This is my investigation of the famous photograph, also known as the Solway Firth Spaceman photograph and Cumberland Spaceman photograph, taken on May 23, 1964 in northwest England by James P. Templeton (1920–2011). I prefer the term "Solway Spaceman photograph" because "Solway 'spaceman'" is how the first UK newspaper to publish the photograph and story, Cumberland News, described it on its front page in 1964.
I located three examples of the digital photograph for this research and commentary. I also located an entry dated 1968 for "negatives" related to the photo in a government archive. On the day the photograph was taken in 1964, I was 3,223 miles away in Connecticut in the United States, age 9, the same age as Frances Templeton, one of the witnesses who was present with her family when the event happened.
As I began, one of the things that I noticed was that all three of the images had noticeable damage. The photos likely began as large physical prints that were then stored for decades in the filing cabinets of newspapers or magazines, taken out, and subjected to the physical effects of being processed for publishing. They exhibit scratching, scuffing, spotting, dirtying, and have faded over time. One of them appears to have writing residue and a torn area. I intentionally did not do any clean-up of the three full images or make any changes to the contrast or coloring or do any sharpening. I enlarged them to a uniform size and converted them to the lossless .png file format. They can easily be converted back to .jpg in any photo editor.
The smiling girl posing with a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers (type: marsh valerian) is five-year-old Elizabeth Templeton, daughter of Jim and Annie Templeton, all citizens of the United Kingdom. The photographer Jim Templeton is quoted as saying that he considered this image to be in the public domain (see page bottom for his declaration). Mr. Templeton never recanted his story concerning the photo's genuineness right up until his death in 2011 at age 91. His wife and mother of the children, Annie Templeton (1929–2004), died at age 75 seven years earlier.
|UPDATE: On January 30, 2023, I completed a clean-up of Photo #2 using PhotoScape editor version 3.7. It can be downloaded here (4 MB .png 1024 x 1500) and the Internet Archive.|
|The photograph on the far right is available for purchase as a high-resolution digital scan from the Mary Evans Picture Library (search #10026580). It has noticeably more of the image on the left and bottom sides showing more of Elizabeth's dress, but the right side is slightly cropped compared to the other two. It also has a scratch of some kind going through the spaceman's left shoulder continuing down onto Elizabeth's hair that the other two do not have. Even so, it has the most content of the three. All of the versions of this public domain image shown here have different amounts of damage. None of them show the complete picture. A professional digital restoration would be speculative without access to the original negative and consultation with the Templeton family as to what they remember the original print looked like before the negative was subjected to possible damage from intense examination, repeated processing of prints, and long-term storage. They might have one of the earliest clean prints to use as a guide. There is an entry dated 1968 for "negatives" related to this photo as donated by Carlisle journalist John Barker (1918–1996) in the county government Cumbria Archive Service Catalogue (search result). This is likely a new negative that was made in 1968 from a positive print of the photo, hopefully one of the earliest clean prints sourced directly from Jim Templeton. The background story of the Solway Spaceman photograph and step-by-step project of a professional digital restoration and professional archival conservation of the negative would make a good subject for a television documentary someday.|
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on May 23, 1964, the local newspaper Cumberland News reported, when off-duty Carlisle Fire Service fireman Jim Templeton, 44, drove with his family to the expansive Burgh Marsh (*see pronunciation note immediately below) along the Solway Firth, a large inlet of water separating part of England and Scotland on their western coasts, in what is today known as the county of Cumbria in northwest England. In 1964, it was called the county of Cumberland; hence, the alternate description of the figure as the "Cumberland Spaceman." The name of the county officially changed to Cumbria in 1974.
* (Pronunciation note: Although the initial inclination by some speakers outside of Great Britain, especially American English speakers, may be to pronounce "Burgh" as "Burg," as in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," that is incorrect. In Scotland and Northern England, "burgh" is pronounced "bur-uh" or more quickly (with a Scottish accent) as "bruh" as in "Edinburgh, Scotland" and meaning a municipal division, town, or city equivalent to the word "borough" in other parts of England and the United States. However, in the Cumbria area, the "gh" sound in "Burgh" is pronounced the same as in the words "enough," "rough," and "tough," meaning an "uff" sound. "Burgh Marsh" is pronounced locally as "Bruff Marsh," possibly an alteration over time of "Bruh Marsh." It basically means the town marsh.)
Credit: Map adaptation by James A. Conrad 2021.
