THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT – Part Three: Electronics Equipment

Scrawled in the white space following Jessup’s preface to The Case for UFO’s, Mr. B has written the following:

“If [Jessup] does succeed in such evaluation Nobody cares enough to bother believing him for that would require the effort of Courage & the Gaiyar are such cowards & conformists. Even if believed, Nobody would dare say so for that would require action & They dare not act in BEHALF OF A BELIEF THAT INTERFERES WITH USUAL LIVING”

Whatever Mr. B was talking about (what the hell is a Gaiyar?), a more general truth can be read out of his words. There’s a somewhat perverse symbiosis that exists between the government and the UFO community. Forever untrusting, the UFO people simultaneously loathe the government and rely on them to give validity to their claims. The mere fact that a government acts on something to do with UFO’s (or other conspiracies) gives weight to these claims, simply by allowing that they are a valid topic of discussion.

As we saw in the last section, even if government agents raise the issue simply to immediately discard it, it is the raising of the question that’s remembered among UFO people, not the inevitable debunking. This requires that the government usually remain wisely mute on the entire phenomena. The end result, as Mr. B writes, is that “even if believed, nobody would dare say so for that would require action.” Perhaps more clearly we could say “nobody would dare say so for that would constitute action.”

So, given the above, here’s a question: Just what on Earth was the Navy doing, screwing around with this Allende business? This is a decision that implied a great deal of liability in terms of reputation (a danger which, as it turned out, would be realized). The question becomes even more bewildering when we recall that the Office of Naval Research abandoned the Allende material almost immediately after the Varo Annotation was printed. Why would they take such a risk for something they were going to give up on immediately? If the material was worthless, why would they bother reprinting it in the first place?

Conspiracists in general are pretty annoyed by Admiral Furth’s steadfast refusal to be mysterious. He played a role in advocating for the development of seaboard nuclear reactors such as those which eventually became used on Navy submarines, but beyond that, his story is pretty unremarkable. He was never spotted with, say, a prototype zero-point energy aggregator back-engineered from a wrecked S-M ark ship excavated in the Galapagos. He never experienced lost time during a drive home from lunch with president Truman. Everything seemed set up for something like that; Furth paid the price for his digging around in the ET muck, but never got to do anything nefarious and mysterious with whatever alien secrets he had learned.

So the question is raised: what was the point of it all? It seems like, ultimately, there was none. This straightforward lack of a definite conclusion to the Philadelphia Experiment mythos leaves many disappointed. It’s largely in an attempt to find a bit of closure on this issue that I’ve done some of my own work to hopefully bring the story to a somewhat more satisfying conclusion.

I avoided the ONR and the Navy. They’re the obvious suspects and very few people before me have managed to make a lot of headway in this regard, so I doubt I’ll be breaking anything new on that front. My own research interest in this issue has to do with the Varo Manufacturing Company, the firm that produced the edition of Jessup’s book along with the annotations by Jemi, Mr. A (Carlos Allende / Carl Allen), and the jaded Mr. B.

Most sources refer to the Varo Mfg. Co. of Garland, Texas in fairly vague terms. Generally speaking, contemporary newspapers and such refer to them as “a manufacturer of electronics equipment for the government.” This imprecise description was likely a relic of the ‘loose lips sink ships’ policy so prevalent during the war, which had recently ended. As it turns out, “electronic equipment for the government” referred to parts for ICBM’s, the unspeakable gadgets that were quickly becoming the defining feature of a new, “cold” war. A special presentation to the Science and Astronautics Committee of the US House of Representatives, given February 2, 1960 (four years after the Annotation) lists some of Varo’s achievements:


So, this company was hardly as simple as it may have seemed from the outside. They also had very close connections to military, and the Navy in particular. Suddenly, the Navy’s sudden apathy toward the Allende material seems to look a bit less innocuous. Maybe the Navy produced the Varo Annotation not so much for their own benefit, but as a way of funnelling the information contained therein to the Varo company itself. Many of the Varo books never resurfaced; maybe it’s because they never left the company.

This is all speculation, of course. However, there are a few weird coincidences associated with Varo. Notably, the earliest reference I could find to the company was in association with a fire on April 1, 1956.

varofireHey, what’s that guy in the DEA jacket doing there in mid-frame, 17 years before the formation of the DEA?

 Finding anything out about this fire proved to be quite difficult, but eventually I tracked something down thanks to “The Portal to Texas History”, which, incidentally, is just a fantastic resource if you ever need to learn anything about Texas. The April 2, 1960 edition of the Orange Leader newspaper ran an article which shed some light on the fire:


A number of things stand out immediately. First, the headline: not a ‘fire’, but a ‘blast.’ And the investigations were apparently handled by the military, rather than the civilian police. But that’s not anything to be concerned about:

“Cmdr. A.A. Fennig, inspector of naval materials in the Dallas area, and Lt. Col. L.D. Vickers, chief of the Dallas air procurement office, said their investigations would be ‘normal.'”

