Will a biography of Carl Allen, a.k.a. Carlos Allende, ever be written? I doubt it. In the events of his life there’s not much of interest. Mystery shrouds his one great achievement—the creation of a myth that’s spawned at least one novel, at least two purportedly non-fiction books and two movies, innumerable cultural references, and still calls forth upward of 60,000 Google searches (for “Philadelphia Experiment”) each month.
Does the myth have some nucleus of truth? Did something happen in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1943, or at any other time, that served as irritating sand-grain to the formation of Allen’s pearl of legend? (Such as “degaussing experiments which have the effect of making a ship undetectable or ‘invisible’ to magnetic mines,” to quote a 1982 version of the Navy’s semi-official debunking.) Is Allen our sole witness? Do there exist any sources for the “experiment” that can’t be traced back to him, directly or indirectly, and to his 1956 letters to Morris K. Jessup? I can only say: I haven’t found any.
The Allen materials in the Barker files suggest some mysteries of their own. For example, the files contain a passport issued to Allen in 1964, along with an apparently empty immunization booklet. How did these items get there? Did Allen send them to Barker? Why would he have done that—especially given that, to judge from the tone of his letters to Barker, he neither liked nor trusted the man? When I visited the Barker Collection in 2004, I asked that question of curator David Houchin. David had no idea. Neither do I.
Yet a few items from the files help round out our picture of Allen and his background. In a letter of 6 March 1978, sent on the stationery of a Guadalajara hotel, Allen provides information about his family that supplements the details given by Robert Goerman in his classic 1980 Fate magazine article. Following Goerman’s example, I omit the names to protect the family’s privacy—although, 32 years later, I’m not sure it still matters.
“Members of the Board of Governors of SITU [I don’t know what this stands for] once accompanied me to the old Homestead Farm, which erring legend says ‘was deserted’ [on this “erring legend,” see Goerman’s article] and met both my sister & earlier that day, my Dad.” The next sentence or two, which I accidentally omitted from my photocopy, seem to introduce Allen’s brothers, “who also live in the New Kensington, Penna. Area. One, _____, is a realtor & the other, _____ is a Science teacher in a nearby but long famous third class City Jr. High School. My Dad was raised in West Virginia near to Clarksburg, W. Va. [Barker’s town!]. And If you go over to the Grafton, W. Va. Bluemont Cemetary, you will find a considerable group of ALLENS who are interred thereat: My [paternal] Grandfather included … he was a Methodist Minister & Man of God and a fine baseball player who died during a typhoid semi-plague that occurred nearly 80 years ago in poverty. … He was a lay-minister of the Methodist Church. My Sister … still yet lives on the old farmstead as has my divorced and remarried mother up until 22 ½ months ago.
“So, you see, as did the governors of SITU, the old ‘Deserted Farmhouse’ (unquote) has NEVER, in its hundred & thirty four years, been neither ‘deserted’ nor ‘Empty’. There has ALWAYS been some member of my Clan living on the good ole Farm Homeplace Since year 1907 A.D. when my [maternal] Grandfather _____ purchased it seventy one years ago. My Uncle _____ still lives within a country mile of it.”
I page forward through my folder of photocopies from the Barker Collection. I find a series of related documents from 1981, centering on an astronomy professor at a distinguished state university whom I will leave unnamed. “Dear Dr. ________:” Barker writes on 25 March 1981 (on the stationery of something called “MCA Media Consultants Associates”). “I read with great interest an account of discussions between yourself and Carlos M. Allende, provided by the latter. In view of your interest and concurrence with Allende’s theories, you may be interested in some of the enclosed materials for your library.”
To which the professor responds (29 April 1981):
“I would like to correct one thing. I do not in anyway support, concur, or agree with the views of the very imaginative Carlos Allende. His account of our discussions is almost totally a fictional one. I have read his account of our meeting last summer, and having been there obviously, I believe its greatest value is to show the extent to which Mr. Allende is out of touch with reality. He completely fabricated my comments, my background and interest in him (which is merely curiosity over encountering a genuine crackpot), and my opinions about his views. He is a sad, frustrated old man who lives in his own peculiar world. He knows no physics beyond a bit of jargon, he has no evidence to support his claims, and he has no contribution to make to the factual understanding of anything in the universe.”
The professor had been aware of what Allen was saying about him, well before being contacted by Barker. Already on 29 January he’d sent a letter to Allen, addressed to Las Cruces, New Mexico but forwarded to General Delivery at Socorro (already famous for a 1964 UFO landing). The letter was apparently forwarded by Allende to Barker—with his characteristic underlinings and annotations—and thus made its way into the Barker files.
“First,” the professor writes, “I was very irritated to read the copy of your description of our meeting last summer. It is so filled with errors of fact and misquotations as to be a work of fiction. How dare you manufacture opinions and attribute them to me. I consider your article slanderous and insulting.
“Second, you disturbed me at my motel at an impolite hour of the morning, and then interrupted my breakfast with several very close and important friends.
“Then you write an annoying letter to me about my opinion of you and your ‘quaint’ (your word) ideas, or what you imagine them to be. Believe me, amigo, I do not underestimate your ability.”
To this last sentence, Allen adds the notation: “TO TEACH ADVANCED EINSTEINIAN PHYSICS.”
Who can doubt that, as far as Carl Allen’s scientific competence goes, the truth lies with the professor? That the eccentric visitor who interrupted him at breakfast with his colleagues was indeed a “frustrated old man” with no knowledge of physics beyond some jargon? Yet Allen was also right: the professor did underestimate him.
“He has a fantastic mind,” Robert Goerman quotes Allen’s brother as recalling. “Take school, for instance. He did all he could to get out of it, out of the work, the routine. Slept most of the time when he had to show up. But if the teacher had a difficult algebra or calculus problem on the blackboard that needed solving, he’d wake Carl up and Carl would stare at it for a minute, recite the correct answer and go back to sleep.”
And anyway—what does it mean to “underestimate” a man who, singlehandedly as far as we can tell, created a myth that flourishes unabated nearly twenty years after the man himself died, alone and all but unknown, in a Colorado nursing home?
How, in fact, do you “estimate” him at all?