Sometimes there are elements in the real world which are too ripe with material to pass up for a fiction writer. As many often say, the truth can be stranger than fiction. But sometimes there are things in the world we can’t exactly define as truth or fiction which can be even stranger. Urban legends and the fields of cryptozoology are full of stories like these – stories where it sounds like bullshit, but something about them makes it feel more tangible. Sure, these things are only really believed by people on the fringe, but they seem to be based on something and every once in a while a creature jumps from legend to reality when they’re confirmed. So, while such a thing still existing in the modern age seems pretty unlikely, there are always some true believers. Plenty of people will swear to the existence of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or Chupacabra and there are a lot of people who will believe in UFOs well into the future. Each of these is of questionable validity, but is trying to explain something people have actually seen, and speaks to something of the human experience.
And for regular visitors to the blog you’ll know I included an urban legend in the alternate history of my books just last Friday. The “men in black” have long been part of pop culture and have been at the heart of conspiracy theories and ufology for at least 70 years now. But for most people the term is inseparable from the charming franchise of movies based on the legend. For the people most familiar with that depiction and the basic idea of where the stories came from, it may be strange that I included them into a world centered more on creatures from folklore.
But, when you really look into the lore about the Men In Black, you find it only gets stranger…
Throughout the late 1940s, as the dust was settling from the World Wars and the Cold War was just starting, there were phenomenon that couldn’t be explained. Though UFOs had been seen throughout history, and were present during WW2 as a phenomenon known as “Foo Fighters“, these were the years where people really started to take notice. Several world governments began collecting thousands of reports of objects in the sky that just couldn’t be explained from a variety of sources, from confused civilians to spooked pilots concerned this shit was following their aircraft. And not long after this apparent increase in activity there were soon reports of other things that disturbed these people.
On June 21, 1947 a pair of harbor patrolmen on a workboat on the Puget Sound witnessed a collection of six doughnut shaped objects in the sky over Maury Island – an island about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. As they watched these objects over the island, one of them dropped a substance described as a white metal that resembled lava. This substance reportedly fell onto the boat, breaking one man’s arm and killing a crewman’s dog. Afterwards, one of the patrolmen, Harold Dahl, was approached by a man in a dark suit who proceeded to tell Dahl not to talk about the incident. Dahl, supposedly, had the first reported encounter with one of the men in black.
The story was recounted years later in a book by Gray Barker, a writer who was skeptical of UFO stories but wrote about them for financial gain – sometimes going as far as participating in hoaxes. In fact, Barker’s book is what first introduced the concept of the men in black to the public. But his involvement also brought the validity into question. Over time people began to suspect that Dahl and the other patrolman Fred Crisman had been making up the story to sell it. But while Fred Crisman went on to be a writer, and had been writing to Amazing Stories even prior to the event, not everyone believed it was bullshit. In fact, Dahl, who had been the one to supposedly encounter the man in black, seemed to genuinely believe what had happened. And, while many began to refer to the Maury Island incident as a hoax, others soon started to report seeing the same things.
Tales of men in black suits appearing at the site of unexplained events, particularly UFO sightings, soon spread like wildfire. The descriptions were always fairly the same – pale, expressionless men in black suits who spoke in monotone and made everyone around them feel uneasy. These sinister figures were soon appearing at almost every mysterious event, intimidating the witnesses and sometimes being connected to the disappearance of evidence. Covering up strange phenomenon at the height of the Cold War led many to believe they were government agents, but the government disavowed any knowledge of them and the unnatural demeanor of these men started to spawn other ideas. Before long some even believed they may have been the actual aliens from the UFOs or robots sent by these aliens to contain reports of their activities.
But then John Keel came along and all bets were off.
John Keel, one of the most prominent and influential UFOlogists from the 1960s until his death in 2009, was best known for several books in the late 60s and early 70s. Keel’s books like The Mothman Prophecies and Operation Trojan Horse were the missing link for all supernatural events past, present, and future. As a journalist, Keel was initially seeking to prove that UFOs were the work of extraterrestrials before eventually coming to the conclusion that it was actually the work of something completely different – “ultraterrestrials”. While extraterrestrials were entities that came from space, ultraterrestrials were creatures which came from other dimensions. And, according to Keel, all creatures of legend had been representatives of ultraterrestrial kind. Fairies, ghosts, monsters and aliens were all just manifestations of the ultraterrestrials, who had many supernatural powers and could take any form they wished. And among these creatures were the Men in Black – creatures who resembled the government agents (who are denoted with a lower case spelling) and work in parallel with these shadowy men.
