We have been watching the skies for flying saucers from other worlds for 60 years now and to celebrate this landmark in the modern UFO phenomenon the Fortean Times recently dedicated an entire issue to the subject. The Times, a British magazine devoted to the objective study of anomalous phenomena attempted to give its readers a comprehensive overview of events since a man called Kenneth Arnold saw some strange lights in the sky near mount Rainer, Washington in the summer of 1947.
But for some there was something missing in the magazine’s coverage. Something which has been missing in almost all mainstream discussion of this strange anniversary and is crucial to any understanding of the cultural impact of large sections of the western world’s population believing in visitors from other worlds for the last half century. This something is a 76-year-old man called John A Keel.
It has come as no surprise to those of us on the alternative websites and blogs that John has been left out of the story. Last year the news that he was recovering from a heart attack drew no attention from the mainstream press. But for us the man in the New York City hospital was a high priest of the paranormal and the original man in black. We remembered then and we remember now that a few years earlier there had been a hugely popular TV series that drew on his research and that Hollywood had made at least two films based on episodes in his life. So how did the world forget John Keel so quickly and what does that tell us about the UFO phenomenon?
Part of the answer lies in Mount Pleasant, West Virginia. It was here, just over 40 years ago that people began to see and hear a strange, winged, man-like, flying creature with piecing red eyes and a high-pitched scream. The local press dubbed it Mothman. Mount Pleasant was a small community and mass hysteria took hold. Lights were seen in the sky. Old Indian curses were evoked and cattle were found mutilated. Keen got wind of the story and arrived in town when the lunacy was in full swing. The Mothman Prophecies, the book he produced about the events, was an absurdist masterpiece of sorts. It made little linear sense but the way it drew connections between the Mothman sightings and other strange phenomenon, particularly UFOs, struck a huge chord with the burgeoning paranormal community.