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The Secret History of Twin Peaks: UFOs, Conspiracy and the Players

(Secrets and Mysteries, Part 3)

It is the goal of 25 Years Later to offer in-depth looks into Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks section by section. In this article, I will look at the portion covered from pages 86-123 of the first edition hardback. Thematically, it is the portion covering early UFOs in Twin Peaks and conspiracy in the United States, particularly those originating near Twin Peaks in the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s and ’50s. This section extends to key persons involved in conspiracies surrounding reported sightings and also introduces into the narrative pulp mythologies such as tales of the Lemurians.

I will almost certainly miss details for those better-versed in American UFOlogy, and your comments and additions are always welcomed by our staff. Before we get to that portion of the examination, it must be noted that UFOs have recently surfaced in our ticker tape of headlines on CNN, Good Morning News, and in the New York Times. Timeliness? Another very important notion to keep in mind as we explore the narrative is that some of these persons’ accounts will be debunked, but they are now well-cemented characters in the world of Twin Peaks regardless of facts surrounding their characters in history. Major Briggs and Douglas Milford lived in their world, or they in theirs. Also worth mentioning is that fact that the account below looks only at UFO sightings, but does not extend to abduction.

UFOs Twin Peaks Major Briggs and The Trinity bomb

UFOs Twin Peaks (p. 86-87)

Kenneth Arnold is no small name when entering the discussion of UFOlogy. Almost every source that I have randomly chosen includes his name in its index. There is a reason for Mark Frost’s well-chosen accounts for his narrative. UFO conspiracy as it is known today truly begins with his account. Note that UFO sightings had been claimed in the United States as early as 1896-1897 when “mystery airships” had been cited. One is left now imagining Pynchonian zeppelins floating by in the night, only torch lights to illuminate their underbellies. That Arnold’s sighting initiates modern-day conspiracy in the Pacific Northwest is a convenient fact. Some related narratives for Arnold begin with him enjoying a smooth flight over the Cascade Mountains heading toward Mt. Rainer. Frost UFO in Twin Peaks Secret Historyincludes for us the detail that he was one of several pilots helping in the search for a downed Marines transport plane over the mountain range. He was interested in the $5,000 reward being offered by the family of those on board the missing flight. Arnold owned the Great Western Fire Control Supply of Boise and offered his personal plane and efforts in the endeavor. As we see reported, this was the trip wherein he reports seeing the nine “saucer-like” aircraft flying at high speeds. He has reported their formation to look akin to a kite tail, streaming one after the other. The Pendleton East Oregonian newspaper article reporting the event is dated for June 25, 1947. The sighting occurred on June 24th of 1947.

Why do we care about that? The infamous Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash is believed to have occurred on July 7, 1947. This places Arnold’s sighting weeks earlier with a printed newspaper story to confirm it. As fans, we latch onto numbers. There were nine aircraft. We could trifle with the significance. Did Frost craftily choose accounts that invoked the number nine? What would it mean if he did? I would not want to divert us too far off the path, but we can spend a short time with the number. Having read through a large entry for the number in The Penguin Dictionary for Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant and translated from the French by John Buchanan-Brown, two quotes felt of significance. First, “Each world—Heaven, Earth, and Hell—is symbolized by the ternary figure of the triangle. Nine is the totality of the three worlds. Nine is the number of the celestial spheres and, in counterpoise, of the circles of Hell.”[1] Is there a significance when we contemplate “between two worlds?” It is the inverted six on our ominous Fat Trout Trailer Park electricity pole. Secondly, “Orphic initiation would similarly seem to have accepted three triads of principles, ‘the first comprising Night, Sky and Time; the second, Air, Light and the Stars; and the third, Sun, Moon and Nature, these nine principles making up the nine symbolic aspects of the universe.”[2]

Roswell (p. 88-91)

In this portion of the dossier, a document filed by FBI Special Agent Frederic Nathan and Douglas Milford, Kenneth Arnold’s account is scrutinized. It is interesting that his age, family life, and stability is taken into consideration. As stated by David Hogan in his book UFO FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Roswell, Aliens, Whirling Discs, and Flying Saucers, “Although movies and television give us some familiar alien abductee “types”—usually toothless yokels or unusually attractive women—real-life people with accounts ofUFO_009 abductions diverge not at all from the American mainstream.”[3] It would seem this is true of all of our players, not abductees but rather witnesses and investigators. Arnold’s plainness and stability are meant to infer that his account could be a trusted one. This fact is furthered in his response to everyone else’s response to him—his reticence after press badgering, his frustration with misquotations attributing his sighting to “flying saucers,” and his reasoning, that if these aircraft were not of our science or Air Force, then extraterrestrial was a perfectly reasonable assumption.

