Mayor touts local author who sparked Men in Black franchise
BUCKHANNON — From the roof of the historic Colonial Theatre’s newly restored marquee Monday, city officials celebrated all things extraterrestrial.
Mayor David McCauley declared Monday Gray Barker World UFO Day in honor of the late Barker, perhaps one of the country’s most famous UFOlogists and a prolific author who penned the book, “They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers,” which, in turn, is said to have spawned the “Men in Black” movies.
Born in Braxton County and educated at Glenville State College, Barker migrated to Buckhannon in the 1970s and owned the Colonial Theatre from 1973-1980. A UFOlogist is a person who studies reports of unidentified flying objects and sometimes, other paranormal phenomena.
While the city dedicated a placard to Barker installed on the outside of the Colonial Theatre more than a year ago on the anniversary of what would have been Barker’s 92nd birthday, Monday was also World UFO Day and the 71st anniversary of the Roswell, New Mexico incident, according to the World UFO website, which says the day is “dedicated to the existence of unidentified flying objects.”
On July 2, 1947, an unidentified object which government officials later said was simply a conventional weather balloon, crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico in a region now referred to as Area 51.
“Our purpose in celebrating today is simply to exploit the connection to one of our celebrated, former own, Gray Barker, to the science fiction and UFO lore he spent a lifetime writing about,” McCauley said. “Undeniably, Gray Barker was one of the most colorful characters to ever walk our streets.” The World UFO Day website suggests people should celebrate the occasion by watching movies featuring UFOs and talking to friends about the possibility of the existence of UFOs and alien life.
Decades ago, one Upshur County resident, Neil Roth, watched movies at the theatre when Barker was its owner. Roth was on hand at Monday’s brief event to share a few memories he had of Barker, who he grew to respect as a stellar storyteller.
A self-described “audio buff,” Roth met Barker when, after being awed by the audio quality in the theatre, he asked to speak to the owner. Barker was more than happy to strike up a conversation with Roth, even showing him the projectors and other equipment in the theatre.
The next time Roth came to the Colonial to enjoy a movie, he completely missed it because he was so engaged in conversation with Barker, who let him sneak into the later showing.
“He was fascinating to speak with and he told me, ‘any time you want to come back and talk to me, just tell the girl out front that you want to talk to Gray,’” Roth recalled. “So I did. We would sit, and he would tell me folklore – that’s what I was interested in. He was telling me, he was an author, he was president of this and that, and the UFO Club. Inside, I was kind of going inside, ‘why are you in Buckhannon running a theatre?’
“I just loved his stories. He could sell a pocket watch to blind man,” Roth added with a laugh. “He was very good at storytelling. He was a great fellow to know, and I really enjoyed all the times and the stories we told together.”
In fact, Roth first learned about the Mothman – a large winged creature supposedly spotted in Point Pleasant, W.Va. in 1966 and 1967 – from Barker. Barker authored “The Silver Bridge,” in 1970, prior to the release of John Keel’s 1975 book, “The Mothman Prophecies.” “The Silver Bridge” linked the Mothman to the collapse of the Point Pleasant-area bridge. See www.worldufoday for more information on the July 2, 1947 incident.