Accompanying Jim Templeton were his wife Annie, 35, and their two young daughters, Elizabeth, 5, and Frances, 9 (a third daughter, Anne, would be born in the summer of 1968). The purpose of the family outing was to photograph younger daughter Elizabeth in her new dress outdoors where the lighting would be good and the scenery full of open green grass, flowers, and blue sky. They chose a spot near a large concrete arrow embedded in the ground, which was a guide for RAF military pilots on World War II practice bombing runs, the target being in the Firth. The Burgh Marsh was not a typical wetland marsh in that many parts were dry enough to walk on and for livestock to graze from May until August. Templeton's 35mm SLR camera, a Pentacon F, also branded as Contax F in the eastern part of Europe, contained Kodak color film. The specific type of 35mm roll film was Kodacolor-X, introduced in 1963, which came in sizes up to 36 exposures. When Templeton wrote to the Daily Mail newspaper in 2002 that his camera was "loaded with the new Kodacolor film," he was referring to Kodacolor-X, which replaced Kodacolor. Kodacolor-X is perhaps the perfect name for a film that would become involved in the photographing of an unknown.
Credit: VisitCumbria.com / Aerial views showing the concrete arrow and cows scattered on the Burgh Marsh as they graze and rest.
Recalling decades later in a television interview at his home conducted by author Jenny Randles, in which Annie Templeton also participated (Secrets of the Paranormal, episode 1: "UFOs — Britain's Secret Files," April 11, 1996, BBC 2, Jenny Randles presenter), Jim Templeton claimed that no one else was around except the normally scattered animals strangely huddled to a far side as if frightened by something and "two old ladies sitting in a car knitting" 300 to 400 yards away. A 1964 newspaper article that first reported the story and published the photograph in black and white on its front page ("Solway 'spaceman' poses picture puzzle for police experts," Cumberland News, June 12, 1964), however, reported that he said the two other people were an "elderly couple sitting in a car reading a newspaper" (that is the newspaper's description of what he said, not a direct quotation of Templeton speaking). In fairness to Templeton, he could have described it initially in the form of a guess: a couple of old people reading a newspaper or knitting, being unsure, or the couple could have contacted him and told him the flat object he saw was knitting. At this late date it is not possible to question those involved about this minor discrepancy. One could assume he drove past in his car and he or Annie just got a quick glance through windows. The important information is that he claimed only two other people were visible in the area, which was expansive.
Front page of the Cumberland News, June 12, 1964, "Solway 'spaceman' poses picture puzzle for police experts." The story continued on an inside page.
Credit: Cumberland News 1964 / The One Show 2017 / Graphic James A. Conrad 2021 (archived newspaper in source image is aged yellow).
Jim Templeton said he took three photographs of Elizabeth on the Burgh Marsh with his 35mm camera, the exact duration between each we do not know. The timing is not something Templeton would have had any reason to mentally note with preciseness. When he got them back from being developed, the third one showed the shadow of his oldest daughter Frances in the left corner; Elizabeth in the center; and wife Annie on the right in what looks like a light-blue patterned dress. The dress does not appear to be one solid color. The sky in the background shows some white from overexposure (too much light entering the camera), as does parts of the backs of Elizabeth's and Annie's dresses. The white on the front edge of Elizabeth's dress appears to be white trim, perhaps on the underside. There does not appear to be any blooming (expanding outward) in any of the overexposed areas.
Credit: Photo Jim Templeton 1964 / Graphic James A. Conrad 2021.
The middle photo had something strange in it. Behind Elizabeth's head on the upper right side was the upper back torso of a futuristic-looking male humanoid figure with a stout build. His right hand appeared to be on his hip and he was looking out across the Firth as if studying something. He was dressed in white wearing what looked like a helmet with dark areas on the back, perhaps ornamentation or technology or both. Some in the media originally perceived it to be a frontal view because of the dark area resembling a visor or window of a space helmet. The other two photos did not show anything unusual. Templeton said his wife was behind him when the photo was taken and he did not see anyone in the background. The astronaut-looking appearance of the figure resulted in him being called a "spaceman," with the term "Solway Spaceman" being coined by the Cumberland News, the first newspaper to report the story and publish the photograph.
Credit: Photo Jim Templeton 1964 (cropped image has been cleaned up and sharpened).
Many skeptics have decided that the explanation for the mysterious figure is not that mysterious at all. They contend that the "spaceman" is actually Annie Templeton who walked into the background of the shot unnoticed and became overexposed and bloomed causing her to seemingly transform, or shape-shift, into a larger unrecognizable person. Overexposure (too much light) and blooming (expanding outward) would have been unwanted in-camera effects due to the bright sunlight that day reacting with adult Annie's light-blue dress, they say. They further contend she must have been wearing a small hat with her dark hair showing in the back below it. This explanation seems ludicrous to anyone making an initial visual examination and I am not aware of skeptics ever having offered, as of the date of this report, a similar photo from the history of 35mm color film photography as evidence that such a — very distinctive — transformative effect could occur on one multicolored subject in the background while the rest of the photo remains normal, especially a very blue sky with discernible clouds. I am not saying it is impossible, just that it would be helpful to see a convincing example that such a very distinctive effect has happened before using color 35mm film. Apparently, the experts at Kodak came to the same conclusion, as they had no comparative examples in the company's files to solve the mystery and neither did the forensic lab used by the Carlisle Police or the Cumberland News. It was such a strange anomaly and the source a respected local man whose job as a fireman was to protect lives and property that it was deemed front-page newsworthy.