Rather than saucer-like, according to a recently published attribution in a Newsweek Special Edition: Life Beyond Earth?: The Mission to Find the Answer, “They were silvery and shiny and seemed to be shaped like a pie plate,’ Arnold would later tell the Chicago Daily Tribune.”[4] The Archivist notes in this portion of the dossier that Douglas Milford has been promoted to “Special Agent for Continental Air Command” since his experience at Roswell. Roswell is covered in the preceding portion of The Secret History of Twin Peaks, so I will not assume to cover it too much here, but I would like to mention it briefly. Arnold’s sighting and Roswell’s incident make 1947 the flagship year for UFOologists, but there is another date that means so much to the world at large and to us since Twin Peaks: The Return, July 16, 1945. How might they tie together? I would like to guide our attention however briefly to a theory by Edgar Mitchell (1930-2016). “The aliens that crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, Mitchell said, had been observing American atomic testing at nearby White Sands.”[5] It was his belief that the speed at which the two alien crafts that were observing the tests led to the time hop and their crash in 1947.

UFOs in Twin Peaks diagram

(p. 92-93)

It is often noted that there were 850 reports of UFO sightings in 1947. Considering the importance of events that year, it is no surprise. We have exactly nine disks spotted again in the account of Emil J. Smith, a number of significance we have already covered. Perhaps the most fascinating note of this portion of the dossier is Mark Frost’s insinuation that Doug Milford was a first in the Men in Black. How so? We arrive at the Chevy Buick receipt dated July 14, 1947. We fans clambered over the details of this receipt before the airing of The Return. What did the dates mean? Were numbers off? Hadn’t someone seen that black Buick in leaked photos on set? I think we can reign some of those questions in now. For now, let’s look at the details for the set-up and revisit it shortly. The receipt is for a 1947 Buick Roadmaster, four-door sedan in Carlsbad Black. The down payment was for the price in full of $1,949 with nothing left to finance. The purchase was, of course, by one Douglas Milford.

Maury Island UFOs (p. 94-95)

The next account is one we really need to grapple with, to examine with caution and admit to its place in the Twin Peaks narrative as fictively sound. With the incident of Maury Island, we are introduced to a host of characters that could appropriately be ushered in with a Love Boat-like introduction, faces framed in spinning UFO outline—marine scavenger Harold Dahl, Harold’s son Charles, Tacoma Times reporter Paul Lantz, United Press reporter Ted Morello, Fred Lee Crissman, and Ray Palmer. The details are so compact and myriad, that I truly suggest you reread those pages. I will tease out what I find essential. While it is said that this is where the 1947 sights are to have truly begun, Arnold’s story continues to be the first mentioned. There is a reason for this. Remember Arnold’s trustworthiness? Let’s follow the account of Maury Island as it is passes along and is investigated, and let’s note Doug Milford’s role in it. On June 21, 1947, three days before Arnold’s experience, Harold Dahl, his son, Charles, and their dog were salvaging orphan logs from Puget Sound, near Maury Island, we are told. In this instance, they witnessed six UFOs in the sky. One of the crafts seemed distressed before exploding. This left debris cascading to the ground around the Dahls, killing their dog. This story was reported first by Tacoma Times reporter Paul Lantz the day proceeding the incident. It was then reported secondly by United Press reporter Ted Morello, where it gained national attention. Enter Fred Lee Crisman, who took hold of the evidence, the fragments of the crash from Dahl himself that very day. Crisman also immediately contacts his friend, editor of pulp magazine Amazing Stories, Ray Palmer. Ray Palmer met Fred Lee Crisman through correspondence following the publication of the Lemurian tales of “The Shaver Mystery.”

Here we can take a moment to speak to the Lemurians, which I believe deserve their own post altogether. We know that Mark Frost and David Lynch were developing a project shortly before Twin Peaks indeed titled The Lemurians. Let’s quote H. Perry Horton from his publication Between Two Worlds on the subject. “Their original idea dealt with the ancient and mythical underwater kingdom Lemuria – kinda like Atlantis – whose descendants walk among humans and must be outed by federal agents.”[6] The Lemurians firmly belong to Hollow Earth narratives beginning in pulp fictions and the work of Edward Bulwer Lytton.

