Roswell’s UFO Festival is a reminder that we’re all still obsessed with America’s infamous spacecraft crash

by Amanda Push

It was a blisteringly hot July day thanks to the searing New Mexico sun. Rancher Mac Brazel just wanted to get his sheep to water, but something was in the way.

Brazel, a man living his simple life 33 miles southeast of Corona in the southeastern part of the state, was truly living in the middle of nowhere. World War II had ended two years earlier and, unbeknownst to Brazel, America was at the height of UFO hysteria.

Blocking Brazel’s path was a 500-foot gouge in the earth, and the debris that was scattered around it reached out three-quarters of a mile, its width about 200-300 feet wide. It seemed initially like a simple issue; a giant mess that was making his life more difficult under the searing sun. He and his helper, a boy named Dee Proctor, guided the flock around the strange metal rubbish. Brazel, intrigued by the unusual metal litter, took a few of the parts with him and then went about his day.

Little did Brazel know, though, that history of the extraterrestrial variety had just been made.

Aliens in RoswellIt’s been 72 years since Brazel found the wreckage of an alleged intergalactic spacecraft, and Roswell has since become a destination for those curious to what lies beyond.

Roswell, in turn, has completely embraced the lore. Images of UFOs and bug-eyed aliens have seeped into just about every restaurant, wall, and hotel.

On a recent trip, we pulled up to the first gas station we spotted, only to find small rubber green men and other UFO paraphernalia at the cashier’s stand. Statues of miniature aliens invaded the front lawn of our hotel and a blow-up Martian, as tall as we are, greeted us in the lobby. Approaching the counter, we heard a man, who was sporting a T-shirt with a giant spacecraft graphic, asking a front desk worker who was donning a pair of green antennae, where the closest Walgreens was. Just down the road, a massive green alien bid hello to passersby at the Dunkin’ Donuts. On nearly every wall, we spot spray-painted murals of smiling, harmless-looking Martians.

It all fits seamlessly together, as we were there for the annual UFO Festival, a three-day spectacle that draws in roughly 20,000 people every year, according to the event website.

We’d never been to Roswell before and were curious what a small town whose entire survival, at least on the surface, seems to ride on this one mythical tale.

It was hot, just like the day Brazel came upon the extraterrestrial rubbish, and we questioned why intergalactic visitors would want to hover over a place with 104-degree heat. It felt like we were standing in a microwave, and the waving little green men painted on storefront windows made us feel more like we were hallucinating than appreciative of the strange alien culture we’d stepped into.

We pressed on at the festival and came across everything from a cover band performing a delightful rendition of “Billie Jean” to a vendor tent filled with people sitting in a circle with their eyes closed, holding what looks like weights made of gold prisms. Everywhere we looked, people donned intergalactic horns and t-shirts with the words “aliens don’t believe in humans” printed on them. Visitors stopped to pose with people decked out in costume.

Later on that weekend, once it’s cooled down, the festival really ramped up with a psychedelic parade of people dressed up as extraterrestrials, including a band decked out in alien costume just down the street.

We overheard conversations of visitors who have observed mysterious objects in the sky above their homes. We walked by a woman excitably telling a local radio station about her experiences.

Whether these stories should be taken seriously or with a truckload of salt doesn’t much matter. The UFO Festival at Roswell is clearly a judgment-free zone where all are welcome to observe and celebrate the possibilities of what could be out there.

But it didn’t get that way overnight.

Myth or MartiansThe story of Brazel’s find is an odd one. If you dip your toe into the variety of books and research on the topic, you’ll find all kinds of different versions of events and contradictions, not just from naysayers but from the ufologists themselves.

It seems, however, that at least one of the basic story lines – Brazel’s – stands the test of time.

A few days after Brazel discovered the remains of the craft, he took a shoebox full of parts to the sheriff’s office in Roswell. His visit resulted in the sheriff calling the Roswell Army Air Field, which sent out Jesse Marcel to investigate the report.

