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Weekly Alibi Roswellian Americana

Red, White, Blue, and Green

By Os Davis

JULY 17, 2000:  Something happened in Roswell in 1947. A disturbance in the July night sky caught the eyes of porch-sitting folk in the country town. A rancher whispered about flying saucer wreckage. Overnight, stories sprouted and grew in the fertile ground of active imaginations. Tall tales grew to beanstalk height in the way of great legend; doubtless some heard tell of a mighty alien motorcycle and a wild chase on U.S. 385. The answer hitting newsprint reduced The Roswell Incident to an unpoetic bundle of sticks and string. A town that had been catapulted to instant stardom disappeared from media consciousness. For a while.

Bigger than the mystery of '47 is the mystery of Roswell's resurrection. Nobody can point to one specific moment in time whereupon Roswell rose from ashes of obscurity to bloom as essential mention in any reputable conspiracy theory. Some cite this book or that episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" or that one Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. Fact is that Roswell now enjoys fame all out of proportion to its size. Fact is that unseen aliens are a mighty tiny nail on which to hang a hat of meaning. And the fact is that Roswell, with the decorum rare to celebrity, has maintained its air as classic American small town.

More than a half-century after something happened, the town celebrates The Incident with all the parades, festivities, music, and hoopla worthy of the best holidays. Demonstrating what surely must be this country's funkiest sense of civic pride, Roswellians gear up in tinfoil and plastic in the dead of summer, dress up the town like Halloween, and drive about in aluminum, all the while good-naturedly suffering the slings and arrows of a million corny jokes they've heard from tourists before. Do UFOs clash with Independence Day? Hardly; after all, what's more American than loving your country while fearing government conspiracy lurking beneath every headline?

Who says little green men don't go with the red, white, and blue? Roswellians love their town like they love their own children, of human lineage or no. On July 1, a parade held during Roswell Trek 2000 marked an attempt to post more notoriety on the pop cultural bulletin board: an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records under "Longest UFO-Themed Parade." Comprised of 24 "floats," each manifestation of the imaginary was greeted with enthusiasm and cheered as though more fantastic than a Mars landing. Each illusion felt more real than the real thing, being held together by the entire township's pride in its uniqueness.

Yet what truly distinguishes Roswell is its refreshing air of simplicity. Amidst sometimes gaudy trappings and continual reminders that aliens drink Coca-Cola, drive Toyotas, eat chocolate, wear baseball caps, vote Republican (no joke), and watch "X-Files," Roswell is pure Americana. Or maybe that should be "purest." Perhaps less has changed since 1947 than we thought, for, after blowing away the stapled-on rep, Roswellians are Rockwellian. This is a town where waitresses call outsiders "Hon," a town where private donations of small change fund the July 4th fireworks displays, a town where "Welcome" is as well-meant as it sounds.

Something happened in 1947. Something else happened in the 1980s or '90s, and an enduring 20th-century myth ballooned. Today, this Southwestern town of 50,000 stands at the apex of its popularity, entering the 21st-century with questions aplenty. How long can they keep this phenomenon going? What could fill a vacuum left in the local economy should tourists tire of its central myth? What will become of this oasis in southeastern New Mexico? Perhaps the endurance of the Incident itself might serve as parable: like the quadrillions-to-one probability of an alien craft's crashing, the miraculous--even the impossible--can be created from nothing. Surely, Roswell will endure.


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