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The Philadelphia Experiment – “One Can Go Nuts …”

In my last post, I quoted from the reminiscences of those who knew the youthful Morris Jessup at first or second hand.  He comes across as a rebel without any clearly discernable cause—a teenage “brain,” contemptuous of those he deemed less brainy.  Something of a brat, actually.  Not a fellow you’d like to have known.

By the time he began corresponding with Gray Barker in 1954, he seems to have mellowed.  The letters give a remarkably attractive picture of both men.  First and foremost their mutual respect, which grows over the months and years into mutual caring.

“They sound just like two businessmen,” David Houchin told me over the phone before I set out for Clarksburg and the Barker Collection seven years ago, introducing me to the Barker-Jessup letters.  David was right.  If you expect the correspondence of two UFOlogists to be in some measure—well, unearthly—you’re bound to be disappointed.  The tone is mundane and pragmatic throughout. 

They talk a lot about money.  Jessup wants to know: how much would Barker charge for a short ad for The Case for the UFO in his publication, The Saucerian?  How big a mailing list does he have?  Barker wants to know: how come his publisher for They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers is willing to pay only a 5% royalty for mail order sales, vs.  10% or 12% for regular sales?  Is this the regular practice?  (To which Jessup responds [3/20/56], in words just as true now as they were 55 years ago: “you are now getting the dis-illusionment that comes to all authors—namely: that the publishing industry is run for the benifit [sic] of the publishing industry, and not for the writers … I have to begin thinking of other commercial activity in order to make the money necessary for decent living.”)

It’s so obvious—they’re in it for the bucks!  My (ex-)professorial lip curls in disdain.  As if, during my time at the university, I cared nothing for salary increases, or who was getting what research grant and why I’d been refused one. 

Unlike Barker and Jessup, I didn’t think about making money a whole lot of the time.  I didn’t have to; the institution took care of that end of things.  But there aren’t many tenured positions in UFOlogy at our public or private universities, and Jessup had apparently decided at an early stage that the academic route wasn’t for him.  (He was on the threshold of his Ph.D. in astronomy; he balked at the final step.)  To pursue the researches that were their lives’ mission, he and Barker had to support themselves by their wits.  And their typewriters.

We are indeed in an unusual field of endeavor,” Barker writes to Jessup in March 1956.  “I think we should stick together.”  And again in November of that year:  “I am setting you up a gratis mailing of all issues, and am returning your check, since times are hard with all us saucerers and we must stick together.”  (And two years earlier:  “We saucerhunters must hang together or hang separately, perhaps.”)  But now the cynic in me holds back.  Is this the mutual encouragement of two beleaguered intellectual pioneers—or the loyalty of two thieves?

Jessup, at least, emerges in these letters as utterly sincere.  Barker, a bit more ambiguous.

Jessup, 12/16/54:  “There is so damned much nonsense being put out by silly people that one gets disgusted with a lot of it.  I do feel that we are in a remarkable phase of human experience and that the waters should not be muddied by stupidity …”  (Still the intellectual snob?  Perhaps.  But no one familiar with the UFO literature can deny the justice of what he says.)

He offers to write for Barker’s Saucerian about changes on the lunar surface.  To which Barker responds (12/17/54):  “Now you’re talking!  I desperately need GOOD material such as you can provide.  The writeup on the Moon would be fine, especially if you gave it the UFO angle (mixed in with some kind of dark threatening talk to make it exciting).

There speaks the huckster.  And, as anyone who’s read They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers will know, dark threatening talk was Barker’s specialty.

Yet in the same letter, Barker speaks of the closing of Albert Bender’s “International Flying Saucer Bureau”—the incident at the center of They Knew Too Much—and he adds:  “There is a lot involved here I would like to know, and I feel I am uncovering it bit by bit.”  I don’t know how to parse this, except to suppose that for Barker the “silencing” of Bender and the dissolution of the IFSB was a genuine mystery, which had him genuinely baffled. 

Jessup responds (12/20/54):  “I read ur rept re Bender with great interest.  Looks like SOMETHING did happen.  He probably did stumble onto the truth.  I will be glad of any additional info which you uncover. …

In my humble opinion, you are absolutely correct in your thought that the power source is the key to the whole UFO deal.  [Referring to Barker’s suggestion that the “power industries” would be put out of business if the cheap and plentiful power used by the UFOs were to be made available.]  I am convinced of it from my own introspection and reading.  I’d like to talk to you about it.  Clarksburg isnt [sic] so far from here [Washington, DC] and I would like to talk to you aout [sic] some of these things.  One can go nuts with such a subject if he keeps it all inside himself.

