How Roswell, New Mexico Gained Its Alien Reputation

The CW's new series Roswell, New Mexico has an extraterrestrial romance at its heart and nods to real UFO lore.

This article is presented by Roswell, New Mexico.

Attractive humanoid aliens will soon be embroiled in romance and adventure on The CW’s new series Roswell, New Mexico. In an early scene from the show’s new trailer, a Jeep drives under a sign in the desert that reads “Foster Ranch” just before an object from the air crashes into the ground causing a huge explosion. But what is the Foster Ranch, and how did Roswell get its alien reputation in the first place? 

We’re glad you asked! We’re here to tell you all about the “real” alien history of Roswell, and there’s two ways to do it. You can watch our mini-documentary for some quick facts, or keep scrolling and read the article for more in-depth knowledge.

Roswell, New Mexico is a desert town about 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque. It is the fifth largest town in New Mexico, but much more provincial than Santa Fe, another well-known New Mexico destination similar in size. While visitors from around the world flock to Santa Fe to experience Southwestern art and culture, tourists seek out Roswell for a different reason: aliens.

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Although the alleged crash of an alien spacecraft outside of Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 is the most famous UFO or alien related incident, few knew about it before the first book on the topic, The Roswell Incident, was published in 1980. By July 1997, the 50th anniversary of the crash, the U.S. Air Force had released two separate reports on the Roswell incident (1995 report, 1997 report), and it was featured on the cover of Time magazine. The story of aliens at Roswell had reached the farthest corners of planet Earth.

The incident described by the Air Force began on the Foster ranch about 30 miles outside of Roswell. Ranch foreman Bill “Mack” Brazel claims to have come across odd-looking debris in the field some time in June or early July 1947. He and his son examined the debris but didn’t pay it much attention until Brazel heard stories of mysterious flying discs spotted in the skies elsewhere in the U.S. The most famous of these sightings took place on June 24, 1947, when businessman and amateur pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted several objects described by the press as “flying saucers” — the first use of the term — while flying near Mount Rainier, Washington. Arnold’s sighting made headlines and eventually prompted the United States military to begin official investigations into sightings of unidentified objects in the skies.

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Brazel thought the debris he found might be one of these flying saucers and reported it to Chaves County Sheriff George Wilcox. Wilcox then reported Brazel’s discovery to the Roswell Army Airfield (RAAF), home of the 509th Bomb Group, at the time, the only team responsible for dropping the atom bomb.

The RAAF sent intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel and counterintelligence corps officer Captain Sheridan Cavitt to meet with Brazel and drive out to the Foster ranch and take a look at the debris. The next day, July 8, the RAAF sent out a press release claiming, according to the Roswell Daily Record, that they had “come into possession of a flying saucer.” That day the Roswell Daily Record front page headline read: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”

The next day, the Roswell Daily Record’s headline read: “Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer.” The subheadings read: “Ramey Says Excitement Is Not Justified,” and “General Ramey Says Disk Is Weather Balloon.” The same day, Ramey held a press conference at his office in Fort Worth, Texas with Marcel in which they posed with debris from a weather balloon. With that, as quickly as the story began, it went away.

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The Arnold sighing in Washington had inspired the creation of U.S. Air Force Project Sign, the first official investigation into “flying saucers.” It was followed by Project Grudge, and then finally Project Blue Book. The U.S. Air Force investigated the UFO phenomenon from 1948 to 1969, but nowhere in their files will you find mention of the crash outside of Roswell. Nor will you see it in UFO books of the time. Soon after it occurred, the story was lost to obscurity.

Then, in the late 1970s, UFO researcher and nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman was given a tip. A retired Air Force intelligence officer said he had been part of the recovery of a flying saucer. That officer was Marcel. Friedman interviewed Marcel who confirmed that he had seen the debris recovered in Roswell and that it was no weather balloon. He claimed the material had properties beyond that which would have been possible to create at the time and also claimed the debris he showed Ramey had been replaced by weather balloon material for the press conference and photo shoot.

In a 1980 interview on the television series In Search Of…, Marcel said General Ramey told the press, “forget about it. It was nothing more than a weather observation balloon. Of course, which we both knew differently.”

“It was not anything from this Earth,” Marcel said. “I am quite sure of, because being in intelligence I was familiar with just about all materials used in aircraft and/or air travel. This was nothing like that.”

