In early July, 1947, a sheep rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, found pieces of strange metal foil littering his land. The material was unlike anything he had ever seen. Officials at a nearby air-force base said the debris was from a weather balloon. But some people didn't believe it. They claimed the metal was from an alien spacecraft that had crashed to earth. The government, they said, was hiding the evidence.
The alleged crash and cover-up of a UFO (unidentified flying object) became known as the Roswell Incident. By the time the 50th anniversary of the event occurred in 1997, the story had been wildly exaggerated. Some people claimed to have seen alien bodies as well as alien spacescraft. As the anniversary neared, the air force released a paper explaining how secret military work may have inspired the stories.
The original debris came from a high-altitude spy balloon the report said. Further, the “alien bodies” were crash-test dummies, and the “UFOs” were secret spy planes.
The report didn’t dampen Roswell’s anniversary celebration. For six days in July, people toured the alleged crash site, visited UFO museums, and attended concerts and extraterrestrial-themed costume parties. Nor did the report change the minds of those who continued to insist that aliens had crashed at Roswell 50 years before.
A 1997 Time magazine poll found that one of every three Americans believe that aliens have visited earth.