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The Philadelphia Experiment – “No Mystery Whatsoever About His Death”

One of the my more fascinating discoveries in the Gray Barker Collection was a carbon copy of a long letter, dated February 18, 1976, telling the story of M. K. Jessup, the “Allende letters,” and the mysterious annotated copy of Jessup’s Case for the UFO.  This was the book that a group of Navy officers arranged—at Lord knows how much trouble and expense—to reproduce in a special mimeographed edition, called the “Varo edition” after the company that produced it.  (I’ve described the Varo edition in an earlier post; I’ll have more to say about it in later postings.)

I don’t know who wrote the letter.  The file contains only its first two pages, breaking off in mid-sentence; the final page or pages, with the signature, are missing.  The writer presumably lived in New York City—the return address is “Box 351, Murray Hill Station, New York, N.Y.  10016”—and he addresses himself to a man in Whangerei, New Zealand, named C. B. Wynniatt.  Clearly he has first-hand knowledge of the matters he describes, and is anxious to lay them out for his correspondent as clearly and accurately as he can.  Given the gender makeup of UFOlogy in those days, it seems a fair assumption he was a “he” and not a “she.” 

The letter is so chock-full of interesting information, most of which I’ve not seen anywhere else, that I’ve chosen to reproduce it nearly in full:

“A great deal of trash has been written about Morris Jessup and the Carlos Allende affair, most of it originating in the little mimeographed newsletters of the 1950’s and later perpetuated in hack paperbacks.

“Mr. Jessup was a close personal friend of the late Ivan T. Sanderson, Hans Steffan Santesson (who died in 1975), ‘Long John’ Nebel, a NYC radio personality, and others in this area.  There was no mystery whatsoever about his death.  In 1959 his career was flagging, his books had been failures, his marriage had dissolved and he was in deep despair.  Shortly before he took his life he wrote letters of farewell to Hans, Long John and others.  He turned over some of his files and his personal copy of the famous Varo edition to Hans S.S.  I have seen these materials.  The Varo book contains notations in Jessup’s own hand laughing at some of the mysterious marginal comments and speculating on others.  He obviously did not take them seriously.

“A recent book, Secret Doors of the Earth by Jacques Bergier, contains the incredible statement that Jessup was found shot in the head!  This is not true.  His body was found in his station wagon in Coral Gables, Florida at 6:30 p.m. on April 20, 1959.  Mr. Gray Barker … obtained a copy of the death certificate and corresponded with the Dade County (Florida) coroner.  Gray has graciously supplied me with copies of that correspondence, and other related documents, for my files. The Jessup family has always been very uncooperative with UFO researchers and has even threatened to sue.  Mrs. Jessup probably deliberately chose to misrepresent the place of his death to further confuse the UFO-nuts.

“A mystique has grown up around the notorious ‘Allende’ letters and I receive several queries a month about the whole business.  Only two responsible American investigators have conducted any real study of the matter…Barker and author Brad Steiger.  All of the others have relied upon hearsay, rumor and speculation.

“Copies of the Varo edition were extremely rare and were seen by only a handful of outsiders in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  The UFO buffs knew of its existence but nothing of its contents [how true! I was one of those “UFO buffs,” and remember how I craved to get my hands, or at least my eyes, on it] so rumors were rife throughout that period…a period when paranoia over governmental UFO conspiracies were [sic] rife.  I first saw Jessup’s copy in 1966 and sat up one whole night reading it.  At the time I regarded it as totally absurd and probably the work of a schizophrenic.  However, my friend Ivan Sanderson (he died in 1973) took it very seriously.  Later the Library of Congress somehow managed to locate a copy and Xeroxed it for Dr. Edward U. Condon, head of the ill-fated Colorado University UFO study.  Condon was enthralled by contactees and he read the entire book (as well as many contactee books, much to the disgust of his colleagues).  In 1968 I again sat up all night re-reading the book.  My own experiences as a UFO investigator in 1966-68 had taught me many remarkable things and on this second reading I realized that whoever made the annotations knew a great deal about the UFO phenomenon—far more than was known to the general UFO field in 1956 when the book first appeared!  I began to understand Ivan’s enthusiasm, but I still regarded the overall document with suspicion.  When the Library of Congress asked me if I thought the book should be added to their general collection and made available to the public I was emphatically opposed.  [And I'd like to know: why??????]

“A ufologist named Stephen Yankee managed to obtain a microfilm of the book and turned it over to Brad Steiger.  Steiger wrote an article about it for SAGA magazine, quoting some of the annotations.  Prior to this, the contents of the book had been a mystery to the public.  Barker had published the introduction of the book, and a few samples of its contents, in an earlier paperback, and Sanderson had printed essentially the same material in the appendix to his 1967 book Uninvited Visitors.  He was later visited by a man professing to be ‘Colonel Carl Allen’/Carlos Allende and corresponded at length with him afterwards.  After Steiger’s article appeared (sometime in 1968) he was buried in mail from people claiming to be Carlos Allende and even received a letter from a woman professing to be Allende’s widow.  Later he repeated his article, with some additional material, in a book titled New UFO Breakthroughs.  Jessup, Sanderson, Steiger, Barker, myself etc. always considered the annotated book to be a hoax.  That is, the annotations were probably written by Allende alone, or by Allende and two friends.  Some of the information was utter nonsense, but some of it would be considered ‘advanced ufology’ even today.  Obviously the annotation writer(s) had had considerable experience with the phenomenon and were widely read.  Some of the UFO buffs wanted to believe that the notes had been written to ‘space people’ or some such foolishness.

“What was most interesting was the fact that even after Jessup’s death someone tried to keep the Allende mystique alive.  Various fake Allende letters kept appearing and circulating among the more gullible UFO believers.  I succeeded in tracing one set of these letters to a very well-known scientist on the West Coast who confessed and said he had written them ‘just for the hell of it’.  Other letters seemed cleverly designed to cast doubts on the actual existence of Mr. Allende.

“In 1966 a newspaperman showed me a photograph taken a few years earlier at a banquette [sic] held for the late General Douglas MacArthur [who died in 1964].  He pointed to a short, swarthy Latin standing near the General and said, ‘That’s Carlos Allende’.  Though it isn’t generally known, MacArthur was an avid UFO buff and sincerely believed we were facing”

And there, in the middle of one of its most remarkable passages, the letter breaks off.

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