The Roswell Nonsense

by Scott Allen Munro

[Numbers in parentheses are links to footnotes]

The thing about the Roswell Nonsense is that it never should have made it into the flying saucer mythos. I mean, there’s really no excuse.

Let’s establish up front that the whole thing rests squarely on the debris field discovered by Mac Brazel and seen by Jesse Marcel. Without that, there is nothing. When researchers call Roswell “the best documented UFO crash,” what they mean is that the existence of the debris field is well-documented. Roswell Army Air Field even put out a press release about it:

The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County.

The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office.

Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters. (1)

There is no room for doubt that the press release relates only to the debris field. Both internal and external evidence supports this view.

The “disc” was obtained “through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office.” It “landed on a ranch near Roswell” and was stored for some time by the rancher. The rancher notified the sheriff, and the sheriff notified Maj. Marcel. “The disc was picked up near the rancher’s home.” All of these statements concur with what we know of the debris field, and do not concur with the later stories of “crashed spaceships” and “alien bodies.”

And the press release itself is entirely inconsistent with the discovery of a spaceship. The press release was issued on July 8, 1947. According to the Roswell received wisdom, the coverup had been going on for at least a day, perhaps longer. If we accept this, then whoever authorized the press release (probably base commander Col. William Blanchard) must either have not known that the “spaceship crash” was supposed to be a secret, or have decided to flout secrecy (presumably in the interest of the public’s right to know).

Either way, why doesn’t the press release mention a crashed spaceship?

In July 1947 (two weeks after “flying saucers” first hit the newspapers), “flying disc” and “alien spaceship” were in no way synonymous. “Flying saucers” were a mystery, rather than a controversy. One can see that in the contemporary news stories that resulted from the press release. I have yet to see a single contemporary news report announcing that the army claimed to have possession of an alien spaceship. If the person who authorized the press release knew about an alien spaceship crash, it is not plausible that he would have failed to identify the “flying disc” as such.

The Roswell Nonsense first came to the attention of ufologists in the late 1970’s, when retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jesse Marcel reported that, while serving as air intelligence officer of the 509th Bomb Group, he had handled pieces of a crashed flying saucer. “Confirmation” came when researcher William Moore happened upon the newspaper stories concerning the “flying disc” press release. Moore and researcher Stanton Friedman then began tracking down witnesses. They spoke with Mac Brazel’s children and former neighbors, Jesse Marcel’s son, and others whose descriptions of the debris generally matched (with due allowance for the more than thirty years which had passed) Jesse Marcel’s. Several of the witnesses insisted that the debris came from an alien spaceship.

There was a moment, an instant, there must have been, when Friedman and Moore could have separated the witnesses’ factual descriptions from their opinions and said to each other, “You know, this stuff really doesn’t sound all that strange.”

But wishful thinking prevailed.

In Crash at Corona, Friedman and Don Berliner insist that “what was found on the Foster ranch [which Brazel managed] was 100-percent unfamiliar materials. . . .There was no rubberized balloon fabric, no aluminized mylar, no wooden sticks. . . .” (2)

In fact, it appears very likely that there was aluminized Mylar. Sallye Strickland Tadolini, a Brazel neighbor at the time, says “. . .What Bill [Brazel, Mac’s son] showed us was a piece of what I still think as [sic] fabric. It was something like aluminum foil, something like satin, something like well-tanned leather in its toughness, yet was not precisely like any one of those materials. . . .It was about the thickness of very fine kidskin glove leather and a dull metallic grayish silver, one side slightly darker than the other.” (3)

This is, in fact, a perfect description of a piece of aluminized Mylar that has been handled a great deal (but see the Jan. 22, 1997 update on Sallye Tadolini’s description). Bill Brazel has said that he was fascinated by the material’s ability to uncrease itself (an ability shared by aluminized Mylar): “I got to playing with it. I would fold it or crease it and lay down and watch it.” (4) Handling a piece of aluminized Mylar causes the aluminum coating to crack and wear off, dulling the color, and also causes tiny wrinkles to appear, giving it a texture much like very fine kid glove leather. Friedman and Berliner quote Bill Brazel as saying the material was “almost like a plastic.” (5)

If it looks like a duck. . . .

The “sticks” described by many of the witnesses may or may not be wood. Bessie Brazel Schreiber (Mac’s daughter) describes them as being “like kite sticks.” (6) Sheridan Cavitt (who accompanied Marcel to the site) told Air Force investigators that they were “bamboo” or “bamboo type” sticks. (7) Loretta Proctor (another Brazel neighbor) says, “It was smooth like plastic.” (8) Perhaps the sticks were, in fact, plastic (although there is another possible explanation that will be given later). In any case, there is no need to postulate an extraterrestrial origin.

No rubberized balloon fabric? Bessie Schreiber says that, ” The debris looked like pieces of a large balloon which had burst. . . .Most of it was kind of a double-sided material, foil-like on one side and rubber-like on the other. Both sides were grayish-silver in color, the foil more silvery than the rubber.” (9)

Another pillar of the Roswell Nonsense is the fabled Switching of the Debris. Jesse Marcel alleged that the debris he found was taken away, and a balloon and foil radar target substituted, before reporters were allowed to examine and photograph the debris at Fort Worth Army Air Field. After the Switching, weather officer Irving Newton was brought in to identify the balloon for the press.

