Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Astounding UFO SECRETS of James W. Moseley edited by Timothy Green Beckley

Two blogs are going to be devoted to this book about the infamous editor/journalist of Saucer News, James W. Moseley. First of all, he was fun and a good writer but I can't squeeze in a summary/analysis of the news articles in this blog. Second of all, this man is huge. One of the book's contributors, Kenneth Arnold, describes him as the last of the 1950s Old Guard of UFOlogists. He was also a pioneer in UFOlogical investigation techniques and managed to have a huge influence on the UFOlogical community at large as the premier UFO Journalist bar none; despite the fact that he was neither a skeptic nor hardcore believer, which left him marginalized. But he was also able to have a monopoly in the UFO community as a witty social commentator who archived history.

 The book itself is a well written book, an entertaining read. It’s certainly not a manual like some books dedicated to various phenomena.  I feel that James Moseley, also known as the Clown Prince of UFOlogy, must have known that UFOlogy needed humor to attract a wider audience. It needed its court jester. After all, there’s a lot of head butting going on between skeptics, hardcore believers, and the government in this community. And sometimes UFOlogy can be hard to swallow, thanks to challenging concepts such as the ancient astronaut theory.

For me, he adds a sober view of UFOlogy, neither too skeptical nor blindly accepting of claims from contactees or even skeptics. He shaked his proverbial UFO colander and shifted through the claims to filter out lies and get to the truth.  Or what he considered to be the truth based on what he considered to be tangible evidence. Perhaps this is what drove people towards his publications.  Or perhaps it was the great amount of controversy he concocted. Everyone loves drama.

James W. Moseley was born on August 4th 1931 and died on November 16, 2012. His father was the notorious Major General George Van Horn Moseley and his mother was Florence Barber, heiress to the New York City Barber Steamship Lines fortune.  His relatively long life saw him at the advent of modern UFOlogy with Kenneth Arnold, the first person to report a UFO sighting on June 24, 1947, to November 16, 2012. I can’t help thinking how ironic it is that he died before December 21st. He would, undoubtedly, have had something witty to say about the Mayan predictions that failed to come true.

Woseley had a very rebellious relationship with his autocratic father throughout his life.  He quit Princeton after just two years, pursued real-estate deals, antiquarian pursuits, and inevitably UFOlogy and gonzo journalism all as means to rebel against him.  

It is unknown what his relationship with his mother was like. What is known is that his mother died when he was only 19 years old and left him a million dollar fortune. This allowed him to finance his own UFOlogical pursuits such as grave-robbing for Inca pottery and gold in Peru, founding his National UFO Conference  (NUFOC -an unofficial, giant party), and founding Saucer News. In fact, he used UFOlogy as an excuse to party and he never had a real job in his life. Many people were suspicious of this and claimed that he must have been a government silencer and had paychecks cut to him on a regular basis by the CIA. But that was not the case.

Memories from His UFOlogical Colleagues/Friends

His friends share some of their memories of their beloved UFOlogist in this portion of the book. A singular man, he met most of them at his National UFO Conferences, partied with many of them in New York City, and had most of them over as guests at his Key West apartment. So I won’t bore you with those details.

The photo taken by Tim Beckley of the man-in-black


Editor/contributor Tim Beckley remembers the time when the assistant editor at Saucer News, Jack Robinson, had a possible run in with a man-in-black. Things were a little weird that day because Robinson had trouble with his phone and files were missing. Even more eerie was the mysterious man across the street in a black suit (with a long, black trench coat), black hat, and black sunglasses-the men-in-black uniform. Since everyone knew everybody in the neighborhood, the man stuck out like a sore thumb. Moseley and Beckley hid out in a car and took a photo of the nefarious stranger who was gone before they had a chance to confront him. Moseley, of course, was skeptical and thought that it could have been a pall bearer or gangster. But as Beckley pointed out, a funeral home was miles away and a gangster in that quite neighborhood was inconceivable. The picture Beckley took is the only one in existence of a man-in-black, if it is indeed a man-in-black. And he actually discusses this encounter in an episode of UFO Hunters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y29mF2aGQGI.

James Moseley's partner in crime Grey Barker

The Straith Letter

Beckley remembers James Moseley as being very skeptical of the infamous contactee George Adamski who claimed to have been in contact with Venusians…so he outted him in Saucer News. On a wildly mischievous day in 1957, he and his pal Grey Barker (with whom he was having a pretend feud in order to drive up viewership for their publications), decided to step it up a notch and forge a government letter from the Cultural Exchange Committee confirming Adamski’s experiences (which supposedly took him to planet Venus and back). They laughed as George Adamski touted this letter for years as confirmation that, indeed, he was telling the truth about his extraterrestrial experiences. Perhaps the lack of a date should have given the hoax away, but Professor Adamski didn’t notice it. When Grey Barker died in 1984, Moseley finally admitted that he concocted the hoax and lost a lot of readers because they were supporters of Adamski. This amusing letter can be found in the book.

Gossip Monger

Every good journalist is also a good gossip monger, and Antonio Huneeus remembers Moseley this way. Moseley used to frequent bars to collect UFO gossip which he included in his controversial and infamous newsletter, Saucer SmearsSaucer Smears, says Huneeus, was the only UFO publication that didn’t concentrate on UFO news. Instead, it concentrated on gossip about the personality of UFOlogists. Appearances in the publications weren’t “technically” scheduled and there was no cost to appear in it, but guests made “love offerings” anyway. According to Huneeus, he could gossip till the day he died-he enjoyed making fun of people.

Moseley poking fun of Phillip Klass's Explanations

The Voltaire of UFOlogy

It is well known throughout the UFO community that Moseley was a witty trouble maker who was skeptical and dismissive of contactees and their experiences. Because of this, Hunneus remembers that many people dismissed him as a skeptic, though he was equally as skeptical of debunkers. Moseley’s dismissive wit and biting sarcasm earned him the reputation of being the Voltaire of UFOlogy. Voltaire, the 18th century Philosopher who wrote Candid, used to mock the establishment and people of his time. His comments, unfortunately, got him thrown out of many countries.

Moseley never experienced exile but he was very much like Voltaire in this way. For example, he made fun of skeptic Phillip Klass’ explanations and had a lengthy feud with James the Amazing Randi. On the other hand, Huneeus remembers that he was friends with the big wigs at Project Bluebook at Patterson Air Force Base.

Moseley during one of his grave robbing expeditions in Peru

The Grave Robbing UFOlogist

When I looked at a picture of James W. Moseley in all his grave-robbing glory in Peru, I can’t help but think “Indiana Jones.” I wonder if, in fact, he inspired the famous George Lucas character. Huneeus remembers that he was proud of his grave robbing days as a huaquero (a grave robber who steals pottery) in Peru. Of course, stealing ancient artifacts is forbidden in all countries. For this reason, Moseley once invited a Peruvian diplomat to dinner and paid him off. Moseley would later detail these exploits in his book Shockingly Close to the Truth-Confessions of a Grave-Robbing UFOlogist which he co-author with Karl Pflock (more or 'less').

The Liminal Outsider

When George P. Hansen thinks of Moseley, the description that comes to mind is that of a liminal, betwixt, anti-structural trickster. What liminal, betwixt, and anti-structural means is that he was anti-establishment and therefore rebellious towards hierarchical institutions i.e he was a rebel. He was proud of his marginality too and even shows off his liminal credentials on his letterhead of Saucer Smear newsletter as a J.S, or Journal Subscriber of the MUFON UFO Journal. Hansen mentions that he, himself, is an official “unsubscriber” to Saucer Smear. As a trickster, Moseley, he says, is looked upon with suspicion and amusement but not taken seriously. On the positive side, he mentions that Moseley was as an unpretentious man in a field filled with egos. And he also mentions that psychic Ingo Swann, who trained our government’s psychic spies, described Moseley’s contribution to the community as “an accurately profound ‘window’ opening up onto the sociology of UFOlogy. There its cumulative issues constitute a precious historical archive.” In other words, it’s a rare glimpse into the UFOlogical world and all the personalities that drive it, not just nuts and bolt facts such as UFO sightings, contactee experiences, and scientific theories.

Of course, this focus on the social scene rather than the actual phenomena angered some people who felt that he was undermining UFOlogy. Richard Hall, one of the most serious, prominent members in the UFOlogical community, describes Moseley’s work as, “A steaming turd on the living room carpet. This sort of silly crap explains why you and your idol, who constantly treat the subject as a joke, might just as well be on the government payroll for UFO debunkers.”

A picture of the witty, mysterious journalist in later years

The End of the Saucer Era

Moseley’s death, says contributor Tim Brigham, marks the end of the “saucer age.” Frankly, I don’t know what that means. If he means an end to the “UFO” era, well, I very much doubt that. In fact, UFOlogy is having a resurgence in popular culture. If he means it’s an end to the “flying saucer” era, I would have to agree. People have been seeing triangles, cigars, tear shaped orbs not just the old fashioned, disc-shaped vehicles. The list goes on.

