By Michael J. Bielawa
“One of paranormal history’s most bizarre, worldwide, phenomena traces
its origin directly to downtown Bridgeport.” M. Bielawa
Sci-Fi fans will readily recall the brilliant Twilight Zone episode penned by Rod Sterling, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. This television fantasy postulates the frightening results of an Alien visitation and its impact on everyday Americans. However if one is to believe Bridgeport stories, monsters in the form of otherworldly Aliens have already visited Broad Street in downtown Bridgeport. Maybe, just maybe, they are watching still.
One of the earliest, and certainly the most infamous, of Earth’s reported “Men In Black” incidents occurred in bustling Bridgeport. According to ufologists, Men In Black, popularly identified as MIB, are ultra-secret agents associated with the FBI, CIA, or an unnamed covert federal department which seek out and thwart those individuals probing too close to the truth behind UFOs. Some ufologists alarmingly postulate that the MIB are actually not of this Earth.
Albert K. Bender was born in Duryea, Pennsylvania, on June 16, 1921. Bender served in the US Army-Air Force during World War II, from June 8, 1942-October 7, 1943 as a stateside dental technician. After his honorable discharge from active service at Langley Field, Virginia, Bender relocated to Bridgeport with his mother Ellen and step-father Michael Ardolino. The family lived at 784 Broad Street. According to Bender, MIB arrived in Bridgeport during 1953. They appeared at his Broad Street home, just a few hundred yards from the main library.
Albert was employed as chief timekeeper at Acme Shear Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of scissors. The factory was located across the Pequonnock River from downtown at Hicks and Knowlton Streets. Perhaps it was Bender’s sense of humor, but in an ironic salute to his job Bender filled his living space with an assortment of twenty chiming clocks. Every fifteen minutes, half hour and on the hour, 784 Broad Street resounded with the din of bells, bells, bells. But the cacophony of ticking timepieces and alarms were merely a small part of Bender’s eccentricities. The timekeeper enjoyed his privacy living in the attic (and its small connected den) of his step-father’s three-story Broad Street home. At some point when Bender entered his late-20s, Albert adorned his realm with a collection of monstrosities. Faux skulls, shrunken heads, and his own original, outsider art. Should friends stop-over Albert made sure to compliment the atmosphere with unnerving sound effects featuring thunder, sobbing and hissing noises on his record player. Enamored with ghost stories and horror movies, the terror connoisseur claimed his blood flowed with ancestral witchcraft. Fittingly Bender dubbed this attic room his “Chamber of Horrors.”
Albert’s unique appreciation for the supernatural coincided with a rash of well publicized “flying saucer” sightings in the American West during the late 1940s, prompting Bender to form one of America’s nascent UFO organizations. In 1952 the Park City resident organized the International Flying Saucer Bureau. World War I flying ace, and CEO of Eastern Airlines, Eddie Rickenbacker became an honorary member. Albert Einstein declined the invitation. The Bureau’s 600 worldwide members, with Bender as president, were dedicated to furthering the study of these mysterious craft. Its headquarters were located in Albert’s Bridgeport home. One of the group’s most enthusiastic members, Max Krengel, also worked as a timekeeper at Acme Shear; he served as IFSB vice president and assistant director. Krengel lived in Stratford. His home was in one of Lordship’s new Cape Cod style houses along Stratford Road, between Hartland Street and Airway Drive. Shortly after its founding, the IFSB reached out to members around the world through a quarterly journal, Space Review. The newsletter shared stories of UFO sightings and offered theories about the origins of these seemingly inexplicable objects.
No sooner had Bender commenced the IFSB than odd occurrences plagued him in Bridgeport. Ill health, strange phone calls, and telepathic messages hounded the researcher. These events coincidently mirrored an outbreak of UFO sightings over southern Connecticut. In addition, Albert felt as if he was being watched. November 1952, at a local movie theater Bender realized a strange man with glowing eyes observing him; and while walking home along Main Street Albert was shadowed. On a separate occasion late one night on Broad Street Bender reported he was telepathically hypnotized and levitated. But the worst phenomenon was the sickening odor filling his attic. The stench of burning sulphur.
