On this day in 1997, U.S. Air Force officials release a 231-page report dismissing long-standing claims of an alien spacecraft crash in Roswell, New Mexico, almost exactly 50 years earlier.
Public interest in Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs, began to flourish in the 1940s, when developments in space travel and the dawn of the atomic age caused many Americans to turn their attention to the skies. The town of Roswell, located near the Pecos River in southeastern New Mexico, became a magnet for UFO believers due to the strange events of early July 1947, when ranch foreman W.W. Brazel found a strange, shiny material scattered over some of his land. He turned the material over to the sheriff, who passed it on to authorities at the nearby Air Force base. On July 8, Air Force officials announced they had recovered the wreckage of a “flying disk.” A local newspaper put the story on its front page, launching Roswell into the spotlight of the public’s UFO fascination.
The Air Force soon took back their story, however, saying the debris had been merely a downed weather balloon. Aside from die-hard UFO believers, or “ufologists,” public interest in the so-called “Roswell Incident” faded until the late 1970s, when claims surfaced that the military had invented the weather balloon story as a cover-up. Believers in this theory argued that officials had in fact retrieved several alien bodies from the crashed spacecraft, which were now stored in the mysterious Area 51 installation in Nevada. Seeking to dispel these suspicions, the Air Force issued a 1,000-page report in 1994 stating that the crashed object was actually a high-altitude weather balloon launched from a nearby missile test-site as part of a classified experiment aimed at monitoring the atmosphere in order to detect Soviet nuclear tests.
On July 24, 1997, barely a week before the extravagant 50th anniversary celebration of the incident, the Air Force released yet another report on the controversial subject. Titled “The Roswell Report, Case Closed,” the document stated definitively that there was no Pentagon evidence that any kind of life form was found in the Roswell area in connection with the reported UFO sightings, and that the “bodies” recovered were not aliens but dummies used in parachute tests conducted in the region. Any hopes that this would put an end to the cover-up debate were in vain, as furious ufologists rushed to point out the report’s inconsistencies. With conspiracy theories still alive and well on the Internet, Roswell continues to thrive as a tourist destination for UFO enthusiasts far and wide, hosting the annual UFO Encounter Festival each July and welcoming visitors year-round to its International UFO Museum and Research Center.