An outdoor mural depicting one of our region’s most infamous tales, as well as being the subject of an award-winning local film – the ‘Maury Island Incident,’ a June 21, 1947, flying saucer sighting over Puget Sound – made its public debut this week in Des Moines.
The large mural has been mounted on the side of a container owned by the new Des Moines photography business Harper Studios, located at 605 South 223rd Street (map below). The mural was commissioned by Burien resident John White (who also Executive Produced the film), and created by Artist Zach Paul.
Originally installed in 2013 on the side of a building in Olde Burien, the mural was removed after a five-year run before being abducted by the City of Des Moines. It was restored, and made its Des Moines debut at the 2019 ‘Burning Saucer’ event in Des Moines.
“In business, ‘capital goes where it is appreciated,'” said John White, donator of the mural. “When it comes to art, Burien gets low marks for its appreciation of art, including the Burien Actors Theatre and from a donation perspective…so I would say Burien lost the Maury island Incident mural because “Art goes where it’s appreciated. So we can see that the city of Des Moines appreciates art and that’s why the UFO art moved from Burien to Des Moines. I suspect that the Burien Actors Theatre will change to the Des Moines Actors Theatre as well.”
As a topic of history and mythology, the real story of the Maury Island Incident is considered one of the most controversial sightings of the “modern” UFO era, helped spark ‘the summer of the saucers,’ includes the first alleged appearance of a Man in Black, and features an inter-governmental battle over UFO sighting jurisdiction that reached directly to FBI Executive Director J. Edgar Hoover.
As a matter of popular culture, the story was translated into an award-winning film, The Maury Island Incident, by local Director Scott Schaefer, screenwriter Steve Edmiston, and Executive Producer John White, in 2013; was adapted as a web-series on IndieFlix and Netflix in 2014; is celebrated locally each year at “Burning Saucer,” sponsored by the Des Moines-based Maury Island Incident Historical Society; was recognized by a unanimous Washington State Senate Resolution (sponsored by Senator Karen Keiser) for its contribution to Washington State history and popular culture; was featured on the History Channel’s Project Bluebook and Ancient Aliens in 2020; and Burning Saucer has been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Den of Geek.
“The journey of this story – or the re-discovery of this story – has been a fun ride,” said screenwriter Steve Edmiston. “I think it’s fair to say that much of what is known today about this tragic tale is due to the recent efforts of many individuals – from filmmakers to artists, historians to politicians – that simply insisted that the story not be lost to the dustbin of history. It probably helps that so much of what makes this incident fascinating is true – including the tragic deaths of two Air Force officers trying to get to the bottom of the story.”
Controversy makes for a good story – and even the mural holds some local controversy. Some say the depiction of the original “Man in Black” is a based upon a recognizable local resident. It is also believed that some dispute surrounds the mysterious removal of the mural from its original home in Burien, and relocation to Des Moines. In what has been referred to as “the Heist,” the story of the mural’s move was the subject of much attention at the 2019 Burning Saucer celebration, with the event highlighted by the reveal and dedication of the mural to the City of Des Moines, temporary display at the Woodmont Community Plaza, and the public sharing of “The Top 10 Possible Permanent Locations” for the mural (a list that featured this tongue-in-cheek gem in the number one spot: “Mount it on a southbound First Avenue billboard just as you leave Burien and enter Des Moines, with a tagline, “Des Moines – Winning.”
In 2019, the Des Moines City Council voted 7-0 to accept the donation of the mural from John White. Certainly, the story (and mural) has a role in regional tourism.
“As a member of the Des Moines City Council, I’m a huge proponent of our City’s history and sometimes, our history is just plain fun to learn,” said Des Moines Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney. “The Maury Island Incident is a local story like no other, and this mural is a perfect introduction.”