How reassuring! I’m always very much put at-ease when people go out of their way to tell me something’s going to be “normal.” But what are these military officers doing inspecting the scene of a fire in a civilian company?

Further, we see that the fire started while two guards were on duty, one of whom “who would not permit use of his name” said that he heard a number of “cannon-like” explosions at the outset of the fire and that “the unexplained blasts seemed to spread the fire to other parts of the building.” Hmm. Suspicious explosions at a research plant, being investigated by the military? During the Cold War? Why I never. The Varo fire happened mere weeks after the annotated copy of Jessup’s book arrived at the ONR. Nobody knows exactly when the printing of the Varo Annotation took place, but it seems to have happened within a relatively short period of time. That means that this fire likely took place very shortly after the Annotation rolled off the presses. Is it possible that the fire was the work of a Soviet saboteur (or even an agent from a rival US government organization), trying to put a stop to whatever research was gearing up as a result of the Annotation?

If so, he apparently failed. The Varo Mfg. Co. bounced back and was soon back to work. They were the launch-pad for a number of military inventions through the fifties, largely dealing with power generation and guidance systems for missiles. My source for these and the below is this helpful site hosted by the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications, and Computation.

Much of the weirder shit was undertaken by a gentleman by the name of Winfield W. Salisbury, the Technical Director of Varo’s Microwave Power Laboratory in 1960. His short bio on the House presentation mentioned above lists him as being in charge of “Radiation Weapons”, as if that’s a totally normal thing to do with one’s life. Hey, it was the Cold War, folks.


Here he is, doing something science-y and vaguely sinister.

Salisbury was involved in something called “Project Comet” in 1959; the site listed above has some very vague information about the history of this project, but I can’t find anything about what it actually involved, aside from the fact that company literature at one point quite candidly referred to it as “the ultimate weapon system,” a hell of a claim in a world that now included hydrogen bombs. Somewhat more transparently described is an invention of Salisbury’s called the “Varotron”; apparently this was a device that passed radiation across a grate, which then redirected and focused the radiation in a direction perpendicular to the grate:


Perhaps somewhat less innocent is Salisbury’s work with what the company at one point called “certain exotic weapons”, meaning directed radiation weapons, which Salisbury envisioned being used in any number of military applications. Two types were being worked on: a short-range version (range about 2 miles) and a long-range counterpart. The long-range version, with a range of about 1000 miles (!) would be used for shooting down ICBM’s. The short-range version could be used for a number of purposes:

“As an anti-aircraft weapon

 The destruction of mine fields

Illumination of targets by creating a fireball

As an anti-tank weapon

Wireless power transmission.”

At the end of this summation of the potential applications of these “exotic” weapons, we find the Varo company making almost precisely the same point as Mr. B, above:

“Many civil servants and scientists in the Department of Defense with whom radiation weapons have been discussed seem to be greatly concerned about advocating a substantial program to develop these weapons. In the minds of same, exotic weapons are classified as ‘science fiction’ and the civil servants and scientists apparently fear that they may damage their scientific reputations by such advocacy. They are afraid they might be wrong and are unwilling to take a risk in spite of the almost unlimited potential value of such weapons for our national defense.”

Varo does a good job here of explaining why the Navy might ‘farm out’ potentially bizarre weapons projects to a company like, well, Varo. Perhaps turning over the annotated copy of Jessup’s book allowed the Navy to publicly discredit it and wash their hands of the matter, while the folks at Varo quietly started leafing through the book and following leads. Is it possible that Varo somehow found something in the book, some clue which led to the development of these weapons? Could the humble Varotron really be captured alien technology? What about the “exotic” directed energy weapons? I mean, not to labour the point, but ‘exotic’ literally means ‘from another place.’ It’s a damned synonym for ‘alien’. Could the mysterious fire at the Varo plant have secretly been part of the hidden struggle between Earth governments seeking to be the first to harness technology from an extraterrestrial source? Just exactly like it says in the Varo Annotation?

Probably not. We’ll finish things off in the next section, with our first Wet Blanket Revue. But UFO and conspiracy culture doesn’t really require that all the pieces fit together. Conspiracy culture is about things that might be true. It’s about creating a narrative based on the truth, about something that could be true. It’s about following what really happened, into strange new lands. It’s about hearing about something like Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ initiative, and remembering people like Carlos Allende, Morris Jessup, Admiral Whatever-His-Name-Is Furth, and W.W. Salisbury, cackling in his lab coat amidst his oscilloscopes and his Varotrons and his crazy fuckin’ directed radiation weapons, while a Soviet spy watching from a broom closet whispers Russian into his shoe. It’s about making history more interesting than it really is.



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