Roswell, New Mexico. 1947. Mention of the place, the year — that’s all it takes. Even those only casually interested in reported UFO phenomena know at least parts of the story that follows. Those for whom the mysteries surrounding UFOs hold more allure — they’re able to recite chapter and verse. The alleged crash of a flying saucer. And, depending on which theories one prefers, the recovery of its deceased alien occupants, followed by a government effort aimed at sweeping the whole thing under the rug.
The name of a city, a year. Even an eventful year. In the case of most places, that’s not much to go on, but not so with Roswell. That’s owed largely to one person — nuclear physicist and famed UFO researcher Stanton Friedman, who died last week at 84 — and a conversation that began with his investigation into the Roswell Incident.
That conversation, which is still going on today, changed Roswell forever.
Friedman was a believer in the existence of extraterrestrial life — but his search for evidence was the quest of a scientist, a researcher.
As countless lectures, interviews and personal interactions made clear, he had a knack for connecting with people.
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Here in Roswell, the connections run deep, and have for years. Back in the late 70s, a radio station general manager in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — during an interview — told Friedman what was at the time a relatively obscure story about an alleged UFO incident.
In the ensuing years, hundreds of interviews were conducted and countless documents, unearthed through Freedom of Information Act requests, studied — and as the lore surrounding the incident grew, so, locally, did the commerce.
The lore: Some say that back in 1947, a weather balloon crashed in the desert northwest of Roswell. Others theorize it was more, a balloon carrying equipment to detect the Soviets’ atomic-detonation tests, part of top-secret Project Mogul. Still others go a step further: It was an alien spacecraft. The military recovered not only the craft but the bodies of dead extraterrestrials — and our government has doggedly pursued a cover-up ever since.
The headline on page 1 of the July 8, 1947 Roswell Daily Record read: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region” — the information attributed to the intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Air Field.
The commerce: It’s all around us. There’s the annual UFO Festival, the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which draws visitors year-round — and little green men everywhere we look. Local government has even leaned into it — as well it should — incorporating a flying saucer motif as part of the city’s new logo.
It began, in large part, with Friedman’s work and the spotlight it shone on Roswell. Many deserts hold many secrets — and the sun-scorched patch of earth where all this began still holds plenty. Weather balloon, Project Mogul — UFO? Who knows? But it has long since been anything but obscure.
People the world over are familiar with Friedman’s work, but his impact on Roswell has been unique. As RDR publisher Barbara Beck wrote after hearing of his death, “We mourn the death of a man who made Roswell famous … He was not afraid to stand up and debunk UFO hoaxes. His belief in extraterrestrials was based on data about UFO events he found buried in U.S. government documents.
“He was a calm, matter-of-fact person who stood by what he believed. He helped make our town famous, but never sought to exploit it. …”
The discussion about what happened in the desert near Roswell in 1947 will continue without Friedman, but a unique and important voice — in regard to the Roswell incident and the field of UFO research worldwide — has been lost. The voice will be missed, and as tributes since his passing have made clear, so will the man.
John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.