and physically threatened by military men. Dennis also describes talking to a friend of his the next day, a nurse who witnessed alien bodies in the hospital. Prior to 1991, bodies had been associated with the stories involving archaeological teams on the Plains of San Agustin or near Corona, but Dennis’ story puts them in Roswell itself. The nurse, named Janet, is soon killed in a military plane crash a short while later. This is another dramatic scene in the film Roswell, though as in the case of the counterintelligence agent, Dennis’ real name is not used and is replaced by a sound alike name (one character attempts to remember the mortician’s name and comes up with several possibilities that sound like Dennis). And despite a lack of confidence about Dennis in the later 1990s by most Roswell researchers, the story is still presented (2002) by the International UFO Museum and Research Center. A very similar tale is retold in Corso (1997), but instead of a mortician, the ejected civilian is plumber Roy Danzer.
While the relationship between unidentified flying objects and government secrecy goes back to the airships of 1897, secrecy becomes one of the enduring hallmarks of the saucer era and later ufology. From the beginning, a vocal part of ufology has blamed a lack of good UFO information and public interest on “silence groups” in the American government. Probably the most influential of these researchers was NICAP czar Donald Keyhoe, who wrote about “Project Saucer” (actually called Projects Sign and Grudge), and continued to rail against government secrecy. In particular, throughout his ufological career, Keyhoe’s number one priority was pressing for open Congressional hearings. According to long-time ufological prankster and social historian James Moseley in his memoirs Shockingly Close to the Truth! (2002), Keyhoe’s persistence actually increased secrecy on the part of the U.S. military.
Congressional action and the University of Colorado "Condon Report" from 1966-1968 silenced this cause to a large degree, but in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dr. Stephen Greer and his organization CSETI has refocused attention on the issue of government secrecy and is calling for action, including new hearings. Other researchers have had more success with Freedom of Information Act Requests, most notably The Black Vault.
At the heart of the Roswell legend is the issue of a government cover-up. Though the UFO issue has had an edge of paranoia about the American government since the 1950's, conspiracy theories and the belief that government officials are hiding information about UFO's have grown over the last two decades along with the Roswell legend. The most successful of these concepts has been that of the “Majestic” (also known as Majestic-12, MAJIC, and MAJIC-12) group formed to deal with saucer secrecy in the wake of the Roswell crash. Majestic came to public knowledge in 1987 with the release of the Majestic documents by William Moore, Stanton Friedman, and filmmaker Jaime Shandera. Shandera says he received the documents on anonymously-sent film. The debate about the validity of the Majestic documents is too lengthy to go into at this time, but as of 2003, many ufologists and critics believe the documents to be fake, though several in this group support the existence of one or another group similar to Majestic with some cosmetic differences. A smaller number, led by Friedman (1992), hold to the validity of the original documents. A larger number of additional documents have appeared, which have even less support than the originals.
Intriguingly, despite the direct links to Roswell, Majestic is able to cross between different narrative threads. Roswell researcher Kevin Randle has generally shied away from, or flat out attacked, the Majestic documents. And yet, a dramatic sequence of scenes based directly on the Majestic documents provides the major climax of the 1994 film Roswell, largely based on the work of Randle and co-author Schmitt. Ironically, while the film relies heavily on Majestic, it ignores the crash site championed by the highest-profile Majestic proponent, Stanton Friedman. The International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell follows the film’s lead, and marries a narrative similar to that proposed by Randle and Schmidt to exhibits about Majestic.
In addition to looking at the specifics surrounding narratives of airship, saucer, and UFO crashes, we must consider the aftermath posited after these wondrous machines fall from the heavens. Only in a few fictional accounts is a flying saucer revealed to the public after a crash. Typically, the remains of the saucer and its crew are crated up and shipped off to one or more secret locations. As early as 1897, human-piloted airships were tied to (as originating from, not going to) secret military bases in Illinois and Colorado (Bartholomew 1998). By the saucer age, alien bodies and crashed saucers started to be hidden at places like Wright Field (later Wright-Paterson AFB) in Ohio. The history of the relationship between Wright Field and crashed saucers is still murky (though it seems to go back until at least the 1960s), but the base was home toProject Blue Book starting in the 1950s, and before that Project Sign and E.T.-friendly Air Force investigator General Nathan Twining. It should come as no surprise, then, that after the release of the Majestic documents, nearly all later Roswell and many crashed saucer stories would designate Wright-Paterson and its infamous Hangar 18 as a resting place (if not a final one) for bodies and debris.
Fictional film versions of UFO silence groups and UFO crashes began to presage as early as 1971 the next major geographical center in crashed saucer stories. Though not dealing with a UFO, the novel and film (1971) Andromeda Strain depict the analysis of an alien life form within a secret underground government facility under Nevada. Six years later, a multinational silence group (backed up by the U.S. military) seal off a section of Wyoming so they can meet with UFOs and their occupants near Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg 1977). In 1980, a crashed UFO is transported from Arizona to a lunar landing facility at Wolf AFB in Texas in the film Hangar 18 (not located at Wright-Paterson in the film). Each of these films depicts a secret government base used for making contact with E.T.s or their material culture, located in the arid American West.
By the mid and late 1980s, ufologists and others would turn their interest to a secret military facility in central Nevada, referred to as Groom Lake by many insiders, but most famous as Area 51. It became a geographical focal point where Cold War paranoia and secrecy, environmental activism, concerns about government overstep, belief in UFO's, and the nascent cyberculture mixed in the 1990s. Glenn Campbell's (aka Psychospy) Desert Rat journal of his activities as an activist at Groom Lake, and the general doings around the site, provide a great historical source for understanding this weird chapter in the history of American distrust of government. A wide variety of stories have grown up in and out of the subculture of Area 51 observers, and several reference the Roswell crash as the seed for alien technology or craft tested and developed at the base. Area 51 doesn’t appear as quickly in Roswell narratives in large part because of the focus on the events in summer, which predate the establishment of Area 51. The UFO Museum and Research Center has a substantial exhibit on Area 51, but the base does not figure in a major way in most non-cinema versions of the Roswell or other crashed saucer stories. Interestingly, an argument could be made that while these fictional prototypes for Area 51 predate stories about the site, this differs from crashed saucers stories, which typically predate fictional analogs. Area 51 has followed in the footsteps of Roswell in becoming the inspiration for a musical play. Unlike the down home and apparently defunct Roswell Musical, however, the Area 51 musical has attracted significant backing, and will hopefully teleport to the US from it's origins in the UK.
Once a research center is established, the material and crew undergo analysis, which can yield great benefits for society, though in most cases these are hoarded by the secret group in question. A small but persistent thread of ufology links Nazi Germany and flying saucers, and in a couple of crash stories, Nazi scientists are able to study saucers, possibly the origin of many of the German “wonder weapons.”
The concept of reverse engineering to create advanced technology (particularly aircraft) is more commonly applied to the U.S. and Roswell.The most developed version of this thread is Corso’s (1997) The Day After Roswell, within which Corso claims to have been personally responsible for seeding technology from the Roswell crash to defense contractors, and thereby playing a part in the “creation” of nearly every major technological advance in the later 20th century.