Men in Black: A History
The impression given by the writers is that the publicized cases represent only "the tip of the iceberg." Beyond these, say the writers, are many "more sensational" cases, the details of which cannot be revealed for a variety of reasons. In any event solid evidence for a vast number of MIB cases is lacking. But we are, after all, dealing with beliefs as much as with reality, and impression is a very important one. Often the MIB cases that we know of are not quite as sensational as Albert Bender's three visitors, but they are unsettling nevertheless. Take the case of California highway inspector Rex Heflin. On August 3, 1965, Heflin claimed to have taken a series of Polaroid photos of a UFO from his car while parked near the Santa Ana Freeway. The pictures were quite clear and they showed an object shaped rather like a straw hat apparently floating above the ground. These pictures got a great deal of publicity, and are still among the most recently reprinted UFO photos. Heflin's story was investigated by the Air Force shortly after it became known. It was also looked into by investigators for the Condon Committee during their inquiry. (The committee investigator produced a pretty fair imitation of the photos by suspending the lens cap of his camera in front of his car with a thread and photograph it through the car window). In addition, a host of unofficial UFO groups tackled the case in their own way. There was considerable suspicion on the part of official investigators that the photos had been faked, but this was difficult to prove or disprove without the original prints. Being Polaroid photos there were no negative.
Heflin said that he had turned over three of the four originals to a man (or two men, the stories differ) who claimed that he represented the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD denied that they had ever sent out an investigator or indeed that they had the slightest interest in the photos. The mysterious person who is alleged to have taken the photos has never been identified. On October 11, 1967, over two years after Heflin's original sighting, but while the Condon investigation was going on, Heflin reported another encounter with mysterious visitors. A man who said that he was Captain C. H. Edmonds of the Space Systems Division, Systems Command, a unit of the Air Force that had been involved in the first investigation of his UFO photos, came to his home. During the interview the man who called himself Captain Edmonds asked Heflin if he wanted his original photos back. When Heflin said no, the man was "visibly relieved." Inexplicably, the man then began discussing the Bermuda Triangle. This is an area near the island of Bermuda where a number of mysterious disappearances of airplanes and shops have been reported. These disappearances have been linked by some to UFOs, though the connection does not seem very convincing. While this strange interview was going on Heflin said that he saw a car parked in the street. It had some sort of lettering on the front door but he could not make it out. To quote the Condon Report description of the incident, "In the back seat could be seen a figure and a violet (not blue) glow, which the witness attributed to instrument dials. He believed he was being photographed or recorded. In the meantime his FM multiplex radio was playing in the living room and during the questioning it made several loud audible pops." All attempts by the Air Force, various civilian researchers and the Condon Committee itself to find "Captain C. H. Edmonds" failed. As far as can be determined, no such person has ever existed.
A much more bizarre story was supposedly told by an unnamed family who had sighted a UFO. Sometime after the sighting they said that they were visited by a very strange individual. Ivan Sanderson, who reported the incident in his book "Uninvited Visitors", described the individual thus: "almost seven feet tall, with a small head, dead white skin, enormous frame, but pipe stem limbs." This oddity said he was an insurance investigator and that he was looking for someone who had the same name as the husband of this family. He indicated that the man he was looking for had inherited a great deal of money. Continued Sanderson, "This weird individual just appeared out of the night wearing a strange fur hat with a visor and only a light jacket. He flashed an official-looking card on entry but put it away immediately. Late on when he removed his jacket he disclosed an official looking gold shield on his shirt which he instantly covered with his hand and removed."
The strange visitor asked some personal questions about the family, but nothing at all about the UFOs. The creepiest part of the whole affair came when the eldest daughter of the family notices that the "investigator's" tight pants had ridden up his skinny leg, and she saw a green wire running out of his sock, up his leg and into his flesh at two points. After the interview the "investigator" got into a large black car which contained at least two other persons, and seemed to appear on an old dirt road that led from the woods. The car drove off into the night with its headlights off. In addition to scaring and intimidating people, visits of MIBs are also supposed to produce a variety of unpleasant physical symptoms. Bender said he suffered from headaches, lapses of memory and was plagued by strange odors following the first visit of the Men in Black. Others who say they have had similar visitations have made similar complaints. Another eerie thing attributed to MIB types, it the ability to look like anyone they want to. Some UFO researchers claim that MIBs have bee posing as THEM in order to silence potential witnesses. John Keel, who has written a number of UFO books, said that he had encountered people who refused to believe that he was who he said he was. "Later contactees (those who say the are somehow or another in contact with the space people) began to whisper to local UFO investigators that the real John Keel had been kidnapped by a flying saucer and that a cunning android who looked just like me had been substituted in my place. Incredible though it may sound, this was taken very seriously, and later even some of my more rational correspondents admitted that they carefully compared the signatures on my current letters with pre-rumor letters they had received." As we said earlier, each era tries to explain strange encounters in terms of its own system of beliefs. I have been struck by the similarity of some of these MIB cases with medieval tales of encounters with the devil or some of his demons. The devil, for example, was very often described as a man dressed in black. The ability to change shape and appear in any form was commonly attributed to demons, who were able to take the shape of a victim's friends and neighbors and even assume the likeness of angels and saints. Many of those who said that they had met the devil complained of the same range of physical symptoms reported by those who encountered the MIBs. The shiny new cars associated with MIBs is reminiscent of the Haitian belief in an evil society of sorcerers called "zobops". Haitians say that if you see a big new car going along the road without a driver is under control of the "zobops", and you had better not try to interfere with it.
