Someone asked me the other day what made me decide to write a book about Gray Barker, author of They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956). After all, I write science fiction and Christian apologetics. The closest I’ve come to the subject is a book on exotheology and Ufology (Strangers and Aliens).
The truth is there are several things about Gray Barker that made him interesting to me. First of all, he’s a fellow West Virginian. We also happen to share the same birthday, albeit several decades removed. And, yes, he was a notorious hoaxster, though few except his closest friends seemed to realize it while he was alive; however, what interested me was that he very intelligent about it. Gray Barker wasn’t a hayseed trying to get you to pay a buck to see a shaved monkey he was calling an alien. He was the folklorist who collected the tales of men like that. Along with people who wore tin foil hats and claimed to take saucer rides with fair haired Venusians. He was an intricate part of early UFO culture and yet he stood apart. While I think he gave up on the idea that the UFO puzzle was anything but the bunk early on in his investigations, I think it was the people of the UFO community who continued to fascinate him. Of course, he got bored from time to time, or his mischievous sense of humor got the better of him, and… well, let’s just say that I’m still not certain I’ve catalogued all of his hoaxes yet (poor John Keel!)
In the 1991 Illuminet edition of Mothman Prophecies, John Keel remember him thus:
“Barker left behind a rich heritage of practical jokes and UFO hoaxes (including his 1970 novel about Mothman , The Silver Bridge)” which, like Tom [Monteleone]’s story are now an integral part of flying saucer literature. He paved the way for the myriad of hoaxes of the 1980s. His Lost Creek, West Virginia saucer photos were the forerunners to the Gulf Breeze Florida fakes. His Hangar 18 fraud and his Edwards Air Force Base fairy tale (in which he names several of his personal friends as witnesses, along with President Eisenhower), served as a framework for the MJ-12/Roswell, New Mexico “crashed saucer” hoaxes that absorbed the attention of many UFO buffs throughout the 1980s.The flying saucer cults owe him much.”
I stumbled upon that quote (and had a doozy of a time tracking down that edition to confirm the quote’s context) during the writing of Strangers and Aliens. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Keel’s claims about Barker were true. Just how much of UFO and scifi culture owes a nod to Ufology’s chief trickster?
In writing Strangers and Aliens, I came to see why Barker had such a fascination with the people of the UFO phenomenon. It’s an easy bug to catch! And perhaps it’s not so strange or fantastic that I became even more intrigued by the man who became one of its chief folklorists.
Anyway when it’s all said and done, I hope you’ll end up sharing my fascination with the Man Who Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers.