By OLLIE REED JR.
Scripps Howard News Service
July 06, 2007
Brazel's 1947 discovery is the source of the "Roswell Incident," the purported crash of an alien spacecraft and an alleged cover-up of the event by the U.S. government.
"Wherever I go in the world, when I tell them I'm from New Mexico, people say, 'Oh. That's where the UFOs are,' " Walter Jon Williams, a Los Lunas science fiction author, said during a phone interview this week. "I assure them that's right, that I see UFOs all the time."
Williams is joking about seeing unidentified flying objects. He has a firm grasp of what's science and what's fiction.
But the Roswell Incident, propelled into the public consciousness by a 1980 nonfiction book of that name, is at the heart of the argument advanced by most extraterrestrial visitation proponents.
It plugged Roswell, the city where the Army took the debris found by Brazel, and New Mexico into the immensely influential popular culture machine via a variety of TV movies and series.
It also spawned a hokey 1990s video claiming to be actual 1947 film of an autopsy performed on a alien victim of the crash near Corona.
Thursday marked the start of the 13th annual UFO Festival in Roswell -- an aggregation of concerts, parades, hot-air balloon rides, tours of "UFO crash sites," lectures and more.
Paul Hutton, a University of New Mexico history professor, said the Roswell crash story has a New Mexico appeal similar to that of outlaw Billy the Kid.
"In the way Roswell has been merchandised, they may be doing even a better job than has been done with Billy," said Hutton. "Roswell is a more modern mind-set. It's space travel. Billy seems a little antiquated, but Roswell is right here and right now."
Williams, 53, the winner of two prestigious Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, doesn't believe Earth has been visited by alien spacecraft -- at least not yet.
He believes what Brazel found on the Foster Ranch was the remnants of a balloon used in what was then the top-secret Project Mogul. That project sent up an array of balloons for the purpose of detecting Soviet nuclear tests and ballistic missiles.
"Those balloons had a 300-foot long instrument package equipped with sonic gear and elaborate microphones," Williams said.
But in what may have been a misguided effort to keep Project Mogul secret, the Roswell Army Air Field released a statement on July 8, 1947, saying it had recovered a crashed "flying disc."
Since reports of mysterious flying saucers had been in the news recently, this caused quite a stir in the media. The Army quickly backtracked, releasing a second statement the same day claiming it was really an ordinary weather balloon that had been found.
"You don't have to be a conspiracy theory nut to think something funny happened down there," Hutton, 57, said. "Obviously, something happened and they covered it up."
He said myths and legends - about Billy the Kid or flying saucer crashes - are rooted in the lies of people in authority. That's why, he said, some folks do not believe Sheriff Pat Garrett killed the Kid in July 1881 in a dark room in Fort Sumner.
"What's obvious is that the Kid was in Fort Sumner and Garrett killed him," Hutton said. "But Garrett and (Deputy John W.) Poe told such a lame story on how they killed the Kid that it's difficult to believe.
"It's the same with Roswell. You have all these officials saying it was a weather balloon - like no one in New Mexico has ever seen a weather balloon."
Fort Sumner is not so far from Corona and Roswell, in that open east-central New Mexico country where possibility seems as limitless as the stretched-out prairie.
If there is a place where outlaws live forever and space travelers crash to Earth, Hutton said it's easy to see how people might think this is it.
"That terrain down there, those wide-open skies, puts us all closer to the cosmos," he said.
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