Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Maiden & The Barker

Had i come across the following page during my youth...

"Doom For A Dime" from the series Balbo The Boy Magician (Master Comics 41, 1943)

...I wouldnt have given it a second glance. But having since become aquainted with classic high strangeness, UFO-related cases, I instead thought: "hmm...what year is this actually from?" The answer is 1943, and in case you are still wondering what exactly to look for, compare it with the images below:

Yes, the infamous Flatwoods Monster and Mothman. Besides being some of the most instantly recognizable creatures of high strangeness lore, both are intimately connected with the state of West Virginia - one with the small town of Flatwoods, and the other with the slightly more populated Point Pleasant. While not mentioned by name in the story, or appearing in any context that could be considered extraordinary, I'm still wondering what the odds are for them being alluded to in this manner. And as I began reading closer, more connections appeared. 

And just in case you are wondering if the shadowy "creature" in the above story really is a moth, it is confirmed on the subsequent page:

Neither The Flatwoods Monster nor Mothman are easily pigeonholed. Nevertheless, the former is primarily related to a core incident that took place in September of 1952, while the latter has appeared in many seperate encounters over the years (some would argue, still to this day) and changed accordingly. I'm going to push the Mothman conundrum aside for now and instead focus on The Flatwoods Monster. To get a short but sufficient summary of the main incident, check this excellent video:

Now to get back to the Balbo comic: it never occured to me that The Flatwoods Monster could have been "inspired" by the torture instrument known as The Spanish Maiden/Iron Maiden. I had heard people compare it to the queen from Alice In Wonderland (not sure why though) and recently to Mandean Uthras, but never to a famous torture device. But now I see the comparison very clearly:

Spanish Maiden variants. The "Ace of spades" shaped head was a consistent detail mentioned by eyewitnesses to the original Flatwoods case.

Another encounter, which took place around the same time as the initial Flatwoods incident, very close to the original site, involved a tall, reptilian creature. This creature was said to be hovering by help of some mechanical extension, which covered it from the waist down. Frank Feschino Jr. investigated the case for his book Shoot Them Down and it also became the main focus of the 2010 Monsterquest episode, "Lizard Monster". Feschino speculates that the lizard creature could in fact be the same as the one in the original Flatwoods encounter, but this time without the top part of its "suit". This is a bit too nuts n' boltsy for my taste, but the description of the monster wearing a suit or being inside a type of flying container, resonates somewhat with the function of the Spanish Maiden (although perhaps a bit more comfortable). 

The "Lizard Monster" as it was portrayed on Monsterquest

Some time after the main Flatwoods incident, another, related case was discovered, involving a woman and her son. This actually took place a week before, and apparently involved a creature of more or less the same description as the "fully clad" maiden. But there appears to be yet another curious precursor on record, which Nick Redfern mentions in his book Monster Files. In a publication by the RAND Corporation titled The Exploitation of Superstititions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare, which assesses the use of various supernatural rumors during wartime, he found a reference to stage magician and intelligence asset Jasper Maskelyne's book, Magic: Top Secret

In the book Maskelyne claims to have helped the British army develop a mechanized "...gigantic scarecrow, about 12 feet high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs.", which had been used for spreading terror in small secluded areas of Italy during WW2. Nick speculates that The Flatwoods Monster could have been part of a later psy-op, inspired by Maskelyne's device. A place such as Flatwoods would have been ideal in that case, as it is a very secluded and scarcely populated town, even today. Nick furthermore mentions a more widespread tendency within military intelligence circles, of using Ace of Spades imagery. 

The cover of said RAND publication, which can be downloaded it its entirety here

The Jasper Maskelyne angle is even more interesting, when viewed in relation to the comic book story that inspired this post. As mentioned earlier, the "Doom For A Dime" story was published in 1943 as part of the contemporary series, Balbo The Boy Magician. The Balbo stories were very popular, and often centered around a seemingly supernatural event, which the young magician would eventually reveal as being pure illusion. Balbo was a true debunker of his time, it seems.

A big surprise came when I read the final page of "Doom For A Dime", and saw the reference to a "Barker". 

Anyone familiar with the Flatwoods and Mothman cases will know that both are very often mentioned in connection with notorious UFO trickster Gray Barker. In fact, the Flatwoods incident was Barker's point of entry into ufology - the first case he ever investigated. Furthermore, he was the first ufologist on the scene at Flatwoods, due to the fact that he was a native of Braxton County (which Flatwoods is part of). Barker also wrote the very first book about the Mothman sightings in Point Pleasant, The Silver Bridge

I had no idea until I began writing this post, but apparently "Barker" is a term given to the people standing in front of circuses, sideshows and the likes, trying to attract spectators. Ironically, many people would consider this to be pretty much the role that Gray Barker played in ufology, during most of his career. 

Some bonus info that fits right into all of this: According to wikipedia, one of the most famous fictional barkers on screen was Tinman (played by Nipsey Russell) from the 1978 movie, The Wiz:

In "Doom For A Dime" there is also a tin man type creature, operated by the exhibition barker, who looks very similar:'s probably not even the end of it, but it will have to do for now.


  1. It's very curious how these images pervade our subconscious. Perhaps the creators witnessed similar events or were inspired by similar tales???

    1. It could be. Sometimes the links are obvious and direct, but mostly it makes no real sense that one should be especially more powerful than another. In most cases we of course don't know what went on in the lives of these people at the time and investigators didn't ask too much about those things back then, but even if they had, it's not certain that it would have been obvious to witnesses what to answer.

      Regarding mothman and the classic drawing above, it always made me think of the "blemmyes" of the old medieval illustrations (i've heard them being called other names). Anomalist had a link to an article with several depictions of these

  2. what about the tunnels with nuclear materials near the silver bridge. old military storage.

    1. I know about this, yeah. You mean, that a potential experiment in connection with Flatwoods (and Mothman) could have had it's base here?