However, what is shown in the Fort Worth photos appears to be the same foil-like material and sticks described by the witnesses. Sheridan Cavitt told Air force investigators that the material in the photos was consistent with materials he had recovered from the ranch. (10)

And Irving Newton himself told the investigators, “. . .while I was examining the debris, Major Marcel was picking up pieces of the target sticks and trying to convince me that some notations on the sticks were alien writings. There were figures on the sticks, lavender or pink in color, appeared to be weather faded markings.” (11) Strange that Major Marcel should try to find “alien writings” on the balloon that had been substituted for the real debris. These “figures” were noted by many of the witnesses, although there is some disagreement over whether they were on the sticks or on some tape (the obvious solution is that they were on tape which was stuck to the sticks [but Kent Jeffrey has another solution]).

[I should point out that I do not accept all the details of Irving Newton’s decades-old testimony. In fact, I consider it very unlikely that Major Marcel would have spoken of “alien writings” in July 1947. However, given that the markings are a major part of Marcel’s later testimony, and that he did eventually decide that they were alien writings, I do not find it unlikely that Marcel would have pointed them out to Newton as something strange.]

Prof.– Charles B. Moore and Col. Albert Trakowski, who worked on the classified Mogul balloon project in the late 1940’s, related to Air Force investigators that the radar targets used on Mogul balloons were made by a garment or novelty company, using purplish-pink tape with symbols on it. (12) Moore also states that balsa wood sticks coated in glue were used in the targets, which could explain the strange, smooth sticks. (13)

The point is that there was never any reason to postulate an extraterrestrial origin for the debris on the ranch. “100-percent unfamiliar materials”? Unfamiliar to the witnesses, certainly. Unfamiliar to many researchers, apparently. But not extraterrestrial.

And without the debris field, the rest of the Roswell Nonsense consists of the same kind of undocumented, unverifiable crash story that, in the pre-Marcel era, was not considered respectable among “mainstream” ufologists.

The Roswell Nonsense tells us nothing about UFO’s, but it tells us much about ufology.

How can Friedman, Randle, et al., be taken seriously any more? Why should their pronouncements on UFO evidence be given any credence? This is not a case of investigators being taken in by a clever hoaxer (or even a stupid one). This is much, much worse.

The Roswell Nonsense is the creation of the investigators themselves.

Afterthought (January 13, 1997)

Recently, I have been accused of picking and choosing among the details of witness testimony to bolster my case. I admit that there is some truth in this. People on both sides of the issue are guilty of this sort of special pleading. Since I believe that what crashed on the Brazel/Foster ranch was prosaic, I tend to give greater weight to those details that seem to confirm this. Since Stanton Friedman, et al., believe that what crashed on the Brazel/Foster ranch was passing strange, they tend to give greater weight to the details that seem to confirm this view.

This is only natural. But how do we resolve this? There are two ways:

  1. Put all the testimony (from the Brazel debris witnesses) on equal footing. Although we know that some details must be blurry after so many decades, we should judge by preponderance of the overall evidence whether the debris was prosaic or non-prosaic.

    Taking all the testimony of the Brazel debris witnesses into account, the preponderance of evidence suggests that what crashed on the Brazel ranch was a balloon. Far more details of this testimony suggest a balloon than an alien spaceship (foil, string, tape, sticks, and something like aluminized Mylar would be mighty strange materials with which to build a spaceship, but they would be perfect materials for a balloon).

  2. Discount all the post-1977 witness testimony.

Number (2) is probably the more reasonable course. But this leaves Roswell spaceship crash proponents without a case.

Update (January 22, 1997)

Recently I found Sallye Strickland Tadolini’s address on the Net and wrote to her. I enclosed a piece of aluminized Mylar (without telling her what it was) and asked her how similar it was to the material which Bill Brazel showed her.

She graciously replied, admitting that her “tactile memory is vague at best” (50 years after the event, whose wouldn’t be?), but stating that she was not “sure about the texture of the fabric,” that the material did not “trigger any sense of familiarity,” and that the material she handled in 1947 was (to the best of her recollection) “slightly silky and not ‘papery'”.

My thanks to Mrs. Tadolini for responding to yet another query about Roswell.

Second Update (June 16, 1997)

Kent Jeffrey, author of the Roswell Declaration, in an article explaining why he is now certain that no spaceship crashed at Roswell, says that during an interview with Irving Newton (the weather officer who identified the balloon debris in Gen. Ramey’s office), Newton told him that some of the ink from the printed symbols on the tape had bled through to the sticks.

This may explain why some witnesses said the symbols were on the tape, and others said they were on the sticks.

Jeffrey’s article is online at The Roswell Homepage.

© 1996 Scott A. Munro

Afterthought and update © 1997 Scott A. Munro

All Rights Reserved


(Click on the number of the note to return to your place in the page)

(1) quoted in Stanton Friedman and Don Berliner, Crash at Corona [buy], Paragon House, 1995, p. xiii.

(2) ibid., pp. 144-5.

(3) Fred Whiting, ed., “The Roswell Events,” sponsored by the Fund for UFO Research, quoted in The Roswell Report [buy], Headquarters United States Air Force, 1995, p. 23.

(4) Kevin Randle, A History of UFO Crashes [buy], Avon, 1995, p. 26.

(5) Friedman and Berliner, op. cit., p. 73.

(6) Whiting, op. cit., quoted in The Roswell Report, p. 23.

(7) The Roswell Report, p. 2 of Atch 18, p.1 of Atch 17.

(8) Friedman and Berliner, op. cit., p. 72

(9) Whiting, op. cit., quoted in The Roswell Report, p. 23.

(10) The Roswell Report, p. 5 of Atch. 18.

(11) ibid., p. 3 of Atch. 30.

(12) ibid., p. 4 of Atch. 23, p. 7 of Atch. 24.

(13) ibid., p. 3 of Atch. 23.

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