Specifically, Keel identified the Men in Black as being “demonic” entities which he had personally encountered. These demonic creatures, slightly different in description than previous accounts, were still essentially the watchdogs of the ultraterrestrial community – ensuring that all knowledge of their activity was suppressed. According to Keel he had encountered them on multiple occasions with some being dark skinned or having exotic features, but all being identifiable by the well known black attire that connected them to the previous stories. According to Keel’s work, there were never space aliens involved in these events, it was merely the newest version of things people had been sighting for centuries before such as fairy circles and ghosts.
Despite not matching up with the common depiction, other stories seemed to agree with Keel’s version of events. Many accounts of the Men in Black have spoken of a general sense of dread around the individuals, but some have gone far further than that. Said to have telepathic powers, teleportation, and even the ability to give someone a heart attack – the Men in Black of some stories most certainly line up with Keel’s demonic description. At least one person was even contacted by a member of the MiB through telepathy long before making contact in a face-to-face meeting another day.
It was also clear that the MiB followed some rules that were generally only followed by creatures from folklore. William Sheerer of Essex claimed to have been visited by men in gray suits who had the hallmark tone and demeanor of the MiB after he claimed to have seen a UFO. As one of these pale men aggressively questioned Sheerer at the door, the other loomed by the car and gave off an “intimidating presence”. Sheerer took particular note that the man at the door seemed adamant on getting permission to enter the house, and when denied permission to enter decided to confront him again at another location. Later appearing at his work, the men once again began demanding for Sheerer to allow them inside the workplace. Sheerer, still feeling incredibly uneasy, denied them once again and the two men left to never be seen again. Though he still feels that they are following his actions, even tapping his phone, these hostile men apparently weren’t able to enter his home without permission – a trait of several other creatures Keel would call “ultraterrestrials”.
However, this does not always seem to stop them from making contact, Albert Bender, the director of a small organization called the “International Flying Saucer Bureau” was once visited in his home without warning by three Men In Black. Albert had been preparing to release his findings on the secrets behind UFOs through a journal he published himself called the Space Review. Wanting to have someone look over his work before he put it in the public, Albert mailed the report to a friend for review. But before the friend could respond, Albert was visited by the Men In Black in his bedroom.
While lying in bed, Albert experienced an extreme dizzy spell before realizing three men were now standing in the room. At first seeming out of focus, the three men became clearer as they stood over him, appearing to be materializing slowly into the room. Dressed in black and wearing “homburg style” hats, one was visibly holding the report Albert had mailed to his friend. Though he couldn’t make out their faces under the shadows of the hats, their eyes soon fixed on Albert and lit up with a blinding light that caused Albert a searing pain in his forehead. Speaking to him telepathically, they confirmed Albert’s report but made it very clear he was never to release it to anyone. Albert, terrified by this experience, agreed to close the organization, end the publication of his journal, and to never reveal what had been in the report.
Though seemingly entering his home without permission, contradicting Sheerer’s account, it would be difficult to know if those that visited Albert had ever actually entered the home. They spoke directly to his mind, appeared slowly, and never actually approached him directly. Their appearance, while identifiable with the MiB, was vague and purposefully obscured. And, while Albert’s encounter could have been a dream (as he was in bed) and he did have contact with the likes of Gray Barker, his story paralleled many others who had similar encounters with the MiB which left UFO investigators believing his account. However, some believe it was not simply a projection, but rather an actual teleportation that somehow allowed them to cross the threshold of his home.
One account that meshed with this theory was in the area around Loch Ness in 1973, where Frederick Holiday had witnessed a man in a black suit watching him during his search for the Loch Ness monster. Holiday had long been searching for evidence of Loch Ness as a member of the Loch Ness investigation Bureau and had made frequent trips to the Loch. However, on one day in 1973 Holiday realized he was being observed when he saw a man watching him intently from a distance. While visitors to the Loch were common, Holiday knew this man was watching him as he had his back to the Loch to face his direction. Though appearing cold, emotionless, and hardly moving, Holiday could feel a malevolence emanating from the man. However, as he watched this man, he soon heard a peculiar whispering and a whistling noise as the figure vanished in an instant. Like Albert Bender’s case, it was apparent the MiB could appear and disappear in an instant.
So, while tied strongly with the domain of UFOs and aliens from space, the MiB have long been connected to all supernatural activity. Like Keel stated in his books, accounts across the world seem to blur the line between aliens, monsters, and spirits – all existing under the watchful eye of the Men In Black. And the Men In Black, apparently creatures in their own right, have used their powers and intimidation to prevent the truth from reaching the public. Even now, decades later, after the image of the Men In Black have become something starkly less threatening in the public mindset…
(I write novels and dabble in screenplays. For the record, I don’t believe any of this. But if my twitter account goes dark someday you can consider that a retraction.)