I like to think of myself as an open-minded guy, so when the opportunity presented itself, I thought it’d be fun to drop in at the “International UFO Museum and Research Center” in Roswell, New Mexico. It’s conveniently located right in the center of town, just a few steps south of the intersection of the main roads leading into town:
Not too surprisingly, at least if you’ve ever read a scrap of UFO-related literature, the museum puts its main focus on the 1947 crash of… well, of… of something 75 miles northwest of Roswell back in 1947. A whole slew of bad books about this event have been published in the last 20 years, and there is no shortage of related trash online and elsewhere, so I was hoping (if not expecting) that possibly the museum would take a somewhat critical look at things.
If nothing else, it only costs a few dollars to get in, so I figured that at least I’d get some entertainment value from my time there.
- Debris was found scattered across a stretch of ranchland by the ranch’s foreman after a particularly bad thunderstorm in late June or early July of 1947 (dates vary depending on the source).
- The foreman told the sheriff in Roswell about the debris, who then told the local Army Air Field (this was before the U.S. Air Force was organized as a separate branch of the U.S. armed services).
- A major and his assistant from the air field went to the site, and collected bundles of debris — described at the time as consisting of tinfoil, rubber, paper, tape, and sticks.
- On July 8, 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release stating in part “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.”
- Later the same day, the Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force stated that what had really crashed was a weather balloon, and the previous press release was withdrawn.
- Nothing much was said about the crash until the late 1970’s, when a series of books popularized the incident and started an expanding and mutating story which by now has multiple conflicting versions, with conflicting locations for the crash site, sometimes including the recovery and study of alien bodies.
- After a number of congressional inquiries, the General Accounting Office directed the Air Force to conduct an internal investigation of its own. The first Air Force report, released in 1995, concluded that the recovered material came from a reconnaissance balloon system, launched as part of a once highly classified effort called Project Mogul. If you’d like to read this material (all 1000 pages of it!), it’s available online here. The second report, released in 1997, concluded that the alien body stories were based on innocently mutated memories of fatalities from test aircraft, combined with anthropomorphic dummies used in a variety of test programs.
The museum’s treatment of the so-called Roswell crash (which, strictly speaking, occurred closer to the village of Corona) is surprisingly even-handed (although brief, and more than a little sloppy) in its presentation of alternative explanations.
Most of the space given to the crash consists of copies of old newspaper clippings, and recreations of the collected debris (based on eyewitness descriptions). But the museum also gives a respectable amount of space to the USAF version of events. To the right, for instance, is a test dummy the likes of which the USAF thinks is the source of “alien body” stories (click to enlarge it in a new window).
Unfortunately, the museum does come across as a pretty amateurish production overall– they seem to have accepted & put on display anything that was given to them, for instance a number of dioramas of the Corona crash. Not only do the dioramas all disagree with each other, but with the eyewitness accounts as well.
Maybe they are on display for fanciful reasons, but if you’re trying to give a factual presentation of events (much less be taken seriously), this is no way to do it…
A number of photographs of purported UFOs from around the world (possibly the reason for calling this the “International” UFO museum?) are also on display. I appreciated the fact that proven frauds are identified as such. But there’s little detail given on the situations in which any of the other pictures were taken. Something more akin to a “case files” style of presentation could have made this an actual resource — rather than just a collection of photographs of smudges.
Sadly, this is the “high point” of the museum — it’s all downhill from there, the Corona crash material rounded out with a hodgepodge of various pseudoscientific filler.
For instance, the museum hosts an alien autopsy scene, made from props left over from the production of the made-for-TV movie “Roswell.” I never saw the movie, but the scene in the diorama is apparently based on some of the 1980’s-vintage descriptions of alien bodies that were purportedly recovered from a second (even more secret) crash site near Corona. Again, this has all been thoroughly debunked — but it figures prominently here.
On the bright side — for most people, this is as close as they’ll ever get to the real thing. But disappointingly, only the Erich von Daniken explanation of the lid is given, which holds that the graphics on the lid represent an ancient astronaut seated in a Mercury-style space capsule. The more plausible interpretation based on traditional Mayan iconography (in which Pacal is shown descending after his death into the underworld) is not even mentioned.
There’s a whole section devoted to the so-called “Bermuda Triangle” too. All very credulous material, no critical questions posed or scientific explanations offered here.
Stepping outside for local flavor, you’ll find that nearly every building within a few blocks of the museum has at least one shop that’s UFO-themed:
From what I can tell, most locals (the long-term ones, at any rate) seem to look at the UFO museum as being a tourist trap rather than as something to take seriously. I guess if the museum brings in customers, they’re more than willing to wink at its abundant eccentricities. For sure, there’s no shortage of tongue-in-cheek alien knick-nacks, refrigerator door magnets, and T-shirts in this town!
To wrap up, I can’t say I was expecting very much from the museum, but was secretly hoping for more (and better) than I found. I honestly think that if this can be called a museum, then you could just as easily call a pot-luck dinner a restaurant. The whole place has the feel of something that was cobbled together by enthusiastic, if ill-informed volunteers. And if the dioramas are any indication, they have a lot of time on their hands.
Is this place worth the drive, and cost of admission (currently $5 for adults and $2 for kids)? Possibly, depending on whether you were going to be “in the neighborhood” anyway, and on how much you care for quirky displays of modern-day americana. If people are willing to go out of their way to see the world’s largest ball of twine, why not this too?
If you’re looking for a source of reliable information, this is definitely not your place to stop. But entertainment value aside, I’d argue that the UFO Museum is worth a look — if only as an inadvertent living testimony to the effects of “true believer syndrome.”