“Roswell Alleged Alien Photos Are Fake Says Neil deGrasse Tyson,” proclaimed the “BizTek Mojo” website on May 8, three days after the anticlimactic unveiling of the so-called “Roswell Slides” in Mexico City. But Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t say that at all.
What the distinguished astrophysicist did say was vastly more interesting, and points toward the real importance of the “Roswell Slides” episode for a serious UFOlogy.
First, let’s be clear: the “Roswell Slides” are not fakes. They’re perfectly authentic photos, apparently from the 1940s, of a mummified two-year-old boy displayed from 1938 to 1947 in the museum of the Mesa Verde National Park, glass case, identification placard and all. I don’t see any reason to doubt the claim of their chief promoter, Adam Dew, that they were found amid a cache of slides left by the formidable Hilda Blair Ray at her death, even though the precise chain of events by which they found their way from her to Dew remains obscure. Hilda and her husband Bernard were inveterate travelers; a visit to Mesa Verde from their home in Midland, Texas, would have been a short jaunt for them. While they’re there, why not take a couple of snaps of a striking museum exhibit?
Of course the slides have nothing to do with Roswell or with UFOs. The really important question is: how did this interpretation become attached to them? Why did it seem so plausible for so long?
Kevin Randle, who since last February has run an excellent series of posts on the Slides on his “A Different Perspective” blog, commented on May 11–six days after the Slides were unveiled at the much-ballyhooed event in Mexico City–that “anyone who saw the picture knew almost immediately it was a human and not an alien.” Change “knew” to “ought to have known,” and I’ll agree. In retrospect, it seems blindingly obvious that we’re looking at a museum exhibit of a human mummy. Lots of things seem obvious in retrospect.
Randle himself was cautious and skeptical about the Slides from the get-go. Others’ reactions–particularly their gut reactions, delivered before they had more than a few seconds to think–were very different.
At the end of April, Adam Dew posted a video of spontaneous responses to the Slides from the man-and-woman-on-the-street, this “street” being Michigan Avenue in Chicago:
“Wow, like alien!”
“I don’t think it’s human.”“It doesn’t look human.”
“I think it’s an alien from Mars.”
“It looks like an alien.”
“Is this for real?”
“Reminds me very much of Roswell, New Mexico.”
Asked what feature stands out, one woman points to “the oval of the head” and “the eyes,” although in fact the head in the photo isn’t particularly oval and the eyes don’t look unusual. Surely she’s looking at the photo and “seeing” the iconic UFO alien, with its light-bulb shaped head and enormous eyes.
“She had a dark secret, Hilda,” says one woman; and another, “She knew a story. There was something behind it. She knows.” I wish I could speak to those ladies and ask them: what do you imagine that “dark secret” might have been? What would Hilda Ray have “known”?
You’ll say, and I’ll agree with you, that these are precisely the responses Adam Dew wanted to get. That’s why he made the video, why he posted it to YouTube. How many of the people he asked said something like, “It’s a mummy, you dope!” and walked away? Naturally we’re not shown them.
Yet isn’t it strange that Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, shown the same photo as the people on Michigan Avenue and like them given close to zero time to think about what he was seeing, jumped to the same conclusion they did? Namely, that the photo purported at least to represent an alien.
What he said, as filmed in the trailer to the documentary (“Kodachrome”) that Dew is supposedly making, was this:
“So, OK, maybe it’s a real alien that landed. Fine. I don’t have a problem with that. Come back when you got–come back later when you got–“
Most people who’ve commented on this have said that Tyson was “skeptical.” He doesn’t sound skeptical to me. Annoyed and defensive, yes, but not skeptical. “Maybe it’s a real alien that landed.” And did he finish his “come back later when you got–“ sentence, but Dew edited out the ending? Or did he stop there? I’m inclined to think the latter. Of course he wanted Dew to go away and quit bothering him. But how could he have finished the sentence in any way that made sense? Once he’s granted that Dew might have a photo of a “real alien that landed,” what more could Dew be expected to “get”?
Unfair! you’ll say. The man was blindsided. (Dew seems to have waylaid him in what looks like an indoor shopping mall.) He had no time to think. Again I’ll agree.
But precisely because Tyson didn’t have time to think, for his rational, analytic mind to kick in, this is a valuable testimony to the spontaneous reaction of a man otherwise contemptuously dismissive of UFOs to a picture just ambiguous enough to serve as a Rorschach. For him. For the people on Michigan Avenue. For all of us.
It seems so obvious now that the photo is of a human child and not an extraterrestrial being, that the UFOlogists who touted it at the Mexico City event and the run-up thereto come away looking like scoundrels or idiots. My own guess is that the unconscious link between a (real) child corpse and the (imaginary) Roswell UFOnauts was so powerful that it overrode all obstacles, all rational objections to a connection for which there was never the smallest real-world evidence.
In other words, they acted in good faith no less than the Michigan Avenue people. The second thoughts that should have stopped them were paralyzed by the sheer power of that image and what it evoked in them. Even, or perhaps particularly, Adam Dew. If he had any inkling that the speculative constructions he piled on the Slides could be so easily overturned, would he really have undertaken a documentary film about them, with all the effort and expense involved? (Is the film ever going to be made, now that we know about the mummy?)
“They were children, Danny,” says Rochelle Perlmann about the Roswell aliens, in my novel Journal of a UFO Investigator. That’s precisely what Annie Jacobsen, in her book Area 51, claimed they were, literally and historically. It’s what I think they were and are, psychologically. It’s why the Roswell Slides, in which the twisted mummy of a long-dead child calls forth irresistible associations with Roswell even in Neil deGrasse Tyson, turn out to be about Roswell after all.
by David Halperin
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