Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The JFK-UFO connection

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

When I saw the book, JFK & UFO by Kenn Thomas, I knew it was a must-read for me. Two of my favorite conspiracy theories, the Kennedy assassination and flying saucers! Published by Feral House, one of my favorite publishers! How could I resist? I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled in for a couple of hours.

I was initially disappointed because the book is less about wild conspiracy theories than what is actually known about such incidents as the Maury Island, Washington, UFO sightings of June, 1947, Kenneth Arnold’s UFO sightings over the Cascades in Washington on June 24, 1947, and how a principal in the Maury Island sightings, Fred Lee Crisman, figured in years later with the JFK killing.

Some ufologists believe the Maury Island sightings were a hoax, but many believe they were real. Crisman and Harold Dahl claimed they saw a flight of UFOs. One disintegrated and left debris, white metal and slag. Two Air Force Intelligence officers flew to the island, picked up samples of the debris, and then were killed when their plane crashed shortly after. The Maury Island story is one that has been debated for decades.

Over the years Fred Lee Crisman held a variety of jobs, including high school teacher, industrial psychologist, and a right-wing radio host using the name Jon Gold. There is doubt as to whether Crisman was actually a member of the wartime OSS and then its successor, the CIA, as has been claimed. Crisman is tied to the Kennedy assassination. There is a photo (shown in JFK & UFO of three “tramps” arrested right after the incident, and one of the “tramps” has been identified by some as Crisman. Crisman was subpoenaed by Jim Garrison when Garrison accused Clay Shaw of the plot to kill JFK. You may remember that story from the Oliver Stone movie version, JFK.

From JFK & UFO. Copyright © 2011 Kenneth Thomas.

Crisman’s right-wing radio show was on a station in Tacoma, Washington, where he achieved some notoriety for his fight with the local Tacoma government.

The story gets truly strange when it gets into the connection with Crisman to Amazing Stories, that pulp magazine’s editor Ray Palmer, and the Shaver Mystery hoax, as promoted by Palmer from the delusional writings of Richard S. Shaver.

(Palmer has a connection to UFO mythology, as told by author John Keel in his essay, "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers".)

Thomas presents some tantalizing material, including documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as some interviews with people who are knowledgeable about the Maury Island case, and about Crisman.

One of the reasons UFOs and JFK are my favorite conspiracies is because when talking about either you have several theories from which to choose. If you want to believe UFOs are military weapons being tested secretly, that’s fine. Or Nazi-designed secret weapons, that's OK, too. Gray men from another planet who are conducting medical experiments on abductees, why, go right on ahead. There's room for every wild story or inventive fantasy imaginable.

Likewise the assassination of JFK. If you don't believe the Warren Commission that Lee Oswald was the lone killer, you have a lot of other theories to choose from: Mafia, Cuban revenge, the CIA (everyone's favorite government villain), or right-wingers like Fred Crisman in cahoots with Clay Shaw. Personally, while I like to read about them, I'm too much a skeptic to believe in any of them.

Despite the disappointment in not getting some sort of wild-eyed conspiracy theories with JFK & UFO, I got some actual food for thought, an interesting story not told in mainstream media.

I’m a fan of Feral House, the publisher. I will read anything they publish. Their catalog is full of eclectic books not found anywhere else. So far I’ve never been bored by any of their books. When I see their colophon I jump at the book. But the layout and editing problems with JFK & UFO make me wonder if there is an editor at Feral House who goes through the manuscript, or whether they just print what the author supplies them. The use of sidebars is clumsy; I had to read the chapters and then go back and read sidebars that were continued over several pages. The sidebars should have just been presented as chapters of their own. There are several typos that should have been caught. This has the look of a book presented press-ready without any sort of editorial intermediary along the way. That bothers me. Also, there are references cited in end notes for each chapter, but there is no index, which I believe is necessary with so many characters involved.


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