Days before the crash, radar caught a quick-moving object that pulsated and then exploded, and several people in the area reported seeing a flaming object fall from the sky.

Marsell and Brazel journeyed out to the site. Among the wreckage they found pieces of metal that were light and thin, but would not bend, scratch, or burn, as well as small beams with hieroglyphic-like symbols on them.

The material was collected by the military, and while some of it was shipped to Washington D.C., some of it was stored in Roswell. The Roswell Army Air Field later released a news release stating that a “flying disc” was recovered at the scene.

As for the alien bodies that were allegedly found at the crash scene, Glenn Dennis, a young mortician at Ballard Funeral Home in Roswell, and the future founder of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, claimed he got calls from the Roswell AAF mortuary officer asking about the availability of small caskets, and what chemicals to use on a dead body that had been exposed to the elements.

Multiple people involved in the incident later came forward and claimed they were threatened to keep quiet about the crash or they and their families would be killed.

Later, the government came out with the explanation that the debris found was actually the remnants of a weather balloon.

As for Brazel, who had hoped to get a reward for discovering the wreckage, well, he too was harassed into silence.

During an interview with KFGL radio in Roswell, Brazel was allegedly taken into custody by the military. The radio station was threatened with shutdown if the story ever saw the light of day, and, eventually, Brazel returned to the station, along with several military officers, where he retracted his original story. He merely found some tinfoil, tape with flowers on it, and some sticks – the wreckage of a weather balloon, he said.

On July 9, 1947, the Roswell Daily Record printed a story with the headline, “Harassed Rancher Who Located ‘Saucer’ Sorry He Told About It.” The article ended with this quote from Brazel: “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.”

Poor Brazel never did see that reward money and refused to talk about the crash in the years following.

Was the wreckage a balloon, a stranded flying saucer, or a nefarious government project being covered up? Perhaps time will tell, but for now, we embrace the mystery of whatever it was that was found in the New Mexico desert.

A museum for saucerphiles“Beep, boop, beep, boop, boop.”

A moving, life-sized R2-D2 that chirps at visitors is one of the first things to greet you at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It was our final day in Roswell, and this was one of the parts of the trip we were most looking forward to.

Everywhere we looked were stories of mankind’s encounters with the great beyond. Alien replicas watched over the crowd with black, bug-like eyes. Martians were seen in tubes or being experimented on by wax figures in doctor garb.

The museum addresses the weather balloon theory by digging into Project Mogul, a top-secret project to develop a balloon device that could detect sound waves. The idea was that if the Soviet Union tested an atomic bomb, Mogul would pick it up. Suffice to say, it did not work.

There is also a wall in the museum dedicated to The Palenque Astronaut, a Mayan carving dated to roughly 400-600 A.D. The carving is actually a tomb lid found in the Mayan temples of Mexico, and it’s strange.

While some interpret the carving as a religious tribute, Swiss author Erich von Daniken theorized that the tomb lid is a depiction of an ancient astronaut running his space ship controls.

Fact or fictionWhen it comes to theories like the Roswell incident, science-based evidence to back up claims of extraterrestrial involvement is limited. Still, these are the types of stories that capture the imagination of the public.

It’s inspired physicist Stanton Friedman to dedicate his entire career to the study of ufology. He’s spent decades as a Roswell UFO civilian researcher, giving lectures on the subject across the globe.

As we bid farewell, it was hard not to wonder what would have become of this town had Brazel not reported his findings. If Friedman had not taken an interest in the idea that a flying disc crashed in the desert outside the small New Mexico town. If Corona had been the village thrust into the spotlight instead of Roswell. There certainly wouldn’t be a flying-saucer shaped McDonald’s on Main Street in Roswell, that’s for damn sure.

It is questions like these, though, along with what really crashed outside of Corona that fateful day, that we, most likely, will never get answers for.


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