Monday, June 4, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Seven

By meeting the Three Men in Black and traveling on board their flying saucer, Albert K. Bender learned the secret behind the phenomenon that had intrigued and vexed him for so long. Further investigations into the flying saucer phenomenon were pointless and might even be harmful, for the aliens had promised to destroy Earth if they were interfered with in their work. As the dog days of the summer of 1953 came on, Bender understood that he had to shut down the IFSB and quit publishing Space Review. How would he explain his actions to the other members of the organization, though? "I would simply tell them it would not be possible to publish anything," he decided, "because such was not the proper method nor was it the proper time for such an action. All information was being withheld by orders from what I would simply term 'a higher source'." (1)

Before that necessity came about, however, Bender was once again visited by the Three Men. This time he was in for the trip of his life, for they took him to their secret base in--where else?--Antarctica. "All our cities are constructed underground," one of the aliens told him at the beginning of his trip, continuing:
We have crater-like openings on the surface, through which we are able to elevate spacecraft stations for takeoffs and landings. When these stations are not in use they descend into the craters, and the landing fields serve as cover for the openings, with only communications towers visible. (2)
Yes, like the dero, Bender's aliens lived in underground cities, and, like the Nazis, they had a secret base in Antarctica. Bender's aliens were a lot friendlier, though, and so they took him on a tour of their home.

Bender's account of the aliens and their society reads like a Utopia, a Lost-Worlds adventure or scientific romance of the pulp fiction era, or the supposed non-fiction written in the 1950s by men such as George Adamski, Howard Menger, and Truman Bethurum. And make no mistake about it, Albert K. Bender went from a seemingly sober and science-minded investigator (his associate editor, Max Krengel, had written in the first issue of Space Review: "The mystery of the 'flying saucers' will be eventually solved by calm, clear-thinking individuals.") to that lowest form of the flying saucer era, the contactee who goes winging his way around the solar system as the esteemed guest of aliens from outer space. The 1950s were crawling with contactees and there were more to come in the decades ahead. (Eventually they evolved into abductees.) But then the flying saucer story always ends with contact, as we'll see.

In touring the aliens' underground city, Bender sees lots of things and asks lots of questions. If he was a Christian before his visitations with the Three Men, his wayward thoughts can be detected in the things he absorbs from them: the aliens don't worship anything and for them there is no life after death. "What about Jesus Christ?" Bender asks. Earth people "are easily convinced of anything" is the reply. A very clever person hid or destroyed the body of Christ, say the aliens, "so that for centuries afterward people would benefit from the celebration of the birth and death of this prophet." (3) The point is that, like Richard Shaver, Bender suffered from mental illness. Perhaps as a result of his suffering, he became, again like Shaver, an atheist or a materialist. And, perhaps in an effort to make up for his lost faith, Bender, once again like Shaver, came into possession of his own brand of gnosis.

To be continued . . .

(1) Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender (1962), p. 103.
(2) Bender, p. 110.
(3) Bender, p. 123.

The cover of the second issue of The Saucerian (from November 1953), Gray Barker's own flying saucer newsletter, first published in September 1953. The illustration is by Albert Bender and is more or less a depiction of what he had seen in his vision of August 1953, the place where the Flatwoods Monster aliens disguised as Men in Black made their home away from home. The phallic imagery of the towers shown here shouldn't be ignored: like Shaver, Bender almost certainly had psychosexual problems and was very interested in the sex lives of the beings he had dreamed up. Gray Barker observed: "There seems to be a great deal of sex connected with saucers . . . ." (Quoted in The Way Out World by Long John Nebel [Lancer Books, 1962], p. 65.) I wouldn't stop there: There not only seems to be but is a great deal of sex--weird, aberrant, deviant, fetishistic sex--connected with almost every crackpot scheme known to man. Finding out why might take a whole book or even a multi-volume encyclopedia.

Original text copyright 2018, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, June 1, 2018

A Pause in the Barker-Bender Saga

There is more to tell in the Barker-Bender saga, but I would like to go over something here before it gets away from me.

The story of the Three Men in Black, which has become an integral part of flying saucer lore, began with Albert K. Bender. In fact the Men in Black are part of what is sometimes called the "Bender Mystery," a term meant to evoke memories of the Shaver Mystery, I'm sure. By Bender's telling of it, the Men in Black were or are aliens disguised as human beings. (That explains their odd appearance and behavior.) And not only are they aliens, they are aliens of the Flatwoods Monster type. But if Kathleen May and others who have accepted her reinterpretation of what she saw are right, then the Flatwoods Monster was not a living creature but a machine. That means Bender's story can't be right. On the other hand, some people believe that the Flatwoods Monster was a creature inside of a machine, like Ezekiel's vision: "for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels." That still means that Bender's story can't be right, unless he misunderstood what he was seeing. The only way that Bender's story can be right is if the Flatwoods Monster really was an alien from another planet. But that's a pretty big pill to swallow. Isn't it far more likely that what Mrs. May and the Flatwoods boys saw was just an animal, possibly a barn owl, that they, in their apprehension, fear, terror, and hysteria, all presumably experienced under the influence of science fiction, especially science fiction movies from the previous year, (1) as well as the flying saucer flap of 1952, conflated with an imaginary monster from outer space? And can't we all plainly see that Albert Bender, in seeing the Three Men in Black, in and out of disguise, as well as the inside of their flying saucer, suffered from a kind of psychotic episode, what we might categorize as a spiritual vision rebuilt for our materialistic age? And don't we all know by now that flying saucers as disk-like craft from outer space were built upon science fiction, the writings of Charles Fort, the dry run of the Shaver Mystery, and a misinterpretation of the original description of the objects seen by Kenneth Arnold, who did not say that they looked like saucers but that they skipped like saucers if you were to cast them across the water? When you get down to it, it's all a little too much to take.

