In the March 30, 1905, edition of the Barmouth Advertiser, a Welsh newspaper, it was reported that over a period of 3 nights a man dressed in black had appeared in the bedroom of an exceptionally intelligent young woman of the peasant stock. This figure has delivered a message to the girl which she is frightened to relate. This curious incident allegedly occurred in the midst of a religious revival in which sightings of mysterious lights figured prominently. It is the first known report of a man in black in an arguably UFO context.
In 1953 men in black, or, as they eventually would be called, MIBs, entered twentieth century folklore permanently when Albert K. Bender of Bridgeport, CT, abruptly closed down his popular International Flying Saucer Bureau, IFSB, and refused to elaborate on a cryptic statement in the last issue, October 1953, of the IFSB magazine Space Review. The statement indicated that Bender now knew the answer to the UFO mystery but could not publish it because of orders from a higher source. In addition, he urged those engaged in saucer work to please be very cautious. Pressed by Gray Barker, who had been IFSBs chief investigator, Bender would say only that 3 men in black suits had visited him in September, told him what UFOs are, and threatened him with prison if he revealed what they had told him.
The experience was so traumatic that Bender subsequently fell ill. He told Barker that the strangers were members of the United States government. The MIBs exact nature grew more ambiguous in Benders reluctant retelling of the tale, and soon some suspected that the MIB were agents not of American intelligence but of alien intelligence. Barker wrote a scary, paranoia driven book on the episode, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, 1956, and over the next few years exploited the Bender mystery in various publications. Soon Benders visitors were being identified variously as demons, agents of the International Bankers, or representatives of a civilization inside the earth. In 1962, Bender wrote, and Barker published, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, a wild story which only the most impressionable readers took to be anything other than a clumsy science fiction novel. In it Bender was taken to the South Pole by monstrous aliens, who then monitored his activities until 1960, when they returned to their home planet.
MIB stories were revived in the 1960s when a New York writer, John A. Keel, recounted episodes of MIB harassment reported by UFO witnesses in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Keel even claimed some personal encounters:
I kept rendezvous with black Cadillacs on Long Island, and when I tried to pursue them they would disappear impossibly on dead end roads, More than once I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself unable to move, with a dark apparition standing over me.
In Keels telling, the MIB were not government agents or even human beings but paranormal entities associated with the UFO intelligences themselves. Frequently described as being vaguely Oriental in appearance, they behaved strangely, asking odd or even rude questions of those whom they confronted. They usually traveled in large black cars. Keel warned investigators:
Do not attempt to apprehend MIB yourself. Do not attack them physically. Approach them with great caution. They frequently employ hypnotic techniques.
According to Keel:
Men in black had interacted with such historical figures as Julius Caesar, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, and Malcolm X. Moreover, the general descriptions of the vampires are identical to the men in black. The danger of MIB visitation to those interested in UFOs, especially the neurotic, the gullible, and the immature is such, Keel warned, that parents should forbid their children from becoming involved, in UFO study. School teachers and other adults should not encourage teenagers to take an interest in the subject.
MIB reports were not confined to Keel's witnesses or even to the United States. In May 1975, two weeks after a dramatic sighting from his Piper PA24, a sighting confirmed on the radar screens at the Mexico City airport, a young pilot was pursued down the freeway by 4 black suited, Scandinavian looking men in a black limousine. After forcing him to the side of the road, they warned him not to discuss his sighting, the pilot was on his way to do a television interview. A month later one of the strangers reappeared and threatened him again as he was on his way to a hotel to talk with J. Allen Hynek the prominent American astronomer and UFO investigator. That was his last meeting with the MIB, whom he remembered as tall and strangely white, I never saw them blink, he added.
By the late 1980s such tales were sufficiently numerous to warrant the attention of the Journal of American Folklore. The author, Peter M. Rojcewicz, surveyed the MIBs role in flying saucer legends and related it to earlier demonic traditions. He also told of his own MIB encounter. One afternoon, as Elliot sat in a university library immersed in UFO literature, a thin, dark featured man approached him. Speaking in a slight accent, the man asked Elliot what he was reading about. Flying saucers, Elliot replied, adding that he had no particular interest in their reality or unreality, just in the stories told about them. The stranger shouted: Flying saucers are the most important fact of the century, and you're not interested!? Then the man stood up, as if mechanically lifted, spoke gently, Go well in your purpose, and departed. When Elliot went to follow the man, he found the library eerily deserted.