Book Review by Barry Greenwood (reprinted with permission from the Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE) Vol. 16, No. 3, 2002)
Published by the Society for Scientific Exploration, http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/
Shockingly Close to the Truth: Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist by James W. Moseley & Karl T. Pflock. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. 371 pp., Hardcover, $25.00. ISBN 1-57392-991-3.
This volume is a chronicle of the career of one James W. Moseley, a man who is most commonly known as a ‘‘ufologist.’’ The term was coined to describe an individual who spends a great deal of time following UFOs, or flying saucers. Moseley certainly fits this description, as he has spent as much time following the UFO scene (since 1953) as this reviewer has lived on planet Earth. He has also written a great deal about UFOs, having published periodicals like Nexus, Saucer News, and more recently Saucer Smear, a newsletter devoted to UFO personalities. With the assistance of another experienced ufologist, Karl Pflock, we now have a reasonable accounting of what Moseley has learned about UFOs.
Oddly enough, what he has learned is not so much about the UFOs themselves as it is about other Ufologists; the researchers, witnesses, proponents, critics and authors. Jim Moseley has come to know a lot of people in his pursuit to chronicle the adventures of Ufologists. He has discovered things that the public doesn’t often see about how Ufology functions internally. Sometimes it is not a pretty picture, and Moseley and Pflock pull no punches in expressing themselves in this respect.
The essence of what Moseley believes about UFOs can be summed up in his ‘‘4-D Theory’’, i.e. that the UFO entities operating flying saucers are too much like ourselves to be alien. So we might suppose from such an observation that to find an answer to the mystery, we must look at the people involved, the observers and researchers, rather than the UFOs. Sensible, because eyewitnesses are the main source of detail in UFO sightings. If the witnesses are flawed, the UFO report isn’t much good. A broader message here is that a witness’s psychology may be affecting the details of the report. Moseley’s 4-D theory does allow for the possibility that some UFOs might be alien, but given the present state of affairs, he observes ‘‘I do not believe The Answer will be found in our lifetime, or at least not mine’’.
With this approach, Moseley has been able to persist in his interest of following the exploits of UFO personalities year after year without falling victim to what might be called the ‘‘UFO blues’’. This happens when an individual takes an interest in UFOs from any of a variety of sources: reading a book, seeing an anomalous object in the sky, watching a TV documentary. In a subsequent burst of zeal, this person devotes much personal time attempting to prove the exotic nature of the observations. It is a very time-consuming process, as there are now untold thousands of pages of obscure information
to absorb. After ten or twenty years there may be a realization that the evidence assembled and digested doesn’t reach the level of conclusive proof of anything exotic. Personally dissatisfied, this person leaves the subject, moving on to other pursuits.
Moseley toured the country to meet with UFO researchers during the early 1950s. His insights on this are fascinating. There has always been a public image of UFO personalities, and then there is reality! The true value of Shockingly Close to the Truth lies in these penetrating recollections of people, many of whom are long departed from the world.
One small anecdote that Moseley relates is his interview with Al Chop, former Air Force press spokesman, and Captain Edward Ruppelt, former head of the Air Force’s UFO investigation, Project Blue Book. Both were out of the military when the interview was conducted. He asked them about two films. One was allegedly taken by Mikel Conrad, star of a 1950 ‘‘B’’ movie called ‘‘The Flying Saucer.” Conrad said he took a movie film of a genuine flying saucer landing and contact in 1947. He claimed that the Air Force took the footage and later returned less than a third of it. This segment was said to have been used in ‘‘The Flying Saucer’’. The other film was a sequence taken in Landrum, South Carolina, on November 16, 1952, by David Bunch, a tourist visiting friends in Landrum. The 8MM film was said to have shown between four and eleven UFOs. Upon making arrangements to have the Bunch film sent to the Air Force, a copy was promised to the witness. A copy was received later, but was said to have been too dark to discern images well.
Ruppelt told Moseley that the Air Force never confiscated film. The Bunch film was said to have been too dark for anything of value to be seen, contradicting the witness who said the original was fine but that the copy made for him by the Air Force was too dark. Ruppelt added that the Bunch film and copies were ‘‘thrown out’’ as being ‘‘valueless’’. Moseley concluded in hindsight ‘‘Not quite confiscation, but . . .’’, with the point being made that even if the Air Force felt that the film was of no worth, the act of throwing out original and copies of evidence looks bad. It would certainly contribute to the notion that the government covered up UFO information. The Air Force itself was perhaps one of the greatest contributors to this popular idea in its public statements.
