Could this be one of the unfortunates recovered near Roswell?
Fifty-five years ago, Mac Brazel drove his rusty pickup down to the county seat of Roswell, New Mexico, to inform authorities that something or another had crashed and scattered metallic debris across his ranch land. Figuring whatever it was must've come from the nearby army air field, officers accompanied him back to the ranch and what they witnessed in the desert has, in the decades since, mushroomed to become the biggest, most widely accepted event in UFO lore.
Having always been intrigued by the mysteries of flying saucers, cryptozoology and the paranormal in general, I was especially fortunate as a fringe cinema critic to encounter a brilliant little docu-comedy called Six Days In Roswell. The movie follows Rich Kronfeld's strange adventure to ufology's Graceland during the 50th anniversary celebration of an alleged saucer crash. My inner-geekdom really identified with Rich and his journey made the siren's call of the Roswell UFO Festival (July 4-7, 2002) just that much louder, so I decided to make my own pilgrimage, both to bask in unbridled alien mania and pay tribute to a danged hilarious flick.
Arrival: It's Independence Day, and up and down Main Street are red, white and blue flags that seem a bit brighter this year. Folks are lined up two and three deep at Amy's Fireworks stand. No doubt nearly identical scenes are playing out all over our nation, except chances are mighty slim, there's a mock grave for a grinning green alien down the block. Across the street, at the Civic Center, another not-so-typical event is unfolding. Retirees in bright red coats are lined up, each gingerly grasping a wide ribbon, that when cut by the reigning Miss New Mexico Hispanic Teen, will signify the official start of the Roswell UFO Festival. Lt. Walter G. Haut is here. Way back when, he wrote the official military press release announcing the recovery of a crashed flying saucer. Well, y'all know how THAT turned out. Haut nods cordially when acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of the celebration and the International UFO Museum. Then all the pomp is over with just one snip of some giant novelty scissors and a half-dozen camera flashes later.
Martian Market: About two dozen vendors of all stripes are scattered comfortably throughout the modest convention hall. Native American musician Douglas Bluefeather provides a shopping soundtrack of soaring flute melodies punctuated by bizarre tales of the ongoing relationship between native people and "star people" who "sometimes take you up in dream time for a little higher education." The Roswell Daily Record published one of the most famous headlines in journalism history and they're happy to sell you a full-size reproduction of that front page for a couple bucks. Get the headline emblazoned on a coffee mug along with a stuffed alien "newspaper carrier" for just $10. While across the way, Alien AttraXtion, out of Santa Fe, has the widest AND wildest selection of alien goodies. From pricey items like the eerily Real Alien bust ($50) to vials of DIRT from the crash site ($3). But bargain hunters like myself can't pass up their competition's FREE "space cookies." Others peddle merchandise with promotions tenuously tied to the fest's otherworldy theme. Alien dolls swirl along side a rubber duck in what I'm told is the astonishingly affordable Softub. A perky blonde from Plateau Wireless hands out bumper stickers featuring an E.T. with a CELLPHONE next to the slogan "Our customers think we're out of this world!" While the titles at G-R Books read like late-night installments of Art Bell's Coast-to-Coast AM: "Space Aliens From the Pentagon," "Vatican Assassins," "A Message From Our Space Brothers Via Short-Wave Radio," "Blindsided: Planet X Passes in 2003," "Incredible Cities of Inner Earth" and more. But it's not ALL commerce. Representatives of Allies of Humanity are here to spread "an urgent message about the extraterrestrial presence in the world today." And the Raelians kindly extended a personal invitation to attend their upcoming lecture on how extraterrestrials created all life on Earth. Wouldn't miss it.
Outside, just as many merchants line the sidewalks, with weather-balloon thin canopies offering the only shade from the desert sun. Hippies hock tie-dye while the scent of roasted corn and hotdogs mingle in the air. Youngsters race speedy remote-control ships around an interstellar circuit in a bid for universal acclaim, at least until one of the operators has to right an overturned craft by clumsily jabbing at it with an aluminum pole. Throughout the afternoon crowds mill throughout the booths, but consistently rubberneck when The Monster Bus roars into action across the street, kicking up dust as its enormous wheels cut donuts and figure eights in an empty lot, providing all the LEGAL thrills five bucks can get you in this small town.