Yes, one can go nuts.  Solitude can do that to a person.

Did it do it to Morris K. Jessup?

As I mentioned last week, the Barker-Jessup correspondence ends in January 1957.  But another folder in the Barker Collection contains a photocopy of a letter from Jessup, handwritten on the stationery of Hotel Urmey, 34 Southeast Second Avenue, Miami 31, Florida.  It’s dated March 20, 1959:

U of Miami

Dept of Anatomy—

I am requesting that this note be forwarded to you after my death as Notification of death and availability of my body.  Please contact my wife as to where the body is resting and take the necessary steps to obtain it.

I do not desire any funeral services, and prefer that the body be in your possession before relatives have an opportunity to hold a wake.

Thanks for your cooperation.

MK Jessup

Exactly a month after the date of this note, Jessup was found in his car in Coral Gables, Florida, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning.  A hose had been run from the exhaust pipe in through a window.

(To be continued)

6 Responses to “The Philadelphia Experiment – “One Can Go Nuts …””

  • marco mucci:

    Dear David, very interesting reading! So uncommon in the scenario of ufology.
    I’d like to know whether you saw the original Varo edition, I mean the original Gray Barker used for its mimeographed reproduction and what it looked like. Also, what’s your opinion on the ONR involvement in this stuff: just the personal interest of two officers?
    Yours sincerely,
    Marco Mucci
    Rome – Italy

  • David:

    Many thanks for your comment, Marco! No, I did not see the original, just one of Barker’s reproductions. I found a certain amount of correspondence, which I’m planning to publish in a future post, on Barker’s search for the Varo edition, but no clue as to how he finally obtained it.
    The ONR involvement intrigues and baffles me–how very seriously those people seem to have taken the annotations, and how much effort they expended in reproducing them. (In my post for Feb. 15, I quote the letters someone at Varo sent Allen in 1958, apparently shortly after the Varo edition was made–“respect bordering on reverence.”) Do you have any take on it?

  • marco mucci:

    Hi David! Thanks so much for your reply.
    I read your tag on correspondence on Varo which is intriguing.
    It really seems a lot of irrational seemingly nonsense intermingled with reality these days, in a kind of “hyper reality” experience which finally turned out in poor Jessup’ s death.
    I have an original copy of 1973 Gray Barker’s reproduction which is in two colours which I bought several years ago from Arcturus: very disturbing reading.
    I understand you are a scholar of religion with a strong academic background: don’t you think there is much of a religious or wild esoteric nuance in what the annotations speak about?
    Generally, I have kind of a feeling the Keel’s Eighth Tower approach can give a way of understanding the whole story.
    Many thanks,

  • David:

    I agree–the annotations have a religious (or I would say, mythic) feel. But I’ve never been able to get a handle on what that consists of.
    Do you have any specific passages in mind? That might be a way for us to get the discussion moving.

  • marco mucci:

    Hi David, thanks for giving me the sprint to recover the book I once bought proudly after a lot of search, and to read it again after years.
    While I am a collector of rare books about ufology and esotericism, I am not an ufologist strictly speaking, and I do place the ufo-lore in the wider mainstream of mythology and folklore. Still, this is the opportunity to give a better shape to the feeling I have about the annotations included in the Varo edition and to the Jessup case in general.
    I think that so far ufologists have pointed out above all the technical and -how to say – mechanical aspects of the annotations. The reference to the magnetic fields, the unified theory of Einstein and the infamous experiment allegedly carried out by the US Navy kind of diverted the attenion from a deeper message, let’s say level of understanding, of the annotations. There is, I think, a deeper level hidden behind the story of the magnetic forces which can be detected.
    I will refer now to the pages of the 1973 edition by Gray Barker to mention the passages I think can make more consistent my statement.

    For first they would refuse to even believe. Requires true Humility or active fascination” (page 3). Whereas a first hint at a precise attitude of the mind is required to understand the secrets behind the mystery, and according to me it has a precise meaning (the “active fascination” is a reference to a capability of the mind which is well known in the Middle Ages and Renaissance magic).

    When Jessup states that “it is almost an inseparable corollary to our thesis that we admit an unfathomable antiquity for mankind, or at least intelligence, upon the earth and its vicinity,” and follows with reference to the megalithic constructions, Jemi writes: “THE MAN IS CLOSE, TOO CLOSE” (page 9), so pointing out that this point is crucial to the annotators. The topic of a “unfathomable antiquity” of intelligence reoccurs often in the annotations.

