Gordon Gray and the Majestic 12

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Gordon Gray and the Majestic 12

By Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs | @LearnReynolda


In anticipation of this Friday’s Cinema Under the Stars: Strange Encounters film, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Phil Archer shares an interesting connection between Winston-Salem, Reynolda, and top-secret government programs regarding UFOs.

Pictured: President Truman’s authorization of the Majestic 12 committee, officially considered to be a hoax.

Americans in the late 1940s and early 1950s kept one eye on the night sky, as rumors of unidentified flying objects filled tabloids and radio shows. Following the reported sighting of a UFO over Roswell, NM in the summer of 1947, President Harry Truman is believed by many conspiracy theorists to have authorized the Majestic 12, a secret committee of senior advisors from the military, intelligence, and scientific communities. Thousands of supposedly leaked (though possibly forged) government documents show that they were charged with determining the physics of propulsion that would make possible the phenomena that were reported in Roswell and many other sites in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They also supposedly coordinated scenarios for a diplomatic or military response in the event of actual contact – a “close encounter of the third kind.” (The first kind of encounter was a visual sighting; the second kind included a physical trace on animal, vegetable, or mineral; the third kind entailed an encounter with an animated creature from the UFO.)
One prominent member of this rumored secret council was Gordon Gray of Winston-Salem; he was Assistant Secretary of the Army in 1947 and was appointed Secretary two years later.
Gordon Gray’s father, uncle, and brother were presidents of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. His father, Bowman Gray Sr., joined the company when asked by R.J. Reynolds to lead his sales force in the “northern territories.” Reynolds told him, “I can’t pay you anything, but I can give you some stock.” A better deal for both men would be hard to imagine. Bowman Gray was a masterful salesman and leader, later succeeding R.J. Reynolds’ brother William Neal Reynolds as president of the company. Bowman Gray’s fortune would grow to enable him to purchase a section of Reynolda where he would build Graylyn, a Norman-revival manor.

Like his older brother, Gordon Gray was raised in Winston-Salem and attended the Reynolda School. Gordon, aged 11, and Bowman, Jr., aged 13, were cast in a pageant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Hiawatha staged on Lake Katharine at Reynolda in 1921. Bowman played Hiawatha and Gordon played Kwasind, a “power for good and evil.” In later years Gordon Gray and his wife Jane Craige Gray were friends of Mary and Charlie Babcock; on a mural in Reynolda’s game room, Jane Gray was portrayed hanging from the wing of a plane piloted by Dick Reynolds. The Gray family funded the move of the Wake Forest medical school to Winston-Salem in 1939, and Gordon Gray was an early advocate for moving the rest of the campus to the Reynolda estate, which was completed in 1956.

Gordon Gray had a successful career in public service: trained as a lawyer, he would serve as a member of the state legislature, captain in the Army during World War II, Secretary of the Army in the Truman Administration, National Security Advisor in the Eisenhower Administration, President of the University of North Carolina, Chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford.

The Majestic 12 papers were made public in 1987, a decade after Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In his book Out There (1990), journalist Howard Blum traced the labyrinth of secrecy around the Majestic 12 and quoted one equally baffled FBI agent: “All we’re finding out is that the government doesn’t know what it knows. There are too many secret levels. You can’t get a straight story. It wouldn’t surprise me if we never know if the papers are genuine or not.” Several supposed members of the Majestic 12 testified before Congress about UFO reports, others oversaw official investigations, but none ever mentioned the existence of the secret committee. All twelve were dead before the papers were published in 1987.

Join us this Friday, August 8 for the third film in 2014 Cinema Under the Stars: Strange Encounters film, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Learn more about the Hiawatha Pageant in December when Phil Archer discusses the Object of the Month: the Hiawatha Pageant photo album.

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