The Coachmen: It's parked in a different spot. But the yard and house look exactly the same. In Six Days in Roswell, Rich discovers every motel is booked to capacity. However, a local named Norm Mathison agrees to rent his Winnebago, er, Coachmen if Rich doesn't mind bunking with Norm's dogs and doing odd jobs. Standing at the gate, just as Rich did, I wonder if I should just walk in and knock on the door. There's a car parked in the garage with the trunk open. A case of Keystone beer is visible. I lift the gate latch, head for the door, knock and wait for an answer. I knock again. Louder this time. Then a lump forms in my throat when Norm comes to the door, "Mr. Mathison, this is going to sound awful strange, but I wondered if it'd be alright if I took a picture with The Coachmen." A bit of a curmudgeon, he looks at me as though I'm from Mars. Pressing the DVD toward him, I stammer into an explanation as he cautiously agrees. "Thank you, sir! But, if it's not too much trouble, can you be IN the picture with me?!" Then HE stammers briefly, but graciously agrees. While scrambling to set up my camera, I babble about the weather, then with the timer set, I join Mr. Mathison and, of course, The Coachmen for my memento. Afterward, he shrugs off my profuse thanks, "No trouble at all! Have a good time." Meeting Norm and seeing Rich's four-wheeled home away from home were the truly euphoric highlights of my geekafied Roswell experience.
International UFO Museum and Research Center: Like most small towns, the shopping mall and Wal-Mart sucked most of the bustle out of downtown until Roswell smartly embraced its extraterrestrial past. Now once empty storefronts overflow with E.T. everything. Cornerstone of it all is an old movie house converted into the world's foremost center for UFO information and study. Its walls are filled with detailed exhibits examining different aspects of the "Roswell Incident" and beyond. Radio broadcasts from 1947 repeat the sensational story. Many of the "weather balloon" and "test dummy" counter stories are prominently featured, leaving any conclusions solely up to the viewer. Hours can easily be spent poring through the neatly organized photos, dioramas, murals and texts, or just a quick buzz through the highlights may do for many. Like most museums, there's even a recorded docent's guide through each exhibit. A gallery of UFO-themed artwork lines the wall facing, gulp, an actual alien corpse. Well, at least according to Penthouse. In reality, the skinny gray guy, on a hospital gurney behind glass, is from the made-for-Showtime movie aptly named Roswell. "Is it REAL, mommy?!," a little girl asks. "It could be," she's told while prodded toward the pandemonium of commerce otherwise known as the Gift Shop. I'm also on my way, but can't quite tear myself away from the collection of editorial cartoons that, surprisingly, split fairly evenly between lampooning both the government AND believers. Although having perused the Gift Shop's video aisle, I'm sorry to report they've yet to embrace DVD. The Six Days In Roswell special edition disc certainly shouldn't be missed!
George D. Fawcett: This guy knows his blurry photos. He can spot a flung pie pan or hub cap with one eye closed. Seventy-three-year-old Fawcett ought to, because he's been investigating flying whatzits since 1944, when as a Boy Scout he read a short newspaper article about silver craft spotted over Germany. From his research of more than 2,000 cases in the North Carolina area and well beyond, he's arrived at the following conclusions: UFOs are real. UFOs are not natural phenomena. UFOs are not conventional objects (planes, blimps). UFOs are unconventional objects with a high degree of technology. Also, he asserts, UFOs are the same all over the world. They tend to be about 30 feet wide, are piloted by beings about four feet tall who are friendly, for the most part, unless provoked. Fawcett's presentation, replete with slide after slide of bright blurs in the sky and charred circular landing patterns, was exactly what the enthusiastic crowd came to see. In the end, he expressed regret he may not see the day of "full disclosure," as he called it, but is certain it'll come. Concluding coyly, "I'm not a believer. I'm a non-skeptic."
