American Impressions, Chapter 40: New Mexico
Aliens Among Us
On Sept. 18, at 3:17 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time -- 15:17 hours—I was abducted by aliens seven miles outside of Roswell, N.M. I say “abducted” only because it’s the word most commonly used on these occasions. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, an abduction. I was flagged down on U.S. 70 by a man and a woman who wore, but didn’t look, green and who spoke English. The three of us had coffee at one of the two Denny’s restaurants in town (the one near the Hacienda Motel). No whisking off to the mother ship, no mutilations, no “missing time” in the whole two-hour affair, which was, mutilations aside, disappointing.
Even more disappointing: They just wanted to commission an article. The man introduced his wife as Sally and himself as Micro Megas Jr. (the name rang a bell), co-editors of an upstart travel magazine back home. They were flying around, collecting ideas. They’d heard of Roswell’s obsession with aliens by catching the errant voice of Art Bell while traveling through a particularly dirty nebula not far from here. Micro wanted to write up Roswell himself. Sally thought it too hokey. They compromised. Would I visit for them, they asked, and write it up as part of my series on the States? They’d pick it up from the Internet, which apparently goes where no man—no one—has gone before.
I told them I didn’t believe in aliens much, at least not the kind that pretend to exist. They said I had no reason to, that no one from here to eternity had ever been interested in Earth, which is considered a hole in the universe, and that the only reason they ended up here was because Sally got lost and wouldn’t ask for directions a couple of galaxies back, but that they might as well make the best of it. They weren’t asking me to believe, just to produce. I told them I had other plans for New Mexico, namely, Indian blanket weaving in the Santa M1 Fe area. They pleaded. I relented. We exchanged e-mail addresses. They left (they were driving a rental) and I went to work.
What I’ve related so far is the absolute truth. What I saw and heard in Roswell requires a leap of faith to believe.
If—to paraphrase Voltaire—aliens didn’t exist, Roswell would have to invent them. Otherwise it’d be just another dot on the map. Its military school and big mozzarella plant wouldn’t be enough to attract the nearly 200,000 visitors a year who detour from southern New Mexico’s vast sea of deserts and missile ranges to study up on government conspiracies to defraud them of extraterrestrial drop-ins. As it is, Roswell is a colony of little green things with big eyes, big heads and bodies either pre-pubescent or androgynous painted like sentinels on every other Main Street shop window. There’s alien parking, alien insurance, a welcome to aliens at Hardee’s, an alien greeter painted on a trampoline at Wal-Mart, alien clothing sales, and, of course, alien gift shops and two alien museums and research centers. Sally and Micro would have been offended by the stereotypical looks ascribed to them.
To get a little orientation, I stopped in at Roger Florey’s “Alien Spacecraft? UFO Research Center.” The place is a cross between a museum, a curiosity shop and an alien flea market. Florey, UFOlogist, hardly had finished introducing himself when he popped a tape into a VCR and showed me cattle, hogs, horses and other quadrupeds disemboweled or gouged or worse, but always neatly, as if by delicate surgeons. Inexplicable mutilations from all over the world, Florey said. Butchery’s equivalent of crop circles, I thought, and I’d never believed in crop circles as more than a clever, harmless hoax. Mutilating animals looked neither clever nor harmless, just sick, if also banal.
I turned away, preferring to hear Florey’s theories on “missing time,” which supposedly happens to people encountering aliens. They can’t remember the encounter, but on getting home they notice that they’ve skipped over a few hours without quite living through them, like a record that skips a groove. I experience missing time every time I watch TV. It’s never occurred to me to blame it on aliens. But Florey’s UFO theories have a twist: If UFOs are messing with us on Earth, “it means that crop circles, cattle mutilation, and missing time are criminal acts. I do not welcome UFOs. I do not believe they belong here.”
Not that Florey minds making his living from the things. His store is full of Roswelliana—pictures, newspaper clippings, books, tapes, touristy T-shirts, souvenirs that all have their source in one of two places: the desert around Roswell, fertile in mysteries, or the bored imagination of a few old men who decided in the late 1980s and early 1990s to out their belief in what allegedly had happened there in 1947.
