I’ll continue to post Mary Hyre’s letters to John Keel; they provide some of the back story to The Mothman Prophecies, as UFO and Mothman sightings crossed her desk at The Athens Messenger. This next letter, from April 14, 1967, catches up John on recent UFO reports, crowds gathering at the TNT area, and a butterfly as big as a car. I can’t identify the Pittsburgh contactee that she asks about; maybe some ufologist out there can.
October 24, 2013
October 17, 2013
One of John’s more intriguing abandoned projects is “The Return of the Umbrella Man,” a proposal for a novel or screenplay. The Umbrella Man, of course, was the mysterious man with the umbrella at Kennedy’s assassination, long an object of speculation by assassination researchers. In 1978, he was identified as Louie Steven Witt, who had simply picked a particularly bad time to protest Joseph Kennedy’s support of Neville Chamberlain.
In 1977, however, John cooked up an idea for a novel, making him a spirit who was repeatedly killed, only to walk in to other host bodies. The premise allowed John to have some fun with a plot brimming with sex, violence, conspiracy, poltergeists, walk-ins, organized crime, mysterious cartels, the Elks, and the Kennedy assassination. And, for good measure, funny underwear. In later years, he often lamented that fictionalized forteana was more commercial than reportage; and that “The X-Files” and “Men In Black” were lifting plot points from his books. “The Return of the Umbrella Man” was an attempt to create an entertainment using some of the same paranormal material.
John’s agent, Knox Burger, didn’t like it, however. Below is John’s cover letter, with Knox’s reply: “John: Names like Henry and Myrtle are death — they’re out of 1937 comic books. Wife shouldn’t cuckold him with police chief… (notes). John: I really don’t have any confidence I could sell this for you. Comic novels about changelings or whatever are just not in demand. I’m awfully sorry. Knox.”
So, the project was abandoned. Perhaps it’s just as well, considering that Witt surfaced shortly afterward. But, if you’ve ever wondered what a “novel of suspense and supernatural horror” by John Keel would be like, here are the first six pages, of 30. After this, George takes over Henry’s body, hooks up with his girlfriend (another walk-in), and they run from the unidentified powerful group trying to kill them. Unfortunately for this group, walk-ins just find another host body when killed. Eventually, the villains learn that only a nuclear explosion can kill off a ghost, and duly prepare an accident at a power plant. It’s action packed!
October 11, 2013
Andrew Colvin has published a companion volume to Flying Saucer to the Center of Your Mind: another compilation of John Keel’s lectures and magazine articles. He asked me to write an introduction for it, which I was happy to do. Apparently, this came out in August, and I was never told. I guess I’m out of the loop. But it looks good; and once again he’s compiled a fine selection of Keel at his best. You can order a copy from Amazon, here.
October 1, 2013
Richard Toronto worked for years on a biography of Richard Shaver, the curious writer whose stories about caverns, ancient machines, and the notorious dero had such an impact on early ufology and on science fiction. The result, War Over Lemuria, has now been published by McFarland, and is racking up good reviews. So much material had to be cut, however, that he followed up with a companion volume, Shaverology. Richard, knowing that I’ve long been interested in Shaver, kindly sent me a copy.
Shaverology is not a biography, but a collection of Shaver goodies; it presupposes a familiarity with the first book, or at least with Shaver’s life. There’s much in here not only about the “Shaver Mystery,” as his stories about the caves came to be known, but on his fan club, his failed publishing company, and his obsession with picture rocks; as well as photos, letters, reprints of rare pamphlets, poetry, artwork, clippings, and much more. Ray Palmer, Shaver’s editor, friend, and sometime nemesis, is also in evidence, with chapters on his editorial hoaxes (he liked to invent contributors, complete with fake bios and photos), his predictions, his numerous magazines — even how he came to have a DC superhero named after him. I was particularly happy to see material by Shaver’s wife Dorothy, by his old friends Richard Horton and W. G. Bliss, and by his daughter Evelyn Bryant.
Both the science fiction and the UFO community have long been dismissive of Shaver; he has, unexpectedly, been more popular in the art world, with exhibits of his paintings and rock photos. As I’ve pointed out before, you need not accept his claims to find him an endearing original, imaginative and soulful.
Richard Toronto, incidentally, interviewed John Keel in 1985 for his magazine Shavertron, which I’ve posted here. And, as a footnote, here’s the teenage Keel complaining about Shaver in his fanzine (fancard?) The Lunarite. For more on War Over Lemuria and Shaverology, please visit Richard’s website.
September 25, 2013
The next letter in the file was postmarked April 11, but headed Sunday night. A look at the calendar tells me it was written April 9. Mary Hyre catches John up on some recent sightings, regrets that there are no details on a cownapping, and apologizes for leaving while watching UFOs. The attached column is here.
September 2, 2013
Andrew Colvin has assembled a choice selection of rare magazine articles by John Keel in Flying Saucer to the Center of Your Mind, now available through Amazon. It includes articles from Saga, Saucer News, Men, Male, John’s own magazine Anomaly, and many others, as well as transcriptions of lectures. The introductions are by Colvin, Gray Barker and Tessa B. Dick.
Colvin grew up in West Virginia, and has experienced its anomalies first-hand. Those interested in Mothman know him from his books The Mothman’s Photographer I-III, The Mothman Speaks, and The Mothman Shrieks. You can read an interview with him here.
August 29, 2013
The next letter from Mary Hyre is a few days later, March 14, 1967. She catches John up on some of the recent UFO sightings: I believe the “thing” here is a craft, not the celebrated Mothman. The clippings are not in the envelope; John must have filed them elsewhere. Ron Hite was covering the flap in the Herald Dispatch, in Huntington, West Virginia (John simply marked the clippings “Huntington paper”). And I apologize for the condition of Mary Hyre’s typewriter ribbon.
August 19, 2013
Mary Hyre, the columnist for the Athens Messenger, kept up a regular correspondence with John during the events described in The Mothman Prophecies. I’ve posted a couple of her letters before, but I’d like to take a closer look at the file. The first one I can find is from March 5 and 11, 1967; it describes some UFO sightings, and the attack on Connie Carpenter mentioned in Chapter 8 of The Mothman Prophecies. The column that she mentions is one I already posted here.
August 12, 2013
First, here’s John’s final footnote to the preceding transcript.
With that in mind, we can move cautiously on to the last page, headed “Aftermath.” As John said, things got complicated. I don’t know what was going on here; but I do hope that it wasn’t what it seemed. And I don’t know what happened to the tape.
August 6, 2013
This concludes the transcript of John’s baffling phone conversation with “Helen,” who claimed that there were Men In Black in the room with her. When we last left them, one of the MIB was drinking ammonia — at least, according to Helen.
This isn’t the end, however; as John says, “Things got very complicated.”