The International UFO Museum and Research Center used to look like this in 1988.
The above is not my photo. The picture is one from Don Lewis' Flickr photostream of Vanishing Movie Theaters. The museum was originally a movie theater, the Plains. It opened in 1947, the very same year of the supposed Roswell crash, and closed in the 70s. In 1947, that theater's seats were filled with people whose heads would have been buzzing about the supposed UFO debris that was bringing their community so much notoriety. From the 1988 photo, that downtown Roswell had fallen on hard times isn't unreasonable to assume. The derelict theater, two of its marquees advertising paint rather than movies, is a ragged, sad reminder of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the surrounding establishments look none too happy as they vacantly reflect on what the 1980s hath wrought.
Then, in 1990, Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis dreamed up the UFO museum, three years after the publication of Whitley Strieber's wildly successful "visitors" book, Communion, both the hardcover and paperback editions of which were number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.
In 1989, Strieber's Majestic, about the Roswell incident, was published. Had Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis not conceived of the idea of a UFO museum in 1990, we should all wonder why not. Majestic, in combination with the proof books about alien visitations could be best-sellers, was tantamount to an Otherworldly Virgin riding in on a cloud over the desert, wafting rose incense down upon Roswell (presumably mixed with ethereal oils), and saying, "Here is where you shall construct my cathedral. Build it, and they will come." It's always sad when an old theater dies, but if it has to die, I suppose one can be thankful that a museum was the result and that the seats of the theater were removed, rather than having kneeling benches added and missals composed of extracts from Communion. But I imagine Strieber wouldn't have been too thrilled had they called him to officiate over the wine and wafer at the Plains' next incarnation.
But who are Walter Haut and Glenn Dennis, in case you don't know?
Walter Haut (1922-2005) was an army bombardier who was stationed at the Roswell Army Air Field in 1947 as a public information officer. Originally, he wasn't presented as a witness of the Roswell incident, his involvement only that of the public information officer who was told what to write about it. By 2000, however, he was claiming to have been a witness, and present as well at discussion of the cover-up. This information was published in 2007, after his death, with the explanation that Haut had honored a promise to Colonel Blanchard, commanding officer of the base, never to reveal in his lifetime what he knew.
Glenn Dennis (b. 1925), a mortician, seems to be incommunicado on Roswell until 1989 when he stepped forward as the first witness to confirm there were alien bodies at the base.
Isn't it nice how the sun shines in the eye of the above alien street lamp like an alien iris?
What the Chamber of Commerce had to say about a UFO museum, I don't know, but I read the museum receives about 150,000 visitors a year, which is approximately 410.95890410 visitors to Roswell a day brought in by the UFO museum mystique, which isn't too shabby for a town of 40 something thousand. That's several hotels daily filled with people spinning their trajectory to Roswell for UFOs, and they come from all over the globe.
If you are happening to drive through Roswell and don't know it from any other desert town of about 40,000, and are unaware of the Roswell incident, then the street lamps should give you a clue that something is different here, and just maybe you'll ask "What's the deal?" and head over to the museum. Then you might decide to have a bite to eat and spend the night.
View On White
Even the loan store beckons with a green alien face in the window and the avowal that aliens "like to say yes"!
View On White
If you want "not of this world" coffee, Roswell's the place for you. If you've just tied the knot with your sweetie and aliens are your thing, then Roswell is the place to honeymoon, as seems to be evidenced by the red "just married" vehicle in the above photo. And there is a place that specializes in alien themed weddings.
Colonel Blanchard prepared and supervised the detailed operations order for the delivery of Little Boy on Hiroshima, and commanded operations for the "Operation Crossroads" atomic tests at Bikini atoll. Both Blanchard and Haut went straight from Bikini Atoll to Roswell, Haut present at Bikini Atoll as well, dropping instrument packages to record data from the bomb blasts.