The story goes something like this. On any one of three dozen nights in June or early July 1947, in any one of four spots from the Plains of San Augustin in the western part of the state to the hilly desert between Roswell and Corona, one, maybe two, maybe three flying saucers crashed, some of them, maybe all of them, ejecting little aliens who weren’t wearing seat belts. No one witnessed any of the crashes.
There’d been a spate of UFO sightings in the country that summer and rumors of a reward to anyone who located an actual UFO. On June 14, a rancher named W.W. “Mac” Brazel was checking his land 85 miles northwest of Roswell when he came across debris made of shiny paper foil, balsam wood and Scotch tape. He gathered it all up, all five pounds of the stuff, took it home, then went to town winking and nudging about owning the remains of a flying saucer. The sheriff heard him and called the Roswell Army Air Field, from where an intelligence officer and his Buick went to the ranch, put the remains in the Buick’s trunk, and drove back to the base. On July 8, the Roswell Daily Record ran the banner headline that was read around the world: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”
The story was based on a military press release written by Walter Haut, who had seen nothing himself but had taken dictation from William Blanchard, the base commander. With Blanchard dead, Haut is the last link to the only time the U.S. government went on record, for a few hours anyway, saying that it had a flying saucer in its possession. Haut and I met at the UFO Museum and Research Center, which Haut and two other men founded in 1991. We sat in the library, a long row of UFO books with titles such as “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy” and “UFOs Are Real” behind us and a mural of expiring aliens next to a crashed saucer beside us. Haut, a French name that means “high,” remembered the events of July 1947, when he was a 25-year-old press officer for the 509 th Bomb Group—the same outfit that had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima two years earlier.
”Col. Blanchard called me in and told me that we had in our possession a flying saucer that’s crashed north of town, and Jesse—that was Maj. Jesse Marcel, our intelligence officer—was flying it to Fort Worth to give it to Gen. Ramey,” the commanding general of the Air Force. Haut didn’t see anything himself, but he trusted Blanchard, “a very brilliant individual not prone to going off on a tangent.” Everyone in the 509 th was level-headed about the thing, Haut remembers. Ramey issued the denial about any flying saucers a few hours later, calling the debris the remains of a weather balloon.
Haut was sitting next to Blanchard at a staff meeting a few hours after drafting that press release. “He looked over at me and he said, ‘We sure blew that one, didn’t we?’ I don’t think I’ll ever forget that quotation. And that was the end of the whole story.”
For the next 40 years, anyway.
Rumors got going again in the mid-1980s as old men started remembering things, or widowed wives started telling the stories their husbands had told them just before dying. Take Pappy Henderson. He was the pilot who’d flown the “saucer” recovered from the Brazel ranch to another base for analysis. Decades later and shortly before he died, he was at a supermarket checkout counter with his wife one day. He read of a UFO sighting in a tabloid, which convinced him to tell his wife about how he’d flown the remains of an alien craft in 1947. That, anyway, is how his wife told the story after Pappy Henderson died. Haut didn’t mention the saucer story for years until he, too, became convinced that “it was a cover-up, plain and simple, when they said it was not a flying saucer.” Nevertheless, he has no more evidence of a saucer today than he did when Blanchard dictated the press release to him in 1947.
But the “star witness” of the Roswell incident is Glenn Dennis. It’s from his account that much of the Roswell Incident’s evidence of an alien capture has been pieced together. We also met and talked next to the mural of crashed aliens. Now in his mid-70s, Dennis is a strong believer in Pentagon cover-ups and alien visitations. We all know, he said—although I didn’t until then—that there were footprints on the moon before Neil Armstrong set his own, and that Armstrong made reference to “Charlie,” an alien, as he went about making his leaps for humanity.
In 1947, Dennis was a 22-year-old mortician who did some work for the Roswell air field. One night that July, someone called him from the base, asking how many child-sized caskets he had and whether he could get more. The call was not followed up.
