|ROSWELL, N.M. In this universe, flying saucers are an accepted fact. The government is undoubtedly orchestrating a massive cover-up to keep them under wraps. And the skeptics would probably feel like aliens.|
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What do you get when you cross a plastic eye dropper, a sponge and a couple of spoonfuls of Palmolive dishwashing liquid?
Welcome to the universe of the Roswell UFO Encounter 97: This years festival, marking the 50th anniversary of a flying-saucer crash the Air Force insists never happened, was a strange hybrid of down-home county fair, sober symposium and loopy trade show.
The more than 30,000 attendees watched alien costume contests and fun runs; listened to lectures by Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Daniken; and bought alien trinkets galore. One Roswellian joked to a Reuters reporter that you could paint an alien face on a rock and sell the darn thing. Sure enough, others did just that (at $2 a rock).
Submitted for your approval: Some slices of life from The Roswell Zone ...
What do you get when you cross a plastic eye dropper, a sponge and a couple of spoonfuls of Palmolive dishwashing liquid?
If youre Lily Fuller of Internet Resources, the answer is the Alien Artificial Insemination Kit. Fuller sold the boxed kits for $5 (as well as a selection of bug-eyed alien busts) alongside scores of other entrepreneurs dealing in E.T. trinkets at the Roswell UFO Encounter.
Fullers stand occupied a corner at the back of an exhibition hall at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center, Ground Zero for the alien trade. We wont go into how you might actually use the insemination kit, which comes in three flavors of Palmolive liquid (green, yellow and clear) for three kinds of alien hybrids (athletic low-brainers, petite mid-brainers and brainy politicians you can see right through). The point is that people are actually buying this stuff, over the counter as well as via Internet Resources Web site.
We get 25,000 to 30,000 hits a week, Fuller boasts.
While investigators debate whether a flying saucer indeed crashed near Roswell in 1947, hundreds are hoping to make a buck off the legend and thousands paid a buck just to get into the UFO Expo and spend even more money on alien souvenirs.
The saucer-and-alien motif was on T-shirts, caps, stickers, refrigerator magnets, pennants, jewelry, belt buckles, bolo ties, Christmas tree ornaments, computer screen savers, stuffed dolls, painted rocks and pie plates, wind chimes, $65 sneakers and stained-glass windows. There were personalized Area 51 security passes, Alien Crossing traffic signs, meticulously researched Roswell UFO models and Roswell UFO Incident Mini-Cookies.
|Gene R. Wasserman of Albuquerque, N.M., poses by his stained-glass portrait of an extraterrestrial at the Roswell UFO Encounter on Friday.||
Even the humblest of products was not immune to the hype: In the blazing heat outside the convention center, festival goers looking for bottled water could choose among UFO-H2O, Alien Mist and Alien Aqua.
Shielded from the sun by an umbrella, Roswell fourth-grade schoolteacher Mary Gonzalez sold $1 bottles of Alien Aqua from an ice cooler as part of a summer venture she and her family dreamed up. They just started selling the product June 30, and theyre already working on a contract to have Alien Aqua sold at local Town & Country stores.
The label is emblazoned with a flying saucer and tells the tale of the Roswell Incident.
Theres lots of water out there, Gonzalez said, but we have the story, and thats what people are really wanting.
A new chapter in the debate over flying-saucer evidence was opened with an announcement that a 1½-inch-wide chunk of material said to come from Roswell crash debris had an unworldly chemical composition.
But the people announcing their findings declined to produce the fragment itself, discuss details of the chemical analysis or tell precisely how the material came into their possession.
Russell VernonClark, an environmental health and safety specialist at the University of California at San Diego, said the fragment was 99 percent silicon, with traces of nickel, silver, germanium and zinc. But he said the various isotopes of those elements were distributed differently than they were in naturally occurring samples. (Isotopes differ according to how many neutrons are found in the nuclei of atoms. For example, uranium-235 and uranium-238 are different isotopes of the same element.)
Because of the unusual composition of the fragment, the chunk appeared to be manufactured and most likely did not come from Earth, VernonClark said.
Paul Davids, who produced the Showtime movie Roswell, orchestrated Fridays announcement. He declined to name research organizations that had conducted tests on the fragment, citing the explosive nature of the findings. He also said the fragment itself would not be shown publicly since it was as rare as the Shroud of Turin.
