One by one the vets took a brief turn at the podium, uncovering the ‘cover story’ behind the ULTIMATE invasion.
For a split-second there was a stunned silence. Then the cadets and the crowd cheered and cheered. For the first time since June of 1947, Roswell was back in the headlines.
Reaction ignited a spark of entrepreneurism that had founded the town. Within a year, with contributions from Radio Free Europe, the Crusade for Freedom Society, the 509th Memorial Group, and the National Balloon Preservationists, the ‘ULTIMATE Museum’ was born.
The historic exhibits of ‘harmless weather balloons’ and ‘pillow balloons’ backed by political posters in a ‘Buffer Zone’ of languages around the original 10-ton bell. Its message to the world still rang.
‘A new wind is blowing. New hope is stirring…There is no dungeon deep enough to hide truth, no wall high enough to keep out the message of freedom. Tyranny cannot control the winds, cannot enslave your hearts. Freedom will rise again.‘
The Ad Council put the ULTIMATE Museum on the map. Not only had Roswell been “The ‘Kitty Hawk’ of the Greatest Airborne Invasion in History, but “The Birthplace of the Media Blitz!”
Displayed prominently in the museum foyer is a framed memorial…the names of the 17 heroes who gave their lives for their country.
Big corporations became ULTIMATE sponsors, testing their latest commercials on site and giving out exclusive samples. The museum committee then bought the Roswell movie theater on Main Street, turning it into a showcase. Hollywood movies big and small would no longer premiere in New York or Beverly Hills, but at The ULTIMATE Theater. The annual ULTIMATE Film Festival continues to be a great success.
Every year since 1984, during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, The Roswell Museum reenacts ‘The ULTIMATE Invasion’ launching helium- filled balloons filled with valuable leaflets that will drop from the sky into the center of town.
This year’s events will be sponsored by ‘War of the Worlds” yet another Hollywood remake. More than 5,000 free movie passes will float over the huge crowd. Walmart and Burger King have also signed up. Over the years, as valuable as the ‘leaflets’ have been, most are never redeemed, but treasured as ULTIMATE souvenirs.
A Madison Avenue ad man gave America a new adjective. “Our new campaign …it’s gonna be Roswellian!”
Not until 1997 did the Department of Defense declassify the USAF Security Service. None of that ever happened in Roswell.
Something else did.
‘Roswell’ was Mr. Smith’s first name. His son, Van C. Smith, a professional gambler, filed a claim in 1871 and named the settlement to honor his father. ‘Billy the Kid’, the Lincoln county War, and raids by the Mescalero Apaches colored the 1880s.
In 1890, not gold, but a vast artesian water supply was discovered beneath Roswell. Irrigation turned the arid land into vegetable fields. The ‘Chisum Trail’ began nearby for driving longhorn cattle to the railhead at Las Cruces. The First National Bank was established, and in 1891, the town was incorporated. The Roswell Dispatch, now the Roswell Daily Record, began its storied history, as did the Goss Military Institute, later renamed the New Mexico Military Institute.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many small towns in the Heartland had been abandoned as their citizens sought work elsewhere. FDR’s ‘Works Projects Administration’ created jobs and hope in Roswell, but in the 1970s Walker Air Force Base closed and half the population moved out. Many worried that Roswell would become yet another New Mexico ‘ghost town’.
In the nick of time, the town was saved by a ‘close encounter’.
“If ya wanna see ‘flying saucers’,” Dr. J. Allen Hynek quoted a wag, ‘Goose the waitress.’