The Grinning Man

“Smile and the whole world will wonder what you’re up to.”—The Best of Anonymous


When I was in high school, a friend of mine told me about how his little brother had woken up the whole house screaming in the middle of the night a few years earlier. When everyone rushed into his room to see what was going on, he said that he had woken up and saw a man standing next to his bed staring down at him. Their father got one of his hunting rifles and searched the house inside and out. He didn’t find anyone or any indication that someone had broken in. They managed to calm the boy down and convince him that it had just been a nightmare. After all of this excitement, everyone eventually went back to bed. They weren’t there long. The boy started screaming again, and when everyone came running back to his room, he said that the man had come back. The father searched the house again and still found nothing. Apparently the man just vanished when the boy started screaming, although I heard this story a long time ago and some of the details are fuzzy. I don’t remember if he actually said that he saw the man disappear or if he just somehow wasn’t there anymore when everyone ran in.

The next morning, the rest of the family found out that the man had come back a third time. This time, the boy just hid under the covers until he finally fell asleep. As hard as that may be to believe, it’s amazing what the fear of ridicule and embarrassment can do. I gather that the family was a little put out with the kid after his second “false alarm,” especially on a weeknight when they all had to be up in a few hours. They were all convinced that this man had been nothing more than a dream. And so even though I didn’t know it at the time, I had just heard my first Grinning Man story.

It wasn’t until five or six years later that I read about the Grinning Man in John Keel’s Strange Creatures from Time and Space and said “Oh my God, that’s what happened to #!*!(&” (not his real name). If not for this, I might wonder why Keel seems to be the only one who has encountered people who have encountered him. As it is, it makes me wonder if he was just the only one who was willing to talk about it and why.

He, or it, sometimes appears in conjunction with UFO activity in an area. In October of 1966, lots of people in New Jersey were seeing UFOs. On October 11, several police officers in Wanaque saw a blinding sphere of white light travelling low in the sky and cavorting over a reservoir. Forty miles south in the town of Elizabeth, where some UFOs had been seen a few days earlier, two teenage boys walking home at around 10:00 pm saw a strange man watching them from behind a high chain-link fence at the bottom of a steep incline that led up to the turnpike. They said that he was big and wearing a shiny green one-piece suit. He had beady little eyes set too far apart and a disturbingly large grin. They weren’t able to recall any other facial features or even say whether or not the man had a nose, hair or ears. Something about him frightened them enough that they ran the rest of the way home. When Keel interviewed them about their encounter, he had a friend with him who was a burly 6’2”. Both boys said that the man they saw was taller and broader than him.

the grinning man smiley face
artist’s conception

A few months later in March of 1967, a family living in a remote area on the outskirts of Point Pleasant, West Virginia were seeing strange lights in the sky around their house on an almost nightly basis. One night, the sixteen-year-old daughter ran into her parents’ bedroom and woke them up screaming about a man in her room. She had woken up and seen him next to her bed looking down at her. She screamed and hid her head under the covers. (Sounds familiar.) When she mustered up the courage to stick her head out to take a peak, he was gone. The only description Keel gives is that the girl said that he was wearing a checkered shirt, a feature which turns up with surprising frequency in these sorts of stories. My friend’s brother may have also said that his nighttime visitor was wearing a yellow plaid shirt, but that might be a detail that my spotty memory added later after I became aware of this fairly common element. Although if that is the case, I don’t know where I got the yellow part from.

The Glines family of Pensacola, Florida had several encounters in their home with a similarly dressed man. His first appearance came as Mr. Glines was lying on the couch with just one dim light on in the room. He sensed that someone was in the room with him and looked up to see a large man in a plaid sport shirt staring at him. As Glines got up and took several steps toward him, the man stepped back into the shadows and disappeared. Mr. Glines kept quiet about it for fear of scaring his family, but then his son-in-law saw the same man a short time later. James Boone was asleep in the Glines’ home when he awoke to find a large man standing at the foot of the bed. Boone said that he couldn’t see the man’s face, but when he started to get up, the man “went away.”

Then the Glines’ youngest son, who was only two, started talking about his new friend Puki, which is remarkably close to pooka. (It’s unclear if that’s what the boy called him or if that was the name the man gave. If my name was Puki, I wouldn’t tell a soul.) He told his mother that you couldn’t see Puki’s face. It was blurry, as if the man had a real-life pixelization collar. That would have scared the screaming blue Jesus out of me. I wouldn’t have let that kid out of my sight for a second after that.

Anyway, it didn’t matter for long. The Glines’ house burned down within a year of Puki’s first appearance, unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence for people confronted by the supernatural. Puki told the child at some point afterward that he didn’t like the house all burned up but that he would come back when it was fixed. Whether or not he made good on that promise or if the Glines family even moved back into that house is unknown…at least to me.

Several years later, people in rural Delaware County, New York were reporting seeing a large, broad-shouldered man over six feet tall. People who saw him at close range said that he had a shock of unruly gray hair, small eyes and a permanent grin. When pursued, he would escape by making ridiculously long leaps over ditches, which I guess there are a lot of in that part of the country since they never caught him.

