©Roy Tompkins


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The gutted-out theatre walls of the museum were painted black and splattered with white to look like stars. There were side rooms with continuous looping talking-head documentaries about the Roswell Incident. The exhibits resemble giant elementary school science projects–not entirely a bad thing for those of us who can always get behind a good diorama. I'd recommend the Walkman tour, since the exhibits were all a bit too text-heavy for my tastes. Scarequotes were used to baffling yet charming excess (which, of course, you'd expect in an exposition of conspiracy theory and paranoia)–e.g.: These are "stills" from the movie Roswell. / The nurse was "warned" not to disclose what she had seen.

The focal point of the museum was a Roswell Incident timeline, with a nice crash test dummy that the Air Force claimed was what the hapless witnesses really saw at the crash site. There were lots of other meta-exhibits, too, about all kinds of UFO and alien visitation phenomena. A flyer that explains what to do if you have a close encounter of the first-through-third kind reads like the back of an auto insurance card:

"Get witnesses; the more you have the more believable your story will be."

"Take photographs if you are able."

"Call the authorities."

Among blowups of crop circles, I heard a woman whispering to a group of Japanese tourists, "Do you believe?" and they just stared back at her, smiling, not understanding the English.

A lonely wall towards the back by the restrooms was covered with children's crayon drawings. Again, I expected something a lot more sinister: creepy art-therapy portrayals of the cold, gray, blank-eyed, small-mouthed creatures stealing the children away at night. In actuality the works were touching and sweet; it seems they were commissioned by one Mario's Pizza, so pizza was an overriding theme, along with benign, happy, archetypal little green men (all with antennae), space shuttles, and other objects of childhood fantasy. Their aliens said things like, "I come to eat the perfect food pies," and "Take me to your leader! Ho ho ho!" One work featured this dialogue:

Kid: "Want some pizza?"

Alien: "Huh?"

Others were captioned "UFO Welcome to my planet" and "Beware of an explosion by an alien!" and an ambiguous "I am an alien I am going to outer space," which, you know, if you think about it, could be the words of either an otherworldly visitor or the lament of the artist his/herself. Deep!

I can't say I derived similar enjoyment from the adult's art exhibition, all neon airbrushed New-Agey scenes of unusually proportioned space princesses amidst rainbows, the head of Einstein floating through a supernova, and wolves. Lots of wolves. Presiding over this dreck was a statue of the museum's mascot, the Roswell Alien Life Form, "RALF" for short. RALF, like the kids' crayon drawings, was decidedly un-sinister: an endearing, cuddly toddler version of the disturbing, anal-probing memory stealers. But RALF did get in my head: He made me want to buy souvenirs.

One exhibit called "Ancient Cultures and Their Connections to Extraterrestrial Life Forms" included speculation about the Palenque Astronaut, the Mayan tomb lid engraving which depicts what people interpret as a being in a spacesuit–might he be not of this world?!–playing with knobs and levers in a vessel launching up to the heavens. Now, since I can claim no doctorate in Mayan Studies, I'm sure this little dead-looking dude reclining amongst a bunch of symbols could very well represent a space traveler. The accompanying text lauds the Mayans for inventing astronomy and having such an advanced knowledge of mathematics, but then it gets a little silly. "Perhaps their obsession with the skies was a result of extraterrestrial beings taking these people under their wings–literally." Yeah, must've been aliens, 'cause how else could these savages come up with this stuff on their own?

Still, we're all prone to gee-whizzing ourselves into naïve, maybe dangerous, conclusions. (Then again, if the Palenque Astronaut returns to earth to enslave nonbelievers, clearly I'm the one who'll be sorry for that little PC moment back there.) We take bits and snippets–scraps of metal, a Coke bottle falling from the sky, tales from the long dead passed on in an oral tradition akin to a children's game of telephone–and create worlds of meaning from them.

Is the Roswell Incident a government cover-up? A government-engineered red herring? A red herring gone bad and then covered up? God bless the obsessed, the conspiracy theorists who have organized the snippets into a coherent story. But, like Jessie Wade, I'd prefer to stand underneath the immensity of the night sky, underneath the weight of our collective smallness and stupidity (being a little sloshed might help), and just enjoy the scenery west of lost and north of nowhere.

First Published: July 10, 1998 • The Austin Chronicle

Related Website:

The International UFO Museum & Research Center: This is where it all happens, people. See the evidence for yourself!

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