First Contact? A Brief History of the Roswell Incident

1947 is a year long remembered. On June 24th of that year, experience pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine silvery “flying saucers” over Washington’s Mount St. Rainier while on a routine flight. The American government, brisling at the phrase, and the growing notion that extraterrestrials had penetrated Its airspace, countered with a nebulous, albeit “official” term: Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFO’s, while scientists and psychologists put forth the conclusion that “lights in the sky” were actually “tricks of the mind”. Meanwhile, movie-makers and science fiction writers scurried to overcome the idea that aliens were friendly and intelligent, by creating images and tales that pitched alien intellect against human ingenuity and will.

From June through October of ’47, accounts of UFO’s appeared in great number throughout North America and, subsequently, in newspaper reports worldwide. Most memorable of these: The Roswell incident – the purported crash of a flying saucer and its occupants on ranch land situated just northwest of the military town. The event, likened to “an explosion louder than thunder”, was witnessed by two nuns on duty at St. Mary’s Hospital; a couple enjoying a romantic summer rendezvous, and Foster ranch foreman Mae Brazel, among others. The following day, Brazel hauled recovered debris to Roswell Army Airfield. There, he was interrogated while the military released statements to the media boasting the retrieval of a flying saucer. About the time the statement was retracted, with the explanation that what Brazel had found was a downed weather balloon, Brazel and others were threatened by the military to keep fast their curious experiences. Accustomed to not questioning their government, and the ground devoid of evidence to the contrary of the military’s revised claim, most folks voluntarily assumed a gag stance and went about their daily affairs.

By 1970, however, the incident was revisited by UFO investigators newly armed by the Freedom of Information Act, and the myth and mystery of the “Roswell Incident” was born. In the early ’90s, the incident was featured on the popular investigative television series Unsolved Mysteries. This program lead authors Donald Schmitt and Kevin Randle to begin the most intensive investigation to date – one which culminated in the best-selling book The UFO Crash at Roswell (1991). Hollywood, bolstered by the revised interest in aliens, followed with the production of ShowTime’s 1994 original “Roswell”. Soon thereafter, major networks and cable channels also dedicated programming to the ongoing mystery. Eventually, the documentary-type films were transmogrified and a new genre of “They Came From Mars” type films were born, most notably: Independence Day and Men In Black.

Simultaneous to the alien images and virtual realities being advanced by the media and special effects firms, was the growing public demand for the Roswell experience. Thus, Roswell UFO Encounters (a grassroots festival) was conceived in 1995. Evolving within its original framework, the festival boldly continues to this day as the annual event of true believers and skeptics alike.