Sunday, May 27, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Five

On January 15, 1952, midway between one silly season and another, Albert K. Bender, Jr., of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and two of his friends decided to "establish a formal organization which would delve more deeply into the UFO problem." (1) Bender had been interested in flying saucers and other Fortean phenomena for most of his adult life. In 1952, he got himself in gear. In April he founded and announced in a press release the creation of the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). His new group met for the first time on May 15, discussing, among other things, the membership applications that had poured in during the previous month. The main topic of discussion at the June meeting was the editorial policy of a forthcoming newsletter to be entitled Space Review.

Event tumbled after event in 1952. On August 29, the editor of Fate magazine, Robert N. Webster, wrote to Bender accepting a position as the first member of the International Council of the IFSB. On September 9, Denis P. Plunkett of Bristol, England, replied to the IFSB, becoming the first to volunteer as a foreign representative of the organization. Around the middle of September, Bender delivered the first issue of Space Review to the printer. Dated October 1952, it went out to members in the United States and Canada on schedule. In November 1952, Bender heard from his most famous and prestigious correspondent, who declined to give an opinion on flying saucers. This was another Albert, last name Einstein.

A second letter that November, from Gray Barker of Clarksburg, West Virginia, would prove far more fruitful. Barker wrote that he had seen Bender's missive in Other Worlds Science Stories (December 1952, p. 156) announcing the creation of the IFSB. "Bender replied enthusiastically to my letter of November 20, 1952," wrote Barker, "[and] was particularly interested in hearing more about the West Virginia 'monster' I told him of investigating." (2) The "monster" of course was the Flatwoods Monster. Although Bender had included a brief item on the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster in the first issue of Space Review, his facts were scarce and his date for the sighting was wrong. Bender wanted to know more and was eager to get Barker on board.

Nineteen fifty-two gave way to 1953. The first month of the new year was full of activity for Barker and Bender. Fate published Barker's story "The Monster and the Saucer." The second issue of  Bender's Space Review had more on the Flatwoods Monster, too, in the form of an article by a Reverend S.L. Daw of Washington, D.C. In his article, Daw relayed speculation from the Washington Daily News that what the witnesses had described in seeing the Flatwoods Monster was a misperception of some kind related to a rocketship depicted on the cover of Collier's magazine for October 18, 1952. (3) Neither Barker nor Bender was done with the Flatwoods Monster.

In that second whole issue of Space Review, Gray Barker was listed in the IFSB directory as the representative for the state of West Virginia. That same month, January, Bender called Barker and offered him the position as chief of the new Department of Investigation within the IFSB. It was the first time the two had talked by phone. Barker was already working on his own flying saucer newsletter, The Saucerian, which would not appear until later in the year. Nevertheless, he accepted Bender's offer and received from Bender a packet of business cards which he might hand out in the course of his investigations. One fell into the hands of an FBI agent who questioned Barker towards the end of the summer of 1953 as things started to get really weird with Bender and the IFSB.

So I have here an event for every month from April 1952, when Bender founded the International Flying Saucer Bureau, to January 1953, when Barker was appointed as chief investigator of the organization--every month, that is, except July 1952. And what happened that month in the Barker-Bender saga? Well, on July 30, Bender received in his home a telephone call from an unknown person warning him--telepathically no less--against delving any further into the flying saucer mystery.

To be continued . . .

(1) Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender (Clarksburg, WV: Saucerian Books, 1962), p. 21.
(2) They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers by Gray Barker (Clarksburg, WV: Saucerian Press, 1956, 1975), p. 67.
(3) In They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (pp. 30-31)Gray Barker discussed the similarity, however slight it might be, between the spacecraft depicted on the cover of Collier's for October 18, 1952 (shown below), and the first eyewitness descriptions of the Flatwoods Monster. That issue of Collier's would not have come out until after the encounter with the monster, but Kathleen May evidently began insisting that what she had seen was not as she had originally described it. According to Barker, she claimed to have received a letter from "the government" explaining "that the 'monster' was a government rocket ship, propelled by an ammonia-like hydrazine and nitric acid" (p. 30), just like the spacecraft on the cover of Collier's. Thus she seems to have changed her story. A. Lee Stewart, Jr., a local newspaperman and a friend of Barker, was more likely the first person to have shown Mrs. May a publicity release of the cover, thereby--presumably--planting the suggestion in her mind that what she had seen was not a monster at all but a machine.

Outer space art was extremely popular after World War II, all in anticipation that we would soon reach the moon and have permanent stations in orbit around Earth. Some of this was fanciful, influenced by science fiction and science fiction art. Other outer space art was more grounded (no pun intended) in the realities of engineering and technology. I would consider this image, published on the cover of Collier's in the issue of October 18, 1952, an example of the latter. The sighting of the Flatwoods Monster had taken place only five weeks before the cover date shown here. With the publication of this image, the original eyewitness accounts were seemingly corrupted, as Kathleen May, the only adult to have seen the monster, began interpreting it as something machine-like rather than as an alien being. Either way, what she claimed to have seen had first been imagined by someone else. This would be a recurring theme throughout the flying saucer era.

The artist on the Collier's cover understood that a mooncraft need not be streamlined, contrary to the vision of science fiction artists who envisioned sleek, fusiform rocketships setting down on the lunar surface. In the end, his or her vision proved relatively accurate, especially in the jointed, insect-like legs of the Apollo-era Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). However, the resemblance of the LEM (not BEM, LEM) to a living creature was even more pronounced than in the illustration from seventeen years before. I can see a person unfamiliar with the LEM or with advanced technology in general interpreting it as a strange creature with triangular eyes and a square mouth rather than as something built by human beings (or some other intelligence). We tend to see things--or make ourselves see things--in terms of that which we can understand . . .

A proponent of the ancient astronaut theory might offer as an example the following, from the Book of Ezekiel in the King James Version:
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
Ezekiel's description is certainly strange and his experience extraordinary. Today we might call it ecstatic or even hallucinatory. There can be no doubt that what Ezekiel saw went beyond words. The words he used could only have approximated what he saw. The point is that he described something previously unknown to him as like a machine (a simple machine, the wheel) but also as like a living being: "for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels," just as the spirit of the Apollo astronauts lived behind the machine-face of their lunar landing craft. In any case, because we live in a time ruled over by Scientism and materialism, we interpret these things in strictly scientific or materialistic terms. We say this: Ezekiel did not see or experience anything spiritual because there is nothing spiritual. Instead what he saw was merely material. Yes, he witnessed the coming of beings from another world or realm, but that realm was only physical: Ezekiel witnessed the arrival on Earth not of God or his heavenly messengers but of beings from another planet. And they came here in their machines, possibly even in the form of machines.

The NBC-TV show Project U.F.O. (1978-1979) picked up on the idea that what Ezekiel saw was not a spiritual vision but a spacecraft from another planet. Each episode begins with the image shown here and the voice of a narrator (Jack Webb), who says, "Ezekiel saw the wheel. This is the wheel he said he saw." Other drawings follow, each of a modern-day UFO. Then, the incident of the week begins, drawn from real (or supposedly real) cases.

I don't know who came up with the idea that Ezekiel's wheel was a UFO (it may have been Morris K. Jessup), but it's one that has had staying power. For example:

The resemblance of the interstellar transport machine in Contact (1997) to Ezekiel's wheel may or may not have been intentional. But in returning to Contact, I'm also returning to the beginnings of this series. Ellie Arroway has a lot more in common with Albert K. Bender and Richard S. Shaver than anyone would care to admit. She will show her face again before this series comes to an end.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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