Sequestered in his Broad Street home, Albert blended his UFO research with mental telepathy. To further his experiments, Bender prompted readers of Space Review with an audacious request: memorize and silently recite, on a particular day and time, a form letter penned by Bender. Albert’s goal was to connect with Alien life via the simultaneous thought-projection of hundreds of IFSB members. World Contact Day, or as Bender and the IFSB officially preferred, “C-Day,” commenced at 6 o’clock in the evening (EST) on March 15, 1953. The noble telepathic message opened, “Calling occupants of interplanetary craft! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft that have been observing our planet EARTH. We of IFSB wish to make contact with you. We are your friends…” Just over twenty years later the Canadian progressive rock band, Klaatu, incorporated Bender’s words into a haunting anthem. Musical siblings and New Haven natives, the Carpenters, provided their own version of the Klaatu song. World Contact Day is still observed by UFO enthusiasts every March 15th.
Bender’s message did not go over well. His rooms continued to fill with the smell of sulphur and he was telepathically ordered to cease delving into matters that were not his concern. A yellow mist gathered in the attic. Undeterred, Bender announced that the July issue of Space Review would hold a “startling revelation.” It never appeared in print.
In July 1953 Albert Bender was visited at his home by three men. Bender stated “All of them were dressed in black clothes. They looked like clergymen but wore hats similar to [the]Homburg style.” The notorious Men In Black, always in threes, made it clear to Bender that he was to immediately halt all UFO work. They communicated telepathically: “Stop publishing.” Before departing, the MIB confiscated copies of Space Review and in their wake a yellow fog materialized in the upstairs rooms of 784 Broad Street. Again, the vile odor of sulphur wafted through the attic. Unnerved by their other-worldly presence Albert shuddered that he was “scared to death” and was unable to eat for days. The 32 year-old timekeeper would be the recipient of repeated MIB visits.
Not surprisingly, Bender’s paranormal experiences were reported in local newspapers. What might seem borrowed from the plot of a late-night horror movie, Bender’s odyssey can easily be retraced at one of his familiar haunts: the downtown Bridgeport Public Library (Bender prominently notes BPL in his autobiographical encounter with MIB, Flying Saucers and the Three Men (London, England: Neville Spearman, 1962) that he conducted research into the paranormal at the main library; page 14). Bender’s account of the threats from the Men In Black become evident when viewing old microfilmed pages of the Bridgeport Sunday Herald. One Herald article reported the story under the headline, “Mystery Visitors Halt Research” (Bridgeport Herald, November 29, 1953). Bender is quoted that three men in dark suits “flashed credentials showing them to be representatives of [a]‘higher authority’ ” and they asked numerous questions about the IFSB. The Herald reporter, Lem M’Collum, interpreted these visitors as “government” officials. It was only years later when the passage of time apparently lessened his anxiety that Bender explained that the MIB were not of Earth.
The telepathic messages, headaches, his being stalked, and of course the surreal warnings by authoritarians in black suits, compelled Albert to shut down the International Flying Saucer Bureau. A year and a half after founding the IFSB the final issue of Space Review was released in October, 1953. It included a cryptic message, and warning: “The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known but any information about this is being withheld by orders from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review but because of the nature of the information we have been advised in the negative. We advise those engaged in saucer work to be very cautious.”
In 1956, fellow IFSB member, Gray Barker penned the book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. In these pages, Barker detailed Albert’s Bridgeport experiences and introduced the world to the evocatively menacing phrase, “Men In Black.” A decade after his own brush with Aliens, Bender chronicled his strange personal story in a bizarre expose entitled, Flying Saucers and the Three Men. Albert stressed how the dark-suited visitors were mind-manipulating silencers.
Abandoning his forays into the supernatural and UFO research Albert Bender departed Bridgeport and relocated to California three years after publishing his autobiography. Albert Bender passed away, at the age of 94, on March 29, 2016.
Sadly, the house at 784 Broad Street no longer stands. This home where Alien theorists believe beings from outer space made their presence known needed to make room for a different sort of invasion. Urban renewal. Bender’s home suddenly vanishes from city directories in 1957. Its proximity to the brand-new, federally constructed, Connecticut Thruway claimed Albert’s residence (the majority of I-95 was built from 1954 through 1957). Afterward the State Street Redevelopment Project (roughly 1962-1968) razed practically everything (except the Bridgeport Public Library building) south of State Street, between Main Street west to Lafayette Boulevard and down to the thruway –in other words, Albert Bender’s neighborhood. During 1967 the Southern Connecticut Gas Company’s parking lot absorbed a swath of Broad Street, including the former backyard of the “Chamber of Horrors.” Bender’s portal to the Beyond was forever closed. Was it just a coincidence that the government bulldozed Bender’s residence? For those conspiracy-minded readers one could choose to suspend disbelief and mull over the possibility that this urban destruction was part of a vast government plot. It’s fascinating to ponder, even from a sci-fi perspective, that all evidence of the MIB and Bender were eliminated from the Bridgeport streetscape. (Just don’t tell anyone I mentioned it.)
