Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Evolution of the Crashed Saucer Legend Part 3: The Crash

You should probably start with the introduction to this piece

The Crash

Crash date

In the preliminary sample used in this study, crashes occur primarily in the post-WWII years up into the early 1960s (I hope to soon be incorporating more crashes into the study). Some predate as far back as the middle of the 19th century, while in other accounts saucers continue to crash up into the present day (or night, as when a time of day is mentioned in crash accounts, it is after sundown). Most accounts focus on the heyday of flying saucers, from 1947-1953. Despite the pre-eminence of the Roswell crash in July, spring seems to be a dangerous time for saucer and airship pilots. Many of the 1897 airships crashed in April, and Frank Scully’s (1950) infamous Aztec, New Mexico crash was in March, 1948. One exception is the crash of a UFO in Missouri in early July 1941 (Skeptical Inquirer May/June 2002:19-20), revealed in later purported Majestic documents after July-based Roswell had become nearly synonymous with UFOs. Early accounts of the Roswell Incident, including the original in The Roswell Incident (Berlitz and Moore 1980) claim the July 2 date. Starting in 1994, July 4 becomes the preferred crash date. This date is highly symbolic, especially if we consider the role of Roswell in the story of the Majestic group, which serves in ufology as a dark reflection of the U.S. Government. This date is proposed in Randle and Schmitt’s revised book on Roswell in 1994 (discussed in Saler, Zeigler, and Moore 1997), and by the film Roswell of the same year, which openly took its cues from Randle and Schmitt’s first book.

Cause of Crash
Only in fictional accounts (films in 1983, 1984, 1994 discussed in Meehan 1998; television on The X-Files in 1994, Dark Skies in 1996, Taken in 2002) and in Corso (1997 a work not well accepted by all in ufology) are saucers brought down by human weapons. This concept became particularly popular after the election of American President Ronald Reagan, who made the development of space-based energy weapons an priority of his administration in the form of the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars.” Friedman potentially places the blame on military radar, but not weaponry.

Most Roswell Incident accounts place the blame on a tremendous lightning strike, or a general malfunction of some sort. After the Majestic documents were published, which specifically mention that the craft exploded, the emphasis shifts to the malfunction theory and away from lightning.

Collisions with other objects can also bring down UFOs. In 1897 a Martian airship was destroyed in a collision with a windmill in Aurora, Texas. Fictional craft crashed with space debris or satellites in 1978 and 1980, respectively. Most amusingly, Karl Pflock, while a proponent of extraterrestrial visitation, independently agreed with the U.S. Air Force that the debris found by Mac Brazel was the remains of a Mogul spy balloon, used to listen for Soviet atomic testing (Saler, Ziegler, and Moore 1997; Thomas 1995, 2001). In 1994, Pflock suggests that an extraterrestrial craft was indeed brought down in New Mexico in 1947, perhaps in a collision with the very same Mogul balloon train! This idea was adopted in the fictional television miniseries Taken in 2002.

This contestant in the 2002 Alien Costume Contest in Roswell is dressed as the crash debris. Note the balloon train, reminiscent of the Mogul balloon train.

Location of the Crash: (please note, I may be writing a piece on this topic soon)

Fictional accounts of saucer crashes seem to have no problem placing their crash scenes in remote locations, such as the arctic, or at least outside of North America. Some of the earliest non-fiction accounts in 1949 and 1950 placed their crash site in Mexico. But the bulk of well-publicized crash stories are set in the United States, and primarily in the American West. The most important of these are located in New Mexico, outside of Aztec in the north, around Corona in the center of the state, and near Roswell in the south. Many other crashes have been reported in and outside of the United States, but I am focusing on these cases as integral to the evolution of the legend.

Roswell sites
There is a lot of debate about exactly where the spacecraft (singular or plural) that make up the “Roswell” incident crashed. The original July 8, 1947 press release announcing the capture of a disk stated that the device was recovered on a ranch in the vicinity of Roswell, but within days the location was specified as being on the Foster Ranch in central New Mexico, near Corona. When the Roswell Incident is revived in the late 1970s, the Corona site was still primary, but Stanton Friedman’s research also championed a crash site in western New Mexico, on the Plains of San Agustin (see below). Because it is discussed in the July 1947 press releases and media accounts, the Corona site has continued to be central to all Roswell Incident accounts. In September 2002, it was even surveyed and excavated by a cultural resource management archaeological project (contracted by the Sci-Fi Channel) looking for evidence of the 1947 crash.
The public release of the Majestic documents in 1988 added a new wrinkle. According to these documents, occupants of the craft that left the debris at the site on the Foster ranch described in earlier accounts ejected and landed at a site approximately two miles away. In 1992, Friedman accepted this crash site, with the addition of a ship crash site another mile further away but still in Central New Mexico (Berliner and Friedman 1992). He also continues to champion a second crash site on the Plains of San Agustin, involving a second saucer, but this point of view has had little success in Roswell, though at least one popular version mentions it (McDermott 1998). Visitors to Roswell would have to drive across the state to get to the general location (there is no specific geographical location), now marked by another Space Age attraction, the Very Large Array radio telescope array (below).

Critics have derided the addition of a second saucer as evidence for a lack of a critical approach to witnesses and evidence on the part of Roswell researchers. While I will not address the logic of that criticism, the reception of multiple saucers in a single event as disingenuous or absurd is interesting in its own right. Early reports of flying saucers and UFOs, including Kevin Arnold’s 1947 wellspring sighting, typically reported several saucers flying in formation or acting in tandem in other ways. While there are still reports of multiple UFOs in a single sighting, through the years reports of solitary objects have become far more common at the expense of saucer formations. Perhaps this reflects changes in military aviation technology since WWII. In the middle of the century aerial missions might be carried out be dozens or hundreds of aircraft flying in formation, but through the years smaller numbers of increasingly expensive jets carry out military activities. Formation flying is primarily the purview of aerial stunt teams and public over-flights to mark special occasions.

In 1994, Randle and Schmitt identify a new crash site (access road to site above), much closer to Roswell itself, now owned by Hub Corn (given the lack of other landmarks, the current owner's name is often used to distinguish this site from others). Much to my chagrin, while a roadside sign marks the entrance to the access road to the site, by 2002 it was no longer open to tourists. While the Hub Corn site had some limited acceptance in the literature during the 1990s (Corso 1997), and became a significant tourist spot due its proximity to Roswell, it has not become a permanent fixture of the Roswell Incident. At the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell and on earlier versions of it's website, the Hub Corn site is labelled as “alleged” on a crash site map, and other displays provide evidence that nothing unusual happened at the Hub Corn site. Through witness affidavits and crash site maps, the IUFOMRC seems to give more implicit support to the Pine Lodge site, around 55 miles west of Roswell, which is best known from the testimony of Jim Ragsdale starting in 1995.

Continue to Part 4, the Crash Site and the Ship

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