In my Remixing the Hanford Declassified Project series on Hanford and the bomb, we find that Richland (the town site built to house employees at the reactors) looked upon itself as the Atomic Frontier, where the nuclear age met the old west. In much the same spirit we see in the metal sculpture placed before the UFO museum the same frontier collision with an alien future on the heels of the introduction of the atomic age and in the territory of even a commanding officer atomic midwife. Yes, literally, a collision, if you think about it, though the alien in the sculpture seems to be happy to be in Roswell, despite having crashed, and is waving a friendly hello to us. Or maybe he's waving to Mac Brazel. Maybe he's signaling, "Help me, cowboy! Help me!"
Mac Brazel was the man who discovered the debris of "bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks". The story is that he was telling people there were alien bodies as well, then after being held several days by the army he changed his account and said instead it was balloon debris. I don't know, it's all so complex. A cast of thousands was eventually involved. Not really, but seems like. Hundreds were interviewed, years after the fact, most hearsay witnesses, and the jumble result of testimony concerning not just one but two Roswell crash sites is the kind of fractured jumble befitting a desert splintered by cactus and not very widely available telephone service. Thirty-six percent of farms had telephones in 1949 and that service was often poor in quality.
Speaking of Hanford and Richland, 1947 being the year of the big UFO outbreak, it pretty much began with Kenneth Lewis Arnold's Mount Raineir sighting on June 24th when he was flying from Chehalis to Yakima, Washington. On July 4th, the Portland Oregon Journal reported having received a letter from L. G. Bernier of Richland in which he described seeing three strange objects pass over Richland heading toward Mr. Rainier. He believed them to be part of a larger group and of extraterrestrial origin.
"I have seen a P-38 appear seemingly on one horizon and then gone to the opposite horizon in no time at all, but these disks certainly were traveling faster than any P-38. [Maximum speed of a P-38 was about 440 miles an hour.] No doubt Mr. Arnold saw them just a few minutes or seconds later, according to their speed."
Brazel is currently said to have found the New Mexico debris on June 14th, or three weeks before July 8th, so before the Washington sighting but not reported until after. He collected debris with his family on July 4th. He then heard of Arnold's experience in Washington state and wondered if this was what he'd found. He reported the debris on the 6th or 7th and on the 8th the Roswell Army Air Field issued this press release:
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 disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff's office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff's office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher's home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.
The timeline in which Brazel had discovered the debris three weeks before, and the idea that four aliens were recovered from that site--three dead and one possibly alive--seems kind of weird, especially with his returning to collect debris with his family on July 4th, unless that's when he saw the purported aliens, and then you have to wonder why his family didn't personally see them. Even weirder is the idea of a surviving alien lingering in the desert for several weeks. If I crash landed on an alien planet, and one of the natives saw me then left and didn't return, I suppose I could try to think on the positive, glass-half-full-side and be grateful that I wasn't viewed as being a worthy dinner entree.
But, honestly, the best thing to do, when visiting Roswell, is to not think too much about the story behind it and just appreciate the museum for existing and pulling in needed tourists.
The museum is open 7 days a week, 9 am to 5 pm. As you can see, I arrived at about 10:45 in the morning in 2006.
When I was visiting in 2008, in the poster marquee was news about New Mexico having had an award winning alien float in the Rose Bowl Parade. It won the Grand Marshall Trophy (and the aliens cried, upon receiving the award, "You like me. You really like me!") I guess the Rose Bowl Parade honor is the reason for the rose print paper backing the various articles and photos in the marquee.
A kind of fun thing to do is reframe the whole scenario and cast the aliens as the Amelia Earharts of the alien world. Except, as fun goes, it only lasts a few moments.
Anyway, you've traveled a long way to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center, and you want to get the most out of your trip, for which reason we've loitered out front for a couple of posts, taking in the environment and learning a little less than the basic fundamentals of the Roswell incident. That's because there is so much inside the museum, and we don't want to exhaust the story out here on the sidewalk.
The next part in this series, we'll enter the museum.
Continue to part 3
Return to this book's main page for more information, FAQ, and the first chapter in PDF form.
Return to "Sightseeing" Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine.