A central figure in the purported government suppression of proof of alien life was Gordon Gray, a former secretary of the Army whose curriculum vitae also included secret government psychological warfare programs, top-secret security consultations with the Oval Office, and - oddly enough - the preservation of historic downtown Newburyport.
Gray was serving as assistant secretary of war for Harry Truman when the Roswell crash occurred, but researchers of unidentified flying objects believe he was also a member of a secret group known as the Majestic 12, a mysterious committee of scientists, military leaders and military officials charged with investigating and perhaps concealing evidence of alien visitors to this planet. The authenticity of the documents purporting to prove the existence of the group and Gray's membership in it is contested, but whether or not Gray was actually in the business of hiding the existence of extraterrestrials from the American public, the decades-long myth of the Majestic 12 has forever linked his name to alien mysteries.
The undisputed facts of Gray's official career are almost as intriguing. In 1951 and 1952, he served as the director of the Psychological Strategy Board, a newly formed group that plotted government "psychological operations." From 1958 to 1961, he served as national security adviser before being replaced by McGeorge Bundy, and he remained on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board through the Ford administration.
But it was in his capacity as the chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1964 that Gray played an instrumental role in preserving Newburyport's historic downtown. When city resident Dr. Robert Wilkins began his campaign to preserve the downtown's venerable buildings rather than tearing them down, he sent a letter to Gray.
Gray and Wilkins had been classmates at the University of North Carolina, and Wilkins asked his fellow Tarheel for advice on how to prevent the complete teardown of the city center.
Less than a week later, Gray sent a letter to the Urban Renewal Commissioner of the U.S. Urban Renewal Administration, gently urging the commissioner to push for preservation alongside urban redevelopment in Newburyport.
"This community may provide another opportunity for us to show that preservation and renewal can go hand in hand," Gray wrote. "There should be some way that urban improvement and Newburyport's heritage can be developed and maintained jointly."
The influence of Gray's letter was critical, said Mary Haslinger, Wilkins' daughter.
"All of a sudden the people at Urban Renewal Administration are hearing about Newburyport from the top down," Haslinger said. "It put Newburyport in a different light. The influence of Gordon Gray was central to getting government support behind historic preservation in the renewal effort."
Sixty years after the Roswell incident, it may or may not be appropriate to blame Gray for our continued ignorance of what really happened in Roswell. But 43 years after the beginning of Newburyport's revitalization, it is probably appropriate to credit him for the preservation of the city's historic downtown.