While most people take the Feb. 14 to celebrate the righteous exploits of Saint Valentine by handing out cheap, red and pink, heart-shaped memorabilia to their peers and giving gifts of flowers and chocolate to romantic partners, the avid followers of all things out-of-this-world (and also citizens of the state of New Mexico) celebrated their own holiday of astronomical significance: Extraterrestrial Culture Day, which falls annually on the second Tuesday in February – coinciding this year with Valentine’s Day.
Extraterrestrial Culture Day is an official holiday of the state of New Mexico, introduced by New Mexico State Representative Daniel Foley, and has been officially recognized since March of 2003. Theories of extraterrestrial activity and the state of New Mexico became inextricably linked in 1947 when a Corona, New Mexico rancher by the name W.W. “Mac” Brazel discovered debris of unidentifiable origin scattered across a square mile of his land. In the few days prior, pilot Kenneth Arnold made national news with his claims of spotting nine unidentified flying objects (UFOs) shaped like saucers near Washington’s Mount Rainier during a flight over the area. Several accounts followed Arnold’s, matching similar descriptions.
Upon learning of these alleged “flying saucers”, Brazel returned to the area where he’d gathered and dumped the debris and brought it to the sheriff’s office in the nearby town of Roswell, a town that has since become famously linked to the incident, and the birthplace of State Representative Daniel Foley. The sheriff contacted the Roswell Army Airfield, who collected the debris, reported the finding to the Fort Worth Army Airfield and issued a press release stating that it was the remnants of a “flying disc” stirring the public and fueling curious reportage. The debris was then flown to the Fort Worth Army Airfield, who upon further investigation determined its identity to be a weather balloon kite.
To this, one might sigh at the apparent incompetence of the Roswell Army Airfield and conclude that this incident was a laughable misunderstanding, a fire fanned by trending allegations of UFOs and built upon no real evidence, but others weren’t convinced. In the decades since, theories have propagated of military and government conspiracies to hide the truth of what crash landed in a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. The Cold War sparked new interest in theories of government cover-ups for new weapon technology testing, but the theory of extraterrestrial presence on Earth remains a very popular one – so popular that over 55 years later, the government of New Mexico made a celebration the cultures of species from beyond our planet into an officially recognized holiday. Even today, Roswell, New Mexico cannot escape its reputation as the “UFO” town, and clearly, they aren’t trying to escape with new town branding featuring flying saucer and bug-eyed alien imagery and a slogan, “We believe.”
Perhaps the incident at Roswell in 1947 was indeed a simple weather balloon kite and the claims of extraterrestrials are fictitious. Perhaps the state of New Mexico, by making Extraterrestrial Culture Day an official holiday, was not stating express belief in alien lifeforms, but just making a push to bolster tourism in one of their towns famous for an old military flub. But, on the off chance that any of the skepticism misguided, and extraterrestrials have been regular visitors of our planet, it would be terribly rude of us not to celebrate their accomplishments and the contributions they’ve made to our own culture. So next time the second Tuesday in February rolls around, Valentine’s Day or not, take some time to think about extraterrestrials, wherever they may be. They might be closer than you think.