Sep 29, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Alchemists, Brad Steiger and Creepy Characters in Black: A Sinister Saga of Curious Coins

Just about everyone has heard of the Men in Black - whether in the real world or on the big-screen with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. But, the Men in Black in this article are something else. Something very different. As you will see. But, first, a bit of information on the ufological MIB: over the years there have been numerous investigators of the Men in Black phenomenon, such as UFO researchers Gray Barker, Jim Keith, and Harold Fulton – all of whom are now long gone. None of them, however, came anywhere close to Albert K. Bender – the man without whom our knowledge of the MIB and their agenda would be sorely lacking, and who created the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Born in 1922, Bender was someone who served his country during the Second World War in the United States Army Air Corps. Post-World War Two, Bender lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a somewhat creepy-looking old house that stood at what was, at the time, the junction of Broad Street and North Frontage Road. Today, the house is no more, the secrets it once held now being just memories and stories in books.

(Nick Redfern) M.I.B. - Stay away from them.

Adding to the creepy atmosphere, Bender lived in the attic. Of course! Where else? As a fan of the worlds of sci-fi, fictional horror (H.P. Lovecraft was one of Bender’s favorites), and the real world of the paranormal, Bender radically altered his attic-room into what he termed his “Chamber of Horrors.” Paintings of grotesque monsters filled the walls. Imagery of skulls and black cats abounded. A gothic-style painting of an old cemetery dominated the room. And, plastic spiders hung from the ceiling. Then, there was Bender’s altar – it was at the foot of that unsettling place of worship that Bender would engage in infernal rites designed to provoke a supernatural response from…well…who knew what? Bender didn’t care what “it” was, he just wanted that reply. He got it, alright. He opened the kind of door that it’s never, ever wise to open. And, something came through. The MIB, that's what. There is, however, another kind of MIB, as you will see right now:

It's not known to many people that the late Brad Steiger was someone who had a particular fascination for the phenomenon of alchemy. He said: “Helvetius, the grandfather of the celebrated philosopher of the same name, was an alchemist who labored ceaselessly to fathom the mystery of the ‘philosopher's stone,’ the legendary catalyst that would transmute base metals into gold. One day in 1666 when he was working in his laboratory at the Hague, a stranger attired all in black, as befitted a respectable burgher of North Holland, appeared and informed him that he would remove all the alchemist’s doubts about the existence of the philosopher’s stone, for he himself possessed such an object.” In 1852, Charles Mackay wrote of this affair that the Man in Black “…asked Helvetius if he thought he should know that rare gem if he saw it. To which Helvetius replied, that he certainly should not.

"The burgher immediately drew from his pocket a small ivory box, containing three pieces of metal, of the color of brimstone, and extremely heavy; and assured Helvetius, that of them he could make as much as twenty tons of gold. Helvetius informs us, that he examined them very attentively; and seeing that they were very brittle, he took the opportunity to scrape off a small portion with his thumb-nail. He then returned to the stranger, with an entreaty that he would perform the process of transmutation before him. The stranger replied, that he was not allowed to do so, and went away.”

(Nick Redfern) Sinister figures that come out at night

Mackay continued that several weeks later the mysterious character in black was back. Helvetius implored the MIB to share with him the secrets of alchemy, which, apparently, he did: “Helvetius repeated the experiment alone, and converted six ounces of lead into very pure gold.” Such was the fame that surrounded this event, said Mackay, “all of the notable persons of the town flocked to the study of Helvetius to convince themselves of the fact. Helvetius performed the experiment again, in the presence of the Prince of Orange, and several times afterwards, until he exhausted the whole of the powder he had received from the stranger, from whom it is necessary to state, he never received another visit; nor did he ever discover his name or condition.” In 1677, Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Austria, suffered something terrible: his precious supply of gold finally became exhausted. This was utterly disastrous, as it was gold, specifically, that Leopold relied upon to pay his troops, as they sought to keep at bay the marauding attacks of the Turks. Help, however, was soon at hand, and in a decidedly curious fashion.

Late one night, in November 1672, Leopold was visited by a monk of the Order of St. Augustine, one Johann Wenzel Seiler. Interestingly, it has been suggested that “Johann Wenzel Seiler” was actually a pseudonym that the dark-garbed, cloaked, and hooded character had adopted. Whatever the truth, Seiler confidently said he could banish all of the king’s problems in an instant. The king, who already had an interest in all-things-alchemical, listened carefully to what Seiler had to say. The monk motioned Leopold to follow him to the steps of the palace, which he did. It was on the steps that Seiler did something remarkable. He took a silver medallion, placed into a cauldron of magical liquid, and then extracted it. Lo and behold, it had been transformed into gold. The king was delighted, Austria’s gold problem (or, rather, the sudden lack of it) was solved.

In 1880, Dr. Franz Hartmann, who carefully and deeply studied the controversy surrounding alchemy, said: “…it is stated that this medal, consisting originally of silver, has been partly transformed into gold, by alchemical means, by the same Wenzel Seiler who was afterwards made a knight by the Emperor Leopold I. and given the title Wenzeslaus Ritter von Reinburg.” Interestingly, Hartmann pointed out that many came to believe Seiler was not who he claimed to be, and was soon “regarded as an impostor.” Specifically, this was with regard to claims that Seiler had merely coated the medallion with a gold-colored substance, rather than having literally transformed it into gold. Nevertheless, and despite exiling Seiler shortly afterwards, Leopold – seemingly entranced by Seiler, as are so many that encounter the WIB and the MIB – continued to eagerly employ the skills of this mysterious character, time and again.