    Again about the mental attitude of man to discover the truth about the mystery: “Man’s Emotional structure is such that he cannot awaken to Powers of ‘True-Thinking’ ” (page 10) again a reference to the limited capability of mankind, closed to understanding because he needs to “awaken,” a topic which is the very core of any initiatic tradition.

    Is Nothing, Harvard expieriments show that only a few Humans Have Pie factors of any depth. They cannot tele-talk to any Clarity, Nor thusly are they able to ‘see’ beauty of Each others souls. Thus they are forced into Matierialistic Values & concepts & Lack any SORT OF REASONABLE PHILSOSPHY TO LEAD THEM UPWARDS. SAVE THE GREAT BOOK” (page 12) Again, the traditional theme of men who are not aware of their potential powers, the fact that they sleep and cannot move upwards, a topic which is recurring in the pessimistic esoteric traditions like gnosticism, where a distinction between types of humans (hylic, psychic and pneumatic) is remarked to point out that the majority of people is condemned to ignorance and the material world. Interesting the reference to a “GREAT BOOK” which at this stage we cannot say what it is.

    When Jessup states (page 14) that “the basic thought is that man is living in a world in which he is neither the completely dominant nor the supremely intellectual being,” Mr. A annotates, to confirm this dramatic assertion: “HUH, HE’LL NEVER ADMIT IT, THOUGH: PRIDE” – again hinting at a limited open mindness of men (in this case of Jessup?) caused by a mental attitude, pride.

    When Jessup speaks about strange phenomena on the lunar surface, and says to “watch the regions of terminator on the moon for lunar surface activity” because “you might get a surprise,” Mr. A writes: “What are we (humans) that Thou hast placed us only a Little ‘Lower than the Angels’ ” (page 29) – which has a strong esoteric meaning since this annotation is done after the mention of the lunar phenomena, and we know from many traditions, again from ancient gnosticism, the importance of being sub-lunar inhabitants for humankind who were kind of prisoners of the archontes (the angels of the demiurge).

    Again, commenting on an odd statement by Jessup about the fact that it is not no longer necessary to explain ufos as visitors from Mars, Venus, or Alpha Centauri, that “they are a part of our own immediate family – a part of the earth-moon binary-planet system,” Mr. B writes: “He Knows Something but How Does He know” (page 34), so confirming that the very topic is about the vicinity to humankind of a foreign intelligence which oversees the ufo and Fortean phenomena.

    Several passages refer to this civilization, from unfathomed antiquity, the Lemurian-Muanians, once the real rulers of the world who were “FORCED BY THEIR SIZE & BY THE FACT OF THEIR GILLS TO DIG DEEP HOLES IN ROCK” (pag. 109) again a topic you find especially in the esoterism of H.P. Blavatsky who affirmed she could have access to secret books surviving the ancient cataclysms, a secret doctrine whose remains were placed in ancient Tibetan monasteries, a topic which permeated especially the right-wing esoteric schools in the twentieth century. A secret knowledge that Jessup was unconsciously discovering, in fact, according to Mr. A: “UPON REVIEW; I believe this Man MAYBE being ‘Illuminated’ Telepathically. Somebody … is Making him write about that which he ‘sees’ in his head & has checked upon to Verify” (page 125).

    And finally, page 189 when Mr. B writes at the very end: “They are yet Children, These Humans, Show it too Clearly. As things Stand, They Value Matierial thing & Will not apply themselves to True Values of Their own Great Prophetic Book. In Principal Yes, but Not Practice. No Christian Nation or Diplomat will ever be of True Value to another. Thus, Destruction. This Man is No Different He too is Not of a ‘Big-Spirit’ enough. Dle Puka.”

    Races live hundreds of centuries ago, still present in the subterranean worlds, capability to see them through psychic powers, references to sites where occult knowledge was stored thousands of years ago, a negative view of the world and humankind, a distinction between men who can “see” the truth and those who are condemned to materiality – this sounds to me like esoteric trends of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, in particular H.P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society.
    It would be interesting to know whether Carl Allen could have had access to this type of reading or if any esoteric group could have interest in spreading their creed.
    Still, several words in the annotations resemble Romany (like Gayorj for non-gipsy man).
    Tough topic, needs a multidiciplinary approach, I humbly think.

    Yours sincerely


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