The Roswell Incident: 1947 UFO Crash near Roswell, New Mexico
These are some of the stories that have been told over the years about the Roswell Incident. Numerous additions, contradictions, refutations, revisions, and denials have surfaced since 1947. Stop in at the UFO Museum to see which have been most recently supported or debunked —or whether new ones have appeared.
Public interest in UFOs peaked during the summer of 1947. Although World War II was over, Cold War tensions were escalating and sightings of strange objects in the sky grabbed headlines around the country. In early July radar operators around New Mexico began reporting strange objects on their screens and unusual malfunctions in their equipment.
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Several people saw a crashed saucer containing dead aliens on the Plains of San Augustin near Magdalena, New Mexico, 200 miles (320 km) west of Roswell in July 1947.
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In early July 1947 Roswell Army Air Field workers were sent to a desolate rocky site about 25 miles (40 km) north of Roswell now owned by the Corn family where they found a crashed saucer-shaped aircraft and dead aliens. They were ordered to close off the area, gather up all the debris and bodies, and return everything to the Army Air Field in Roswell.
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In early July 1947 Glenn Dennis, a mortician at Ballard Funeral Home, received two telephone calls from the RAAF Mortuary Officer. In his first call the officer asked Dennis if the funeral home stocked child-sized caskets that could be hermetically sealed. During the second call he asked about preparing and preserving tissue. Both times he indicated that his questions were just routine, for future reference.
Later that same day, Dennis received a call to transport an injured airman to the RAAF, as Ballard’s also operated the town ambulance. When he delivered the airman to the RAAF hospital he noticed strange debris inside another ambulance parked beside the entrance. As he entered the building, Dennis encountered a nurse he knew, Naomi Selff, who looked shaken. She told him to leave quickly, and two other military men reinforced the command, even threatening him.
The next morning Dennis and Nurse Selff met for coffee at the RAAF Officer’s Club where she told him that she had assisted in autopsies on three small gray bodies. She sketched a picture on a napkin of the creatures with large heads, large slanted eyes, and four fingers on each hand, adding that the bodies had smelled so bad that they were eventually moved from the hospital to Hangar 84 out by the airstrip. A few days later Nurse Selff was transferred and later word came that she had died in an airplane crash.
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On the evening of July 3, 1947, as Roswell hardware store owner Dan Wilmot and his wife Grace sat on their front porch hoping for a cool breeze, a huge, glowing, saucer-shaped object zoomed overhead flying in a northwesterly direction. The Wilmots ran into their yard and watched the saucer for 40 to 50 seconds until it disappeared in the direction of Six-Mile Hill west of town.
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Trucker Jim Ragsdale took a lady friend to Boy Scout Mountain, 45 miles (70 km) west of Roswell, for an amorous encounter on the evening of July 4, 1947. There they saw a strange object fly over, then saw the flash from an explosion behind a hill. When they went to investigate, rough terrain kept them from getting close but at a distance they spotted wreckage of a disk-shaped object and alien bodies. They left when they saw military vehicles approaching.
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Mother Superior Mary Bernadette and Sister Capistrano of the Catholic nursing order Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother saw appeared to be like an explosion in the sky to the north of Roswell as they were looking out a third-floor window of St. Mary’s Hospital late on the evening of July 4, 1947.
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When cowboy W.W. “Mack” Brazel (cousin of the man acquitted of murdering Sheriff Pat Garrett in 2908) and foreman of the Foster Ranch near Corona, 75 miles (120 km) north of Roswell, rode out to check on his sheep the morning after a particularly violent thunderstorm in early July 1947, he and young neighbor boy Dee Proctor found a wide swath of strange debris spread across the prairie. Brazel collected several pieces of wood, metal, and foil that he later showed the parents of his young friend. They urged him to report his find to the authorities.
