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Alien believers flock to Roswell for 'crash' anniversary

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'It's economic development,' Roswell mayor says

July 2, 1997
Web posted at: 11:12 p.m. EDT (0312 GMT)

ROSWELL, New Mexico (CNN) -- If they're looking for a close encounter with a flying saucer, they're 50 years late.

But that won't deter tens of thousands of visitors, who are expected this weekend in the town where conspiracy buffs say an alien spacecraft crashed July 4, 1947.

As many as 100,000 may attend the 50th anniversary of an incident that has prompted a veritable cottage industry of UFO speculation.

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The Air Force says what others think were aliens who supposedly crashed in the New Mexico desert 50 years ago were actually only military dummies used in high-altitude parachute drops.

But few on hand for the weekend festivities will buy that explanation. "We had in our possession a flying saucer," former Army Public Affairs Officer Walter Haut insists.

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Most residents of Roswell don't have a firm opinion either way. They are interested mainly in the potential of cashing in on the town's distinction.

All across this usually quiet ranching town of 50,000 people, waving alien figures spring up from front yards, on motel signs and in stores.

T-shirts, jackets, cookies, pins, bottled water, baseball caps, flying disks and lollipops all carry pictures of skinny, light-skinned, four-fingered aliens with bulbous heads and huge eyes. Tourists line up to have their pictures taken alongside alien dummies and join bus tours to the alleged landing site.

Roswell's officials are delighted, saying it is high time the town took advantage of its position as the world's best-known site of a possible encounter with aliens. "The market is huge," Mayor Thomas Jennings said. "This is economic development."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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