Two unidentified, pre-teen aliens compete in a costume contest set up as part of the Roswell UFO Encounter Thursday.
Discussing the origins of the fragment, hypnotherapist Derrell Simms said he received it from a source who assured him it came from the Roswell crash site. However, Simms declined to give further details about the source.
The circumstances of the announcement made it impossible to evaluate the claims. Even if the chemical analysis is confirmed, it appears unlikely that such findings alone would constitute proof of extraterrestrial origin.
This isnt the first time a mysterious material was offered up as a Roswell flying-saucer fragment. Last year, UFO investigators puzzled over a thin, jagged piece of finely layered copper and silver that was said to have come from the Roswell crash site. But the piece eventually was traced to a Utah artist who said it was a scrap of metal from his jewelry studio. The artist, Randy Fullbright, said he was surprised to find that the piece of metal, which was made using a traditional Japanese technique known as mokume gane, had been attributed to alien technology.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Philip Corso, former White House security adviser and head of the Armys foreign technology desk, has been quickly welcomed into the ranks of UFO activists because of his new book.
Corso contends in The Day After Roswell that alien bodies and debris were indeed recovered from saucer crashes, and that the technology gleaned from the wreckage was discreetly passed along to American industry. In some circles, the book was received with cocked eyebrows and rolling eyes. But Communion author Whitley Strieber, who has faced his own fair share of skepticism because of his claims about alien abductions, hailed Corso as the latest to join our ranks and ... our senior member.
Strieber said Corso must have spoken out after all these years either because he was asked to or because he could no longer live with his conscience.
But in a breakfast interview, Corso said he wrote the book because the death of Lt. Gen. Arthur Trudeau three years ago released him from a personal oath of silence he swore to his former boss.
Corsos son, Philip Corso Jr., said he heard the story recounted in The Day After Roswell for the first time after Trudeaus death. What Dads hoping is that more people can come forward, said the younger Corso, who works at an airplane-kit manufacturing company in Florida.
The colonel is unfazed by the flurry of industry denials responding to his claims about alien technology. He explained that the research about lasers, integrated circuits and fiber optics was distributed to corporate higher-ups a generation ago, using the ruse that it was gathered via foreign intelligence.
They thought that we stole it from the Russians, he said.
Even among ufologists, not everyone swallows Corsos story.
I have a real problem with Corsos book, said Stanton Friedman, a longtime UFO researcher who started out as a nuclear physicist working on classified projects.
Friedman said sections of The Day After Roswell appeared to be secondhand retellings of other peoples Roswell tales. He said some of the details of the Roswell Incident, as recounted by Corso, didnt match facts available from other sources. And he wondered about Corsos claim that in 1961 he came up with the plan to exploit 1947s alien finds.
I cant believe that nothing happened in those 13 years between the two dates, Friedman said.
FRIDAY AT ROSWELL
This Independence Day, I had my own weird encounter with a higher power: New Mexicos weather.
Compared with the fabled alien encounters reported by, say, Communion author Whitley Strieber, my experience turned out to be pretty tame. But there were some initial moments of terror.
Even Strieber was unnerved by Fridays lightning, thunder and rain, which passed over Roswell much like a storm did on a Friday night exactly 50 years earlier.
Are we being hit by a tornado? Are we going to be destroyed, he asked in the midst of addressing hundreds of guests at a banquet. The storm, he said, was a re-enactment of the weather accompanying what has come to be known as the Roswell Incident.
The Roswell UFO Encounter banquet was an eerie recreation of the 1947 incident in another sense: Fourth of July festivities were conducted within a rickety hangar at what was once the Roswell Army Air Field, an important setting in the towns UFO tale.
The airfield, now home to Roswells municipal airport, was a way station for mysterious crash debris brought to town in the wake of the 1947 Independence Day storm. The Army Air Force initially reported that the wreckage came from a flying saucer, but quickly changed its story to say it came instead from a weather balloon. Some, like Strieber, suspect that the military had it right the first time and rail against what they believe is a massive UFO cover-up.
The people are more important than the government, Strieber declared. And the people need the truth more than [the government] needs its lies.
