Mr. Morris K. Jessup, the recipient of the Allende letters, was by training an astronomer and mathematician (he taught at the University of Michigan and Drake University). He is however best remembered, at least as far as his own work goes, as the author of a series of books about UFO’s, though even in this capacity he remains a fairly obscure figure. His connection with the Philadelphia Experiment is perhaps the most noteworthy detail of his public life. Jessup never spoke with Carlos Allende / Carl Allen himself; the bizarre tone of the letters prompted him to cut off contact with the sender, and while Jessup did some more work on the topic later, it was not especially clear at first why the letters were sent to him in particular. However, as it turned out, the selection was far from arbitrary.
Morris K. Jessup: astronomer, mathematician, ufologist, Prometheus
Not long after the arrival of the Allende letters at Jessup’s home, a strange package postmarked Seminole, Texas, arrived in the mailbox of the Chief of the Office of Naval Research. The secondary literature invariably names this person as an “N. Furth” despite the fact that the actual chief of the ONR at the time was apparently named “Frederick R. Furth” (we’ll just call him Furth and circumvent the issue). Blazoned across the front of the package was a jovial “HAPPY EASTER” in magic marker. Inside, a battered paperback: The Case for the UFO, by none other than, you guessed it, Morris K. Jessup. This paperback version had debuted in 1955 and was, at the time, selling for a mere dollar a copy; due to its rarity and its involvement in this affair, copies nowadays go for twenty to thirty bucks, about a 280% price jump after accounting for inflation.
The book was a singular artefact. Jessup rounded up a number of issues current among ufologists and like-minded individuals at the time: atmospheric observations, speculations regarding the types of crafts and energy production equipment used by ET’s, discussions of abductions and the possibility of extraterrestrial intervention in the remote past. In this latter regard, Jessup prefigured the highly influential (but in my view irredeemably foolish) 1968 book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken, doing a much better job of it than that later writer. His writing is dry, but dense, with an incredible scope; from paranormal showers of meat from the heavens to the potential alien origins of the famous nineteenth-century feral child Kaspar Hauser.
Jessup’s book, while more thorough and more interesting than many, was nonetheless just one of a growing number of similar texts currently being produced in this dawn of the golden age of UFO literature. What made this copy so interesting wasn’t necessarily Jessup’s work itself, but rather what had been added to it: extensive and extremely bizarre annotations by no fewer than three unknown interlocutors.
Writing in different shades of ink and with different handwriting, the three personalities are distinct, and moreover, their additions are not so much a three-fold commentary as much as a kind of ongoing discussion. Questions are asked and answered; comments by one writer are clarified by another, followed by a response from the first. The text was not simply passed from one to commenter to the next and then mailed to the ONR; it had to have been first extensively passed back and forth, many times, between the three. These mysterious figures had made a veritable sacred text of MK Jessup’s throwaway UFO paperback.
For some reason (and this ‘for some reason’ is a perplexing issue which will rear its head again in connection with the ONR’s involvement in this case) Furth failed to do the proper US military thing (ie., “throw this UFO bullshit in the nearest trash can”) and instead forwarded it around to a few coworkers. Within a couple of weeks, the strange object had been viewed by several ONR personnel. They quickly came to some conclusions.
There were undoubtedly three distinct personalities represented in the annotations. One of them is referred to by the others (but not him/herself) as “Jemi.” The other two are not named, but they refer to each other at a few points as “my twin.” The ONR decided to call these two “Mr. A” and “Mr. B.” All three have, for the most part, a fairly high opinion of Mr. Jessup. Despite a few playful digs here and there, much of their praise of him is rather over-the-top. At one point, in reference to Jessup, Mr. B writes “The Shade of Galileo Walks again in the Name of Better Science” (a far cry from “Very Disrespectfully Yours”!) One gets the sense that they think Jessup is a historically important person, someone who can do something that nobody else can do. Specifically, they seem to have a feeling that Jessup is either at, or very near, some groundbreaking truth; it’s his own special, historic doom to reveal it, or to fail. The truth to be revealed is something that the three of them seem to take for granted – something they already know – but they feel that it is up to Jessup (whom they often call “the man”) to reveal that truth to humans. Think about that for a second.