Credit: Photo Jim Templeton 1964 / Graphic James A. Conrad 2021 (cropped image has been cleaned up and sharpened).
The British nighttime television magazine The One Show attempted to recreate the photo in a segment (also called an insert in British TV terminology) that aired on November 30, 2017 using a 35mm still camera with the same aperture setting Templeton used of f/16 for a sunny day, at approximately the same location on the Burgh Marsh, but the best result they got was a washed-out sky and significantly blurry figure in the background. The girl's white, blue, and red patterned dress also came out mostly white. They were trying to get a match to test the hypothesis of overexposure and blooming. Despite the segment being promoted before broadcast as "Debunked: The Solway Spaceman" the report ended with a side-by-side comparison of the two photos (seen below in a photograph I took of my laptop and VLC Media Player) and viewers watching were asked to be the final judge by reporter Joe Crowley: "So, here is our attempt to recreate the phenomenon of the Solway Spaceman. Proof enough? You decide." Regardless of the outcome, the effort was a serious and worthwhile experiment and the report was done with high production values.
Credit: The One Show 2017 / James A. Conrad 2021 (laptop photo).
Continuing with the argument that the "spaceman" might be Annie Templeton or some other person, skeptics have also proposed that because the small viewfinder of Jim Templeton's camera only showed a portion of the actual image area to be recorded on film, someone could have walked or run into and out of the shot unnoticed. I do not give much credence to that argument either and here is why: If you are familiar with how a camera operates, taking a photograph holding the camera continuously to your face looking into its viewfinder only takes seconds, perhaps less than 15, which is on the long side. The viewfinder system on the type of 35mm SLR camera Jim Templeton was using did not have what is called an "instant return mirror." That means every time he pressed the shutter button, the photograph was taken and the viewfinder immediately went dark until he manually turned the wind knob on top of the camera clockwise to advance the film for the next shot, clearing the viewfinder. There would have been no reason for him to keep the camera to his face. He would have opened his eyes quickly, pulled the camera away, and looked at the scene to see if Elizabeth was still holding her pose and he got the shot he wanted. At that moment he would have seen someone in the background, whether it be his wife or a stranger, even in his upper peripheral vision if he was crouched down on the ground at Elizabeth's level. If the background was at a different location and busy with movement or had trees, rocks, or buildings then he might not have noticed someone. His wife and two daughters did not speak up about noticing a white-dressed stranger in their midst. The intruder would have had to have been someone with the fast-running abilities of The Six Million Dollar Man or The Flash to go unnoticed. Image credit: Pentacon F user manual / Graphic James A. Conrad 2021.
I am also not convinced that this was an intentional hoax or out-of-control practical joke. Staging such an event in wide-open grazing land with no trees would not make sense. Templeton was an active-duty fireman, a government employee. The Cumberland News in its initial reporting on June 12 described him as someone "who does official photographic work for the service [Carlisle Fire Service]." He had a family to support and could easily have been fired if caught perpetrating a hoax on the community. During his life he received numerous medals for his military and fire and rescue services as a medic and fireman. These medals were shown in the aforementioned 1996 Jenny Randles BBC TV series episode framed and hanging on a wall inside his home.
I could not locate a copy of the third photograph of Elizabeth online or any reference to it ever having been made public as of the date of this report. Perhaps the simple explanation is that no one ever asked Jim Templeton for a copy of it to publish or the other pictures on the roll of film. Publishing photos in the pre-digital age was not as easy or inexpensive as it is today. These could have also been factors as to why there was only interest in the main photograph. I did not find anyone saying he refused such a request for the other photos. Templeton said three of the photos showed Elizabeth. However, without additional information on the other pictures, we have to wonder whether he took more shots on his roll of film on the Burgh Marsh that show only Frances or his wife Annie that might offer additional clues to the mystery. As James P. Templeton, he subsequently authored 14 local history books featuring his photographs (see list below), including a memoir. His collection of historical photographs 1834–2000s is in the county government Cumbria Archive Service Catalogue (search result). His Burgh Marsh photos are more in the category of personal family snapshots. In a Reuters wire service report dated June 15, 1964, Templeton had this to say about the forensic lab used by the Carlisle Police and his next step of submitting the negative to Kodak and what would have been the first photo of the three:
Police experts examined the negative and said it had not been tampered with. But now I am going to hand it over to the company that supplied the film for stringent tests. They say there is no possibility the film had been exposed before it reached me. The rest of the shots on the reel are perfect, and one taken in the same spot just before the mystery photograph shows my daughter alone. — James Templeton, Reuters wire story, June 15, 1964.
