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The Philadelphia Experiment – The Sound of Silence, Part 2

How would you react if you got a letter from a man claiming first-hand knowledge of a Navy experiment in which a ship at Philadelphia and all its sailors had been turned invisible, then teleported to Virginia and back again? 

Would you pursue the matter?  Or would you laugh, say “Crackpot,” and toss the letter in the wastebasket?

My old friend in UFOlogy Jerry Clark, in his article “Allende Letters” (The UFO Encyclopedia, volume 2), writes that Morris K. Jessup “does not seem to have taken any of this especially seriously” when he received letters to that effect in the early months of 1956, from someone calling himself “Carlos Miguel Allende” or “Carl M. Allen.”  Materials I found in the Gray Barker Collection in Clarksburg, West Virginia, suggest Jerry’s wrong on this point. 

But also, maybe, that he’s right.

Let’s start with the “wrong” part.  There’s a photocopy in Barker’s files of the two sides of a 2-cent postcard sent by Jessup to the New Kensington, Pennsylvania, return address Allende/Allen had provided.  On the front of the postcard, Jessup typed:  “If not at this address try Turner Hotel Gainesville, Texas.”  The card is dated January 13, 1956.

On the reverse:

Dear Mr. Allende: your most remarkable letters [sic], postmarked Gainesville, Texas Jan 5th, was forwarded to me here today.  This is without doubt the most remarkable report that I have had out of hundreds of letters from readers of my book.  I am retyping it so that copies can be studied by my techincal [sic] associates, and would like all the information I can get from you about more details, and especially names and addresses of witnesses.  This material is of the greatest importance.  Please write me at once as to your address during the next two months.  If you are in Texas I may want to stop and see you when I am enroute to Mexico.  I will reply more fully when we have studied your report.  Believe me, it is important and we must know more about this phenomenon.  Thanks again,

“Very truly yours, M.K. Jessup

Hardly sounds like a person who “does not seem to have taken any of this especially seriously”!

But then I wonder: why did Jessup write his reply on a postcard?  In those dear dead days a postcard cost two cents; a first-class stamp cost three.  Granted, a penny was worth more back then; granted, much of Jessup’s correspondence seems to have been carried out by postcard.  Still, the saving hardly warrants so casual a response to a communication allegedly regarded as “of the greatest importance.”

(In case you’re wondering how the postcard got into Barker’s files, Carl Allen himself seems to have made the photocopy and sent it to Barker, with a note in his distinctive handwriting:  “Date of this is 1956 see postmark above.”)

And then there’s the correspondence between Jessup and Gray Barker, about which I’ve written in an earlier post.  The file contains a postcard from Jessup to Barker dated 1/9/56, followed by a whole flurry of exchanges by letter and postcard from March of that year, renewed in mid-June.  (On 6/17/56 Jessup writes, “Just got back from long trip Miami-to-Mexico etc.  Been out of circulation almost 3 months.  What gives with the UFO?”)  In none of this is there the slightest mention of the extraordinary communications from “Carlos Allende.”

So was Jessup putting “Allende” on, hoping to get fresh and wilder letters from him that he could use as grist for his next UFO book, without seriously believing any of it?  Or did he repose something less than whole-hearted trust in his “friend” Barker, suspecting that if he let Barker in on something really hot, Barker would run with it to a publisher before Jessup could make any money from it?  (By the way, I have no idea who Jessup meant by his “techincal associates”—if they ever existed.)

Is the truth some combination of the two, suggesting Jessup was no less a cynical huckster and self-promoter than Barker?

Or do we need to probe deeper, and ask the question: precisely what does silence signify?  What did this silence signify?

A curious note, in a postcard from Jessup to Barker, 7/3/56:  “Hi Gray: Thanks for sending book.  Read it same nite.  Good.  You have made a fine start at filling a gap that has needed filling.  My wife and I would like to come out and talk to you sometime soon, about various UFO affairs.  (Must warn you: I’ve been divorced & remarried since I saw you) …”

Divorced and remarried?!?  And that’s relegated to a parenthesis?  A trivial personal matter, hardly worth being mentioned in the same breath as the serious stuff, the “various UFO affairs”?

Sounds crazy.  But I can feel for it.  I’ve been there.

At the end of August 1964, I came home from a summer trip to Israel, which I’d won in a Bible contest (yes, that part of Journal of a UFO Investigator was autobiographical), to find that my mother had died.  Throughout the year or so before my trip, I’d exchanged letters of eight or ten or on one occasion nearly twenty pages with Jerry Clark, all of those pages devoted to “various UFO affairs.”  (Yes, if I’d ever gotten a letter like those Jessup got from “Allende,” I’d have gone straight to my typewriter to tell Jerry all about it!)  After I got home—after learning of my mother’s death—I tried to keep up my once-vital UFOlogy correspondence.  But the spirit had gone out of it.

Very frankly,” I wrote to Jerry at Thanksgiving that year, “I have been at a sort of low ebb as far as my creative powers go for the past few weeks—in addition to being quite depressed much of the time—so I am having quite a rough time of it.”  That was all I had to say about the greatest emotional blow I’d suffered in my life.  Although I’d made scattered references to my mother in my earlier letters, you wouldn’t imagine from reading them that she was different from any other boy’s mother.  Of her long illness and her death, I never gave a hint.

Sometimes when there’s something too vital, too enormous to speak of, you can convey it only indirectly, negatively, through silence.  I explored this paradox in a post entitled “The Sound of Silence” (1/25/11), referring to the 1968 movie The Graduate and its thundering silence concerning the Vietnam War.  Might this be the explanation, at least in part, of how Jessup could speak so casually, so incidentally, of what must have been the tremendous emotional wrench of divorcing his wife (Kathryn Ruth) of more than thirty years?  Of marrying a new woman (Rubye), who would leave him before three years had passed?  As if he just has to “warn” Gray Barker that “my wife” is not quite the same lady that Barker remembers? 

And might the silence about the “Allende letters” be this kind of silence?

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