The three writers seem very well-versed in UFO literature, and throughout the text they drop off-handed explanations or corrections of what are raised in the book as speculations or mysteries. Practically nothing they write makes any sense, but they always seem to be ten steps ahead of Jessup. The jargon in these sections seems to be outside the realm of typical scientific discourse, apparently a shorthand for things known only to these three (“call barriers”, “dead spots”, “All-Power”, “The War of the Great Freeze”). There is certainly no apparent feeling that the notes would one day be read by some larger public. And there is no concern among the writers for proving things to one another, either; they write as if they’re merely reminding one another of things they all already know. For instance, when Jessup writes “Russia may well have captured a UFO and be developing the resources gained therefrom, employing atomic experimentation as a diversionary measure,” Mr. B notes “NOT SO or else she’d have cornered the Worlds Diamond Market by Now as a dead-Give-away that she’d Caught one. (Takes a Powerful Magnetic “Net” to do so)” and Mr. A chimes in, “one with a reverse “snap Neutralizer” in it.”
The three writers discuss two different alien races, whom they refer to as “L-M’s” and “S-M’s”. The benevolent L-M’s live in “neutral”, which appears to be a sort of safeguarded non-place carved into the quantum foundation outside of or independent of space as we know it. The malevolent S-M’s live in mammoth “ark” ships floating unseen over the planet, and in secret bases under the sea. Governments on Earth are aware of and antagonistic toward both, while they fervently race to beat one another to the acquisition or reverse-engineering of alien technology. There are also brief references to naval experiments involving invisibility.
At this point (for some reason), the ONR decided that they’d better have a chat with MK Jessup. Jessup, who lived in Florida, travelled up for a sit-down with the ONR brass (headquartered in Washington DC, the ONR presumably paid for Jessup’s travel from his home in Florida; once again, one has to ask, why?!) Jessup took a glance at the book and noticed something familiar right away. Mr. A seemed to Capitalize WORDS Randomly, and to underline seemingly random text. He always wrote “throo” instead of “through.” He talked about people freezing and catching fire.
Yup: Mr. A was Carlos Allende. Like a sailor with his legs buried in a bulkhead, Allende was taking up space where he shouldn’t be; this crackpot scribbler of a half a handful of crazy letters was now being discussed by powerful, uniformed people, in one of the nation’s most advanced military research and development institutions.
In Washington Fucking D.C.!
Jessup identified him immediately and shortly produced the mysterious letters he’d received. Furth, still apparently too mesmerised by the book to stop and think about what he was doing, now made a grave error. To acknowledge paranormal material while a government official, even in an attempt to discredit it, is to carve one’s name forever in the ranks of the nefarious individuals who are thought to perpetrate conspiracy. The ONR contacted a private business, in the kind of hush-hush way that immediately becomes public knowledge, and, for some reason, ordered a small reprinting of the book, with the annotations included, for research purposes. The retyping of the original 220-page text (in full) as well as its notations was the herculean task of a single high-school girl, Miss Michael Ann Dunn, and an absurd-for-its-time four-tone letter press, like the alchemical forging of some kind of fucking magical spear, ran out the first great physical legend of UFO culture – its four colours ordering the composite document, black for the main text and three others for the three commentators. Nobody knows exactly how many copies were produced, but it seems to be on the order of 100-150.
The result, known as the “Varo Annotation” after the company that produced it (more on them later) almost immediately became a kind of legendary object to UFO people. Even setting aside the enticing mystery circling around the identity of the three annotators, this was a book that the U.S. government had expressed interest in; beyond even that, they’d tried to keep their interest secret, by hiring an outside business to take care of the printing rather than tainting their own press with what was sure to be a bombshell of revelation.