Keel cites a few more cases that I consider to be borderline. If not for his size and clothing, I’m not sure that I would classify Puki as a Grinning Man since no one could see his face. Not that it matters all that much. Beasties of all varieties have been visiting people in their bedrooms in the middle of the night for as far back as anyone knows. Mental health professionals write all of these off as sleep paralysis.

This occurs when a person suddenly awakens from REM stage sleep and finds that they can’t move. This happens because REM sleep in when we dream, and the brain “paralyzes” the body so that we don’t act them out. This prevents you from smacking your wife in the back of the head every fifteen seconds while you’re dreaming about pitching in the World Series. Because of this, every once in a great while people wake up from REM sleep and find that they can’t move. It usually lasts less than a minute. Sounds reasonable enough. What the shrinks can’t explain is why these are usually accompanied by a visual hallucination of some type of menacing creature or creatures, or a sense of the presence of something evil in the room. They have theories, but they naturally discount completely that it might be because there’s really something there. The various theories revolve around these hallucinations being tricks played by the brain upon awakening to find ourselves paralyzed and therefore helpless. If that’s true, it’s a damn dirty trick, especially since it’s our brains that paralyzed us in the first place.

Undoubtedly they’re right most of the time. However, they and the skeptics habitually dismiss any cases that don’t fit the sleep paralysis scenario. People who say that they were wide awake when it happened must be mistaken. More than one person in the house seeing the same thing is a result of the power of suggestion. Physical evidence, such as marks left on the person, must have another explanation.

Smiley Hat ManThey also can’t account for repeated sightings of similar beings by unrelated people, although the small number of Jungians could claim that they’re archetypal, and they may be right, just maybe not in the way that they think (see the Patrick Harpur reference in Through the Holographic Looking Glass). Gray aliens can easily be explained away since they have become a cultural icon. But they can’t say the same of the Grinning Man or his recently discovered cousin, Hat Man, who may be an urban myth (although people in the suburbs may have heard of him too). My personal jury of one is still out on that.

I had something like this happen to me once. (Oh no. Here he goes again.) I woke up from a disturbing dream to find myself completely terrified by the feeling of an evil presence in the room. I didn’t see anything, and I wasn’t paralyzed, but it did take me a few minutes to muster up the courage to turn on a light. After that, I searched the entire apartment, including the cupboards, looking for whatever was there. Of course I didn’t find anything, but that feeling of an evil presence persisted for hours, though it did fade somewhat. That whole day at work, it gnawed at me that there was no way that I could live there with that presence, but when I got home that afternoon, everything was fine.

I mention this because it was far from a textbook case of sleep paralysis. First, there was no paralysis, and it lasted over four hours. I even had that day off from work, but I went in anyway because I would have rather been there than stay in that apartment. A friend of mine pointed out a few days later that this had occurred in the early morning hours of Beltane, a holy day celebrated by multiple religions and occult orders, including Satanists. Who knows what sort of nasty critters may have been conjured up and then set loose (or were improperly banished) that nigh? Maybe.

Whitley Strieber’s bedroom invaders who implanted something into the cartilage of his ear – something that is still there and is undeniably real – appeared to him to be completely human. They managed to disable his alarm system with some sort of electromagnetic field that an alarm company technician was at a loss to explain. Since Strieber recalls multiple “alien abduction” experiences, it isn’t too much of a leap to conclude that these two types of experiences must be connected, at least in his case.

So are the Grinning Man and his ilk connected to UFOs? In some cases it would seem so since UFOs were spotted in the area at around the same time. In others there can be no doubt since they progress to a full-blown abduction experience, but most of those cases involve the grays. In still others, there’s no apparent connection at all. He/they have that in common with big hairy monsters. Incidentally, BHMs seen in connection with UFOs are frequently reported as having glowing red eyes. Those who seem to be randomly stumbled upon by hikers, campers or people driving down a country road almost never do.

Alien Smiley FaceAnd just to complicate things further, because I just can’t resist: Contrary to popular belief, not all encounters with the grays lead to an abduction. It’s entirely possible that most of them don’t. One story that I really like is that of a woman who awoke in the middle of the night to find three of them performing an operation to repair her injured knee. When she asked if they could help her with another health problem, they replied that they could not. Her knee was a mechanical problem; her medical condition, they informed her, was karma. I got this story from the comments posted at the end of an article about the grays, so I’m reasonably sure that it came straight from the source. Whether or not it’s believable is another matter, but that line about karma tells me that if she’s a liar, she’s a liar who knows a lot more about this stuff than most. That’s a statement that only a handful of people would even understand the gravity of, especially coming from a gray.

Did that sound smug? I’m sorry. I’m working on that. What I meant to say was: As always, I leave it up to you to decide. As the great Jacques Vallee so accurately and concisely pointed out, “When it comes to UFOs, there are no experts.”

and all the devils are here



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