(Image: Mr Larrington; the white-painted Black Mailbox)
At Urban Ghosts, we’ve always approached the remote military test site at Groom Lake, Nevada (better known as Area 51) as exactly that: a proving ground for cutting edge – though ultimately terrestrial – aircraft and other black projects. But over the past 30 years, the enigmatic facility has become steeped in conspiracy theory surrounding crashed alien spacecraft, reverse-engineered extraterrestrial technology, new world orders and more. The desert, after all, a mysterious place. Outside the invisible fence of Area 51, little green men and UFO spotting have become a full-blown cottage industry.
One seemingly-ordinary installation, located on a dusty strip of road between Alamo and Rachel known as ‘The Extraterrestrial Highway’, was destined to become an unlikely symbol of Area 51. The installation in question was a black mailbox, which marked the junction of SR-375 and Mail Box Road, near the boundary of the Nellis Range. Lonely and isolated, it was said to be the only landmark in about 40 miles.
(Image: Jrmichae; the Extraterrestrial Highway)
The Black Mailbox, which was owned by rancher Steve Medlin, became a mecca for UFO spotters after the wild claims of a man named Bob Lazar put the remote test site near Groom Lake firmly on the map. For some, the mailbox was simply a meeting place, where people would congregate and turn their attention to the night sky. But for others, it became a place of pilgrimage that symbolised Area 51 itself.
Some visitors even left dollar bills in the remote container in a manner not too dissimilar to the votive offerings left at stone circles by modern pagans. But when Medlin tired of his mailbox filling up with messages to extraterrestrials (not to mention his personal mail disappearing), he added a second drop box marked “Alien” so that the more troublesome Area 51 enthusiasts might keep their hands off his property.
(Image: Craig Mirkin; Steve Medlin’s heavily vandalised Black Mailbox)
As Atlas Obscura reports: “Despite spurious reports of lights in the sky and other such extraterrestrial signifiers, the box’s owner, rancher Steve Medlin, does not believe that aliens have anything to do with the sightings. The mailbox (once black, now painted white) is constructed out of thick, bulletproof metal and shuttered with massive padlocks, measures taken after alien hunting fanatics began stealing his mail and even firing guns at the box.”
Unfortunately, despite these added security measures, Medlin’s not-so-black mailbox continued to receive unwanted attention. It finally disappeared in early 2015, apparently stolen. As a result of ongoing vandalism and theft, the Black Mailbox is unlikely to be replaced. Having taken its place in UFO lore, it’s just one of many unusual objects in the mysterious iconography of America’s western deserts.