To further stress Moseley’s point, the Bunch film does in fact exist in the Project Blue Book files and was included with the records sent to the National Archives (Ruppelt misstatement #1). The film is not too dark to see a slow panning shot of the sunset horizon and two pairs of elongated white light sources along with another single object (Ruppelt misstatement #2). The objects do not move and might be bits of cloud lit by the setting sun. Ruppelt may have been correct in saying that the film was ‘‘valueless’’, or ultimately explainable. However, his behavior in the Moseley interview suggested deception; for whatever reason, that doesn’t help the Air Force’s case for not having tampered with facts in their UFO investigations.
There are several ways to look at James Moseley’s career as a ufologist, from what we can see in Shockingly Close to the Truth. The UFO skeptics will find vindication in their views, even though some of them do not come off very well, in Moseley’s opinion. Episode after episode is recounted of questionable figures engaged in questionable activities in the quest for promoting flying saucer reality. Even Moseley himself falls into this category!
Once in an evening of drunken horseplay, he and friend Gray Barker concocted what has become known as the ‘‘Straith Letter’’. Using blank letterhead from the U.S. State Department, they created a false official, R. E. Straith, who more or less endorsed the activities of notorious flying saucer contactee George Adamski. The hoax letter made its way to Adamski, who wasted no time in using it to promote himself. The FBI and State Department took a dim view of this and lightly pursued Barker and Moseley as the perpetrators, only to drop the investigation.
The mildly UFO-interested, middle-of-the-road citizen will find the book a very entertaining collection of odd tales from UFO history, a virtual carnival romp through the subject’s weirder side.
The serious UFO researcher and believers in exotic answers to UFOs might find the book an irritant as it engages in exposing the darker side of flying saucer politics. As with any field of endeavor, the activists in UFO research would prefer not having any dirty laundry aired. Unfortunately, because of the problems endemic to pro–flying saucer/alien promotion, the small pile of dirty laundry has become a monumental landfill that threatens to push the relevancy of any UFO research aside altogether. It would be a mistake for ufologists to ignore Shockingly Close to the Truth, in that much like a game of chess, one learns more from the mistakes made than from the successes.
A small correction: In the photo section, Moseley describes a photo of a rocket-shaped alleged UFO seen by a Peruvian customs inspector in 1952. It should actually be 1951. This reviewer had found the photo in a Lima newspaper for August 15 of that year.
In the mid-1960s, there was a film taken of a “bell-shaped” flying saucer that was widely shown on television, at conferences and college lectures, written about in UFO magazines and books. By 1980, the film had all but vanished, and is largely forgotten today. When it is cited, the details are often wrong with the incorrect year or location given. What are the facts, how was this widely-known saucer film “silenced,” and by whom?
The Road to Lost Creek
Jim Moseley got started in the flying saucer field in 1953 with the intent to co-author a book with Ken Krippine. Jim invested much time and effort, traveling across the USA interviewing prominent UFO figures, as well as some of the biggest fakes, frauds and phonies, such as Frank Scully, Silas Newton, Mikel Conrad and George Adamski. The book never happened as planned, but the trip provided contacts, material and experience that served as the foundation for Moseley’s flying saucer magazine, Saucer News.
In March 1966, there was a new wave of UFO publicity, kicked off by the incident in Michigan where Dr. J. Allen Hynek offered his infamous “marsh gas” explanation. Jim Moseley suddenly was in demand. “Back in New York City, all the major national news organizations were rushing around trying to find an instant saucer expert to interview and quote. Mine was the only listing in the Manhattan phone book under “Saucers” (for Saucer News), so everyone came to me.”
Moseley received an urgent call from the American Program Bureau in the spring of 1966. They were “in desperate need of a UFO Expert for an upcoming meeting of the Engineering Society of Detroit. The bureau’s expert, none other than Maj. Donald Keyhoe, had demanded too large a fee, and they had to come up with someone to replace him.” Moseley rose to the occasion, pleased the crowd, and the bureau put him to work. “Over the next eight years, I lectured on more than one hundred college campuses and at a few other events.” Moseley’s entry-level UFO lecture was an easy sell, and the topic was a perfect draw for campus lectures.“If I do say so myself, it was a good summary presentation of saucer history and events , and given the high level of public interest at the time, all anyone really needed for success. Still, I wished for something a bit more exciting. In late summer 1966 my wish was granted: a new motion picture of a flying saucer.”1
A Flying Saucer is Captured on Film
Here’s how Moseley described the film and how it came into his hands, from Saucer News, Winter 1966/1967, Vol. 13, No. 4:
“For the first time in our nearly thirteen years of publication, we have been able to obtain an apparently genuine movie film of a flying saucer. The film, taken with taken with a Bolex camera in 16 mm. color, was made on the afternoon of July 23rd, in a rural area called Lost Creek, located near Clarksburg, West Virginia. The photographer has asked to remain anonymous. At the time of the sighting, he and an employee named John Sheets were driving through Lost Creek in a Chevrolet pick-up truck, on their way to photograph a little league baseball game, as a favor to a mutual friend.
