What Mac Brazel Found, or What Would We Do Without Weather Balloons?

  Jerome Shea       March 16, 2010      Weekend Wonk

The Longsuffering Diana and I spent last weekend staying with friends in Roswell, New Mexico. We breezed through Roswell many years ago, but this time we discovered a little city with a lot to offer. Roswell is home to the venerable New Mexico Military Institute and to the Roswell Industrial Air Center. It boasts the Roswell Museum and Art Centre, and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. (Don Anderson, a capable artist in his own right, and his brother Robert founded the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company. With those hefty profits, Don sponsors ten artists a year who live at his compound and paint or sculpt to their hearts’ content, the only stipulation being to create something to leave behind for the museum.) The Roswell area also contains probably the largest concentration of dairy farms in the Southwest, and those thousands of milk cows feed a huge cheese plant that churns out mozzarella and Parmesan like that mill that grinds salt at the bottom of the sea. Their only customers are Kraft Foods and Domino’s Pizza.

So there’s a lot going on in Roswell. But unless you have been living under the proverbial rock all your life, you know what Roswell is really, indelibly, and internationally known for. That’s right: the “Roswell Incident” back in 1947. As if the conspiracy bloggers and the X-Files types haven’t given it robust life, Roswell itself has got into the act. Our first visit was to the International UFO Museum and Research Center, on North Main Street in the old Plains movie theater building.

Here, briefly, is the story. On 4 July 1947, there were violent thunderstorms in east central New Mexico. On the morning of 5 July, Mac Brazel was checking for damage on his ranch near Corona, about 75 miles northwest of Roswell, the nearest town of any size. He found a lot of mysterious debris strewn about, the result of some kind of crash. He gathered up this mysterious metallic stuff and took it to Sheriff Wilcox in Roswell the next day. Wilcox took it to the folks at Roswell Army Air Field, and then the fun began.

The army sent investigators to Corona, and the crash area was cordoned off. In a grisly turn, they asked a local undertaker, Glenn Dennis, how many child-sized caskets he could lay hands on. A nurse witnessed doctors performing autopsies on what were clearly not human life forms. She was hustled away. In a move that really astounds me, Col. William Blanchard, commanding officer of RAAF, then told his Public Information Officer, Lt. Walter Haut, to issue a press release (8 July 1947) to the effect that a “flying disk” (aka, a flying saucer, a UFO) had crashed up in Corona. Either Blanchard was incredibly naïve about army procedures or pathologically credulous and honest. At any rate, before you could say “Fox Mulder,” the “flying disk” had turned into that old standby, a weather balloon. (I swear, if half of New Mexico witnessed a huge flying saucer with aliens waving out the portholes while singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the authorities would say it was a…weather balloon.)

Well, things eventually died down. Several people said they were crudely intimidated. That nurse was transferred to England. Brazel never talked about it again (but refused to believe it was a weather balloon). Then, thirty years later, people began to come forward, people who said they had indeed seen the bodies, and so forth. And these were reputable people, not loons. Best guess on the bodies now is that they are in a sub-basement cooler up at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio or sequestered at that wonderful catch-all of the extraterrestrial, Area 51 in the Nevada desert. In the early 1990s, Haut and Dennis spearheaded the effort to establish the UFO museum.

So what do you think? Or what do I think? I pride myself on being skeptical in such matters. Lord knows we have had our share of dubious UFO sightings and of alien abduction stories from people who are clearly unstable. But too many very stable people are coming forward now. Col. Blanchard appeared to believe whatever it was that his investigators first reported. Glenn Dennis did not dream up that request for child-sized caskets. And then there’s that nurse. And the more the army—later the Air Force—tried to explain it away, the more desperately absurd, even contradictory, their explanations got.

Something truly weird happened out there. Something.

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