With Will Smith’s Men In Black 3 hitting theaters on May 25, I thought I’d take this time to point out the backstory of the “Men in Black” meme, which actually goes back to the days of the Roswell UFO scandal of 1947.
In the course of researching my Weird Kentucky book, I spoke to a man in Madison County who told me an interesting tale. He didn’t want to be named on the record, and I lost track of the story while hoping he’d reconsider going on the record. Now I’ve lost track with the guy entirely.
In a nutshell, he claimed that in the 1970s he was visited by a pair of suspicious-acting, pale, cadaverous men wearing dark glasses and dressed in old-school black suits and ties.
In other words, the classic “Men In Black” mythical archetype. As Wikipedia describes them:
Men in Black (MIB), in popular culture and in UFO conspiracy theories, are men dressed in black suits who are government agents who harass or threaten UFO witnesses to keep them quiet about what they have seen. It is sometimes implied that they may be aliens themselves. The term is also frequently used to describe mysterious men working for unknown organizations, as well as to various branches of government allegedly designed to protect secrets or perform other
The fellow in Madison County said the men were claiming to be selling subscriptions to the Richmond Daily Register and other periodicals. However, their patter was rambling and unpracticed, like someone uttering the words for the first time rather than someone who had been saying the same thing over and over at every door he knocked on. Rather than have a stack of “take one” flyers with more information, they had only one flyer, and it looked water-damaged and dog-eared as if they’d found it on the ground. And he definitely felt as if one MIB was craning his neck to peer inside the house while the other MIB was distracting him.
I can’t go into why he felt the men were part of some secret agency, without divulging key information regarding his identity. But I found his story compelling.
That’s because I had a sort-of MIB-like experience myself.
In 1991, I was living in a house in Lexington’s Bell Court, and hosting a weekly rockabilly radio show on WRFL. I was just wrapping up my show at the station when I got a phone call. It was a man from Richmond, who said he just happened to be driving through Lexington and just happened to hear my radio show and just happened to have a carload of ultra-rare rockabilly records that he’d like to get rid of, cheap. Would I be interested? Oh heck yeah.
I gave him my address and told him I’d be right home in minutes, since I lived close to the station. Did he know where Bell Court was? “I think I can find it.”
To my surprise, he was already waiting there when I rolled up just moments later. He was of average height, short dark brown hair combed back, trimmed mustache. He was very friendly and professional-seeming in a black suit and tie.
I invited him up, and we hauled the boxes of records up to my room. It was a treasure trove of some of the rarest vinyl possible – Elvis on Sun, super-rare Elvis white-label RCA DJ copies, Bill Haley DJ copies on pink-label Decca, Gene Vincent LPs, and various valuable 45s of obscure artists. And all in fantastic condition. We’re talking thousands of dollars worth of classic rockabilly vinyl.
I told him I couldn’t even begin to be able to afford to buy the collection, but if he’d let me cherry-pick some of the best ones out, I’d buy those now and try to buy more later. He smiled a warm and friendly smile and said, “Tell you what. I’m in Lexington all the time. I live in Richmond and work at the Blue Grass Army Depot. You keep the records and I’ll stop back here in a couple days. That’ll give you a chance to look through them and make your decision.”
I was stunned that he would trust someone he had just met with all these valuable records, but gladly agreed. He wrote his name and number down on a scrap of paper for me, we shook hands, and he headed to his car.
And I never saw him again.
When he didn’t show up after a few days, I called the number he’d given me. I got the loud shrill three notes and the recorded robotic message: “We are sorry, you have reached a number that is disconnected or is no longer in service.” I looked up the name he’d given me in the phone book. He wasn’t there. So I called the Depot and asked for him – and was told they’d never heard of him.
At the time, I hadn’t connected him with the Men In Black myth. I was just thinking “Well, I guess the records are mine now.” But it bothered me that he knew exactly how to find me, so why wasn’t he trying? Even if he lost my number, he knew where I lived. Even if he forgot that, he knew I worked at WRFL. Even if he forgot where that was, he knew I did a rockabilly show there and could have called the station.
To this day, I sit and wonder what the heck happened. Even without invoking the Men In Black concept, being gifted with the record collection of a vanished government agent isn’t something that happens every day.
(And for a third, Kentucky MIB story, check out my friend Bart Nunnelly’s Mysterious Kentucky book!)
Jeffrey Scott Holland is a native Kentuckian, painter, writer, actor, musician, paralegal – and interested in all things. He joins a growing stable of talented, interesting regular columnists for KyForward.com, bringing his gift of a well-turned phrase, quirkiness and humor to entertain and enlighten — and sometimes provoke — our readers. He can always be reached at any time, by anyone on the planet, at email@example.com.