As Strieber spoke, flashbulbs lit up RAAF Hangar 84 from within and Frankenstein style lightning flashed from outside. The wind rattled the roof and blew rain into the hangar. Water spread across the floor like the overflow from a sitcom bathtub.
Looking at the electrical wires underfoot, Strieber fretted over whether he should bring his speech to a quick finish, but the crowd begged him to continue. I, meanwhile, stood just inside a hangar door, contemplating whether to make a run for it and head back to the hotel and start writing.
Maybe it was the sense that the storm was finally starting to fade, or maybe it was the sight of Harvard psychiatrist John Mack bounding past me. (If the author of Abduction thought it was safe, why shouldnt I?) In any case, I shoved my steno notebook into a pants pocket and bolted out into the rain. Just a few steps brought me into a few inches of standing water, soaking my feet as thoroughly as the rain soaked my shirt and slacks.
I high-stepped through the flood and reached higher ground, thinking the worst was over. Just then I realized my notebook was gone: The pad with Fridays precious notes had flipped out of my pocket and was floating away! It was at about that time I realized that the pocket of my soaked shirt contained an expensive flash card, holding an afternoons worth of digital camera images.
I retraced my steps through the water, thoroughly dunking my feet, and caught up with my notebook. Then I squished through the rain for a long block, out to the rental car. I didnt even want to examine the notes or look too closely at the flash card that I placed gingerly on the passenger seat. As I drove silently back to the hotel, the car hydroplaned through what seemed like rippling rivers on Roswells flooded streets.
The weather mocked me as I pulled into the parking lot. The rain had almost stopped, and stars were becoming visible in the clearing skies. If only I had waited!
Thankfully, I soon discovered that the Independence Day encounter left no significant scars: Once I got back to the hotel room, I found that the notes were soggy but readable. The PC card stayed high and dry. And just as Striebers sometimes-terrible experiences ultimately led him to greater self-realization, my encounter taught me a valuable lesson: Bring your rain gear to Roswell, particularly on the Fourth.
Usually, on a really good Fourth of July like this one, it rains as soon as the fireworks start, a security guard at the banquet said.
Youd think that the landing of the Mars Pathfinder probe would be hot news at the UFO Encounter, but the dramatic event didnt even register with many of the fairgoers.
I didnt know that was happening, said Darin Selby, who pulled passengers around downtown Roswell on a psychedelic rickshaw during the festival.
Some UFO enthusiasts see Mars exploration through their own prism, saying that photos of the Red Planet appear to show ancient pyramids and even a Face on Mars whose features are visible from space. They fault NASA for failing to send a probe to that region of the planet, known as Cydonia.
NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, meanwhile, says the Cydonia region is too far from the equator to make sense as a landing site for initial probes. But JPL promises that the Mars Global Surveyor, an orbiter that is due to begin mapping Mars next year, will take a good close look at Cydonia.
Ruffin Prevost, the publisher of an online site called ParaScope, said his group was too busy following the activities at Roswell to keep tabs on TV coverage of the Pathfinder landing.
Were so out of the loop on that, Prevost said. Its so weird. If we werent here, thats all wed be talking about.
|Ruffin Prevost, ParaScope's publisher, hangs out Friday at the site's makeshift command center inside a fairgrounds pavilion near Roswell, N.M.||
Prevost and about 25 other members of ParaScopes virtual community were camped out at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair Grounds and the Roswell encounter marked the first face-to-face meeting for some of them.
To get together 20 to 30 people you dont know [in person], put them in a confined space with one shower and one bathroom and a bunch of liquor ... its amazing how well we get along, Prevost said.
ParaScope available on the Web and America Online focuses on news about UFOs, paranormal phenomena and conspiracy theories. The ParaScope chatsters have come to know each other very well through online contacts, but real-world meetings sometimes shatter online preconceptions.
Nobody was how I pictured them, chat host Eric Castle remarked.
So what do online friends do when they finally meet in person? Go online, of course often into the wee hours of the morning, via Net connections set up at the fairgrounds.
Its not like were going to go to Pizza Hut and have a pizza, Prevost said. This is what we do.
THURSDAY AT ROSWELL
It all came down to the kid vs. the Klingon.
