The Roswell Incident—the alleged government cover-up of the recovery of a crashed flying saucer and the bodies of its crew at a site near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947—has achieved worldwide notoriety as the strongest "proof" of extra-terrestrial visitation.
On June 14, 1947, William "Mac" Brazel discovered a sizable amount of debris on the ranch he operated some 75 miles north of the town of Roswell. The material included a tangle of rubber strips, paper, sticks, and tinfoil. Brazel reported his findings to local authorities, which occasioned a minor cause célèbre in the town of Roswell.
The police ultimately referred the matter to the nearby Army Air Field. Base office collected the debris from Brazel and shipped it to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where, after much analysis, it was determined to be the wreckage of a weather balloon. The public accepted the story, and the case was closed for some 40 years. In 1979, Jesse A. Marcel, a former base intelligence officer at Roswell Army Air Field, resurrected the episode in an interview with the National Enquirer. Marcel claimed that the wreckage at Roswell had not been of this Earth: it had borne strange alien pictorial markings and it could be neither dented nor burned. A number of civilian witnesses stepped forward to say that they had seen alien bodies among the wreckage. UFOlogists Charles Moore and Stanton Friedman compiled these statements and, in 1980, with the help of well-known occult writer Charles Berlitz, published The Roswell Incident, which charged the government with conspiring to withhold the evidence of this alien visitation from the public.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Roswell Incident came to represent the foundation of faith in the UFO phenomenon for a growing community in the United States; Roswell offered the only known UFO case that involved physical evidence of any sort, and believers considered the incident a validation of their years of belief. A number of books published in the last two decades of the twentieth century explored further the government "cover-up," and thousands of letters poured into Congress, demanding that the "truth" be revealed. Filmmakers and television producers capitalized on Roswell mania. The hit film Independence Day (1996) re-figured the Roswell tale for its narrative, and the popular television series The X-Files routinely dealt with government conspiracies connected with alien visitations.
On July 5, 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of the government's seizure of the wreckage, nearly 40,000 people flocked to Roswell to pay homage to the crash site. They were undeterred by a 231-page government report, published one month earlier, that again asserted there was no crashed flying saucer, no alien bodies, and no cover-up associated with the episode.
Berlitz, Charles, and William L. Moore. The Roswell Incident. New York, Grosset and Dunlap, 1980.
Peebles, Curtis. Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
Saler, Benson, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore. UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth. Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.