The 1947 Maury Island UFO incident is commemorated in a mural on display in Des Moines, Wash. (Explore Seattle Southside Photo)

Even the Men in Black need their day in the sun. And they’re getting it this week, in the place where those classic characters in UFO tales made their debut.

Roswell may be the nation’s best-known UFO capital — but you can make a good argument that the Seattle area served the true birthplace of the Men in Black and helped inspire shows including  “The X-Files,” “Project Blue Book” and yes, “Men in Black.”

Steve Edmiston — a lawyer, film writer and producer who’s one of the organizers of the Men in Black Birthday Bash — can make an especially good argument.

“It’s like almost the original X-File, if you think about it,” he says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast.

Edmiston is talking about the Maury Island Incident, a flying-saucer tale that dates back to June 21, 1947 — two weeks before the Roswell UFO Incident took place in New Mexico.

The main character in the Maury Island Incident is Harold Dahl, a man from Tacoma, Wash., who goes out on his boat in Puget Sound with his son and his dog on the fateful day. As he plies the waters, Dahl spots what he describes as six doughnut-shaped flying objects in the sky above. One of the UFOs explodes and drops a blizzard of burning slag onto the boat, killing Dahl’s dog and burning his son’s arm.

“They’re so frightened, they have to get off the water,” Edmiston said. Dahl and his son take shelter on Maury Island’s shores and wait for the saucers to fly away.

“The very next morning, Harold Dahl gets a knock at his door in Tacoma,” he said. “And the man at that door is dressed in black. White shirt, black tie, black suit, black shoes. Got the fedora on. Came up in a black 1947 Buick. It’s all there in the records.”

The man takes Dahl to a diner and proceeds to tell him everything that happened the day before. Then he issues a warning that becomes the signature for all the Men in Black who follow in his footsteps:  “Don’t pass this around. You don’t even know what you saw. Bad things will happen if you talk about this information.”

The rest is UFO history — including disappearing alien artifacts and a plane crash, weird occurrences experienced by Dahl and his family, and what may have been the FBI’s first investigation of flying saucers.

Steve Edmiston is a Seattle lawyer, independent film writer and producer … and a self-described “microhistorian” specializing in the lore of the Maury Island Incident. (Photo Courtesy of Steve Edmiston)

“The FBI conducted almost a three-week investigation, with documentation on a daily basis, going all the way to J. Edgar Hoover,” Edmiston said. “I mean, Hoover’s got his fingerprints all over this. He was super-fascinated by it.”

Why was there so much interest?

“We had a new enemy, the Soviet Union, right?” Edmiston said. “And President Truman had just said, in May, we gotta contain ’em. And all these agencies were now worried that maybe some of us are seeing things overflying our country, and we should investigate that.”

Similar concerns about China and Russia are now fueling the federal government’s renewed interest in UFOs — or to use the new label, unidentified anomalous phenomena. The Pentagon and NASA are taking a more serious look at reports that were previously met with ridicule. And some folks who claim inside knowledge even say the intelligence community is hiding evidence of alien technology.

You could argue that the UFO renaissance is getting weird enough to pique the interest of Fox Mulder, the fictional FBI agent in “The X-Files.” And the Maury Island Incident has its very own Mulder: FBI Special Agent Jack Wilcox, who wrote up a 14-page memo summarizing his investigation for Hoover in August 1947.

Harold Dahl, the Tacoma man who made the original UFO report, had decided to claim it was all a hoax — perhaps to get the Men in Black off his back. Hoover was also ready to write off the case as a hoax. But Wilcox wasn’t willing to call it quits. He sent Hoover a teletype insisting that Dahl “did not admit … that his story was a hoax, but only stated that if questioned by the authorities he was going to say it was a hoax because he did not want any further trouble over the matter.”

A teletype from FBI Special Agent Jack Wilcox discusses Harold Dahl’s UFO report. (FBI Image)

“Imagine the courage to tell the executive director of the FBI at the height of his powers, ‘No, you’re wrong,’” Edmiston said.

Despite Wilcox’s efforts, the Maury Island Incident did end up being widely seen as a hoax, in part because Fred Crisman, a teller of tall tales, got tangled up in the story. Over the decades, Dahl’s story faded into obscurity — to the point that Edmiston, who has spent nearly his whole life in the Puget Sound region, never heard anything about the incident until it came up in a coffee-shop conversation in 2011.

Edmiston and the Maury Island Incident were made for each other. “I love talking about this story because it’s just so crazy,” he said. He and his friends founded the Maury Island Incident Historical Society to preserve the UFO tale — and in 2014 he teamed up with a cadre of filmmakers and actors to create a 30-minute movie version. “It’s not a documentary, it’s a narrative film,” he said.

“The Maury Island Incident” is available for rent or purchase via Vimeo, and you can even watch a free sample:

Last year marked 75 years since the Maury Island Incident, and in recognition of the anniversary, Edmiston wrote a recap of the story for Fate magazine. He and other keepers of the UFO flame also threw a party in Des Moines, Wash. — but it wasn’t on June 21, the date on which Dahl said he saw the flying saucers. Instead, it was on June 22, the date when the first Man in Black showed up.

This year’s “Men in Black Birthday Bash,” presented by Seattle Southside, is even bigger: There’ll be a mass gathering of Men (and Women) in Black on Thursday, followed by a film festival on Friday and an evening of Sinatra-style swing on Saturday.

Why have stories about the Men in Black held so much appeal over the past seven and a half decades? Speaking as a writer, Edmiston thinks there’s a dual appeal.

“You’ve got this confluence of ‘Maybe there’s something nefarious going out here, and maybe there’s something to be afraid of,’ and that’s sort of thrilling to know that that could be happening,” he said. “And then, ‘Boy, would I like to know!’ That sense of discovery.”

And what does he think Harold Dahl saw — or didn’t see? Edmiston gave a lawyerly answer to that question.

“I have a very open mind about things that can happen,” Edmiston said. “I make no claim about what actually happened at Maury Island. I feel pretty strongly that this hoax theory should be cast aside. We can decide not to believe Harold Dahl, but I don’t think the hoax thing is the reason we shouldn’t. When the FBI has basically got in writing that the hoax is itself a fabrication, I think we need to move on.”

Check out the Explore Seattle Southside website, the 6/22 Facebook page, the 2023 Summer Saucer Search and MIBBB Fest 2023 for more about the Men in Black Birthday Bash in Des Moines, Wash.

This report was first published on Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log. Stay tuned for future episodes of the Fiction Science podcast via AppleGoogleOvercastSpotifyPlayer.fmPocket CastsRadio Public and Podvine. If you like Fiction Science, please rate the podcast and subscribe to get alerts for future episodes.

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