As they were driving along a lonely stretch of road, a strange object began following the truck at very low altitude. The camera was not loaded, and by the time Sheets’ boss loaded it, the object was gone. They stopped the vehicle and waited or several minutes, apparently with some sort of premonition that the object would return. Eventually it did, and several feet of film were shot. During the filming, the object was again at very low altitude. Sheets says that it looked to be about ten feet in diameter, though to o us it appears to be smaller. Trees visible in the background can be used as reference points; and a photographic expert in Clarksburg has declared that the object is at least twelve feet in diameter in his opinion.
In the course of the filming, the photographer kept shifting his camera from the sky to the ground, apparently thinking that the object was going to land. According to Sheets, it did not land, but shot off again, at high speed, making a strange humming sound. Afterwards Sheets was ill for two days, either from the excitement or from some after-effect of the close sighting.
Mr. Sheets, a young man in his early twenties, had worked for saucer researcher Gray Barker part-time several years ago, and knowing Barker’s interest in UFOs, he brought the undeveloped film to him. Barker cooperated with SAUCER NEWS in developing the film and making an extra copy. The latter was sent to us several weeks ago by Barker. . . . “
On the Road
Moseley was quick to put the film to good use. “In addition to showing the film on New York–area television and at one of the Saucer News monthly lectures, I incorporated it and the story behind it into my American Program Bureau talk.” 1
“He showed a motion picture film taken by amateurs who were on their way to a Little League baseball game when a saucer suddenly materialized, hovered and darted over their car near Lost Creek, Va. Despite the shaky, out-of-focus photography, that thing showed up in good detail, and it surely looks like a Flying Saucer, all right. But saying that, what have you said? Mr. Mosley let the film speak for itself, and it wasn’t a talkie.”
Also in 1968, Jim was a guest on Joe Pyne’s nationally syndicated talk show where he was grilled by the caustic host. Jim showed a clip of the Lost Creek film and offered the amateurishness of the camerawork as evidence of its authenticity, “If it were a fake, it would not be done this poorly as far as the technical skill is concerned. That’s my opinion.” Pyne chuckles and mentions a previous guest with a better UFO film that turned out to be fake. Moseley stands his ground and defends his clip. “Let me say that there is some fakery, but not in film- very hard to do.”
Low resolution clip of Moseley presenting the film on TV.
Moseley had his sights on the big time, a major network show with a national television audience. ”I once attempted to get on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show with the Lost Creek film. I managed to make it as far as a viewing for the show’s writers, who watched in bemused silence, thanked me for my time, and sent me on my way.” 1
Within a year, Moseley’s friend Gray Barker had bought Saucer News, and started selling prints of the film, described as featuring an “Adamski-type” saucer, and indeed, the Lost Creek Saucer did seem to be a twin for the Venusian saucer filmed by George Adamski!
Ad from Saucer News Fall 1968:
1001: The Lost Creek Saucer: Saucer follows car as two men return from Little League game. They get some excellent photographs of Adamski-type saucer. Freeze-frame action and slow motion included.
“Neither Saucer News nor Modern Film Distributors vouch for the authenticity of any of the three films, but we are making these available to any interested party who wishes to subject them to the most stringent scrutiny and analysis.”
Moseley’s appearances at UFO conferences continued, as did his many college lectures where he maintained the use of the film until the mid 1970s. The Albany Student Press, Sept. 24, 1974, report on Moseley’s lecture on their campus:
“Moseley showed a film that two men in Lost Creek, West Virginia took en route to a little League game. These men caught sight of an object hovering about the trees. While they loaded their camera, the object disappeared from sight, but luckily returned when they were ready and waiting to film.
The most credible aspect of the film is the amateurishness of the photography. Moseley insisted. According to the UFO expert there is a great possibility that these objects were real UFOs because the makers did not try to cash in on the pictures.”