Here's another point: In 1953, as the Bender Mystery was unfolding, Albert Bender's friends and associates must have imagined a mundane explanation for his actions. The Three Men in Black must have been government operatives seeking to silence those who were seeking the truth about flying saucers. It all must have been a vast conspiracy to conceal that truth. Then, in 1962, Gray Barker published Flying Saucers and the Three Men, Bender's own account of what had happened and why he had clammed up: the Men in Black were not men at all but the Flatwoods Monster in disguise, and they were here to extract a valuable chemical from our oceans. In other words, Albert Bender proved to be just another contactee, like George Adamski, Orfeo Angelucci, Daniel Fry, and so many others. Like them, Bender claimed to have the answers. He had discovered the truth. He alone had the solution to the flying saucer mystery.

Again and again in history, especially since science became ascendent in the nineteenth century, we have heard stories like Bender's. From science fiction alone, we have them from Richard S. Shaver and L. Ron Hubbard. The contactees of the 1950s came up with just another iteration. Each of these stories is whole and complete. Each is an attempt to explain everything. Each subsumes all other stories or claims into itself. According to Shaver, H.P. Lovecraft described in "The Mound" the appearance of the caverns Shaver himself had known as he lay in the grip of insanity. Likewise, the Flatwoods Monster did not belong to the people who encountered it. It belonged instead to Albert Bender, and it fit into his own scheme, one that is presumably cosmological and extends into the vast reaches of the universe. By implication, all of these stories are mutually exclusive. If one is true, the others very likely can't be. Did George Adamski ever wave hi to Truman Bethurum as the flying saucers in which they were riding passed each other in outer space? Did Howard Menger ever run into Daniel Fry on the surface of Venus? Did Bender's aliens have to compete for building space with Hitler and his gang at the South Pole? And where was Xenu when Shaver's Titans or Atlans came to Earth? Bender's claim to finding the solution to the flying saucer mystery was also exclusive. He alone knew the truth because it had been revealed to him alone. There was only one solution and he had it and had it first.

Like Richard Shaver, Albert Bender was mentally ill, perhaps in a harmless way, but mentally ill nonetheless. There can be no question that he suffered from delusions, many of them paranoid and some of them based upon his presumed simultaneous and opposing feelings of grandiosity and insignificance. His radio may very well have been a type of influencing machine. His story was a kind of small-scale replay of the Shaver Mystery. And yet so many people believed him then and believe him now in what can only be called a psychotic delusion. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. Flying saucers are fun and interesting. They have made for a lot of really great movies, TV shows, comic books, and other popular culture. But we should all remember where they have come from, and it isn't from outer space. (2)

(1) Especially The Thing from Another World, released April 27, 1951, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, released September 18, 1951, but also including The Man from Planet X, released in March-April 1951.
(2) Bender's story is remarkably similar to the plot of It Came from Outer Space, a film released on May 27, 1953, before Bender experienced his summertime delusions. Even if his delusions had preceded the release of the film, he didn't publish his story until 1962. If Bender had been conscious of the resemblance of his story to the plot of It Came from Outer Space, he may have wanted to claim some precedence by saying that his experiences preceded his viewing of the film, but as is so often the case, claims to precedence are always late in arriving. By the time we hear of such a claim, somebody else has already written it, made it, seen it, published it, or created it.

Like the Three Men in Black, flying saucers are based on a misunderstanding, misperception, or misinterpretation of what someone else saw. In this case, there was no disk. There was never a disk. What Kenneth Arnold (pictured here in the middle of a group of Three Men in Khaki) claimed to have seen was actually more crescent-shaped (as shown above), even if the caption insists upon its being a disk.* Every subsequent sighting, encounter, incident, and photograph that has a disk-like craft can probably be discarded, as all were based not on the facts of the original sighting but on a newspaper reporter's neologism, "flying saucer," used to describe how the objects flew rather than how they looked. Talk about fake news. Sheesh. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 162.

*Throughout that first summer of flying saucers, "flying disk" was a popular term and everybody knew what it meant. Eventually, though, "flying saucer" gained more traction. "Flying disk" by comparison is pretty bland. For example, it's hard to imagine that a movie called Earth vs. the Flying Disks would have done as well as one called Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

Some people insist on the more technical and official sounding "UFO." I don't mind "UFO," but it's no more useful or descriptive than "flying saucer." Here's the reason: to call a manifestation of the flying saucer phenomenon an "unidentified flying object" is to say that: a) It's flying, meaning it's either a living thing under its own control or a living or non-living thing under the control of some other living or non-living thing; and b) It's an object. Most UFOs are neither flying nor are they objects. And what about UFOs seen in outer space, on the Moon, on the Earth's surface, or underwater? What do we call them? So if it's okay with you, I'll keep calling them something else that they're not: flying saucers.

Original text copyright 2018, 2023 Terence E. Hanley