Monday, July 02, 2007

Evolution of the Crashed Saucer Legend: Serialized for the 60th Roswell Anniversary (Part 1)

About four years ago, I wrote up some initial work on variations in Crashed Saucer/UFO stories, and their historical development. I looked at a fairly large number of different versions (ufological texts, songs, movies, other) of Roswell, and a couple of other cases including the Cape Girardeau crash, Aztec, and a few others. This was inspired by Saler and Ziegler's analysis of different versions of Roswell, which I thought was fairly limited in what it addressed, and could stand a lot more. I'm hoping to, by the end of the year, work in a lot more cases and test some of the initial patterns discussed here. I guess I'll have to put in Walter Haut's recently released affidavit stating that he saw the standard full Roswell inventory of a craft, material, and bodies.

Anyway, this little paper has been on my Geocities page, but I figured that in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of Roswell, I would repost it here. I'll post it in segments over the course of the week. I'll be making some changes here and there, checking dead links, referring to earlier posts in this blog, etc. As noted below, the photos are from the 2002 Roswell festival.

Introduction: Methods and Motivations

Saucers and Crashes
The flying saucer is one of the most well-recognized and mutable symbols to originate in the twentieth century (Bullard 2000). Emerging in the middle of the century, the flying saucer floated out of the ashes of World War II and into the Atomic Age, the Space Age, and the Cold War, where it gained the military-ese acronym UFO. In the 1950s, it alternatively symbolized fear of more conflict, this time involving the Final Frontier, and the hope that humanity could be saved from a world threatening to destroy itself by benevolent and messianic Space People (Clark 2000; Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1956). In the United States, UFO sightings were increasingly a flashpoint illustrating the tension between the American people and a less-than-responsive Federal government. As the counterculture of the 1960s became more mainstream in the 1970s, UFOs became part of a suite of paranormal and New Age beliefs that helped new religions and fundamentalist movements to fill the void left by the collapse of progressive theology (Balch 1995; Curran 2001; Denzler 2001; Ellwood 1995; Harris 2000; Lewis 1995; Mack 2000; Saliba 1995).

It was in this environment that Crashed Saucer stories began to thrive. The first printed stories appear in Frank Scully's 1950 (reprinted in 1951) book Behind the Flying Saucers and tell of three crashed discs and several bodies that had been recovered from locations including Aztec, New Mexico, in 1948. This was the first major version of the crashed saucer legend specifically tied into the flying saucer sightings in the American Southwest. The Aztec story later was revealed to have been told to Scully by a pair of con-men, driving "nuts-and-bolts" saucer enthusiasts away from stories of contact with aliens, let alone the recovery of craft and bodies. This rejection did not stop the crash stories, but it did prevent any significant growth or spread. The disengagment of ufology from the Big Science of the 1950s made crash stories more acceptable research subjects. Paradoxically, crashed saucer stories may have been a conservative reaction to this same environment that embraced the paranormal at the expense of the technological (including the "nuts-and-bolts" school of ufology that held that UFOs were spacecraft from another world). By the early 1970s, the stories began to bubble up again in numbers that a few ufologists took note. In particular, Len Stringfield and Stanton Friedman began to record and follow up on these stories. By the late 1970s, Friedman and others had focused on a crashed saucer story associated with the town of Roswell, New Mexico. The story was similar to others, the tale of the crash of an alien spacecraft in the deserts of the American West after the Second World War, and the U.S. government efforts to hide and cover-up the event from the public at large. But unlike the other accounts, what became known as "The Roswell Incident" had briefly made international news in July 1947, and witnesses to the incident were alive and claiming that something unusual had crashed in New Mexico that summer 30+ years before. The first published version of The Roswell Incident appeared in 1980, and over the next seventeen years, the story would become an internationally known phenomenon. One or another form of the Crashed Saucer Legend (particularly in the form of the Roswell Incident), has become household knowledge for untold millions of people in the United States and worldwide. This legend has taken the form of first-hand tales, printed books and articles, television shows and film (fiction and nonfiction), video games, toys, and countless related medium. In short, whether as entertainment, speculation, or history, the basic story has had incredible reproductive success.