Now, I am not trying to imply that the MIBS are agents of the devil, or vice versa, anymore then I would try to say that the little green men from Mars were really the fairy folk of past generations. It is just that our visions and fears often remain the same over the ages, and only our explanations for them change. Of course, encounters with the devil during the Middle Ages were generally more frightening and overpowering experiences than current experiences with MIBs. Everybody believed in the devil, while today everybody does not believe in the creatures from outer space. Medieval society took devil stories in dead earnest, and anyone who made such a report might find himself facing a painful death at the stake. The worst one can expect from reporting an MIB encounter is a certain amount of disbelief and ridicule. In general, MIB tales are considered too bizarre even to be reported in local newspapers. They are published only in magazines and books put out for and by UFO enthusiasts. Usually such publications are privately printed and are read by only a few hundred. A few book, however, have been issued by major publishers and have reached a far wider audience. These cases are also occasionally discussed on radio and TV talk shows, so the information gets around more widely than one might think. A lot of people of heard of "something" about MIBS without really knowing any of the details.
There is one incident which bared certain similarities to the traditional MIB case that did receive very wide publicity. This is the story of the "kidnapping" of Betty and Barney Hill. While most of the MIB cases do not appear directly to involve a UFO, this one does. The couple was driving to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from Canada on the night of September 19, 1961. They were on an isolated stretch of road when they spotted what they thought was a flying saucer above them. The followed two completely blank hours in their lives. They could remember nothing from the time they saw the UFO until a time two hours later when they found themselves in their car several miles down the road from where they had seen the UFO. For months after this experience both of the Hills suffered from severe psychological distress. Finally they consulted a psychiatrist, who hypnotized them, and under hypnosis the Hills revealed a strange story of being kidnapped and taken aboard a flying saucer. The Hills didn't rush out and try to get publicity about their experience or write a book about it. In fact, they were remarkably quiet. But the incident did ultimately come to the attention of author John Fuller, who had already written an extremely popular UFO book. With the co-operation of the Hills and of their psychiatrist, Fuller produced another best seller, "The Interrupted Journey", which was first serialized in the now defunct Look magazine. Though the book is carefully hedged with qualifications that the experience described might be a hallucination or a dream rather than a "totally real and true experience," the distinct impression left by "The Interrupted Journey" on thousands of readers was that the experience was a "totally real and true" one. The people or entities that were supposed to be controlling the spaceship that kidnapped the Hills can be squeezed into the Men in Black lore. Barney Hill described on of his captors as looking like "a red-headed Irishman," hardly an MIB type. But another wore "a shiny black coat," with a black scarf thrown about his neck.
Under hypnosis Hill drew a picture of "the leader" of his abductors. It is a strange insect-like face with a wide, thin mouth and huge slanting eyes that seem to go halfway around the creature's head. The eyes were the most frightening part of the saucer inhabitant's strange physiognomy. Once during a hypnotic session with the psychiatrist Barney Hill cried out in terror, "Oh, those eyes! They're in my brain!" Glowing eyes, you will recall, are considered one of the key characteristics of the typical Man in Black. Unlike many of the books written by or about people who say that they had encountered the inhabitants of UFOs, "The Interrupted Journey" carries real conviction. One gets the feeling that the Hills and Fuller are intelligent, sincere and sane people who really believe that what they described is what actually did happen. So this idea was planted in the minds of thousands of readers of "the Interrupted Journey": UFO's can land, the extraterrestrials can kidnap ordinary people, subject them to a degrading and almost brutal examination and then wipe all memory of the incident from their minds, leaving behind only an unexplained sense of anxiety bordering on panic.
Well, what does all of this mean? Are we being invaded by some weird bunch of extraterrestrials who have, in the words of the old "Shadow" radio show, "the power to cloud men's minds"? Frankly the evidence does not support such an alarming conclusion. Are all the stories hoaxes and hallucinations? Psychiatrists could certainly have a field day with many of these accounts. Symptoms such as loss of memory, severe anxiety and other unpleasant reactions strongly suggest that many of those who report such experiences are in a disturbed psychological state, though they would claim the disturbance was caused by the encounter with the strange visitor. In any event they do not make the most reliable of witnesses. Some of the other stories are almost certainly sheer fiction, made up either by some practical joker or by a writer of sensational books. Whether all the stories are real or unreal is not a question that we can answer conclusively here. The point is that we Americans are building a mythology for ourselves, just as the Europeans did with their tales of dragons, ogres and elves, and just as all people have done in all parts of the world in all ages. We have often prided ourselves on being a practical hardheaded, no-nonsense sort of people who were immune to the irrational fears an superstitious notions of less clear-sighted and realistic folk. This proposition is demonstrably untrue. And perhaps we are better off for it. Our monsters, our space people, even if they don't exist, if indeed they are rather silly, also make life more interesting and exciting.
-- Linda Murphy