Roswell Army Air Field: It became Walker Air Force Base two years after the flying saucer flap. In 1967, the military vacated all together leaving what would eventually be developed into an industrial air center. At either end of the north side of the base are literally hundreds of cookie cutter homes built for its personnel. I'm winding down road after road looking for a specific house. In Six Days, Rich had a funny bit where he went looking for Demi Moore's place, as she's a celeb who hails from Roswell. Now, it seems 90 percent of the properties have been redeveloped into low-income homes. I'm hunting a 70-something house number, but nothing matches up. Residents are giving me long stares while I slowly cruise around, when just as I'm about to give up, I spot three or four dilapidated houses in a row that appear unoccupied. "That one's close enough," I figure. I set up my camera inside the car, hoping to bolt out, snap the shot and get out of there. And that's what I did. But as it turns out, I'd miraculously HAPPENED to stop in front of number 27, the EXACT door Rich knocked on looking for Demi. Like, cosmic, dude.
Before leaving Walker, I decide to also try to hunt down the infamous Hangar 84 where legend has it the Roswell wreckage and bodies were stored before shipment to their new digs at the even MORE infamous Hanger 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (by way of Fort Worth, of course). Though still surrounded by security fences, it proves easy enough to find. But I made THIS startling discovery across the street.
Jim Moseley: Cold, hard cash is the only real difference between "adventurer" and "bum." Fortunately, when Moseley opted to drop out of Princeton and pursue writing a book on UFOs, he'd recently come into a healthy inheritance. Problem is, it took him 50 years to find a publisher for Shockingly Close to the Truth: Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist. Dressed in an ill-fitting ballcap and grimy T-shirt, he sorta looks like he's wandered in off the street. However, his wicked sense of irony wins me over when he explains his "Roswell? Yes!" ensemble was requested by Robert J. Durant, a fellow investigator Moseley completely disagrees with, but was unable to attend. (Incidently, I've since learned Durant's 97-minute video is allegedly available on DVD). Moseley's lecture on the dawn of modern ufology and the motivations of ufologists themselves is peppered with wry, sarcastic remarks that set some of the faithful in attendance on edge. But after all, he IS the Editor (and Supreme Commander) of Saucer Smear, which dates back to about 1954. "You always enjoy research more if you feel that you're going to learn something so dreadful that people will come and try to hush you up," Moseley explains. "Everybody seems to enjoy a little paranoia. And I can assure you, there's always been a good dose of paranoia in the UFO field." Some of his conclusions after a lifetime of study include: UFOs aren't space ships. So-called aliens look like us, act like us and have our own "hang-ups about sex." There's an interrelationship between UFOs and the paranormal. Scientific naysayers are unreasonable and wrong. Most things can be explained, but some cannot. Finally, before having his cynicism sniped at during the Q&A portion of the lecture, Moseley admonished the audience to "Keep your eye on the sky!" Oh, and buy his book.
Electric Light UFO Parade: Motorcycle cops whiz up and down Main Street, clearing the way for tonight's otherworldly procession. I've staked my roadside claim near the former location of Shear Encounters II where Rich got his green UFO 'do. A bright spectacle indeed, but no match for the Shriners on scooters buzzing circles in front of the tittering crowds that've lined either side of 10 city blocks. There's even a ramp leading onto the "Shrine Alien Patrol" float allowing the scooters to zip on and off at will. But not unlike actual UFOs, these weird, glowing vehicles prove frustratingly difficult to capture on film. Costumed space aliens on roller skates draw applause, but the hula-dancin' Martian babes are among the biggest crowd pleasers. Soon all the blinking lights, homemade saucers and bizarre scenes have passed into the night. Such as the rolling mini-drama of a screeching woman delivering an alien baby while flanked by MIBs. I'm not sure whether they earned either of the trophies or the $450 that was to be distributed among the top three entrants. But there's no doubt they deserve a prize for horrifying the most kiddos.
