A town discovers manna crashing from heaven and becomes the capital of america's alien nation

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    But no one would work this hard to hash out such an enthrallingly elaborate belief system — the human imagination is depthless, the anthropologists point out — if more profound needs weren't being met as well. At its core, the Myth is a secular way to give the universe meaning, and humanity a renewed place at the head of the table: not only are we not alone, not only are the skies populated by superhuman beings, but their visits here are prima facie evidence that we are of some consuming interest. In Saler's words, the Roswell Myth is "an effort to put enchantment back in nature." UFOlogists, he says, "are employing idioms of science in what is really a romantic pursuit. I find that fascinating, even inspiring in a way."

    An informal survey suggests that Roswellians themselves are generally less inspired by the whole thing than amused, although some — Christian Fundamentalists in particular — are offended by the city's growing embrace of its unique legacy. "There's kind of a love-hate relationship with this thing," says Stan Crosby, a self-described oil-and-gas man who is the chief organizer of Roswell UFO Encounter '97 (he is married to the director of the International UFO Museum, the glitzier rival to the Enigma). "It's not like we have the prettiest beach," admits Crosby, "or the Carlsbad Caverns. But you know, we've got to go with what we've got. And it sure brings them in." He is already thinking three years hence, when the theme will be Roswell UFO Encounters: On to the Millennium.

    — With reporting by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles

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