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 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Just tossing out an idea here. Does this seem like a similar situation to the Mystery Airships of the 1890s and Jules Verne and Frank Reade stories?

    1. Hi, Anonymous,

      I would have to do more research, but I would say that if there were airships in popular culture--as in Jules Verne or the Frank Reade stories like you say--prior to the so-called sightings of airships of the 1890s, then that would be just another example of what I have been writing about.

      To put it more succinctly: Before these things can be seen by ordinary people, they have to be imagined by artists and writers.

      Thanks for your insights and for writing.


  2. Truth is stranger than fiction... And a Albert Einstein and some other genius told the American Government, the people CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH about aliens. And, I don't think most people really want to know the truth about anything!

    1. Dear Iggy Priceless,

      I think you're right that the American people can't handle the truth about aliens. According to a survey from 2017, 39% of Americans believe that Earth has been visited by aliens from space. Another piece of evidence, far less direct, is the large number of stories on the Internet and in other media in which people express their belief in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. I'm waiting right now for a feature broadcast yesterday on the radio show This American Life to be available on the Internet. The feature is about the so-called "Fermi Paradox." You and others might want to have a listen.

      Thanks for writing.