Methods and Motives
It is my aim to offer information about different versions of the Crashed Saucer Legend (referring to a story meant as factual by the teller, and with at least some historical basis), and to track and analyze the changes through time in the style and content of these stories. This is a work in progress, as there are literally dozens upon dozens of different versions of the crashed saucer story. Some predate the age of the Flying Saucer, dating as far back as the great airship wave of 1897 in the United States (Bartholomew 1998).

The discussion of the following versions covers the Roswell Incident to a greater or lesser degree, but does not even begin to scratch the surface of larger body of literature out there. In part, this focus is due to the importance of Roswell for understanding the Crashed Saucer Legend. It is also due to the work of Charles Ziegler in UFO Crash At Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth (Saler, Ziegler, and Moore 1997). Ziegler approaches six printed versions of the Roswell Incident (five publically authored by ufologists, the sixth is a set of documents purported to be a secret government report on the incident and its aftermath) as folkloric texts, and breaks them down into specific elements. Methodologically, my work here is heavily influenced by Ziegler's approach. However, Ziegler does not include accounts of other saucer crashes in the work, makes no mention of fictional saucer crash stories (see below), and shows no interest in how the Incident is presented in Roswell. These shortcomings are a major inspiration for my own work.

What you will find here
As of now, Roswell still dominates the analysis presented here, but this will change through time. Some other crash stories are already included here, and I hope to eventually make such reports the bulk of the study universe. Fictional accounts, in particular television and film (either completely fictional stories, or fictionalized accounts of purportedly real UFO crashes) are also included here. There is an undeniable reciprocal relationship between fiction, the entertainment industry, and the world of flying saucers and UFOs (Meehan 1998). Unlike many skeptics, I do not believe that this relationship is primarily one-way, with film and television inspiring UFO accounts. On the contrary, I want to test the hypothesis that accounts of flying saucers help to inspire fictional stories, the popularity of which then serves as an environmental pressure on the continued development of UFOlore. If this hypothesis is accurate, we should see elements first appear in ufological accounts and publications, and then at some point later in time, in fictional works. After specific elements appear in fictional works, we should then see those elements become more successful and popular within ufological accounts as they are given more emphasis. Conditions that would reject the hypothesis would be a lack of relationship between specific elements in ufological accounts and works of fiction, or even the rejection of specific elements because they appear in works of fiction, making an element “more difficult to believe both for the public and for other UFO researchers because of its seeming links to popular culture.” (Jacobs 2000: 208).

The City of Roswell and the repackaging of the Crashed Saucer Legend

The City of Roswell is home to a small industry catering to the UFO-curious. Information, entertainment, and merchandise related to UFO's, aliens, and the Roswell Incident can be found in museums, musical performances [note: these performances appear to have ended before summer 2002], and stores. The town also boasts a Christian anti-UFO group called Alien Resistance, who believe that the Bible shows aliens to be an old foe of humanity.

Each Fourth of July week, the town holds a celebration honoring the event. I attended the 2002 festival, and my thoughts and experiences can be found throughout this website. You can also check out the adventures and photos of another visitor (G. Noel Gross, an entertainment and media columnist) to the Roswell 2002 festival here. UFO Encounter 1997 (see here for later fests) may well mark the highwater mark for popular interest in the Roswell Incident, as it became the focus of international media attention (for an amusing, if not completely factual, record of EncounterFest 1997, see Six Days in Roswell). Though reminiscent in some ways of the early Contactee meetings at Giant Rock (Moseley 2002), the festival seems to have more in common with a county fair or town heritage festival. I've blogged earlier about UFO festivals.

My analysis and commentary will also be informed and colored by the presentation of the Incident in Roswell itself, in particular during the July 2002 UFO Festival. Salient points throughout this report will be illustrated with images from the 2002 UFO Festival.

Continue on to Part 2: Prelude to the Crash

No comments: