Tuesday, November 27, 2012

James W. Moseley (1931-2012)

James W. Moseley in 1980 (photo by author)

As most of you have probably heard, the well-known UFO satirist, hoaxer, and occasionally serious investigator James W. Moseley died of cancer in Key West, Florida on November 16, at the age of 81. A noted “trickster” figure, his career in UFOlogy spanned sixty years (!!). He attended Princeton University, but did not graduate. Having inherited sufficient money to be able to pursue his own interests, Moseley never worked a conventional career. He spent much of his time traveling to UFO conferences, interviewing UFO witnesses and personalities, and traveling to Peru to engage in what he called “grave robbing” of pre-Columbian artifacts. Later he opened a shop in Key West to sell the antiquities he had imported before he had to beat a hasty retreat out of Peru. The shop did not do well, and so Moseley donated the artifacts to the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History in Dania, Florida, where they are on permanent display.
            In late 1953, Moseley began a great odyssey “tracking the elusive flying saucer.” He drove from his home in New Jersey to Washington, DC, to ask at the Pentagon to see the saucer cases that the Air Force had investigated. To his astonishment, he was allowed to do so, with no clearance required. He interviewed the famous saucer author Major Donald E. Keyhoe, and “I wasn’t impressed. I felt – correctly, I still believe – that Keyhoe routinely made too much out of too little, at least in part just to sell books.” From there it was on to interviews in South Carolina, Georgia, then west to Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, and finally Mt. Palomar, California, where “Professor Adamski was holding court” in his hamburger stand. George Adamski was famous as the man who first made contact with the Venusians, and he had a sizeable, uncritical following. (Amazingly, he still does. Adamski’s current followers held an anniversary gathering on that same spot, ironically on the very day after Moseley’s death.) Moseley was not impressed by Adamski, and riled some saucer believers by debunking Adamski’s claims.
            He drove on to Hollywood where he interviewed best-selling author Frank Scully, who vigorously defended the Aztec, NM “crashed saucer” story given him by Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer. On the way back Moseley interviewed Newton in Denver. Moseley wasn’t impressed by Scully or Newton, either. He contacted the office of former president Truman in Independence, Missouri, asking for an interview about flying saucers. Amazingly, even though this was just over a year after the famous and controversial 1952  “flying saucer invasion” of Washington, DC, while Truman was still president, Moseley’s request was granted. Truman took Moseley into his private office, where the former president joked around with him a bit, then told him that he’d never seen a saucer, and didn’t know anything about them.
            In the decades that followed, Moseley traveled many other places tracking the elusive saucers. He was the longtime chairman of the National UFO Conference and attended most of them. He gave many lectures about flying saucers, and even made several trips to Giant Rock in the California desert, a sort of Woodstock for UFO contactees and their followers.
            Moseley became close friends with another UFOlogical “trickster” figure, the late Gray Barker, who was instrumental in launching the now-classic legends of the Men in Black, and Mothman. As might be imagined, when they got together they were frequently up to mischief. Moseley admitted to at least one hoax (there were obviously more) - the famous Straith Letter to Adamski. Barker and Moseley forged an authentic-looking letter from the U.S. Department of State, purporting to be from a nonexistent person named R. E. Straith. In it, Straith tells Adamski that the U.S. government  knew that his claims of meeting Venusians were true, and planned to release that information soon. The crafty Adamski loved to show off the letter to visitors.

Having begun publishing Saucer News in 1954, Moseley sold it to Gray Barker in 1968. Moseley then began publishing Saucer Cruise, Saucer Booze, and Saucer Jews (dedicated to his longtime friend Gene Steinberg). Finally, he settled on Saucer Smear, “Dedicated to the highest principles of UFOlogical journalism.” Many of these issues are now being sold at http://www.martiansgohome.com/smear/  (they used to be free!). It became the longest continuously published UFO journal in the world. When UFOlogists were feuding (as they almost always were), Moseley loved to run the vitriolic letters one would send in denouncing  the other. In 2002, Moseley co-authored, with the late Karl Pflock, Shockingly Close to the Truth – Confessions of a Grave-Robbing UFOlogist (PrometheusBooks). If you are interested in the subject of UFOs, you simply must read this fascinating book.
One of the most interesting UFO books ever written!

 Many “serious” UFOlogists were irritated by Moseley, who never hesitated to state his opinion about a major UFO case. The irascible John Keel once castigated him, “You are a boil on the ass of UFOlogy.” Moseley proudly placed this tribute at the top of numerous issues of Saucer SmearDon Berliner was even more graphic: Saucer Smear is "like a turd on the living room floor.” Moseley wrote that, at one UFO conference, upon seeing Moseley the UFO abduction guru Budd Hopkins flipped him “the bird.” I suggested to Moseley that this might possibly make him a member of UFOlogy's famous Aviary
           The pompous "serious UFOlogist" Jerome Clark, whose ego is larger than many galaxies, wrote "Moseley, whom I knew well and with whom I corresponded up till the end, was not a skeptic by any definition. He thought UFOs to be some kind of extradimensional phenomenon, and he did not like skeptics, whom he regarded as bores and worse, all that much.... I am still trying to process the news, however sadly expected, of Jim's death. I will have more to say on his life and career at some point. For now, I mourn the loss of a friend." Excuse me while I barf!  The notion of Clark sitting at his desk too emotional to write, sadly mourning his dear friend Moseley, positively oozes bullshit out of every orifice. Just a few years earlier, Clark had belittled Moseley in his UFO Encyclopedia as having "entertained just about every view it is possible to hold about UFOs, without ever managing to say anything especially interesting or memorable about any of them."  Every regular reader of Saucer Smear knew that Moseley intensely disliked Jerome Clark. The reasons are not difficult to see. However, as Curt Collins, Saucer Smear "contributing editor" notes in a comment, Moseley and Clark did reconcile in the last few years.
Moseley about to be "levitated" at a UFO Conference
           It's quite true that Moseley was not a "skeptic." However he was a "skeptical believer," and was not afraid to "call Bullshit" wherever he thought necessary, no matter how sacred the cow (including the Roswell crash and the famous British case he always wrote as “Rendle-SHAM.”). As for Clark's claim that Moseley "did not like skeptics," that's news to me. I first met Moseley at a Fortean convention in Washington, DC in the1970s. He visited me several times during his travels to California, and we met numerous times at various conferences. I have dozens of postcards from him (his favorite means of communication, many of them marked "top secret" on the front side). We remained in frequent contact until his death. Moseley was also on friendly terms with Philip J. Klass, James Oberg, Gary Posner, Lance Moody, Tim Printy, and Michael Dennett, to name a few skeptics. It is true that in later years Moseley had come to dislike James "the Amusing" Randi (as Moseley typically called him), with whom he was originally friendly. Moseley appeared as a frequent guest on Randi's late night radio show in New York City during the 1960s. (Randi a forerunner of Art Bell's late-night paranormal weirdness radio talk show? Unbelievable, but true!) "At the time, Randi was relatively open-minded about saucers and other weirdness. We became friends" (Shockingly, p. 189). But Moseley became irritated by what he considered Randi's inflexible skepticism about paranormal claims, in part because Moseley had experienced several incidents himself that he felt might be paranormal.
            Moseley was among the last survivors of the very beginning of the saucer era, to whom Arnold’s sighting and the Mantell crash were not historical events, but personal memories. He also belonged to the age of the typewriter, never using a computer. Until his death each issue of Saucer Smear consisted of eight pages of typed text, interspersed with some humorous cartoons, news headlines, or offbeat photos. Moseley's "contributing editors," as well as others,  sent him late-breaking material printed out from what Moseley always called the "cursed internet."
The front page of a typical issue of Saucer Smear

The last postcard I received from Moseley. I had written him that while perusing UFO books on Amazon.com, "I somehow came across Jim Moseley’s Book of Saucer News, where an autographed paperback copy was selling for $675.00!!!! (Plus $3.99 shipping).... A copy of that same book without the (precious) autograph sells for a mere $381.15. Therefore, your autograph is worth exactly $293.85." It may be worth more soon.


  1. Jim Moseley was indeed an oddity. His book "The Wright Field Story" detailing his UFO odyssey of the 1950s & 60s has his name as author. However, he told me it was actually written by Gray Barker. Similarly his "Shockingly Close to the Truth" was at least 90% written by Karl Pflock! Which leads me to wonder if Jim wrote anything himself. Perhaps his knowledge of ufology and the paranormal was indeed vast but his command of the language much less so. It may be that he had lots of editorial help even with 'Saucer Smear'. Certainly an enigma.

    Jerome Clark's ego bigger than many of the galaxies? Does this mean some astronomy books may have to be rewritten? Where does the Milky Way lie in this respect? Or the Andromeda galaxy?

    I had forgotten about Adamski's Venusian contact. Yes exactly 60 years ago (November 20, 1952 to be precise). At least his ET was alive and well. Those at Roswell 5 years earlier were, unfortunately, all dead. The ETs had obviously learned lessons from this and had vastly improved their 'space safety' by 1952.

    So be it.

    1. ||Clark's ego bigger than many of the galaxies?||

      Despite it being punctured repeatedly by JohnR and others! (LOL) But Believers have galactic capacities for ignoring the obvious and self-deception——especially when their meager livelihoods depend on it.

  2. Robert, nice memorial, but a couple of corrections-
    Despite their turbulent history, Jim had become friends with Jerome Clark in the last few years.
    As for relying on material from the internet, that was only a supplimental source for Saucer Smear material. Jim maintained a network of contacts (and friendships) far and wide throughout the UFO field.

    As for CDA's comments about Jim's authorship of SS, he's way off. That was all Jim.

    Jim's obituary: http://keysnews.com/node/43813

    Curt Collins "contributing editor", Saucer Smear


  3. Curt,

    Thanks, I made changes to the text above concerning Moseley and Clark. Also I rephrased my comment about the 'cursed internet" so that no one gets the idea that Moseley even cared whether or not someone sent him stuff from it.

    That obituary from Key West certainly gives a different perspective on Jim than we're seeing on these UFO blogs!


    What you say about "The Wright Field Story" is correct. In fact, I recall Moseley saying that not only did he not write the book, he didn't even READ it!

    But I'm with Curt, I don't believe that Pflock wrote most of "Shockingly." It's Moseley's life story, and it contains his own distinctive phrasing and humor. I'm sure that Pflock helped him organize it, and polish it up. Having known both Moseley and Pflock, I don't see any content in that book that seems to me to be obviously Pflock.

    Perhaps it is appropriate to include this now-infamous poem by Moseley's pal Gray Barker, that Jim read in an interview:

    UFO is a bucket of shit
    Its followers: perverts, monomaniacs, dipsomaniacs
    Artists of the fast buck
    True believers, objective believers, new age believers
    Keyhoe believers

    Shushed by the three men
    Or masturbated by space men

    UFO is a bucket of shit

    The A.F. investigated UFOs
    And issued a report
    Couched in polite language
    Which translated, means:

    "UFO is a bucket of shit"

    Meade Layne is a bucket of shit
    Lex Mebane is a bucket of shit
    James W. Moseley is a bucket of shit
    Richard Ogden is a bucket of shit
    Ray Palmer is a bucket of shit

    And I sit here writing
    While the shit drips down my face
    In great rivulets


  4. More poetry to consider from a Don Henley UFO song:

    From this world of pain and strife
    That's a sorry substitution for a spiritual life
    Well, it's a cold, cold, cold, cold, cold, cold, cold, cold
    post, postmodern world
    No place for sentiment, no room for romance
    Bring back the Duke of Earl
    They're not here, they're not coming
    Not in a million years
    Turn your hopes back homeward
    Hold your children, dry their tears
    You may see the heavens flashing
    You may hear the cosmos humming
    But I promise you, my brother
    They're not here, they're not coming


  5. I'm ordering his life story PRONTO! The UFO field does tend to attract "odd" people, but for the most part they are very interesting! I'd love to read his take in more detail of the people he interviewed.

    1. Kitty, on p. 270 of "Shockingly," Moseley relates the story of how Betty Hill showed one crazy "UFO" photo after another to the National UFO Conference crowd until "the crowd became downright rude." He added, "I felt very bad for Betty, who is a delightful if somewhat kooky lady. Personally, unlike my coauthor (Pflock), I never thought the landmark abduction she and her husband reported having in 1961 was real."

  6. Great poem by Gray Barker. As usual, Don Henley's lyrics suck.

  7. In an interview at The Paracast, Moseley agreed with Clark's comments about him in the UFO ENCYCLOPEDIA.

  8. As a long-time contributing editor of "Smear" I can assure you that Jim Moseley received, and read many 'net based news items - I know because I assembled and sent them to Jim. At first, in the 2005 era, I was sending huge packages of material to Jim (100's of pages per month), and eventually I reduced that to 30-60 pages every week or so. Jim would call regularly and ask what the status of my "next batch of stuff" was. In the end I think Jim used maybe 10-20% of the material, but he read it all, and I think that kept him close the the UFO field as it evolved to 'net based content. FWIW.

    1. Vince, thanks for that information. I was wondering what all you "contributing editors" were doing! For somebody not connected to the internet, Moseley somehow stayed really well up-to-date. Now we know how! I've revised that final sentence about the internet once again.

  9. As if ufoolery wasn't history already. A "bucket" indeed.

  10. I read Moseley's memoir this summer. An excellent read, but also a very compelling portrait of the '50s, where UFO proponents seemed to be delusional or scammers (perhaps the looming threat of the A-bomb gave some people an eschatological perspective and pushed them to extremes).

    I too was disgusted with the attempts on UFO Updates to recast Moseley as anti-skeptical. Of course, those people use "skeptic" as a pejorative only.

  11. Roberto he say:

    >>I don't believe that Pflock wrote most of "Shockingly." It's Moseley's life story, and it contains his own distinctive phrasing and humor. I'm sure that Pflock helped him organize it, and polish it up. Having known both Moseley and Pflock, I don't see any content in that book that seems to me to be obviously Pflock.<<

    When, having read the book, I congratulated Karl P. on its remarkably seamless style for a co-authored book, he thanked me for the compliment before explaining that he had done all the actual writing. He worked from Moseley's various publications and from many a discussion and was delighted that his own [apparent] presence in the book was minimal. Note that this wasn't the first time he'd ghost-written.

    BTW and FWIW, the line that Moseley didn't like skeptics much is codswallop. At least insofar as at the FT UnConvention in 1997 he and Phil Klass [the wickedest of us all] spent many a happy hour laughing and joking together, not to mention comparing assessments of passing young lovelies, with whom the parks and streets of London are plentifully adorned.

    Peter B

  12. I am rewriting Phil Klass' Wikipedia page and trying to clean up the references. Two of the citations I would really like to keep on the page are from Moseley, but they are only referenced as "Moseley's memoirs", page 230. Can anyone tell me if this is a reference to "Shockingly"? In the comments above I see separate references to "Shockingly" and the memoirs. If the memoirs are a separate work, it would be a big help if you could give me any publication information.
    Thanks, gentlemen! -shane.


  13. Tuesday, February 27, 2024 - Isaac Koi has uploaded:
    Searchable PDFs: 300+ issues of Saucer Smear (Jim Moseley's "social history of ufology ... a gold mine rich in saucer lore, fact and fantasy, feud and folly")



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