A sceptical mini-history of the crashed flying saucer saga

Carl Wyant

Sceptics will be amused to hear that the Great Roswell UFO Cover-up has just gained a new lease on life.

Yes, as if the almost infinite number of articles, TV documentaries and at least one full-length book weren’t enough, it is now a movie, “Roswell”, and available on video.

In 1947, so the story goes, a flying saucer crashed and exploded in the New Mexico desert, about 75 miles from Roswell. The scattered wreckage was collected several days later by the Air Force and whisked away to a top secret hangar never to be seen again, its very existence denied by the authorities.

In truth, no amount of fact will ever kill a good rumour. The Roswell incident has been debunked, discredited, explained to death and buried a hundred times over, but it just won’t stay in the grave. Rumour alone keeps it alive.

Like most UFO lore, aliens mishaps are nothing new. The crashed saucer myth has a long and convoluted history that goes back to 1884 when four cowboys witnessed the explosion of a strange flying cylindrical object in Nebraska.

Another phantom airship came cruising out of the blue in 1897, in Aurora, Texas, plowing into a windmill and blowing itself to smithereens, leaving behind a wreckage of metallic foil, paper with indecipherable hieroglyphics and one dead “Martian”, which was duly buried in the Aurora cemetery.

Both of these cases were later proved to be hoaxes, but it was too late; the idea was already embedded in the public mind.

Theosophists and collectors of weird stories, notably Charles Fort, sometimes called “the father of ufology”, also took up the cause, giving even more durability to the growing legend.

It’s worth noting here that the initial report of a sensational event, even if it’s false, always has more impact than the refutation or retraction. Sometimes the refutation strengthens the original claim simply by bringing it up again.

A classic example of this syndrome, crucial to the understanding of Roswell, is the infamous Aztec case, the king of all crash/retrieval stories.

In 1949 a journalist and columnist named Frank Scully began writing rumorous stories about crashed saucers and dead aliens and in 1950 released a book on the subject called Behind the Flying Saucers. It’s referred to as the Aztec case because some of the events took place near Aztec, New (where else?) Mexico. One saucer, he claimed, was ninety-nine feet in diameter and contained sixteen dead aliens, little fellows about three feet tall.

Two years later the story was exposed as a fraud, perpetrated on the apparently not-very-investigative Scully by a couple of notorious confidence shysters, probably angling for a movie deal. The book was a best seller, so I guess Scully died of shame, as it were, all the way to the bank.

Behind the Flying Saucers was the first book to bring the question of crashed saucers to the general public. The idea might have been bandied about by a few cultists and science fiction buffs before, but now the cat was really out of the bag. For two years hundreds of thousands read the book and millions more heard the story: The saucers, and even more spine chilling than than, the aliens, were real.

The Aztec scam effectively drove a wedge into the rapidly growing UFO movement, splitting the ranks into two vaguely distinct factions: “the wide-eyed believers”, who will believe anything; and “the serious investigators”, who will believe almost anything.

“Scully’s book”, says Jerome Clark in The Fringes of Reason, “cast a long shadow: for the next two and a half decades no serious UFO student would pay attention to crashed saucer stories.”

But like unkillable zombies, the stories lived on.

The Roswell, New Mexico, crashed saucer story that’s raising such a ruckus today was actually a non-event that probably would have faded away altogether if it hadn’t been for all the gadzookery created later by the Aztec case.

On June 14, 1947, a rancher named Brazel found what was undoubtedly the remains of a radar target, a reflective device borne aloft by weather balloons for tracking purposes.

Brazel himself described the debris as “large numbers of pieces of paper covered with a foil-like substance and pieced together with small sticks much like a kite”.

The Air Force came and collected the junk and that was it…almost.

Two weeks later on June 24, saucer mania broke out when civilian pilot, Kenneth Arnold, made his historic sighting of nine flying disks in Washington State, marking the official beginning of the modern UFO era. A newspaper reporter dubbed them “flying saucers” and for the next few months saucer fever ran rampant, with unidentified flying objects being reported all over the USA.

It was then, in early July, after the Arnold sighting, that Brazel and cohorts came up with the saucer story. From there it snowballed into a veritable circus of misleading statements and factual errors before finally gelling into a classic UFO cover-up.

At the time, Roswell was just one more zany story and didn’t make a major splash, and of course after the Aztec scandal no-one wanted to know about crashed saucers, thus it was forgotten.

Not completely forgotten, however. In all probability it was rumours of Roswell that led to the creation of the Aztec case; which in turn led…and so groweth the myth.

Crash/retrievals became fashionable again in the early 1970s and the serious investigators began to take them very seriously. Even the old Aurora case was dusted off, sending a whole wave of UFO hopefuls to the tiny town, combing the countryside with metal detectors and prowling the graveyard for dead Martians.

By the 1980s the story was unstoppable. The public mind had undergone a dramatic change. The wide-eyed believers, serious investigators and the great unwashed had moved closer together. Objective thinking had given way to subjective, inward-looking modes of thought wherein we create our own reality. Science, in fact Western Civilisation as a whole, had become the enemy. Critical analysis was out and wishful thinking was in and all sceptical comment was part of a vast conspiracy to cover up the truth about crystal magic and pickled aliens.

UFO lovers got an extra shot in the arm in 1980 when saucer expert Jenny Randles began to publish stories about a saucer crash near a military base in England. The Rendlesham Forest Affair, as it’s known, later became a book, Sky Crash, a gripping tale of aliens, intrigue, confiscated saucers and top secret secrets, all based, essentially, on un-named sources and hearsay. And so it goes on.

The believers contend that where there’s smoke there’s fire. The evidence itself might be weak, they argue, but there’s so much of it that it proves itself through sheer volume. In other words, if you accumulate enough bad evidence it somehow turns into good evidence. Or to look at it another way, if enough people believe something is true, then it is true.

You don’t have to be H.G. Wells to realise that this is not a healthy outlook. If enough people believe, for instance, that homosexuals are a menace to society, lo and look ye — homosexuals are a menace to society, fully lynchable in the name of Mass Belief. If enough believe in witches with magical powers, “enough” will also believe in burning them. The notion of running society on the basis of information received from invisible sources is a sure-fire recipe for bloodshed.

If my arbitrary example of homophobia seems far fetched and somewhat distant to the flying saucer question, think again. The alien superbeing, Ramtha, channelled by J.Z. Knight, tells us that we should “get rid” of gays, and that AIDS is divine punishment for homosexuals. Other aliens have given us equally ominous advice.

Who knows for sure? Maybe governments do have crashed saucers and dead aliens hidden away in secret underground military installations. Maybe the little grey fiends with the strange black eyes are real too. But considering the next-to-worthless evidence, fraud, fakery, misperception, distortion and money involved, I wouldn’t advise betting your daughter on it.

But the saucers may be on the back burner for a while. Vibrations in the etheric network tell me that angels and devils are making a comeback. Yes, I feel confident in predicting that over the next five years we will see a growing revival of things angelic, building in intensity as the Apocalypse draws nigh. And then, after the world doesn’t end at year 2000, perhaps we can shake off our dark age mentality and start thinking again. Until the next saucer crash, that is.

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