It is 50 years since Jim Templeton took the famous image of a figure in a space-suit hovering behind his daughter on the Solway Marshes in the English Lake District.
Since that family outing in May 1964 when the figure – dubbed the ‘Solway Spaceman‘ – was captured on Jim’s Zeiss Pentacon camera the image has resisted all attempts to explain it.
Jim, who died in 2011, saw nothing unusual when he took the photo of his 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth, as she sat on grass holding a bunch of sea pinks.
But when he took the photo for development at his local chemist the assistant told him it was shame the best image had been ‘spoiled by the man in the background wearing a space suit’.
Jim worked for Cumbria’s fire service and immediately sent the photo for analysis at Kodak and by Carlisle CID. Soon after it appeared on pg 1 of the Cumberland News the image made headlines across the world. Jim’s family were inundated with letters from people who identified the ‘figure’ as a angel, an alien and a ‘spirit form’.
The mystery grew because the photo was taken from a position looking towards the Chapelcross nuclear power station, across the Solway Estuary. At the time MoD manufactured Blue Streak rockets at RAF Spadeadam, near Carlisle, and of course the NASA Apollo programme was in full swing across the Atlantic.
In the summer of 1964 Jim said he was visited by two mysterious ‘men from the Ministry’ who claimed they worked for the government. In a scene that could have been taken from the film Men In Black the men referred to each other by numbers and drove a black Jaguar car.
The full story – and the police and MoD investigations that followed – will be told in my new book Britain’s X-traordinary Files published by Bloomsbury in September. A summary can be followed in my case files pages here and BBC Cumbria have published a 50th anniversary feature on the mystery here.
Since 1964 there have been many attempts to explain the photograph as a hoax but none have succeeded and the most recent study, published by Rational Wiki, suggests the ‘spaceman’ is actually Jim’s wife, Anne.
This theory says the model of camera used by Jim only revealed 70% of what the lens actually captured.
That being the case, he failed to notice his wife – who was standing behind him at the time – walk into the shot and take her place in history. Another photograph from the outing shows Mrs Templeton wearing a blue dress which has overexposed to white. When manipulated in photoshop it resembles the colour of the ‘spaceman’.
But Jim and his wife remained adamant that she could not have been the figure in the photograph.
Whatever the explanation the image remains one of the most puzzling examples from the gallery of anomalous photography.