Nazca Lines

Brighman mentions he had a tradition of giving Moseley a bottle of “Old Smuggler” rum, which was an inside joke referring to his amateur archeological exploits in Peru. It just so happened that as Moseley was flying above the Nazca Lines on his way to one of his Peruvian expeditions; he noticed that they could be interpreted from the air, even though they couldn’t be interpreted on the ground. He wrote an article about the Nazca Lines and their connection to UFOs for FATE magazine in 1955. Pretty forward thinking if you ask me. The Ancient Aliens series delves deep into the Nazca Lines and the plausible UFO connection.

Guilt by Association

Gene Steinberg, who was once Saucer News’ Managing Editor, recalls being thrown out of NICAP because of guilt by association. Apparently, Moseley called Richard Hall once only to be accused of taping their conversations. However, though Moseley was renown for his great storytelling, he wasn’t technically inclined. In fact, he typed all his articles on a manual typewriter and sent all his articles to publications via snail mail until his death.

The Peruvian Girl

Allen Greenfield remembers visiting Ray Palmer with Moseley and chasing the Brown Mountain Lights with him as well as ghosts on the Georgia Coast. He also remembers Moseley’s love for the Spanish culture and his Peruvian girlfriend Josephine.


Rick Hillberg reminisces about Saucer News’ inception 1954 under the name Nexus. Nexus became Saucer News and was eventually taken over by Grey Barker. It was the premier “saucer-zine” when the publication closed in 1970.

Locheil Crossing

Ed Biebel recalls driving with Jim to Patagonia Mountains. On their way, they went to Locheil crossing station to pose for photos which somehow disappeared. They then continued to Patagonia. Jim was vetting him for the 1983 National UFO Conference in Tuscon, Arizona. Tim Beckley was suggested to be guest speaker.

The Accessible Interviewee

Greg Bishop wanted an interview with Moseley for his radio show “Radio Mysterioso,” so he wrote him and asked for an interview. Moseley wrote back and suggested meeting him at the San Diego National UFO Conference in summer that year, 1994. He recollects a kind and patient man who answered all his questions and shared Gray Barker’s “Bucket of Shit” poem with him. The poem, which blasts UFOlogy, can be found at the end of his contribution.

Moseley's Move to Key West

T.N Hackney remembers Moseley as having a quick mind and wit to match. According to Hackney, he was nobody’s fool. Like a lot of his friends, Hackney was taken by surprise when he learned that Moseley was planning to move to Key West, Florida. After his move, Moseley’s visits to New York became a major social event. 

Locating a Lost Love

One day, Moseley asked Bishop to locate a Peruvian woman in L.A. named Josephine.  He and his wife found her and got her on the phone with Moseley. Though he wasn’t sure whether or not they had a romantic tryst, he had suspicions. Those suspicions were confirmed when he found out that Moseley wanted to include her in his will. This book should put a fork in it-suspicion done!

The Consummate Journalist

According to Ed Komrek, James Moseley gave up figuring out what UFOs are pretty early on and focused on the social scene instead. He was the consummate journalist, needling information out of people especially those who had an autocratic bend and took themselves too seriously. It was a “shake the tree and see what falls out” strategy to get information. A “needle people till they spill the beans” interrogation art that Moseley mastered. He particularly liked pitting people against each other and sitting back to watch his work.

Uri Gellar’s Magic Spoon

Komrek will always remember Moseley as a skeptic who believed few cases. He was even skeptical of magic which he dismissed as an illusory art. One day, he went to one of the shows of their mutual friend Uri Gellar who played a pass the spoon around trick. As the spoon was being passed around it kept bending, even in Moseley’s hand. This proved to him that there was more to magic than illusion, that some of it was real.

An Archive of Moseley’s Work

Phyllis Galde, Editor-in-Chief of FATE magazine, remembers that his Key West home had a lovely swimming pool, friendly stray cats, gold South American statues, and ever present cigarette smoke. All his Saucer New articles have been archived on FATE Magazine's website www.fatemag.com.

All photos are taken from the book The Astounding UFO Secrets of James W. Moseley and credited to Antonio Huneeus except for the Man-in-Black photo which is credited to Tim Beckley as well as one or two random photos found on the internet.


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