Alien Chase: I get up extra early to make the most of my last day here in Roswell. Despite the threatening rain, hundreds of my fellow revelers have donned antenna for the 8th annual Alien Chase. Just ahead, poised to evade our pursuit, is a runner painted silver head-to-Reeboks who darts away when the 7 a.m. starter pistol fires. Runners bolt after 'em en mass, while I and the other half of the group who entered as walkers, begin our 5 and 10K strolls. A certain sense of pride wells within me, as I realize that if ALL of the hundred or so folks ahead of me were to suddenly pull a hamstring or trip over their shoelaces, I may well be the one to CATCH that rascal! Our course takes us down the Spring River Corridor Trail, most of which is actually a concrete drainage culvert that serves as a bike path much of the year, given what little rain Roswell sees. It's a relaxing jaunt made more amusing by costumed entrants and a general sense of communal foolishness. But just as I begin to wonder if my 5K turn will EVER come, something unexpected occurs. As I stride from the culvert and into the park, I see good ol' Norm Mathison out walking his dog! I throw up my hand to wave and when he waves back, well, I'm certain that was the difference maker in my second place WIN among men 19 to 29 who got up really, really early on a Saturday morning to WALK a 5K race! I deeply cherish my saucer trophy and dedicate it to the memories of my interplanetary brothers who tragically lost their lives.
Costume Contest: The Roswell Museum & Art Center sponsors this annual spectacle, which continues to prove one of the festival's most attended events -- with security having to turn onlookers away from the crowded hall this year. Being a member of the leering press, I was able to whine my way into a spot on the FLOOR, but it was worth it. Tinky Winky and Laa-Laa nabbed CineSchlock-O-Rama's top prize for Most Subversive Costume Concept. While in the official proceedings, Ann of Greenville, South Carolina and Alan of Houston took 3rd place in the "Scariest Alien" category thanks in part to their bubbly antics and giggly proclamations like, "First we turn children into zombies! Then our conquest of Earth will be completed!" But the youngsters, naturally, always steal the show. There was Fuzbee from the planet Fuzz Buzz whose twirling hat was said to be used for communication with her space craft. Seven-year-old Ceana and her mom made her "Best Alien of 2002"-winning costume from plastic canvas, faux fur and lazy Susans. While young Anton entered the junior "Scariest Alien" division as a 15-eye'd critter who came in "peace and love from the planet Eyelore" and left with the prize for "Most Likely to Succeed in Space." Co-hosting the contest was the fest's celebrated special guest Dee Wallace Stone who tangled with inbred cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes and an ill-tempered Saint Benard named Cujo. To this crowd, the gregarious gal is simply "Elliot's Mom." Oh, and just to tap that base, she swears the upcoming E.T. release is "The best DVD I've ever done!"
The Raelians: It's almost 1 p.m. and the UFO Museum's lecture stage is empty. Outside, security is shooing the Raelian who'd invited me and hundreds of others to a free video introduction to their movement at the museum. Seems they ain't welcome. Where they ARE welcome is across the street at the Alien Resistance HQ, which proudly proclaims its mission as Roswell's only source for "Biblical perspectives on UFOs and abductions." So it's worth applauding that the Raelians, considered a "UFO cult" by evangelical and former abductee Guy Malone, are welcomed to candidly share their philosophy before an attentive, yet skeptical audience. Anyway, it turns out ALIENS scientifically manufactured all life on Earth! I know, it came as a shock to me also. In 1973, French motor-racing scribe Claude Vorlihon, now succinctly "Rael" to his 55,000 brethren worldwide, encountered the "Elohim" aboard a UFO who explained there was a HUGE misunderstanding thousands of years ago when we dim humans mistook these creation-obsessed extraterrestrials for GODS and erroneously based our major religions on them. What's more, they've decided we've smartified sufficiently to commune with them, but first, "our parents from space" need us to build an "embassy" as close to, wouldn't you know it, JERUSALEM as possible. Apparently, being well-mannered types, the Elohim just think it'd be bad form to park their interplanetary cruisers any old place.
The Raelian rep on hand didn't dwell too much on the embassy stuff, instead choosing to focus on his own conversion to this philosophy where "science replaces religion." The promised video portion was actually clips gleaned from documentaries about ancient saucer sightings (including UFOs: Above and Beyond reviewed in part two of this report), followed by a creepy Raelian-produced reel hosted by a hypno-chick who reiterated their basic tenants, complete with a crude reenactment of Rael's first close encounter. During the lively question and answer period, the aspect of Rael's creation of Clonaid, the world's first human cloning company, became a hot topic as the Raelians intend to pursue the technology as a means to eternal life, despite legal and ethical woes. Above all, though, the group's spokesman stressed tolerance of all ideas and faiths. I agree. No matter how kooky they are.
