Thursday, June 12, 2003
Tales of Vegas Past: The truth was out there
By Gregory Crosby
The room was dark but for a single light bulb overhead. He sat behind a small metal table, waiting. Eventually, the agent came in, appearing out of the sound of a locked door opening, then shutting with a sinister soft click. He must have registered surprise when the agent stepped into the pool of light, for the agent chuckled, loosening his dark red tie and taking off his light gray jacket. "You were expecting a man in black?"
Before he could respond, the agent smiled, shaking his head as he sat down. "It's to be expected. There's so much you know, so much you don't know; so much you have wondered, so much you have feared to wonder at; so much you believe and so much you disbelieve." The agent took out a cigarette and lighted it, staring at the man across the table with a mocking look in his eye. "You heard so much, so many stories, half-truths, obscure facts, theories, conspiracies, wishes, lies, dreams. All about a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere, just 90 miles north of the lights of Las Vegas.
"It's all right. I'm here to tell you it's all right. After all, why shouldn't you be filled with information about Groom Lake a.k.a. Area 51 a.k.a. Dreamland? It's the most famous secret government base in the world." The agent chuckled again at the obvious oxymoron. "It's almost like a riddle: When is a secret not a secret? When it's Area 51.
"You know the stories. You know that in the 1950s the Air Force took over the area around the Groom Lake dry lake bed and turned it into an ultra-secure testing ground for experimental aircraft. Strange aircraft, aircraft that looked like nothing else in the skies. The Stealth fighter and bomber were tested there, and the SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 spy planes, along with all the also-rans and misfires, the mysterious Aurora, the whale-like Tacit Blue, the TR-3 Black Manta. The "black aircraft" buffs, enthusiasts who traded in model airplane hobbies for nights spent scanning the desert sky for glimpses of these top-secret aircraft, knew about all of these from whispers, brief sightings, odd appropriations in budget documents."
The agent took a drag on his cigarette, the tiny red ember glowing hard in the bare light. "For that alone, the fun of trying to spot the next wave of military aviation innovation, Groom Lake would have been tantalizing. But there was more. There were whispers about just where the technology for these amazing craft came from. There were sightings over Groom Lake of things that behaved so unlike our concept of jet planes that they could only be described as unidentified flying objects. UFOs. And after the mid-century, after the supposed crash of one of these objects near Roswell, New Mexico, after the sincere stories of abduction and contact, everyone knew what UFO meant. Aliens from another world. Extraterrestrials."
The agent chuckled once more, his eyes twinkling. "It could have been the black aircraft. That Vought V-173, nicknamed the `Flying Pancake' thanks to its flattened, oval shape, could have been mistaken for an unearthly saucer. So could many of the other craft. But the all-purpose curtain of `national security' was particularly dense around Groom Lake. Certainly, the government was serious about keeping its secrets: Anyone who wandered into the security perimeter of the base, whether they saw the signs about the authorization of deadly force against trespassers or not, was set upon by camouflaged soldiers in full gear, who would detain them at gunpoint for hours before turning them over to Lincoln County sheriff's deputies. The government maintained for decades that Groom Lake didn't even exist. No map showed an air base there, and even after a satellite photo of the site was mistakenly released, the Air Force maintained the fiction that it was all a fiction.
"And the stories continued, got weirder. In the late 1980s, a man named Bob Lazar claimed to have worked there, `back engineering' nine alien craft the government had captured in order to see what made them tick. George Knapp of KLAS Channel 8 was on the cusp of the scoop of the century, so credible was Lazar's highly detailed story--until Lazar's credibility crumbled. Schools he was supposed to have attended had no record of him, while others in the scientific community had no memory of ever meeting him, let alone working with him. All a government conspiracy to silence him? Well, of course..." The agent laughed, stubbing out his cigarette.
"By the late '90s, in the overheated atmosphere of 50 years of UFO lore and `The X-Files,' Area 51 had become almost a joke. The tiny town of nearby Rachel became a magnet for UFO buffs while the state even proclaimed State Route 375 the `Extraterrestrial Highway.' The secret base was a tourist trap!" The agent shook his head. "So it remains. It's a part of the culture now, a historical landmark none may visit. The government keeps it `secret,' but you can be assured that all truly sensitive projects were removed from Groom Lake years ago, dispersed to other bases, perhaps in New Mexico. Were there alien spacecraft there? Or just a generation of experimental technology? Does it matter, once a place has entered so fully into myth?"
The agent stood up, smiling. "Either way, you no longer need to obsess about it, friend. The truth is in here," said the agent, tapping his head. "You are now free to go."