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I saw the movie Roswell the other day and am quite taken with the revelation that: (1) aliens crash-landed in New Mexico back in the 40s; (2) one or two survived long enough to be observed and analyzed; (3) metal never before seen on earth, which looked like aluminum but was as strong as titanium, was recovered; and (4) the government is covering this up. Any truth to this?--Anonymous

What's the straight dope on this "alien autopsy" movie making the rounds? From what I saw of it, the purpose of the filming seemed to be to convince viewers that the event actually occurred rather than to document an autopsy. I've seen and heard of autopsy notes and even photographs being made, but is filming of the procedure ever done? What possible value would it have? --John C. Heckler, via the Internet

Just guessing, but considering that Fox built an entire TV show around it, I'd say the value had to be at least a hundred grand. The chance to cash in big is the only thing that could have kept this lame story alive.

The "Roswell incident" began on June 14, 1947, when rancher Mac Brazel found some debris on the spread he managed about 75 miles northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. The junk included sticks, metallic paper, and tape with mysterious writing on it. Total weight: five pounds.

The makings of an alien spacecraft? More like the makings of an alien kite. Brazel probably wouldn't have given the matter much thought, except that 11 days later the first sighting of a "flying saucer" occurred in Washington state. Brazel decided to report his find to the local sheriff, who called the military intelligence office at the Roswell army airfield.

The military guys didn't know what to make of the stuff they collected from Brazel's ranch. But they'd read about flying saucers like everybody else and, let's face it, after you've been stationed a while in an isolated outpost you get a little desperate for excitement. They sent out a press release saying they'd found the wreckage of a flying saucer. The army's top brass went nuts. They immediately confiscated the Roswell junk and held a press conference at which they declared it was the remains of a weather balloon.

The truth wouldn't come out till years later. In 1947 the government was conducting Project Mogul, an attempt to use high-altitude balloons to detect expected Soviet atom-bomb tests. Periodically researchers in Alamogordo, New Mexico, sent up a "balloon train," a string of balloons carrying electronics plus a sticks-and-tinfoil radar reflector. The remains of one of these balloon trains was undoubtedly what Brazel found. In fact, contact with one had been lost when it was less than 20 miles away from his ranch.

The clincher: the tape with mysterious writing. According to Charles Moore, a Project Mogul scientist, the radar reflectors had been made during World War II by a company in New York City's garment district. When early models proved too flimsy, the company did a quick fix by reinforcing the reflectors using tape with stylized flower designs on it.

We now fast-forward to the late 1970s. Renewed interest in UFOs has led researchers to reexamine the Roswell case. Various parties obligingly come forward with tales about having seen or heard about alien crash victims 30 years earlier.

Having consulted with Philip Klass, a noted UFO debunker who's written extensively about Roswell, I'd say what we've got here is a bunch of people who spent too much time in the desert without a hat. Nonetheless entrepreneurs have used this unpromising material to create a veritable industry of Roswell books, films, museums, and more.

Now it's 1995. An English TV producer--a TV producer, for God's sake--comes up with what he claims is a film of an autopsy conducted on the aliens' bodies. Doctors, Hollywood special-effects guys, and even many UFO buffs who see it pretty much roll their eyes. The thing obviously depicts a bunch of actors in space suits with no idea how a real autopsy is done fumbling over a reject from a Steven Spielberg flick.

But who cares? The honchos at Fox surely figured: hey, the shroud of Turin fooled 'em for 600 years. All we've got to do is keep 'em watching till the last commercial break.

--CECIL ADAMS

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, or E-mail him at cecil@chireader.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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