What, if anything, really transpired within the walls of 784 Broad Street? Could events be explained by Albert Bender’s mental state? Was the Bridgeport resident hallucinating? Did the stress of managing an international organization, and publishing the Space Review, generate a sense of paranoia and trigger a nervous breakdown? Some might say Bender’s experiments opened a door to an Occult force. Others shudder at the thought of demons. Or, as ufologists avow, it really was Aliens. Take your earthbound, or celestial, pick.
Whether the MIB arrived from Washington, D.C., were born of Albert Bender’s imagination or were transported here by Alien science, one of paranormal history’s most bizarre, worldwide, phenomena traces its origin directly to downtown Bridgeport. It would be appropriate to commemorate Bender’s legacy with an historical-folklore marker at the site of 784 Broad Street. To borrow, and retool, an observation made by the Nobel Prize winning Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, “Anyone who is not shocked by what happened in Bridgeport has not understood what happened in Bridgeport.” Of course, Bohr was commenting on quantum theory, but his words could readily apply to a different subject of scientific inquiry… namely, who, or rather, what, may have visited Bridgeport. Only Albert Bender knows. Now he is silent.
Bridgeport History Center Sources
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (location of Albert Bender’s home)
- Bridgeport City Directories (Bender’s home address and residents in household)
- Bridgeport Post and Bridgeport Herald (local, contemporary, news coverage about Bender and the Men In Black)
- “Albert Bender to Wed Betty Rose Saturday”, Bridgeport Post. October 13, 1954.
- “Barker Forging Ahead”, Bridgeport Herald, January 25, 1959 and Bridgeport Sunday Herald Magazine, February 1-5, 1959.
- Beckwith, Ethel. “Don’t Be Afraid, Darling; It’s Bender”, Bridgeport Herald. May 25, 1952.
- “Bender Gave Up Work”, Bridgeport Herald, January 25, 1959 and Bridgeport Sunday Herald Magazine. February 1-5, 1959. (Bender later stated that this article ran without his permission or endorsement, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, page 172.
- Husar, Ruth. “A. K. Bender Authors Book On Flying Saucer Insight”, Bridgeport Post. July 11, 1962.
- M’Collum, Lem. “Mystery Visitors Halt Research: Saucerers Here Ordered to Quit,” Bridgeport Herald. November 29, 1953. (Bender later stated that this was an unauthorized article and that he did not provide any information to the reporter; Bender explains that this article is “filled with errors and exaggerations,” Flying Saucers and the Three Men, page 151.)
- “Silenced Because They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers”, Bridgeport Sunday Herald Magazine. February 1-5, 1959.
- “Terror in the Skies: Fabulous Book Unveils Saucers, Messengers”, Bridgeport Herald, January 25, 1959 (reprinted as “Silenced Because They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers”, Bridgeport Sunday Herald Magazine. February 1-5, 1959). Bender later stated that this article ran without his permission or endorsement, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, page 172.
- “What’s Saucer for the Goose Is Flying Saucer for the Gander”, Bridgeport Sunday Herald Magazine. February 1-5, 1959.
- AncestryLibrary (Proquest) (data on where Bender and his family lived and their vital statistics)
- Aerial Survey Maps (through the Connecticut State Library)
- Bender, Albert. Flying Saucers and the Three Men (BPL Rare Book)
- Palmquist, David W. Bridgeport: A Pictorial History (Norfolk: VA, Donning Company, 1981) (information concerning downtown’s razing and the State Street Redevelopment Project)
- Bridgeport History Center Newspaper Clippings Files:
- “INDUSTRIES — Acme United Corp (originally Acme Shear Co.).” (Company history. Albert Bender served as the timekeeper for Acme Shear Company)
- BRIDGEPORT, CITY OF–Redevelopment Agency