Marcel claimed he was told to go with the weather balloon cover story and he followed orders. However, decades later he was concerned the Air Force had not shared the truth with the public.

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Over the next few years, Friedman, along with his research partner William Moore, interviewed many more witnesses. Some of them claimed they also believed the material could not have been from a weather balloon. In 1980, Moore wrote a book with author Charles Berlitz titled The Roswell Incident suggesting a major cover-up of a crashed extraterrestrial vehicle. The book was a hit, and along with Marcel’s appearance on In Search Of… the legend of the alien spaceship crash at Roswell grew.

Due to the popularity of the Roswell incident, the U.S. Air Force released an official report in 1995 on the event that backs up one of Marcell’s claims. It confirms the materials Marcel provided were not that of a standard weather balloon like those in the press photos. However, it claimed the debris Marcel examined was part of a secret program called Project Mogul. This project used atmospheric balloons to float listening devices into the atmosphere to monitor Russian nuclear tests.

The first witness account of alien bodies did not come until 1989. Roswell resident Glenn Dennis claimed that while working at a local funeral home at the time of the alleged crash, the RAAF had requested several child-sized caskets. He told his story for the first time to Friedman, but his account was first made public in the book UFO Crash at Roswell published in 1991.

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He also claimed to have had a conversation with a nurse from RAAF who told him she had been present at the autopsies of extraterrestrial beings recovered from the crashed saucer. Dennis said he had promised never to share her name. He says the nurse disappeared soon after sharing the story with him.

The aliens she described were not attractive young adults, but they were, more or less, shaped like humans with spindly arms and legs and large heads.

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“She drew me a diagram of the bodies,” Dennis claimed in a signed affidavit. “…including an arm with a hand that had only four fingers; the doctors noted that on the end of the fingers were little pads resembling suction cups. She said the head was disproportionately large for the body; the eyes were deeply set; the skulls were flexible; the nose was concave with only two orifices; the mouth was a fine slit, and the doctors said there was heavy cartilage instead of teeth. The ears were only small orifices with flaps. They had no hair, and the skin was black–perhaps due to exposure in the sun.”

Dennis’ story has been called into question after he gave the name of the alleged RAAF nurse to researchers and later admitted the name was made up. He claimed he gave a false name because of his promise not to share her real name. Another reason skeptics doubt Dennis’ claims that he did not come forward until decades after the fact, and years after the Roswell incident was popularized. According to researchers Thom Carey and Dom Schmitt, several of his friends have come forward to say Dennis did share his story about the child-sized caskets soon after the Roswell incident occurred, although some claimed they thought he was joking. Carey and Schmitt included their accounts in the 2009 book Witness to Roswell.

Since then others have claimed to have seen aliens at Roswell, and there was even a famous video of the alleged autopsy of the Roswell aliens. However, the video was debunked, and the creators have admitted to having been paid to create the fake autopsy.

The most credible witness to claim aliens had crashed at Roswell was retired Army Colonel Philip Corso. He was a decorated officer with a long list of achievements in World War II. In his book, The Day After Roswell, published soon before his death, Corso claimed that in 1961, while serving as chief of the foreign technology department he was tasked with handling materials retrieved from the Roswell crash.

“I came into possession of what I refer to as the ‘Roswell File,’” Corso said. “This file contained field reports, medical autopsy reports and technological debris from the crash of an extraterrestrial vehicle in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.”

He says he farmed the material out to tech companies with U.S. Army contracts which went on to use the debris to develop technologies such as kevlar, night-vision, fiber optics, and computer chips, among others.

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The companies Corso claims to have given the material to argue that the development of these technologies is well documented and do not include the use of extraterrestrial materials. Skeptics also point out that many of the witnesses to the alleged alien bodies only came forward after the Roswell incident was famous.

Whether or not aliens really crash landed in Roswell remains up for debate, but decades later the idea continues to inspire pop-culture and our ideas and dialogue regarding the potential for the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations. In a more cynical view, it can even be seen as enforcing trust issues between U.S. citizens and our government. It is a heavy burden for a small town in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Although, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for their unsought fame. If it wasn’t for the aliens, Roswell’s fame would be tied to being one of the first homes of the planes tasked with dropping the deadliest weapon known to humankind. Personally, I’d rather be known for aliens.