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Searching for the string with John A Keel

Searching for the String: Selected Writings of John A Keel (third volume)


Searching for the String is the third installment of selected writings by John A Keel to be released by editor/publisher Andy Colvin. In his introduction to the collection, Colvin writes that this specific volume represents a kind of crossroads for his own research and work in the paranormal community, particularly with regard to Mothman.

The maverick UFO researcher, John A Keel, confronts the ever enigmatic paranormal photograph.
courtesy Fortean Picture Library

By his own admission, Colvin has been obsessed with Mothman and Keel for at least two decades. Keel was the researcher principally identified with recounting the story of the virtual assault on Point Pleasant, West Virginia by this sinister paranormal cryptid in the late 1960's. A version of the Mothman story was released as a relatively popular movie, The Mothman Prophecies (2002) and was loosely based on Keel's book of the same name.

Colvin documented his own experiences and investigations in a multi-volume collection entitled The Mothman's Photographer, the first volume of which has just become available on Kindle. Searching for the String can be considered the final measures of a long, complex orchestral piece in which John A Keel, many percipients, researchers and Colvin himself, contributed movements and played their parts.

And, Searching for the String does not disappoint. It's almost as if Colvin saved the best for last. In these, some rather lengthy, articles and presentations, Keel laboriously, but humorously, recounts his data collecting methods, done at a time when there was no internet, no computers available to crunch the statistical data he was accumulating from literally thousands of articles courtesy of news clipping services that he retained. This doesn't include the additional thousands of miles and countless hours he spent travelling by car, train and foot looking for witnesses, interviewing and tracking down law enforcement and military personnel, all done, as he put it, "the old journalistic way."

Keel was a professional freelance journalist and writer. He wrote for New York papers and did a stint writing jokes for the Merv Griffin show. He also worked as a copyist and was willing to publish his articles in a wide variety of venues, including popular science and men's magazines and Whole Earth Review. He even published in the academic Journal of Popular Culture. Keel fit paranormal research into his general lifestyle of writing and was able to make a go of it, even though, by his admission, such work was often thankless in the extreme.

To read all this is to understand that, to this author's knowledge, there is no one who is doing this now, not even with all the computer know how available, because no one is really willing, or can afford, to do the traveling and palm pressing required. Security concerns and the changed status of both police and the military have made folks unwilling and unlikely to approach such institutional entities for assistance or information, or, frankly to even report their own strange experiences. And, in these pages, Keel recounts the various methods used by corporate and government entities to train the media away from adequate coverage.

As a result, all the patterns that Keel discovered in his research remain largely unknown to many who presently dare to work in the paranormal field, and certainly, cannot easily be duplicated or verified. For Keel, one of the most significant patterns indicated that, at least in the late sixties, UFO sightings worldwide, peaked every Wednesday (statistically) and at certain times of the solar year (Winter and Summer Solstices, for example).

Further, UFO flaps tended, at least according to his data, to begin with many different places being hit simultaneously (like in a single 24 hour period, evening, or even within the same 60 minute window) over large but separated geographic areas (say Minnesota, Texas and Virginia) where it would be impossible for people to know of each other's experiences. One could only see such patterns by having huge amounts of data, such as are now used in computer modeling software. But then, Keel held it all in his files and brain.

Additionally, from what Keel could tell in his field work, the vast majority of UFO and other paranormal experiences are never reported by percipients to anyone, least of all law enforcement or the media. By his own account, he would go into an area to investigate a good sounding report and more often than not, leave with as many as 10 or more even better reports from others to whom he was referred by his target witnesses. And these were just the folks he could actually track down. He estimates in one of his articles that reported experiences are probably less than 5% of the true total. If this is true, it is completely mind boggling.

Similar observations have been made by more recent researchers such as Linda Zimmerman and Gerard Medvec, and yours truly, about not only UFO experiences, but hauntings and encounters with Bigfoot like creatures as well. As a result it's almost impossible to come up with truly accurate numbers.

Moreover, Keel really blew the cover off the stubborn pot brew of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis. He was demonstrating decades ago that all these beasties, aliens and creepies have a long narrative lineage on planet Earth in folklore, native and occult traditions. Where there are massive UFO sightings there will be Bigfoot or other cryptids reported, or mysterious fires, or an upsurge in poltergeist activity or whatever. It all hangs out together. This "stuff" is part of who we are, and is much more about what it means to be human than what anybody on another planet might be doing.

Unfortunately, one would never know this by chumming around with many paranormal, Bigfoot or UFO investigators today. The principal investigators of the Bigfoot Researchers of Hudson Valley have only, just recently, "come out" regarding paranormal elements that seem to be part and parcel of the ongoing experiences with reported Sasquatches in Dutchess Co. NY. "Coming clean" about the paranormal elements was a move of integrity and honesty on the part of the researchers and these comments are not a criticism. They were simply following where the data itself led, so, in their defense and discomfort they can be assured that Mr. Keel beat them to that hard place of admitted disclosure. They now stand in his good company. Many Bigfoot researchers really don't want to go there.

Finally, in these writings, Keel uncovers the back stories behind other investigators, many of whom he got to know well, and some of whom, like Barker, could not be completely trusted. Keel reveals just how much Jacques Vallee may have plagiarized his own work by drawing directly from Keel and how all the alien abduction-hybrid hubbub surrounding Budd Hopkins and Whitley Strieber in the 1980's was but a repeat of reports Keel had heard from witnesses decades before but had never publicly divulged.

And, Colvin includes a previously unpublished report of one of those abduction and pregnancy accounts from Keel's private stash. Keel had simply written this report down for his own personal records and it is one of the strangest, no, let's just say creepiest, things ever. If this was a hoax perpetrated on Keel for whatever reason, and that possibility crosses his mind more than once as he writes, then the purpose behind it would have to be as strange as what happened. Because, it certainly didn't stop him.

Searching for the String also benefits from some great photos of Keel and related subjects, interviews, and a collection of letters (the best part) that Keel wrote to various folks in the larger UFO universe, Gray Barker, Jim Moseley, various UFO publications and even Robert Kennedy. Letters written to Keel by Mary Hyre and Ray Palmer have also been preserved. These texts are simply treasures.

There is no one looking to find the common link between all these experiences, no one to find, follow and maybe yank on the string. So, Colvin has done an incredible service by offering up these bits of advice and hard won wisdom from Keel. Eventually, maybe, someone will follow in Keel's footsteps, and when he/she does so, there will be the tattered pieces of map Keel left behind.

No one can replace Keel and there are probably very few so constituted that they could fully continue his work. But, if you take your research into these twilight areas seriously, you simply must read and heed Mr. Keel. Thanks to Andy Colvin, and his ongoing work to republish all of Keel's materials (we hear more classic whole Keel texts are forthcoming), John A Keel's work will live on.

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