To recap, according to Jim Templeton, the order of photos taken is as follows:
Besides being an active duty fireman, Jim Templeton was also respected as a local amateur historian whose photographs often appeared in the region's newspapers accompanying stories and later books he wrote. This positive relationship with the news media led him to show the Cumberland News the photograph, which then decided to publish it as a front page story after the Carlisle Police had examined the negative. Kodak also took a look at the negative and determined that there was no indication of darkroom fakery. Nothing in their files matched the anomaly. Whatever was photographed was in the shot and not added later. The story quickly gained international interest, even continuing to this day, with many articles and videos available online discussing the mystery.
Various explanations offered, but as yet unproven, by skeptics:
Various explanations offered by the public that seem more like science fiction or the paranormal:
(Some of these are my science fictiony musings due to my having a connection to Hollywood.)
Credit: Photo Jim Templeton 1964 / Graphic James A. Conrad 2021 (cropped image has been cleaned up and sharpened).
Nuclear cooling towers demolished (BBC, May 20, 2007).
This print issue of the Daily Mail was to be published on Friday the 13th, a date associated with superstitions and the supernatural, so in keeping with the mystery theme, James Templeton was invited to answer a question that they were going to print and he wrote the letter below back in response, which was published in the issue. In it, he acknowledges that the Solway Spaceman photograph is in the public domain.
Confirmed source: "Rocket clue to spaceman," Daily Mail, London, England, Friday, December 13, 2002. Saved in the Internet Archive (calendar entry page) via the Archive for the Unexplained's collection of the UFO Newsclipping Service, issue date January 2003 (Internet Archive direct pdf link). The Archives for the Unexplained also has its own (pdf copy). The archived newspaper clipping is in black and white.
QUESTION: Has it ever been established if the Solway Firth spaceman photo (a picture of a little girl with what looks like an astronaut in the background) of 1964 was real or fake?
As an amateur photographer on a day-trip with my family, I took the photograph on Burgh Marsh on May 23, 1964, using an SLR camera loaded with the new Kodacolor film which was processed by Kodak. I took three pictures of my daughter, Elizabeth, in a similar pose — and was shocked when the middle picture came back from Kodak displaying what looks like a spaceman in the background.
I took the picture to the police in Carlisle who, after many doubts, examined it and stated there was nothing suspicious about it. The local newspaper, the Cumberland News, picked up the story and within hours it was all over the world. The picture is certainly not a fake, and I am as bemused as anyone else as to how this image appeared in the background.
Over the four decades the photo has been in the public domain, I have had many thousands of letters from all over the world with various ideas or possibilities — most of which make little sense to me. It should also be noted that I have received no payment for taking this picture.
The only suggestion that struck a chord with me was a letter from Woomera in Australia which came a month after the picture was shown around the world. The people there were keen to see a good colour copy of the photo, as they had stopped a countdown of the Blue Streak rocket within hours of my photo being taken. Apparently, two similar looking 'spacemen' had been seen close to the rocket. Only later did I find out that part of the Blue Streak rocket was made and tested within sight of Burgh Marsh.James Templeton
Carlisle, Cumbria, England
In my opinion, unless convincing evidence to the contrary surfaces, and it has not so far since 1964, the Solway Spaceman photograph remains unsolved and a mystery.
Evidence that would help further the investigation:
|About the author: James A. Conrad is co-author of Filmmaker's Dictionary (2000) with Emmy Award-winning producer Ralph S. Singleton and author of The Model-Actor's Dictionary (1988). For 15 years, from 1993 to 2008, he was a member of Tampa Bay Skeptics in Florida.|
How to cite this page:
Conrad, James A. 2021. The 1964 Solway Spaceman Photograph: Case Report. https://jamesaconrad.com/media/Solway-Spaceman-photo.html
Alternatively, link to this page in the Internet Archive.
|Fair Use Notice: The photographs and graphics in this article are being used for fair-use nonprofit educational purposes, scientific commentary, and scientific research. Credit information is provided to identify the source or underlying source of the material where applicable and assist journalists and others doing research. If you wish to use material from this web page for purposes that go beyond non-commercial fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Public domain rules apply concerning the Solway Spaceman photograph itself. That means editorial use should be fine but obvious commercial use, such as in an advertisement implying an endorsement or on a product (T-shirt, coffee mug, etc.), likely would require the permission of Elizabeth (Templeton) Dobson, who retains publicity rights in her own image, which is is featured so prominently in the photograph.|
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