David Whitley heads to Roswell in New Mexico – site of the most infamous ‘alien landing’ – to find that the truth is much darker than he initially imagined
The giant inflatable alien outside the McDonalds on the way in doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Roswell has one major gimmick, and that the odd business milks it is no great shocker.
In fact, what’s most unexpected is that the whole little green man connection is underplayed. A few shops in the starkly empty downtown area sell any UFO-related guff they can get away with, the odd streetlight has been made to look like an alien head, and that’s just about it.
Well, apart from the International UFO Museum, anyway. The curators here clearly believe that the truth is out there, and have collected shedloads of testimonies about Roswell’s most notorious moment in 1947. That was when, according to the military, a weather balloon crashed.
Conspiracy theorists don’t believe that, of course. And they’re right not to, as it’s clearly a preposterous cover story for something else. The museum sets out the case for it being an alien craft that crash-landed – and plenty of witnesses (some rather reluctant and on their deathbed) attest to cover-ups, the silencing of key protagonists and sightings of non-human bodies.
The museum does its case no favours with amateurish presentation and an overly adamant belief in its case, but a couple of things stand out. The Roswell incident happened within a couple of weeks of the modern era’s first UFO sighting – in Idaho. A few more had followed, getting excitable coverage across the US media.
This suggests one of two things – firstly, that a lot of aliens were taking a look at Earth during that period or, secondly, that it was a new fad that excitable people were all too happy to get wrapped up in. The sort of hysteria, of course, that makes people see what they want to see.
The other interesting thing is the massive military presence around Roswell – air force bases, missile testing ranges, you name it. On the way in, stealth bombers are spotted racing across the sky. It doesn’t take too big a leap of faith to think that it’s not aliens that were being covered up, but some rather unsavoury and potentially embarrassing experiments.
It turns out that aliens aren’t the scariest thing about Roswell, however. The horror lies not in recovered bodies, but the ones moving around almost exclusively in Chevy Silverados. If ever there was a place to encapsulate the ugly side of modern America, this regional hub in south-western New Mexico is it.
It’s a world where nobody walks, and everyone drives a vehicle that’s way bigger than necessary. It’s a place where every sign is recognisable – Denny’s, Applebee’s, Wendy’s – and any hint of independent, non-franchised thought has been stripped out. The Walmart is gargantuan, its car park even more so. And everyone shops there.
US flags are everywhere, unquestioningly worshipped in a way that would be laughed at if it was North Korea. And the military can do no wrong – just about every business boasts of its military discounts, while bumper stickers alternate between support our troops and “proud veteran” sloganeering.
It’s a city that’s dead behind the eyes, and quite happy to be that way. One that any teenager with a brain and ounce of creative energy will be desperate to escape. The more pliant will have it drummed into them that there’s no other way and stay there forever, happy in their air-conditioned drone world.
The terror is not that this exists, but that it’s not a one-off. Roswell is replicated numerous times across the US, making identikit British small towns look positively utopian.
If the aliens did visit, it’s no surprise that they didn’t come back.