That night, Dennis went to the base. He saw debris that looked like fiberglass in the back of an ambulance. And he had a strange encounter with a nurse, a friend of his, who was hysterical because she’d been assisting physicians doing some sort of autopsy on horribly disfigured bodies. Not human bodies, that is. She gave him a diagram of what the bodies looked like, telling Dennis to guard it with his life. She disappeared the next day. The Army said she later died in a plane crash. Dennis doesn’t believe it. He won’t reveal the nurse’s identity, saying she didn’t want it revealed, but the picture of a nurse is displayed in the museum next to a timeline of the Roswell Incident captioned by one of those rhetorical question marks: “Could this be the nurse involved in the Roswell Incident?” You’d think Dennis would know. Dennis won’t display the diagram of “aliens” he claims the nurse gave him, either; he keeps it in a vault. But he has displayed handmade “copies” of it all over the museum.
The contradictions interest him only insofar as they underscore the government’s deceptions—not his—that surround the Roswell incident. He said his own life was threatened, and he was warned not to divulge what the nurse had told him. “The military had told me if I started a rumor they’d pick my bones out of the sand.” So he said nothing for 40 years. He didn’t want to embarrass his family or risk harming his funeral business.
Ten years ago, he decided it was time to come out with his story. He gathered his three daughters and told them: “I’ve retired, I’ve sold the funeral home, I’m kind of bored, but there’s something I’m going to come out with that you probably won’t agree with me on.” They didn’t. His daughters were “horrified.” But shortly after that revelation, Dennis founded the UFO Museum with Haut and a third partner. It is now a shrine to conspiracies and the sort of rhetorical question marks that make Chosen Ones out of UFO believers and outcasts out of doubters. Like its founders, the 61 volunteers who run most of the museum—a nonprofit organization that charges no admission but collects generous donations—are retired believers who revere their founders’ mission—to tell the world what really happened and to make the government tell the truth.
The Air Force released reports in 1994 and 1997 outlining what had happened around Roswell in the 1940s and ‘50s. It even admitted to lying: That wasn’t a weather balloon that crashed in the desert—although many balloons did crash—but part of a top-secret system of spy sensors that listened to reverberations from Soviet testing of nuclear blasts. The Army also never told of testing parachutes with dummies over the New Mexico desert (the short, four-fingered dummies were mistaken for aliens), or of horrific crashes in which servicemen were severely burned and disfigured. Lt. Eileen Fanton, Dennis’ “mysterious” nurse friend, likely assisted in the treatment of some of those servicemen, the military’s 1997 “Roswell Report: Case Closed,” explained.
The CIA added to the record of lies in 1997 when it owned up to misleading the public about UFO sightings in the 1950s and ‘60s. The CIA planted stories about “ice crystals” and “temperature inversion” to explain UFOs that were really high-flying U-2s and SR-71s, part of the nation’s growing fleet of spy planes. The military’s Cold War record in the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada is grim enough and self-incriminating enough to make alien mysteries seem cartoonish in comparison. UFOlogists, it seems to me, are missing the story for the cartoons.
When I asked Dennis about those reports, he had either not heard of them or refused to read them. “I’ve never read a book or watched a video on the subject, and I’m the founder of the museum,” he said. “Because I only know what happened to me. How many versions are there out there? It’s just confusing to me.”
The International UFO Museum’s research library owns 2,000 books and hundreds of videos with titles such as “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?,” “Roswell: The UFO Cover-Up” and “UFO: The Hidden Truth.” Looking hard enough, I half expected to find “The Girls of Andromeda Galaxy.” The library also owns 50,000 documents stored in 20 drawers full of file folders divided by subjects—“Jesus stories,” “Bigfoot news,” “Levitations,” “Smells,” “UFOs and sex,” “Cigar-shaped UFOs,” “Mother ship UFOs,” “Odd-shaped UFOs.” I thought about the cloud formations in the New Mexico sky, where the clouds often are suggestively fluted, cigar-shaped, saucer-shaped, mother-ship-shaped. Aliens enough to fill an airport.
As I was reading from the file titled “Humorous and non-humorous UFO events” (the story of a stewardess who claimed to be receiving messages from a gentleman on Jupiter, which was humorous, and how she went on a fatal 66-day hunger strike when he told her to, which wasn’t) the librarian got a phone call. It was from an Indianapolis resident who told her of vacationing in Maine and discovering black helicopters in her pictures when she got home, although the helicopters couldn’t be seen from the Maine beach when she snapped the pictures. The caller wanted to send the pictures to the research center but not before making sure that the center wasn’t connected to the government.