There were sightings galore at the encounters costume contest: A bug-eyed alien version of basketballs bad boy, Dennis Rodman. Humanoid versions of crash-test dummies and a weather balloon a reference to the Air Forces explanations for the sightings that have become part of Roswells 1947 lore. Alien cowboys and even a greasepaint-gray belly dancer, parading before a crowd that seemed half made up of media folks.
Malissa Cook, 13, boogies through the media hordes during the judging at the Roswell UFO Encounter's alien costume contest Thursday.
But when all the categories were finished and Thursdays competition came down to the best of show alien, the judges votes were split evenly between 32-year-old Michael Walker of Dallas and 2-year-old Sienna Fleming of Roswell. Walker was the spitting image of Worf, the gruff Klingon from Star Trek: The Next Generation, right down to the menacing yellow teeth. Fleming was a spiral butterfly wearing a greenish swimsuit and streams of gossamer.
The judges left it to the audiences cheers to break the tie, and the edge went to . . . Walker.
Afterward, Walker stood in the shade, basking in the media glow and talking about his $1,500-plus costume. Why do it for a mere $100 first prize, he was asked.
Why do people collect expensive stereo equipment? he asked in return.
Its fun, said Walker, who acknowledges he wears the costume to Star Trek events. Its like building a model.
|Carlie Wassal waits to walk down the runway at the Roswell UFO Encounter's alien costume contest Thursday.||
And Sienna Fleming? Her 2-year-old face held not a hint of disappointment as she was carried away by her father amid the 90-degree-plus heat. Nor was Stephen Fleming disappointed as he glanced back at Walkers heavy costume and makeup.
If they made us stand out in the sun, he said, she would have won hands down.
With its wealth of paraphernalia and outlandish costumes, the whole Roswell event had something of the air of a Star Trek convention and indeed, a uniformed contingent from the USS Trinity Dawn, a Trek fan club from the Albuquerque area, was out in force.
Judy Jaeger said she was having the best time at the UFO Encounter but said the tone was different from that of a Trek event.
This is a lot more informative and not just entertaining, she said.
Marviline Rivera, however, noted that the group encountered a little animosity from locals whove grown sick of the space mania.
Some people tend to step back, she said. They think were hydroponic geeks.
Most Roswellians, however, think the UFO craziness is just fine, particularly since its likely to attract millions of tourist dollars.
You gotta have some reason to party, Priscilla Wojtasik said at a grocery store just up Main Street from the festival site.
Nannette Arnold, another shopper, confided that she underwent several experiences that she believed could have been alien encounters, such as seeing a strange bug-eyed face through the window when she was 3.
Ive never seen a spaceship, but I believe there are higher beings, she said.
LouAnn Abbott, however, was glad she was leaving town for the weekend to attend a wedding in Oklahoma.
Too many people, she said. Im not a crowd person.
For researchers who have spent decades unearthing evidence to back up UFO claims, the crowds served a sign that they are winning the public-relations war against the skeptics.
I think there is a shift in acceptance, von Daniken told some of the more than 200 journalists who came to Roswell. You see all the media here?
Stanton Friedman, the physicist turned ufologist who helped resurrect the Roswell story, seconded that sentiment.
|Michael Hardwick of Norman, Okla., tossed a "Used UFO" that he just purchased at one of the booths set up as part of the Roswell UFO Encounter. Slogan for the product: "You can't get them new ... on this planet." Information at www.ufo2001.com.|
Whats changed is the media perception of the public interest, he said. Referring to cover stories in Time and other magazines, Friedman said the media finally realized that you can make a buck.
The latest Air Force study, which ascribes reports about alien bodies to experiments using crash-test dummies dropped from great heights, only showed journalists and the wider public that maybe the case against flying saucers isnt all that great, he said.
I wish to publicly go on record as thanking the United States Air Force for shooting itself in both feet, Friedman said.
One of the people who contributed to the alien-body aspect of the Roswell story is Glenn Dennis, who in his flinty way scoffed at the Air Force reports claim that he and other witnesses may have confused events that happened as much as a decade apart.
Im very positive about the dates, but it was a good try for them, Dennis told reporters. The ones who made this report are the only dummies I know.
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