Moving on to the 1950s, there is the following story – of a curious coin and a trio of MIB – that reached the eyes and ears of a variety of 1950s-era UFO researchers, including Morris Jessup and Gray Barker, as well as a science-fiction author named Donald A. Wollheim, who sometimes used the pseudonym of David Grinnell. That it’s a story with a link to both the MIB and to the world of alchemy is something which requires us to take note of it, the reason being that the author of the story – seemingly for no apparent reason – made a specific point of noting to Morris Jessup that he was deeply interested in the domain of alchemy. “I cannot say whether I am the victim of a very ingenious jest on the part of some of my wackier friends or whether I am just someone accidentally ‘in’ in some top-secret business. But it happened, and it happened to me personally, while visiting Washington recently, just rubber-necking, you know, looking at the Capitol and the rest of the big white buildings.

“It was summer, fairly hot. Congress was not in session, nothing much was doing, most people vacationing. I was that day aiming to pay a visit to the State Department, not knowing that I couldn’t, for there was nothing public to see there unless it’s the imposing and rather martial lobby (it used to be the War Department building, I’m told). This I did not find out until I had blithely walked up the marble steps to the entrance, passed the big bronze doors, and wandered about in the huge lobby, wherein a small number of people, doubtless on important business, were passing in and out.

(Nick Redfern) When the Men in Black mix with alchemy

“A guard, sitting near the elevators, made as if to start in my direction to find out whom and what the deuce I wanted, when one of the elevators came down and a group of men hustled out. There were two men, evidently State Department escorts, neatly clad in gray double-breasted suits, with three other men walking with them. The three men struck me as a little odd; they wore long black cloaks, big slouch hats with wide brims pulled down over their faces, and carried portfolios. They looked for all the world like cartoon representations of cloak-and-dagger spies. I supposed that they were some sort of foreign diplomats and, as they were coming directly toward me, stood my ground, determined to see who they were." There was more to come: “The floor was marble and highly polished. One of the men nearing me suddenly seemed to lose his balance. He slipped: his feet shot out from under him, and he fell. His portfolio slid directly at my feet.

“Being closest to him, I scooped up the folio and was the first to help raise him to his feet. Grasping his arm, I hoisted him from the floor – he seemed to be astonishingly weak in the legs; I felt almost that he was about to topple again. His companions stood about rather flustered, helplessly, their faces curiously impassive. And though the man I helped must have received a severe jolt, his face never altered expression. Just then the two State Department men recovered their own poise, rushed about, and, getting between me and the man I had rescued, rudely brushed me aside, and rushed their party to the door. Now what bothers me is not the impression I got that the arm beneath that man’s sleeve was curiously woolly, as if he had a fur coat underneath the cloak (and this in a Washington summer!), and it’s not the impression that he was wearing a mask (the elastic band of which I distinctly remember seeing amidst the kinky, red, close-cropped hair of his head). No, it’s not that at all, which might be momentarily misconstructions on my part. It’s the coin that I picked up off the floor where he’d dropped his portfolio.

“I’ve searched through every stamp and coin catalogue I can find or borrow, and I’ve made inquiries of a dozen language teachers and professors, and nobody can identify that coin or the lettering around its circumference. It’s about the size of a quarter, silvery, very light in weight, but also very hard. Besides the lettering on it, which even the Bible Society, which knows a thousand languages and dialects, cannot decipher, there is a picture on one side and a symbol on the other. The picture is the face of a man, but a man with very curiously wolfish features: sharp canine teeth parted in what could be called a smile; a flattened, broad, and somewhat protruding nose, more like a pug dog’s muzzle; sharp, widely spaced vulpine eyes; and definitely hairy and pointed ears. The symbol on the other side is a circle with latitude and longitude lines on it. Flanking the circle, one on each side, are two crescent-shaped moons. That the unknown letter writer (A) made a point to the ufologist Morris Jessup of stressing his interest in alchemy; (B) spent more than several lines describing the curious, silver coin; and (C) tied all of this in with the Men in Black, provokes an intriguing possibility: that the man was deliberately trying to tell people of the connection between the MIB and the domain of ancient alchemical experimentation.

And, finally, there is one more, strange tale concerning the WIB and coins. Gerry Armstrong, of Jackson’s Point, Canada, was someone who had a bizarre experience in a record store in the town’s Newport Plaza back in October 1973. According to Armstrong, he was served by “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.” She wore a long and flowing black dress, had long, coal-black hair, and possessed what Armstrong called, “the blackest eyes I had ever seen.” Most mysterious of all, after Armstrong paid for the old, vinyl LPs, the WIB threw his change – coins – onto the floor and literally vanished. Not without significance, at the time, Armstrong was having a significant number of UFO encounters. For some reason that isn't quite understood, there seems to be a strange connection between the MIB and the world of Alchemy. Soon, I'll share with you the next part of the puzzle.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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