For years, rumours of where these books were sent, and where they eventually ended up, spread among UFO enthusiasts. Varo steadfastly refused to reprint the book for any other prospective customer, magnifying the notoreity of the artefacts and contributing to their growing mythology. There were a finite number of Varo Annotations in the world, and there might never be any more. The book was so rare that one could build an opinion around whether or not it even existed. You could argue about it with fellow-travellers. The physical copies of the book became tantalizing, mythical treasures; maybe the answer to all of it.
“Anyone can make a fake xerox, man.” – A mid-60’s ufologist, presumably stoned.
And like all dark and fascinating amulets, the books seemed to leave a trail of mystery and destruction in their wake. One copy vanished in the mail without a trace (“WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN”). Another was destroyed in a house that burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances. Another recipient, in good health, suffered a fatal, unexplained heart attack shortly after receiving it. The books made the rounds nonetheless; they were jealously hoarded by those ufologists lucky enough to secure a copy, though xeroxed pages were leaked here and there. It wasn’t until 1971 that a copy was provided to the Quantum Future group by a friend of Jessup’s (the ONR had sent Jessup three copies as a thank-you). Quantum Future then transcribed the entire thing again and, finally, the book became real for everybody. Now, thanks to the internet, the Varo Annotation can be found easily free of charge (you can download it here. Incidentally, the text in the PDF is copy / paste-able, suggesting the possibility that it was transcribed in full yet again!) At long last, the conspiracy-minded laypeople have ready access to this important text, as bewildering in nature as it is fundamental to the field (but if you need to buy a Christmas present for a UFO person, an original Varo edition is sure to make them shit their pants.)
For most people, the story of the Philadelphia Experiment fizzles out right about here. The Navy apparently never gave much more thought to the subject, having decided at long last that Allende’s claims don’t bear much weight; no doubt a conclusion they wish they’d reached before getting caught with their hand in the ufological cookie-jar, forever associating themselves with people who speak with full candor about miles-long motherships hovering over the atmosphere and hidden extraterrestrial warfare on planet Earth. “N.” / “F.R.” Furth apparently served out the remainder of his term without any great alien intervention. At least as far as the Navy is concerned, they were done with Allende not long after the Varo copies made their rounds and various important individuals decided that this whole thing was nuts. It’s not an unreasonable conclusion.
However, there’s still more to the story, or at least I think there is. I’ve done some of my own research, not into Furth or ONR or any aspect of the government, but into the Varo company, who, as we’ll see in the next chapter, had a history almost as bizarre and fascinating as Allende himself.
Before we move on, though, we have to bid farewell to somebody. On April 20, 1959, Morris K. Jessup, a writer of unappreciated talent in a field of unappreciated value, was found dead in Dade County, Florida, of an apparent suicide (he was found in his car, with a hose running from the tailpipe into his open window). Friends and family reported that he’d been depressed for a long time, over a failed marriage, health problems, and bad book sales. That’s really sad; Jessup was fundamental to a story that made people wonder and think. His book became the catalyst for something historic and beautiful; a legend that brought people together. It’s tragic that he may have died questioning whether or not he mattered, whether or not people took him seriously.
I like to think that maybe he found some respite from his disappointment, sometimes, by leafing through the Varo Annotation and reading the words of three strangers (maybe lunatics, maybe not) who not only respected him, but had hope for him; they saw potential in him, they wanted him to succeed, and they thought he could. They thought he was special. The Shade of Galileo.
As unrelated third-party observers, we must of course observe proper decency toward the dead; we must take his loved ones at their word regarding Jessup’s inner troubles, and not seek to minimize or erase them by finding conspiracies around every corner. But it bears mentioning that on April 19, a day before his death, Jessup contacted his publisher, claiming to have made a breakthrough on the Philadelphia Experiment. What that breakthrough was, we’ll probably never know. But we can keep looking, and I think he’d like us to.