The Lost Creek saucer film was discussed in the newsstand magazine Official UFOin 1975. The next year, noted UFO author Gray Barker had an article in the December 1976 UFO Report magazine, “Invading West Virginia’s Saucer Lairs and Monster Hideouts,” confirming Moseley’s account and providing a few more technical details:
On July 3, 1966, John Sheets, a house painter, accompanied his employer who had taken movies of a Little League game in Weston. They left Route 19 near Lost Creek for a short cut to Clarksburg on their way home. Sheets, looking out the car window for deer that abounded in the wild rural area, was puzzled and startled when he spotted a dish-shaped flying object surmounted by a dome with portholes, following them. He shouted for the driver to stop as the object disappeared behind a hill. His employer, remembering he had unexposed footage left in his 16mm Bolex movie camera, reached for it on the back seat. As he did so the object returned and swooped down toward them, then retreated and repeated the maneuver. Despite his excitement and fright, the amateur photographer managed to shoot several feet of film, with many sharp frames, some of which when enlarged display a recognizable antenna, and ball-like “landing gear,” similar to many still photographs taken by other witnesses.
Here’s Gray Barker presenting a different edit of the film:
Gray Barker, showing the Lost Creek saucer film at a UFO convention
Barker’s article was quoted inRedcoats, Redskins and Red-eyed Monsters: West Virginia, Its History and People by E. Lee North in 1979, further spreading the story of the Lost Creek saucer.
The Lost Creek Saucer sighting was brainstormed by Barker and James Moseley in early 1966. The idea was to produce footage of a flying saucer. On July 26, 1966, they had John Sheets—one of Barker’s researchers—hold a ceramic “boogie” (bogus) saucer on a fishing pole in front of a car; while Moseley drove, and Barker filmed. Afterward, Moseley played the film during his UFO lectures, and Barker sold copies of the footage via his mail-order film business. Both men continued to claim that Sheets had innocently recorded the saucer landing.
The film had been long-retired by then, and the Earth didn’t exactly shake from the news. Rick Hilberg, on how the saucer’s origins first leaked out: “I recall that Gray brought some of his various films of UFO conventions that he attended and whatnot and showed them to some of the local insiders at one of our Northern Ohio UFO Group mini-conventions back in the late 1970s. While enjoying a jar or two watching the films, Jim and Gray both told about the Lost Creek film and how it was hoaxed, therefore it was common knowledge waaay before Coon’s film.”
Just as P. T. Barnum had done by creating his own Cardiff Giant to exhibit, Moseley and Barker created a counterfeit film of a George Adamski flying saucer, a fake of a fake. The choice was a good one, as it had already been imitated by others, including Cedric Allingham and Howard Menger, so it would blend right in as part of the pattern. There was nothing new or revolutionary about it, the film just illustrated a fairly typical close encounter of the first kind of a daylight disk. The fact that it was a model bouncing and swinging on a string didn’t seem to bother those who already believed, and some of them cited the peculiar movements as a “falling leaf motion” typical to saucers’ propulsion system and flight.
Timothy Green Beckley, former Saucer News reporter: “I know the film was used for ‘demonstration’ purposes. If I recall correctly Jim needed something to show during his college lectures. Being that Gray was not beyond doing something creative to help an old friend out… Jim and Gray both thought it was necessary to have a ‘prop’ for when they were invited to appear on television. No one likes just a talking head.”
There was another Gray Barker documentary in 2009, Shades of Gray by Bob Wilkinson that also briefly discusses the film, with Moseley describing how film was created with a toy-sized saucer suspended from a string. David Houchin shows the model and Rick Hilberg talks about how Barker and Moseley’s antics kept things interesting and provided new material. “It was only natural, I suppose that they would get bored now and then- ‘what can we do to stir things up a little bit?’ And besides, some of the things you could write about.”
In Shockingly Close to the Truth!Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist , Prometheus, 2002, Moseley (with the help of Karl Pflock) told the story in print for the first time, and in Saucer Smear Vol. 57, No. 5, May 15, 2011, revealed even more, including a “pre-production” still of Gray Barker and John Sheets with their model flying saucer. Discussing his gig as a speaker, he “needed a focal point for (my) lecture.” Moseley explained how he drove the car, Barker filmed from the passenger seat, and Sheets was on the roof dangling the saucer from a fishing pole.
“At the colleges, it was interesting to see the audience’s reaction to the film. Those who really wanted to Believe did so, and among others there was sometimes muffled laughter. But over all, the film was found to be acceptable, and was even picked up (without permission) by a widely-circulated TV documentary in the subject.
What Moseley didn’t say was how or why the Lost Creek Saucer film was retired, but it all seems to relate to his campus lectures coming to an end. In a 1994 interview with Greg Bishop for the Excluded Middle, Moseley explained his rise and fall as a lecturer.
