ObscUrban Legend Wikia
The uncanny dread of the Operators is evoked in a still from the film 'Carnival of Souls'.
Type Being
Continent All
Country All
One-Time? Yes
Theories  · Hoax
 · Hallucination
 · Evil presence living undetected amongst ordinary humans

Operators (also known as Hook Operators) are humanoid entities that are physically indistinguishable from normal humans but which have psychic capabilities which they use to control the majority of other humans who are psychically inert. While Operators outwardly behave as if they are normal human beings their psychic correspondences reveal an entirely separate culture and society fixed on extracting pain and suffering from the non-psychic humans whose lives they control, who they refer to demeaningly as 'Things.'[1]

These entities were described at length in Operators and Things, a 1957 book by Barbara O'Brien which describes her biographical experience of a schizophrenic breakdown. As such they are generally viewed as being symbolic manifestations rather than real beings, and this was the view O'Brien herself took. Many reviewers have commented on the symbolic dimensions of O'Briens hallucinated world-order and the real oppressive experiences of her work life as an unwed woman in a cutthroat chauvinistic industry in the 1950s:  "O’Brien’s invented world of 'Operators and Things' evokes literary precursors like Kafka and Burroughs; her story offers a sidelong glance into the cold, alienating underbelly of office life during America’s golden age of postwar stability and conformity."[2]

Since the work's initial publication the idea of a separate human species living in plain sight and covertly dominating the bulk of humanity has entered into paranormal and conspiratorial rhetoric. Similar beings found in contemporary lore are Men in Black, reptilians the Abandoderos and Cameraheads.


Outwardly Operators look like people and seem to exist alongside normal human societies, while covertly using their psychic powers to operate several humans like cattle, directing the events of their lives towards pain and misery. Whether this is negative energy is somehow harvested by the Operators like other supposed demonic presences such as Solar Plexus Clown Gliders or the fictional Black Lodge dwellers in Twin Peaks, who feed on a substance made of human suffering called 'Garmonbozia', or the humanoid aliens in They Live! who form a secret economic elite is left unstated. O'Brien interprets the Operators as working with an economy of human suffering and misgiving, and that it was entirely abstracted, neutral labor to them.

Most people cannot access the thought communication wavelength the operators use. O'Brien's schizophrenic break was internally rationalized as her having accidentally switched onto the operator's frequency like a radio.

Most of the operators O'Brien communicates with do so through hallucinatory telepathic communications and she does not see them in person, except through a mental image. Some of these appear quite normal and realistic, while other figures are physically unusual, such as 'Sharp', who is described as being a sort of small mouse-like creature.

The Operators seem to have a complex Kafkaesque society centered around causing humans to suffer, with labyrinthine rules of conduct and procedures. When O'Brien is switched onto their psychic wavelength by way of her schizoid break, she must go on a long-winded bureaucratic process both in the physical world and in her hallucinated inner world to apply for a "lattice scraping" which returns her to a neurotypical baseline.

Possible Explanations[]

There are several explanations as to what the creature could be. Theories include:

  • A hoax. Many have speculated that O'Brien's book is entirely fictionalized, stating that because the author used a pseudonym and many of her hallucinatory experiences do not correspond neatly with a schizophrenic diagnosis it was likely a creative work rather than a biographical one. However, it should be pointed out that the book was published in the 1950s when the symptoms and causes of schizophrenia were both poorly understood and not cleanly delineated from other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. O'Brien herself appears to have been familiar only with key psychoanalytical figures such as Freud and Jung and as such her writing might be viewed as a "naive" attempt to communicate her experiences with a real mental break (perhaps not strictly schizophrenic) using the limited knowledge base available to her at the time.
  • A hallucinatory expression of the real hierarchies and manipulative, sociopath-conducive office culture and public life which pushed O'Brien to the brink of sanity. [3]
  • A real parallel human species whose society and culture O'Brien received a fleeting insight into. [4]
v · e · d
North American Beings
Axeman Of New Orléans · Black Flash · Cloak Man of Clifton Heights · Danbury Frog People · Dark Baby · Donkey Lady · Flaming Bruja · Grinning Man · Harlequin · Houston Batman · Invisible Man of Palmetto · Mad Gasser of Mattoon · Maryland Goatman · Man in the Plastic Bag · Mauston Birdman · Melonheads · Mexican Being of Light · Muppet Clown · NASA Gargoyle · New England Faceless People · Ohio Bridge Trolls · Pedro the Pygmy · Phantom Barber · Phantom Clowns · Phantom Whistler of Louisiana · Pig Lady · Santa Lucias Dark Watchers · The Smiley Face Killer · Stroudsburg Rain Man · Subway Man · The Green Man · Toronto Tunnel Monster · Toxic Lady
South American Beings
Argentina Gnome · Peruvian Giants · The Hiper Bompreço self-immolator
Asian Beings
Glowing Winged Woman of Vietnam · Issik Kul Lake Swimmers · Monkey-man of Delhi · The Man from Taured · Tsunami Spirit
European Beings
Green Children of Woolpit · Headless Angel of Portugal · Invisible Smoker · Jophar Vorin · Le Loyon · The Manchester Pusher · Pérák · Ratman · Whipping Tom
African Beings
Door Dogs
Australian Beings
Miscellaneous Beings
Black Eyed Children · Black Stick Men · Demolition Elves · Dopplegangers · Flying Humanoid · Operators · Shadow People · Time Travelers
v · e · d
Miscellaneous Cryptids
Antarctic Godzilla · Bermuda Beast · Kabagon · Ningen · Qupqugiaq · Rhinoceros Dolphin · Sky Jellyfish · Sky Serpents
Miscellaneous Alien Sightings
4chan Grey Alien · Martian Sasquatch
Miscellaneous UFO Sightings
Black Knight Satellite · Foo Fighters
Miscellaneous Hauntings
Miscellaneous Phenomena
Aging Doll · Angel Hair · Bloop · Bottomless Pits · Cameraheads · Eerie Silence Phenomenon · Glitches in Reality · Panic in the Woods · Ringing Stones · Skyquakes · Smoke Ring · Solar Plexus Clown Gliders · Star Jelly · The Third Man · UVB-76 (The Buzzer)
Miscellaneous Beings
Black Eyed Children · Black Stick Men · Demolition Elves · Dopplegangers · Flying Humanoid · Operators · Shadow People · Time Travelers
Miscellaneous Events
Disappearance of Amy Bradley · Roberto Ferreira Nobrega time travel claims
Miscellaneous Locations
Endless Elevators