On Sunday July 6, Brazel drove into Roswell bringing his story and some of the debris to Sheriff George Wilcox in his office next to the jail at the back of the Chaves County Courthouse. The sheriff was not particularly interested, but did telephone the Roswell Army Air Field in case this indicated a crashed airplane. He was put in touch with RAAF Intelligence Officer Major Jesse Marcel who agreed to come into town to talk to Brazel.
After Major Marcel interviewed Mack Brazel at the Sheriff’s Office he reported back to his commanding officer, Colonel William “Butch” Blanchard, who sent him and another officer out to the debris field with Brazel to investigate. They arrived late in the day, spent Sunday night on the Foster ranch, then Major Marcel and the other officer spent Monday July 7 gathering up pieces of the strange foil and metal inscribed with odd symbols. Major Marcel returned to Roswell late Monday evening and spent the night at home where he showed the debris to his wife and son.
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While Mack Brazel had been waiting for Major Marcel in Sheriff Wilcox’s office on Sunday July 6, Roswell Radio Station KGFL reporter Frank Joyce called the Sheriff’s Office on a routine newsgathering mission. Sheriff Wilcox let him speak to Brazel. Monday morning when Joyce told Radio Station KGFL owner Walt Whitmore, Sr. about Brazel, Whitmore drove to the Foster Ranch, picked up Brazel, and brought him back to his house in Roswell. There he conducted and recorded an interview with Brazel who then spent Monday night at Whitmore’s house.
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On Tuesday morning July 8, Major Marcel returned to the RAAF and showed the strange material he had found on the Foster Ranch to Colonel Blanchard. The colonel immediately ordered out a force of men to cordon off the debris area, pick up everything they could find, and return it to the RAAF where they would store it all under guard in Hangar 84 along the airstrip. Colonel Blanchard sent Major Marcel to Fort Worth Army Air Field, along with some of the debris, to see General Roger Ramey, head of the Eighth Air Force. He also ordered Lt. Walter Haut, RAAF Information Officer, to distribute a press release about the crash. At lunchtime on Tuesday July 8, Lt. Haut delivered the first two copies of his press release about the crashed flying saucer to the two town radio stations, KGFL and KSWS, then delivered two more to the two town newspapers, the Roswell Morning Dispatch, a morning paper, and the Roswell Daily Record, an evening paper.
As soon as Reporter Frank Joyce at KGFL read Lt. Haut’s press release he put the story on the United Press wire. The news flashed around the world Tuesday afternoon and was even picked up by the London Times.
At KSWS, Station Manager George Walsh put the crashed-saucer story on the Associated Press wire while station owner John McBoyle called their sister station in Albuquerque, KOAT, and asked them to send the story to their affiliated ABC and Mutual Radio Networks. However when KOAT teletype operator Lydia Sleppy started her transmission to the networks, the FBI interrupted it with orders to kill the story.
When Walt Whitmore contacted the RAAF that afternoon for more information about the crash, the military appeared at Whitmore’s home to pick up Brazel and the recording of his interview. That same afternoon Whitmore received telephone calls from an FCC representative and from New Mexico Senator Dennis Chavez’ office telling him not to run the flying saucer story, saying that it was a matter of national security and the radio station would lose its license if he did not cooperate.
Later that Tuesday afternoon Colonel Blanchard rescinded the flying saucer story and sent men to the radio and newspaper offices to retrieve the press releases. But it was too late to suppress the story. The headline in the Roswell Daily Record for Tuesday evening July 8 read, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.”
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Wednesday July 9, the day after the Roswell Daily Record printed its famous headline, General Ramey, Commander of the Eighth Air Force, released information to the press in Fort Worth that the debris recovered near Roswell had come from the crash of a weather balloon.
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Several days later, the military escorted Mack Brazel to the offices of the Roswell Daily Record for an interview in which he changed his story, claiming to have found debris from a weather balloon on June 14. Brazel then went to see Frank Joyce at KGFL, again accompanied by military escort, and repeated his story that the debris had come from a weather balloon. At the end of that interview, Joyce jokingly referred to Brazel’s first story of “little green men.” Brazel responded muttering angrily, “They weren’t green!”
