Published: 12:37 PM 7/12/2013
By ELIZABETH SHEPHERD, Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Arts Editor
One of the weirdest chapters in island history will soon light up the big screen.
On June 29, a film crew and ensemble of actors sailed the waters just off Maury and then came ashore on the beach — all part of a long day’s shoot for “The Maury Island Incident,” a short film about a UFO sighting that took place there in 1947.
The film’s director, Burien resident Scott Schaefer, said he has high hopes for the film — a $50,000 effort that will feature digitalized UFOs, period settings and costumes, a cast of 12 actors and a crew of almost 40 film professionals.
“We have a lot of ambition,” said Schaefer, adding that he and his team hope to take the finished 20- to 40-minute film on the festival circuit, and also use it to pitch the idea of a feature film or television series based on the spooky event.
The Maury Island Incident — so dubbed in books and newspaper coverage about the event — began on the afternoon of June 21, 1947, when a Tacoma seaman named Harold Dahl was trolling the waters of Puget Sound, looking for loose logs to collect and sell.
Then something strange happened, just off the east coast of Maury Island.
“As I looked up from the wheel of my boat I noticed six very large donut-shaped aircraft,” Dahl later told an investigator. “I would judge they were about 2,000 feet above the water and almost directly overhead.”
Dahl said the UFOs were silent and had “no visible means of propulsion.” He also claimed that one of them wobbled, dipped and began to rain lava-like slag down on the beach and his boat, damaging it and burning his young son on his arm. His family dog, he reported, was killed by the cascading space rocks. The terror finally ended, he said, when the five other aircraft came to the distressed ship’s rescue and they all whizzed away, out of sight.
Dahl’s story marked the beginning of an overheated Cold War era when hundreds of Americans reported seeing saucer-shaped objects traversing the skies. And, although the Maury Island incident has never been as well known as the purported UFO crash that took place 16 days later in Roswell, New Mexico, it does have an important place in history — many experts consider it to be the first reported close encounter with alien spacecraft in modern UFOolgy.
It also included what is considered by many experts to be the first sighting of a “man in black.” To add to the drama, the story also includes a mysterious plane crash that killed two U.S. intelligence officers sent to investigate the incident two months after it happened.
According to Schaefer, it’s all fodder for a great film, and he said he’s assembled a capable team of local actors and other film professionals to bring the story to life.
Screenwriter and producer Steve Edmiston, a Des Moines resident and attorney who has penned and produced several other films, wrote the script based on FBI investigative documents that were declassified in 1997, 50 years after the incident. He also visited the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum to research the story.
“I found there was a nifty thick binder about UFOs that is kept in the back of the historical society,” Edmiston said.
Schaefer also has impressive credentials, having won three National Emmy Awards for writing on “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” His more than 25 years experience in television also includes directing shows such as “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “America’s Funniest People” and Fox On-Air Promotions and KING-TV’s “Almost Live,” where he got his start in 1985.
He became interested in UFOology, he said, in the early 1990s, when he worked in Hollywood as a field director of a television show called “Sightings,” which delved into the mysteries of flying saucer sightings.
“Let’s just say I went into that show as a skeptic, and came out a non-skeptic,” he said.
Schaefer is also well-positioned to generate buzz for his film. He is the founder, publisher and editor of South King Media, a conglomerate of six news blogs and an internet radio station that serve southwest King County communities.
The film has already garnered coverage on KOMO News, and the production also picked up one of five highly coveted Washington Filmworks Innovation Lab awards. The prizes consist of funding assistance and other support for films helmed by Washington resident directors.
With shooting of the film now completed, Schaefer hopes to premiere the film by the end of the year, and said he was open to the idea of a subsequent screening of the movie at Vashon Theatre.
In the meantime, though, islanders can get their fix on the story by attending the upcoming Strawberry Festival parade. The Vashon-Maury Historical Association’s float, now under construction, will feature a re-enactment of the historic sighting.
“There’s a lot of controversy around the incident, whether it was real or whether it was concocted,” said islander Bruce Haulman, who is active in the association. “There’s tons of stuff on the internet about it. There are all these sort of conspiracy theories, and it’s a great story,” he said.
But it is true? Even the film’s screenwriter, Steve Edmiston, said he isn’t sure.
“My honest opinion is that I don’t know what [Harold Dahl] saw,” he said. “But if he made it all up, it’s one of the cleverist stories I’ve ever heard.”
See the UFO Casebook case file: The Maury Island Incident.