by Jerome Clark
I have stayed out of the debate between Friedman, Schmitt and Randle on one side and my fellow columnist and old friend, John Keel, on the other as they have argued the merits of the Roswell evidence, though regular readers will have no trouble divining which side I’m on. Nonetheless, I must correct a misleading assertion Keel makes in The Roswell Furor in FATE’s January issue.
Keel says that witnesses to the Roswell events—as of December 1990 nearly 300 had been located and interviewed—cannot be trusted because ever since 1947, when the crash took place, UFO buffs have been “molesting” them to turn a Japanese balloon into a downed spaceship. “The Roswell thing has been revived every few years,” he says. In his view, in the more than four decades since something plummeted into the Brazel ranch in New Mexico, participants’ testimony has been thoroughly contaminated.
This would be a respectable argument if it were based on fact. In reality, nothing of the sort ever took place as far as I have been able to determine from an extensive review of the UFO literature. While doing research for my book on ufology’s early days, I have poured over not just the obscure UFO magazines and bulletins, but also the private correspondence of some of ufology’s pioneering figures. The earliest printed reference I can find to the Roswell event in this literature is in 1966, in Frank Edwards’ Flying Saucers—Serious Business. The only other reference appears the next year, in Ted Bloecher’s Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, where it is dealt with in three paragraphs under the heading, “Hoaxes and Mistakes.” Neither treatment (either Edward’s positive one or Bloecher’s negative one) had any impact; there are no further references to Roswell in the literature. I have been interested in UFOs since 1957. Until a few years ago I had scarcely heard of it, for the simple reason that it was never talked about.
It was forgotten until the late 1970s, when Friedman and Bill Moore learned from persons who had been on site at Roswell that the official explanation (that the object was a weather balloon), which till then had gone unchallenged, was false. None of the witnesses had been interviewed before, and Schmitt and Randle are still finding informants who, till now, never discussed the incident with outsiders.
In fact, references to any crashed-disc claims are rare in the early literature. The one specific case that got occasional, but very cautious, mention was an alleged crash in Spitzbergen, Norway, now believed to be a hoax. Ufologists held such claims in disdain (see, for example, Civilian Saucer Intelligence Quarterly Bulletin, September 1952, p. 5) because they associated them with the fraudulent crash stories recounted in Frank Scully’s notorious Behind the Flying Saucers (1950). Scully’s source was not, as Keel describes it, a “prominent oil man,” but a lifelong confidence artist who even at the time of his death in the early 1970s was in serious trouble with the law, as he had been since the 1920s. Again, Keel to the contrary, Scully’s sources were not “vaguely” but devestatingly discredited in J.P. Cahn’s famous September 1952 True magazine expose. I urge John to read it.