Amazing Stories (95-123)

I will begin to paraphrase as much as possible for the sake of your attention and time as well as space here. Crisman read “The Shaver Mysteries” and contacted editor Ray Palmer, claiming he had survived an attack by such beings in a 1945 mission in Burma. We need to note the sanity of such a claim here. Crisman ships Dahl’s evidence to Palmer for examination and safekeeping. For a consultation, Palmer decides to fly in none other UFO_012than Kenneth Arnold on a $200 assignment to report on Dahl and Crisman’s story. This assignment takes Arnold to Tacoma. There he meets with Dahl and Crisman and has the chance to examine some of the fragments saved by Dahl. Arnold contacts Emil J. Smith who had a sighting of nine UFOs of his own. Now, enter our Twin Peaks character again as Nathan and Milford, who wrote their report on Arnold’s trustworthiness. Arnold flies out to retrieve Emil Smith. Now, when Arnold returns with Smith to help verify this story, they have a whole new cabal. Dahl has declined to meet with everyone, but Milford and Nathan are in attendance as well as new military men, Captain Davidson and Lieutenant Brown. Note: Don’t get lost in the names now, we’re simply following the passing around of Harold Dahl’s story here. Now, let’s move forward so that we don’t get lost in rehashing what Frost has already written for us.

Let’s look at the fun facts. A portion of the story claims Dahl’s son Charles was missing from his house when he returned from the clandestine meeting he ultimately declined. Charles called him from Missoula five days later. Dahl later remembered after giving Crisman the fragments from that very first day that he had been confronted by a man in black, claiming to be a government official investigating the Maury Island incident. According to Hogan:

A day later, Harold Dahl received a visit from a somber man dressed in black, driving a black ’47 Buick, who instructed Dahl to keep quiet about what he had seen. (Some sources date the mysterious man’s visit with Dahl as June 24, three days after Dahl’s sighting.) Dahl later recalled that the man in black actually said very little. He answered none of Dahl’s questions, and seemed oddly impassive. But he did tell Dahl this: “I know a great deal more about this experience of yours than you will want to believe.”[7]

UFO Twin Peaks documents

And so we return to that Buick’s receipt. It was intentionally detailed as from the man in black. Palmer would later wash his hands of the Maury Island story, claiming it had been a hoax. As for Crisman? There is a theory that Crisman made Dahl up completely. He would also later be misidentified as one of the three tramps in the JFK assassination by conspiracy theorists. Indeed, researchers were able to finally ply an address for Dahl from Crisman. Upon contacting him by mail, their reply was later confirmed to have come from none other than Crisman.

The excerpt of this portion of Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks continues to look at various angles of UFO possibility. It looks at alternative reasoning for Crisman’s insinuation into the story. He becomes almost a larger boogie man than Milford himself in this section. There is the look at the Bible’s Ezekiel, while at only a page of documentation, I believe deserves its own post.

Ultimately, we ask ourselves how each of these characters impacts the narrative of Twin Peaks. In Twin Peaks, I believe Dahl is real, that Crisman must have been attacked in Burma, and I believe aliens looked upon and sensed the great evil birthed out of mankind’s nuclear testing at White Sands, NM. Douglas Milford was indeed a man in black, and as fans, we must consider the possible nefarious dealings of Fred Lee Crisman to The Archivist’s legacy, if not demise.

[1] Chevalier, Jean, Alain Gheerbrant, and John Buchanan-Brown. 1996. A Dictionary of Symbols. London, England: Penguin Books, 702.

[2] Chevalier, 703-704.

[3] Hogan, David J. 2016. UFO FAQ: all that’s left to know about Roswell, aliens, whirling discs, and flying saucers, 268.

[4] “Origin Story: How an Unassuming Pilot’s Story of Bright Objects in the Sky Sparked a Worldwide Quest for the Truth,” Newsweek, special issue, November-December 2017, 15.

[5] Hogan, 27.

[6] Horton, H. Perry. 2017. Between Two Worlds: Perspectives on Twin Peaks. Washington, U.S.: Kindle Edition, location 4,024.

[7] Hogan, 329.

The other articles in our Secret History of Twin Peaks series are:

The Secret History of Twin Peaks: Milford, Nixon and the Blue Book Years (Secrets and Mysteries, Part 1) by Mat Cult

The Secret History of Twin Peaks: The Lewis & Clark Expedition and the Nez Perce (Secrets and Mysteries, Part 2) by Ali Sciarabba

Written by Rob E. King

I am a librarian, writer, and proud member of Twin Peaks and Robert E. Howard fandom. I've also somehow become the go-to writer for MTV's 90s animation series.

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