Aliens and spaceships offer out-of-this-world collecting

Sep 22, 2008, 11 AM

By Janet Klug

When I saw it in a cover box at a recent stamp show, I simply couldn't resist the airmail cover illustrated in Figure 1. It was mailed March 1, 1947, from Roswell, N.M., to Armin W. Franke, Box 1157, Santa Fe, N.M.

Seeing that return address, my active imagination began working overtime.

Except for the bombardier training base at Roswell Army Airfield (later Walker Air Force Base), Roswell was a largely unknown, sleepy desert town in southeastern New Mexico in March 1947.

Unlike its neighbor Alamagordo, where the first detonation of an atomic bomb occurred at Trinity Site in 1945, Roswell was not a happening place.

Roswell Army Airfield supported later atomic missions with B-29 Superfortress aircraft for the atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll in 1946.

During World War II, scientists and military support were sequestered at a top-secret location in Los Alamos, N.M., about 30 miles north of Santa Fe. They were hard at work on the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons. The mission was so secret that all of those involved in the project at Los Alamos used a secret Santa Fe post office box to receive their mail.

During WWII, incoming and outgoing Los Alamos mail was censored to make certain that no secret information or documents were disclosed by anyone.

Add all of this together and you realize that a great deal of mysterious and secret stuff was going on in New Mexico during the 1940s.

By 1947, rocket testing was being conducted at White Sands Missile Range, of which Trinity Site was a part. Although New Mexico residents were getting used to seeing strange things in the sky, nothing could prepare them for the fantastic claims that would hit the newspapers in July 1947, when a local Roswell rancher reported he had found remnants of a crashed flying disc.

Some people believe that remains of extraterrestrial beings were found near Roswell and that these remains are held by the U.S. Air Force in a place known as "Area 51" near the Nevada nuclear test site.

So let's go back to the cover shown in Figure 1. When I saw it, I couldn't help but wonder if this cover had any connection with the top secret happenings in New Mexico during the 1940s.

The return address of the sender, Arthur J. Meiering, is rubber-stamped at the top left of the 5¢ carmine DC-4 Skymaster airmail stamped envelope (Scott UC15).

I began investigating Meiering and found out that he was postmaster at Roswell from 1957 to 1973.

I also found quite a bit of information about the recipient. Armin William Franke was born May 20, 1897, in Placerville, Calif. His father was born in Bavaria, and his mother was born in California.

At age 12, he was listed on the 1910 federal census, residing in the Presbyterian Orphanage in San Rafael, Calif.

When he registered for the draft on June 5, 1918, he was living in Placerville.

He served in the U.S. Army from Aug. 31 to Dec. 29, 1918, as a private in Company K at the Central Officers Training School, Camp McArthur, Texas.

The 1920 federal census found him in Hastings, Neb., with his occupation given as "traveling salesman." His wife, Ruby, was born in 1897 in Missouri.

The 1930 federal census shows him residing in Oklahoma City, Okla., and gives his occupation as advertising manager for the Rhodes Co.

He was issued a Social Security number before 1951 in Texas. He died Sept. 19, 1955, and is buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

It doesn't appear that Franke's post office box has anything to do with Los Alamos. In fact, neither the sender nor the recipient of this cover seem to have any connections to secret extraterrestrial happenings in New Mexico.

Being temporarily disappointed with my stamp show find, I wondered if I had any stamps in my album that might qualify for inclusion in an Area 51 collection. It turns out that I do.

In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service illustrated an abundance of aliens and spacecraft from a galaxy far, far away on the Star Wars pane of 15 41¢ stamps (Scott 4143).

The Jedi warriors, androids, wookiees and assorted other movie characters have become so familiar that they scarcely appear to be alien at all. A 41¢ Chewbacca and Han Solo stamp (Scott 4143l) from the pane of 15 is shown in Figure 2.

The spacecraft that some believe crashed in Roswell in 1947 probably looked something like the one depicted on the Maldive Islands 25-rufiyaa souvenir sheet (Scott 1762) shown in Figure 3. The souvenir sheet, issued in 1992, depicts a UFO spotted near Columbus, Ohio, in 1973.

Perhaps this UFO was piloted by creatures that look like those shown on Paraguay's 1978 25-guarani airmail stamp (Scott 1819) in Figure 4.

The next stamp I found brings this column full circle. The 17-franc/€0.42 J. Robert Oppenheimer stamp (Scott 1781r) shown in Figure 5 was issued by Belgium in 2001.

Oppenheimer, a physicist, is known as "the father of the atomic bomb." He was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project. He spent much of his time at Los Alamos and witnessed the bomb test at Trinity Site at Alamagordo. As depicted on this Belgian stamp, Oppenheimer almost looks as though he could be one of the Roswell aliens.

How many aliens and UFOs can you find in your own stamp album?

Start humming the creepy theme from the classic television program The Twilight Zone (1959-64), which will be featured on the Postal Service's Early TV Memories pane to be issued in 2009, and see if your terrestrial explorations will net some extraterrestrials for your albums.