Crash Site: Foolishly, I've saved my pilgrimage to the Roswell Crash Site for the last day. My calls to the fella who owns the land, Hubb Corn, have gone unanswered, so I figure he's busy showing off the spot. Twenty miles or so north of town I spy the metal "UFO Crash Site" sign and turn off the highway. The sign's been repainted, with no mention of tours, just an address for the UFO Museum downtown. I decide to venture down the county road anyway. Road isn't exactly the right term. My Honda Civic bumps and rattles down this glorified dirt trail off to literally nowhere. At either side, a bewildered cow ocassionally peers through the scrub brush. The site's supposed to be about four miles down this way, then a turn and another four miles onto Corn's property where stone pillars mark the entrance. Rumbling deeper into the desert, I'm startled by what I see ahead. A pitch black curtain moving across the sky. Lightening bolts like none I'd ever seen zigzag as they crash toward the ground. "Uh oh," I groan. "Maybe I can make it in time." Then it occurs to me, this is EXACTLY how most every horror picture I'd ever seen starts. Some naive yahoo wanders off the main road, gets himself stranded and ends up getting PROBED by rednecks, in this case, maybe aliens. So after another half mile, I find a spot wide enough to turn around and even STILL it ain't easy. Then, in the nick of time, a toad-strangler that'd make Noah proud nipped at my bumper just as I found my way back onto HWY 285.
I'd be more disappointed if Corn's crash site weren't among at least a HALF-DOZEN that must've pock marked the entire desert back in '47 if no one's fibbing. This one just happened to be "discovered" in time for the 50th anniversary celebration, and within busing distance of the UFO Museum, no less. Only Corn didn't want to sell the property to the museum, instead opting to earn himself 15 bucks a head off folks who'd been trespassing until then. Clearly, a bright fella. The pervading opinion is that if there really IS a crash site, it'd have to have been on Mac Brazel's spread, seeing how he's the guy who started all this to begin with. That's actually closer to Albuquerque, on the Plains of San Agustin, near Corona, 200 miles west of Roswell. So, find yourself a clump of rocks in the desert, and there's a fair chance you'll earn some steady scratch.
Stanton Friedman: He's the Elvis of ufology. The go-to guy when media types want an EXPERT on the field, especially one who can talk in neat soundbites like "Cosmic Watergate" and hold up stacks of blacked-out government documents on UFOs obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The former nuclear physicist is also largely responsible for adding Roswell into the lexicon with his first investigation of the incident. Although he's never seen a UFO for himself, "I've never been to Tokyo either, but it is there!" Tonight, he's drawn the largest crowd the UFO Museum's seen for any of its lectures. And the place has been hopping! More than 8,000 toured the facility in just the last three days. Friedman doesn't give a speech, he holds court, with wit, the gift of gab and 44 years of meticulous research to back up every glib word. His major conclusions: Evidence is overwhelming that Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled extraterrestrial space craft. Our major governments have known for more than 50 years that SOME reported UFOs are alien space craft. None of the objections to the previous assertions by "nasty, noisy negativists" stand up under careful scrutiny. Finally, this is the BIGGEST story of the millennium. "I'm convinced the United States government recovered two crashed flying saucers and several alien bodies in the New Mexico desert," Friedman said confidently. "I'm further convinced, that the original Majestic 12 documents are indeed genuine and the most important classified government documents ever leaked to the American public." Then the bulk of his lecture segued into a spirited, highly-entertaining quote-by-quote survey titled "Debunking the Debunkers." Again, Stanton's the grand pooh-bah of ufology and provided an excellent conclusion to my Roswell odyssey. As Jim Moseley snarkily described Friedman's first emergence on the ufology scene, "He had a master's degree and he had a beard. When you have a beard, you don't know HOW MUCH authority that gives you!" Too true, and he's a heckuva entertaining guy.
I've had a really good time in Roswell. Maybe the alien mania's faded a few shades in five years, but I've met a lot of really interesting people. Seen a lot of zany things. Things I know I'd never have seen if not for Six Days In Roswell. I think Rich would be proud of me.