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By the second week of July 1947 the materials from Hangar 84, now described as debris from a crashed weather balloon, had been flown to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The excitement in Roswell was over. Everyone involved, from military personnel to civilians, were ordered not to discuss the incident further. And they didn’t, not until thirty years later.
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In 1980, after reviewing available records and interviewing as many of the participants as they could find, Charles Berlitz and William Moore published The Roswell Incident, describing the events of that July in 1947. They concluded that something not-of-this-earth had crashed northwest of Roswell and that the government had worked hard to cover up the facts. Initially their book attracted little attention outside of UFO circles, even in Roswell, until a 1989 episode of the TV show Unsolved Mysteries featured the 1947 Roswell Crash. Interest began to grow.
Walter Haut, Glenn Dennis, and Roswell realtor Max Littell founded the UFO Museum in 1991. Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published UFO Crash at Roswell that same year. The TV movie Roswell aired in 1994 and more books about the incident began to appear, including a series of teen novels (and a TV show) about aliens attending Roswell High School. The 1947 Roswell UFO Crash had taken off!
Publicity surrounding the 1997 UFO Festival on the 50th Anniversary of the Crash attracted worldwide attention. Since then the number of books, movies, TV shows, websites, blogs, and controversies has continued to grow, until today “Roswell” is one of the best known names around the globe—and who knows where else? As the marker at the Corn Ranch Crash Site reads:
We don’t know who they were.
We don’t know why they came.
We only know they changed our view of the universe.
To learn more about the Roswell Incident . . .
The Locations (1947 UFO Crash Sites and Others):
Some of the Reported Crash Sites:
Corn Ranch: This site is 25 miles (40 km) north of Roswell.
Foster Ranch: Mack Brazel’s debris field is near Corona, 75 miles (230 km) NW of Roswell.
Boy Scout Mountain: The “Ragsdale Site” is 45 miles (70 km) west of Roswell.
Plains of San Augustin: This most distant site is 200 miles (320 km) west of Roswell.
Sheriff Wilcox’s Office (Chaves County Courthouse): The section of the Courthouse containing the Chaves County Jail and Sheriff’s Office was demolished in 1996. The current Chaves County Sheriff’s Office is in the Chaves County Administrative Center.
Roswell Daily Record Offices (Pioneer Plaza): Currently the Roswell Daily Record offices are at 2301 North Main Street. The building housing the 1947 offices was demolished in 1997 along with the rest of the buildings in the Pioneer Block to create Pioneer Plaza.
Roswell Morning Dispatch Offices (UFO Museum): The building that contained these newspaper offices has become the UFO Museum Gift Shop.
Radio Station KGFL (Elegante Hair Salon): Roswell’s first radio station went off the air in 1974.
Radio Station KSWS (Schlotsky’s Deli): After several changes, KSWS became today’s KOBR-TV.
Hangar 84: Currently vacant but impressive, this building is large enough to hold several mysteries.
Ballard Funeral Home: The funeral home that employed Glenn Dennis is still in operation at its same 1947 location.
RAAF Hospital (New Mexico Rehabilitation Center): This facility, on the site of the RAAF Hospital that was the scene of the alien autopsy, currently treats patients from around New Mexico.
RAAF Officer’s Club (ENMU-R Campus Union): You can have lunch on the spot where Nurse Selff drew aliens.
Whitmore house: The house where Brazel gave the interview that was never broadcast is still here but is no longer in the Whitmore family.
Roswell High School: Popular books and the TV series about Alien teens are both set here.
UFO Museum: “The Truth is Here.”
For more complete information about Roswell locations . . .
BUY the paperback or ebook edition of Lynn Michelsohn’s guidebook
Roswell, Your Travel Guide to the UFO Capital of the World!
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