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Steve Yesner (left) roams the streets of Roswell with aliens.

Steve Yesner (left) roams the streets of Roswell with aliens.

A baby martian rides in her earthbound wooden wagon

A baby martian rides in her earthbound wooden wagon

Semper (sci-) fi

Steven Yesner

In this election season, with its constant focus on battleground states, New Mexico may have the most overlooked demographic story. Roswell, a conservative ranching town near the Texas border, is best known for embracing its alien heritage and a Mecca-like pilgrimage of UFO-philes that return every Independence Day.

Today, Roswell businesses engage in a different kind of branding than its ranchers practice. Downtown cafés sport out-of-this-world theme names, street lamps have alien eyes painted on them, stores stock every alien souvenir imaginable, and products like UFO H2O and Alien Ale are everywhere. At the intersection of Main and Second, a critical mass is formed between the Alien Resistance HQ (“resistance is fertile”) and the UFO Museum, a former movie theater with a mural of Michelangelo’s Genesis redone between alien and human hands over the caption “Be in(g) touch.”

Our visit to this year’s celebration began with a screening of an Invaders episode from the 1967 TV series starring Roy Thinnes as David Vincent, a fugitive Paul Revere caught up in a Cold War conspiracy of foreigners infiltrating America. The invaders even turn Red as they self-destruct in this otherwise black-and-white parable, revealing their inner aliens. After the screening, a museum guide we met named Shoe insisted that he and his girlfriend had been abducted as teens, and the aliens were now well entrenched in Washington. Although The Invaders has slipped into obscurity in the U.S. from lack of DVD releases, Thinnes says the show has a cult following in France, where suspecting American government motivations is more popular than ever thanks to the neocons in Congress and the White House.

Of course, UFO opinions in Roswell are as polarized as national politics. Some believe extraterrestrials have been visiting earth throughout human evolution, guiding our development and possibly giving rise to our species. Others believe there is a lurking alien menace that performs abductions and cavity probing and cow mutilations, intent on world domination. It’s a Roswellian-Orwellian two-party system with Greens (and Grays) in the mix.

The festival features a four-day convention with numerous guest speakers, live music, and a costume contest and invasion/parade on Saturday. The contest offers prizes for scariest, cutest, and funkiest alien kid, teen, adult, and pet costume, but some of the audience could easily have won. One contestant had been participating since she was an infant. A couple in silver suits posed while their admiring teenage daughter took photos. We searched the program in vain for the parade on Saturday, then realized it takes place at night. An invasion of state patrol, county sheriff, and city police and fire units ablaze with flashing lights and screaming sirens is followed by floats and riders and marchers celebrating Americana and aliens in equal measure.

The UFO museum, which is free and open year-round, offers a research library and abundant displays on UFOs, crop circles, alien-movie memorabilia, and the so-called Roswell Incident of 1947. An official Air Force investigation and Congressional report in 1994 concludes that the incident involved the wreckage of a classified research experiment known as Project Mogul that used balloon-borne, long-range acoustic sensors to detect Soviet nuclear-weapon testing. Some of the convention speakers have built careers trying to prove otherwise, and the museum exhibits chronicle a swarm of UFO sightings in the years following WWII.

One of the more curious exhibits for me was a “copy” of an intelligence report purportedly written by Lt. General Nathan Twining, then commander of Air Material Command at Wright Field (now Wright Patterson AFB) in Ohio. In the Roswell legend, the recovered UFO debris was supposedly flown from Roswell to Fort Worth, then on to Wright Field aboard Army Air Force transports. Twining’s report refers to crash sites outside of Roswell and Socorro, and claims that four technicians from Sandia Base (now Kirtland AFB) were contaminated during the recovery operations, which might suggest a more down-to-earth explanation with a credible Cold War tie-in.

But whatever the truth about these incidents, the big draw for conventioneers and spectators alike is the fun and the decidedly mixed company. In the end, we’re one Roswell nation, under the stars, with liberty and something for everyone. But consider whom you’re voting for this year!

Steven Yesner, a first-time traveler to the Alien Fest, lives in Albuquerque.

 

The Alien Beat

    (Do a shuffle tap to this: left brush step,
    right step, right brush step, left step, etc.)

    Let’s get on with the alien beat
    Earth is precious below your feet
    it’s about time that you & I meet
    the sun & the sky & the stars above
    all of them are lookin' to the alien beat
    I come from afar, you’re just right here
    if you love your planet you have nothing to fear.

    Let’s get on with the alien beat
    Earth is precious below your feet
    the sun & the sky & the stars above
    all of them are lookin' to the alien beat
    it’s about time that you & I meet
    I come from afar & you’re just right here
    listen my dear, listen my dear
    if you love your planet you have nothing to fear.

—Larry Goodell ’97

 

 

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