By Bob Weaver 2005|
He was a master of embellishment and a manipulator.
Braxton County native Gray Barker (pictured left) may well be West Virginia's most famous hoaxer, riding America's 1950s and 60s appetite for UFOs, alien abductions and strange phenomenon.
He was born in the remote Village of Riffle, along the B&O tracks.
Barker's acquaintances have said his belief in UFOs was scant, but his fascination about the subject was obsessive and often took more genuine UFO accounts and embellished them or actually concocted tales about events that never happened.
About 1966, Barker helped one of his fellow hoaxers in creating the Lost Creek, West Virginia, UFO film, a hamburger-sized
ceramic model resembling a saucer in which UFO fanatic George Adamski claimed he had been abducted.
Tiny UFO model, now on display in the Harrison County Library,
was dangled on a string for movie hoax - the Lost Creek UFO
(Hur Herald Photo)
The tiny model was dangled on a string from a pole and later showed all over the USA as an authentic UFO sighting.
Barker, Adamski and others spent endless hours talking about such events on the 50,000 watt New York radio station WOR-AM, whose
signal reached dozens of states, including West Virginia.
It was during those late night hours of early talk radio in the 50s I learned of such strange events on "Long John Neville's Show" of the weird that energized the bewildered.
Barker, who struggled making money with his books and magazines (see right), died in 1984 at age 59. If he were alive today, he would stand a good chance of being very wealthy.
His early tales have been the basis for the Men in Black and the Mothman blockbuster movies, the latter purported to have happened at Pt. Pleasant.
Barker received no credit for his fanciful tales, certainly no money, and likely died a pauper.
His work about the strange and unusual is replete in the Gray Barker Room of the Harrison County Library, which we visited, filled to the brim with his UFO magazine "Saucer News," articles, letters and photos.
Barker's UFO fame began in 1952, with reports of a space-ship-riding creature at Flatwoods, West Virginia - the Braxton County Monster (pictured left) Barker's interviews with witnesses appeared in Fate magazine, and he soon became chief investigator for Albert K. Bender's International Flying Saucer Bureau.
When Bender dissolved the fast-growing cult group, blaming unidentified individuals who were unhappy about his work, Barker wrote one of the UFO classics "They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers," from whence sprang "Men in Black."
In this tale, men in black step from their huge auto, and a government cover-up begins and witnesses clam up.
Then came the Mothman stories, which Barker connected with the 700-foot Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, which collapsed in 1967, killing 45 people.
John Keel, a New York freelance writer who writes for Fate Magazine, Science Digest, Saga, True, and Playboy, and also wrote a book about Eastern mystics, Jadoo (1957), invented the abbreviation "M.I.B.," shorthand glorified by Men in Black in 1997 and then wrote the "Mothman Prophecies," made into a movie starring Richard Gere.
In the "Mothman Prophecies," Keel wrote about Barker: "The die-hard fanatics who dominated saucerian "investigations" during the early years were a humorless lot and Gray's mischievous wit baffled and enraged them. At times it baffled me, too. This towering bear of a man was very hard to read."
Most of his life, Barker was a movie-booker for WV theaters and often helped Clarksburg's Ellis family operate movie houses.
During the 1970s we met Gray Barker while he was attempting to operate the Cinema V movie house in Buckhannon, where we were living at the time. By then, the tall, gaunt man was stooped, wearing thick glasses and appeared to be in poor health. He was likely broke.
I mentioned that he entertained me on the radio through the late night hours of my high school life and I had read his stories. He graciously acknowledged my
comments, but said "I'm sorta getting out of the UFO business."
His effort to re-established the Buckhannon movie house was a flop. My wife and I tried to set through a feature or two, but the machines kept breaking down.
2022 - I went searching for the origins of Gray Barker in the faded village of Riffle, Braxton County, West Virginia. He was born on a farm there in 1924, none of the locals had never heard of him, their most famous citizen, located near the ghost town of Exchange. It was easy to imagine that Barker hopped on a B&O train that went through the remote village, and didn't look back.
Barker often appeared on TV and radio programs,
shown here visiting a New York TV show
Gray Barker Room of the Harrison County Library, is filled with
his UFO magazine "Saucer News," articles, letters and photos