On 23 May 1964, firefighter Jim Templeton was walking through Burgh Marsh overlooking the Solway Firth in Cumbria with his wife Annie and their five-year-old daughter Elizabeth. It was a lovely spring day and Jim had brought his camera to take photos of their daughter in her new dress. Other than two elderly woman in a parked car at the opposite end of the marsh, there hadn’t been anyone else around. Or at least that’s what they thought.
When Jim later developed the photos it became clear that maybe they hadn’t actually been alone.
Peering around the back of his daughter’s head, Jim saw what appeared to be a figure in an astronaut’s suit, complete with a helmet and black visor. As far as he knew, he hadn’t seen anything suspicious that day, so why was an unknown figure showing up in his photograph? Shaken, he took the photo to the local police for an explanation, but as far as they were concerned the photo showed nothing suspicious. Jim then consulted Kodak who confirmed that the photo had not been tampered with and offered an award to anyone who could prove contrary.
From there, the attention to Jim’s peculiar photograph snowballed. Newspaper outlets such as the Cumberland News, the Daily Mail, and Express published the photo before it made it’s way into the international press. The Burgh Marsh suddenly became a gathering place for ufologists investigating the area and searching for the mysterious spaceman. In turn, the Templetons began receiving unsolicited visits from spiritualists and anyone curious about the family at the centre of the bizarre media craze. All the while, Jim continued to remind everyone of a vital point: other than his daughter and wife there was no one else on the deserted marsh that day. So who (or what) was the haunting figure behind his daughter?
The most memorable visitors Jim received were two ‘Men in Black’ (mysterious figures known in conspiracy circles as government agents who harass witnesses of UFOs or aliens) who stopped by Jim’s work at the Carlisle City fire brigade. According to Jim the men were very tall, wearing dark suits and bowler hats, and appeared at his station in a large black limousine. He described them as being ‘stand-offish and snooty’ and referring to each other only as Number 9 and Number 11. Jim escorted the men to the location of the photograph, but once he clarified that he hadn’t actually seen the spaceman until the photograph had been developed the two men grew angry and left him to find his own way the six miles back to his work. Whether or not this incident actually occurred or if it was an act of two pranksters is up for debate since the inclusion of Men in Black is very stereotypical of stories involving close encounters with extraterrestrials.
Meanwhile, on the Other Side of the World…
In 1946 following the Second World War, Australia and the UK formed the Anglo-Australian Joint Project which centred on the testing of long-range weapons in Woomera, South Australia. One of the missiles tested in Woomera was Blue Streak, which was previously developed as part of Britain’s independent nuclear capability before being tasked with putting a European satellite into space. Coincidentally RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria, which is located less than an hours drive from Burgh Marsh, was where Blue Streak was originally constructed before being moved to Australia.
Allegedly around the same time Jim took the photo of Elizabeth and the spaceman, a planned test launch of the Blue Streak was aborted in Woomera because technicians working on the launch saw two unidentified men in the firing range. After Jim’s photograph made international news, the technicians saw the figure behind Elizabeth and said it looked almost identical to the strange men that caused the aborted launch. However, UFO author Dr David Clarke told the BBC that he didn’t believe in the connection between the Solway Spaceman and the aborted launch in Woomera since he had personally viewed footage of the aborted launch and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Clarke also asserted that there was no photographic evidence of the ‘spacemen’ seen in the firing range and therefore no proof that this ever actually happened.
So What’s Really Behind Elizabeth?
The general consensus is that the figure behind Elizabeth is actually her mother. In another photo taken by Jim that day, Annie can be seen leaning out of the frame beside Elizabeth wearing a light blue dress (see right). In the Solway Spaceman photo, Annie’s figure is obscured from overexposure, making her appear distorted and oddly similar to a figure in a spacesuit. And to be honest, that seems like a pretty reasonable explanation, even if it isn’t an exciting one. Jim however claims that Annie was standing behind him when he snapped the infamous photo of their daughter. It’s impossible to know if everything Jim said about that day was true, or if he misremembered the amount of people nearby and where is wife was standing when he took the photo. While I personally don’t think that the photograph shows anything supernatural or extraterrestrial, it’s definitely an interesting story that continues to receive speculation and attention from anyone looking for ‘proof’ of UFOs and extraterrestrials.
Sources and Additional Reading
Australian Government Department of Defence – History of the Woomera Prohibited Area
BBC News – The mystery of the Solway Spaceman
British Pathé – Blue Streak – Two, One, Zero! 1964
Dumfries Courier, 3 May 1996 – Close Encounters: The day the world changed for the Templeton family [pdf, page 12]
Historic England – RAF Spadeadam: Blue Streak Rocket
National Archives – The Blue Streak Rocket [short film]
National Space Centre – Blue Streak – Success, Failure and … Extraterrestrials?
Wikipedia – Men in black