”We’re not interested in the government whatsoever other than we wish they’d tell us what happened,” Sharon Rhodes, the librarian, told the caller. When she hung up, I asked Rhodes about the government’s 1997 report on Roswell, in which it tells us what happened. She looked for it vainly through her computer data base. “All it’s going to say,” she said, dismissively, “is that it didn’t happen.”
Moments later, as I was reading about a New York City burglar who blamed his illegal entry into a home on a spaceship hovering in the home’s living room, Rhodes said I should go outside and look at a UFO that had followed a couple visiting the museum from 80 miles away. She was dead serious. The UFO had followed them, then stopped when they’d parked near the museum. I went outside. The commotion was surreal. A dozen people were pointing skyward at a white object shining against the spotless blue sky from beneath the marquee of the UFO museum. Stars in their own fantasy, they looked through binoculars, took pictures, videotaped, gaped, asked each other what it could be. It was a weather balloon, but not to the hardy observers. “It looks exactly like a helicopter without any method of propulsion,” Rhodes said. She later analyzed the sighting from a tape. I’d always wanted to see my own personal UFO.
Now that I had, it was time to leave Roswell.
That evening, the UFO followed me, too. All the way to Carrizozo, where it stopped shining when the sun set. I was certain by then that it wasn’t a weather balloon. It was a spying device left behind by Sally and Micro Megas, those untrusting aliens, to make sure I was doing their work.
NEW MEXICO IN BRIEF
Total area: 121,598 sq. miles (rank: 5)
Population (1997): 1,729,751 (rank: 36)
State capital: Santa Fe
Economy: Government, services, trade, tourism.
Nickname & Motto: Land of Enchantment; It grows as it goes.
Entered union: Jan. 6, 1912 (47 th)
Notable facts: The New Mexico counterpoint to Roswell’s alien mania is the Very Large Array Radio Telescope (VLA) at Socorro, in the western part of the state. The 27 dish-shaped antennas, which can spread 20 miles and form an unintentional peace sign on the landscape, were featured in “Contact,” the movie based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name. The VLA doesn’t search for intelligent life in the universe. It is designed to study the way astral bodies from the sun to galaxies and gas clouds produce radio waves through the universe. The gleaned radio frequencies add insights to physical features captured by optical telescopes. VLA’s construction began in 1974 with $78.6 million from the National Science Foundation. It was completed in 1981.
New Mexico in quotes: “In the stark light of the military searchlights, Arnold saw the entire landscape of the crash. He thought it looked more like a crash landing because the craft was intact except for a split seam running lengthwise along the side and the steep forty-five-plus-degree angle of the craft’s incline. He assumed it was a craft, even though it was like no airplane he’d ever seen. It was small, but it looked more like the flying wing shape of an old Curtis than an ellipse or a saucer. And it had two tail fins on the top sides of the delta’s feet that pointed up and out. He angled himself as close to the split seam of the craft as he could get without stepping in front of the workers in hazardous material suits who were checking the site for radiation, and that was when he saw them in the shadow. Little dark gray figures—maybe four, four and a half feet in length—sprawled across the ground.”—From “The Day After Roswell,” by Philip J. Corso, with William Brines. The book was published in 1997 as non-fiction.
The Roswell Incident has generated at least a dozen books, most of them aiming for mass-market best-sellerdom rather than objective reporting. More serious attempts at addressing the UFO phenomenon include “Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs, and the Conference at M.I.T.,” by C.D.B. Bryan (Knopf, 1995), and Michael Crowe’s more historically minded “The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900” (Dover, 1999).
* International UFO Museum and Research Center: www.iufomrc.com
* National UFO Reporting Center: www.nwlink.com/~ufocntr/
* “The Roswell Report: Case Closed” (1997): www.af.mil/lib/roswell
* Committee for Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal: www.csicop.org
* New Mexico tourism: www.newmexico.org