“(Donald Keyhoe) was charging too much, so I started getting his gigs. I would have gone for free just to knock Keyhoe off the lecture circuit. (Stanton) Friedman hadn’t come along yet, and he didn’t push me off the circuit ’till years later. I did over a hundred colleges and got well paid for it for the time. Saucer News circulation shot up to about 10,000 for awhile, and I got on all kinds of shows, etc. I finally had to hire a staff to keep up, including Tim Beckley, who worked there for a couple of years. This was all because of the marsh gas! Then in the early ’70s, Friedman came along and did to me what I had done to Keyhoe. Actually, he was vicious about it. He would find out which colleges I was lecturing at and call them up and try to get them to knock me off and book him. He had the degree and the beard and I didn’t. The colleges kept calling me to inform me what he had been doing–sometimes more than once to the same places.”
So, in effect, Stanton Friedman crashed the Lost Creek Saucer.
Examining the Author’s Intent
Moseley came clean about the hoaxed film, but saying he needed a lecture prop just didn’t quite satisfy as an answer for why he’d done it. When asked in Whispers From Space about the antics he and Barker stirred up, Moseley explained:
“The reason we liked to occasionally do a hoax was for our own amusement, but if there was a serious purpose, more to keep the UFO field alive during slack periods hoping the public’s interest, or at least the UFO fans’ interest would not slack off and since I at least felt that there is a serious mystery behind all this, didn’t want to see the field die out, and I thought it was a good idea to keep it rolling.”
Moseley, explained how Barker came to regard the flying saucer topic as show business:
(Gray Barker) had wonderful sense of humor, and a sense of wonderment (which is a good word for him) about the UFO subject. He stopped being a “believer” very early on, but kept the sense of wonderment. What he got out of it was entertainment for himself, and the audience he wrote for. He thought of himself as an entertainer, not as a scientist or a person dealing in facts. There were “New Age” types long before there was a UFO field, and he knew this audience and what they wanted to hear, so he wrote books and published them as a book business. He also had a theater that he owned and operated, and he started out as a booking agent for films at theaters in the area. So, he was always in the entertainment field and thought of himself as an entertainer. He thought I was too serious, because I believed some of it, and still do, but he didn’t believe any of it. 2
While Moseley was on the lecture circuit, he too was an entertainer.
Some further insight into Jim Moseley’s thinking can found in his article in Saucer Smear Vol. 32, No. 1, January 10, 1985, just after Barker’s death, confessing his and Barker’s role in the “Straith Letter” sent to George Adamski. Writing in the editorial “we:”
Is your editor sorry for what he and Gray Barker did? Your editor never saw any great harm in it, but we can easily understand why Completely Serious Researchers were offended. Was Gray Barker sorry? Only sorry the Feds turned out to have no sense of humor!
So now with one less mystery than yesterday, let us all Press On now, to a reasonable and hopefully accurate solution to the flying saucer enigma.
The antics had long been over, but not the fun. Moseley was always the more Serious of the two and his sense of humor was keen as ever, but he focused it in Saucer Smear as ufology’s court jester. As he said in the first issue:
At times we will be serious, at times we will attempt to be facetious, and at times we will not be certain whether we are being serious or facetious, and you will have to make up your own minds.
References (not otherwise noted)
1 James W. Moseley & Karl Pflock, Shockingly Close to the Truth!, Prometheus, 2002, pp 199-201.
2 1994 interview with Greg Bishop for the Excluded Middle
A special thanks to Timothy Green Beckley and Rick Hilberg for their background details and comments.
Additional thanks to Isaac Koi and Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos!
Despite the timeframe, and stylistic similarity the Lost Creek saucer film was not inspired by the Patterson–Gimlin Bigfoot film. LCS preceded it by over a year, Bigfoot wasfilmedOctober 20, 1967.
Gray Barker produced another saucer film that Jim Moseley was not involved in, taken at Benedum Airport, West Virginia allegedly on May 30, 1967. The same model appears to have been used as in the Lost Creek film.
The Bendenum Airport saucer
The Lost Creek saga sounds similar to a later, famous disclosure: an anonymous source provides a roll of undeveloped film with UFO evidence to a researcher serving as a middle man, who then shares it where it be taken public. Shades of MJ-12! Bill Moore often used Gray Barker as a source, perhaps a role model as well!
In 1988, UFO Cover-Up? Live! (a live UFO syndicated TV special) included the film in their discussion of hoaxes, showing clips of the Lost Creek saucer and Benedum together calling them the “Barker Incident.”