There is a spaceship that looks like a flying saucer in Roswell. Thousands of motorists drive past it every day, and hundreds of people go inside. It’s on North Main Street in this southeastern New Mexico city, its metal skin gleaming as it basks in the glow of the sun. Its neon lighting burns into the retinas of those who view it throughout the evening, and it’s rather hard not to admire. After all, aside from its striking looks, who doesn’t fancy a burger every now and then? That’s right: This spacecraft is one of the city’s McDonald’s restaurants.
So why is the building shaped that way? It’s not that far from the site of a mysterious incident which took place in 1947 — the day when a rancher discovered debris scattered around his sheep pasture, prompting speculation that an unidentified flying object, or UFO, had crashed there.
In June, or possibly early July 1947, William Brazel had woken for a normal day’s work on the J.B. Foster ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Roswell, when he made a shocking discovery. He found on the ranch “a large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks,” Brazel said in an article published on July 8, 1947, in the Roswell Daily Record.
Brazel hadn’t heard of flying saucers — at least not yet. Sightings, however, were coming in thick and fast around that time. On June 24, pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to see nine unidentified objects “flying like a saucer would across water” near Mount Rainier, Washington. Arnold estimated that the objects were flying at around 1,200 miles per hour (1,930 kilometers per hour), Arnold was reported as saying in the East Oregonian, but at the time there were no known craft that could reach those speeds. The Air Force also said it had no new experimental planes or guided missiles that would fit such a description, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report. That story became front-page news, and the term “flying saucer was born, despite Arnold describing the flying objects as crescent-shape,” according to New Scientist.
The country soon became gripped, as Brazel discovered. By July 7, policemen and astronomers were reportedly being harassed for further reports, this time by people from New York and other eastern states, and that was the day Brazel decided to take action. He hand-delivered a box of accumulated debris, which he’d gathered with the help of his wife and two children, to Sheriff George Wilcox of Roswell, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
All About Space
By now there was talk of a reward for anyone who recovered one of these unidentified flying objects. In the Roswell Daily Chronicle, Brazel is stated to have “whispered kinda confidential-like” that his find may be one of the flying disks, so an equally intrigued Wilcox contacted Colonel William Blanchard, the commanding officer of the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF), who sent agents to the site to gather the remaining material.
What happened next would cement the idea that the debris was the remnants of an alien spacecraft. According to David Clarke’s book “The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real-Life Sightings”, published by Bloomsbury in 2012, the RAAF’s public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release on July 8: “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disk through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County”.
This was reported in the Roswell Daily Record along with the news that Major Jesse A. Marcel was the group intelligence officer dispatched to the scene. He’d gone with Counter Intelligence Corps officer Sheridan Cavitt, but on his way back took a detour to his own home, whipped out a couple of boxes of debris that he’d popped into the boot of his car and showed it to his 10-year-old son, Jesse Jr. One of the objects was said to have hieroglyphic-like markings, something that stuck in the mind of the young boy, according to a report in The Guardian.
But just as quickly as excitement of the find gathered pace, the Army took swift action in debunking the story. The very next day, shortly after government scientists began to arrive at the scene, it was claimed that the debris was actually from a crashed weather balloon, and Marcel was asked to be pictured at a press conference with the debris allegedly found. And that was that, case closed — or so everyone thought.
But interest began to grow again. In 1978, Nuclear physicist, author and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman interviewed Marcel, who said that the discovery made 31 years earlier was not from this world, and that the government had ordered him to keep quiet. Friedman revisited the incident and sought other witnesses, and his work inspired Charles Berlitz and William Moore to write “The Roswell Incident“, published in 1980. Their conclusion was simple: there had been a huge cover-up.
The flying saucer conspiracy begins
Other things were happening in the world at the time. Notably, the sci-fi films “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” had just been released, and — as reported by The Times — studies since have suggested that sightings and belief in UFOs rise when popular films and TV shows make their debut. Nevertheless, testimonies about that day in 1947 were forthcoming, and they continued to come for many years.
Glenn Dennis called a hotline shortly after an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” featuring the Roswell incident aired in 1989. He suggested that a friend who worked as a nurse at the Roswell Army Air Field saw three alien bodies, according to TIME Magazine. But the real bombshell moment came in 1994. Could it be that the debris really was from an alien craft?
According to the U.S. Air Force, no. The weather balloon story was not true, but it wasn’t to hide the fact that little green men had visited Earth. The wreckage was actually that of a classified project that flew microphones on high-altitude balloons so that sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests could be detected. Called Project Mogul, it was said to have run between 1947 and 1949. What’s more, the balloons were claimed to have been made up of unusual material — the type that could easily be confused for a UFO. So, case closed? Not at all.
“The ever-changing accounts gave rise to uncertainty,” Kenneth Drinkwater, senior lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, U.K., who specialises in the anomalous and paranormal, said via email. “The first message that went out was unclear. Then they changed the message, and it led to suspicion that something was going on and being covered up. It gives rise to a feeling that something is being hidden from the general population, leading to speculation of possible conspiracy and possibly alien technology.”
It’s why the Roswell files remain open in the eyes of many, and investigators put great value on the testimonies of those who were there, many of them respected military…