8 July 1947: reports of ‘aliens’ captured at Roswell, New Mexico
On this day in 1947, the Roswell Daily Record reported that the US Army had captured a flying saucer on a ranch in New Mexico.
Early one day in July 1947, Mac Brazel, a New Mexico rancher, was doing the rounds on his property when he came across some mysterious objects. Unable to identify them, he came to the conclusion that they were extra-terrestrial in origin. He reported the strange find to the local sheriff, who reported it to the army, who came along and took it all away.
Somehow, a few days later, an overenthusiastic army officer issued a statement that the army had captured a UFO. And so, on 8 July 1947, the Roswell Daily Record led with the headline "RAAF Captures flying saucer on ranch in Roswell region". The next day, having been contacted by the army to say it hadn't captured a UFO, it issued a correction. It wasn't a flying saucer, said the paper, it was a "weather balloon".
The incident was largely forgotten for 30 years or so. Then, some time in the 1970s, the thoroughly reputable National Enquirer re-ran the original news report, and gave birth to a whole alien conspiracy theory industry.
Over the next few years, books, films and TV shows expanded the myths.
Soon, we had at least three flying saucers, several dead aliens being unceremoniously cut up and examined, and even live aliens pottering round the base. The US government covered it all up and continues to supress the fabulous alien technology it has at its disposal.
These days, the New Mexico town of Roswell is doing quite well out of aliens, real or imagined (though when your only other claim to fame is that you are home to the world's largest mozzarella factory, it's no surprise you embrace little green men). The town has its own UFO museum, convention centre and several new motels, and every year holds a UFO Festival, which brings around 20,000 visitors to the town.