John A Keel on The Philadelphia Experiment
John Alva Keel (March 25, 1930 ~ July 3, 2009) was an American journalist and influential UFOlogist who is best known as author of The Mothman Prophecies.
The following letter was sent from John A. Keel to Robert A Goerman on August 10th, 1983 and is pretty interesting in the overall genesis of the book “The Philadelphia Experiment” by Berlitz and Moore and the Legend of the PX in general. Special thanks to Robert for sharing this letter.
August 10, 1983
Box 351, Murray Hill Station,
New York, N.Y. 10156
Robert A. Goerman
107 Mile Lock Lane
Brackenridge, Pa. 15014
I vaguely recall exchanging a few letters with you several years ago. Perhaps I discussed the Allende matter with you at that time. I did see your interesting article in FATE a year or two ago but I have not seen the booklet you have published. The purpose of this letter is to outline, once and for all time, my own observations and sometimes innocent involvement in the Allende affair.
First, Morris K. Jessup personally regarded the Varo document as a joke. He openly scoffed at it. Shortly before his suicide, Jessup wrote a long, rambling letter to Long John Nebel, a New York radio personality, and similar letters to a few others including Hans Steffan Santesson, editor of a Sciencefiction magazine. These were typical pre-suicide letters of a depressive personality. While there are some odd things about the’ way the authorities in Florida behaved in handling his death, there is absolutely no doubt that Jessup ended his own life because of career setbacks and family problems. Just before he killed himself, he turned over his correspondence with Allende and his personal copy of the Varo document to Mr. Santesson. He had made many notations of his own in the margins of the Varo book…all of them questioning the validity of “A” and “5”s comments and generally ridiculing their efforts. He felt the whole thing was a waste of time and money, and that Allende was a mental case.
In 1966, Santesson turned over the Jessup file to Ivan Sanderson because the latter was writing Uninvited Visitors, a UFO book, and had been receiving letters from Mr. Allende. On a visit to Ivan’s farm that year, I sat up all night reading this material with great fascination. My conclusion, like Jessup’s, was that the Varo book was the work of a schizophrenic…a dual personality. But I was also intrigued by the accuracy of several of the annotations concerned with magnetism and other matters then virtually unknown to the general field of ufology. (You must remember that in 1966, ufology had been paralyzed for years by ignorance, lack of methodology, and overemphasis of meaningless side issues such as the futile battle with the Air Force.) Ivan was quite enchanted with-the story of the disappearing ship in the Philadelphia Naval Yard and used some of Jessup’s material in his book. After the book was published in 1967, Sanderson began to receive phone calls from a man claiming to be Allende. Meanwhile, Brad Steiger published a quickie paperback book on the Allende affair and was soon inundated with letters from people around the country, all claiming to be Allende. He also got a letter from a woman professing to be Allende’s widow. There were obviously a lot of nuts out there…and Ivan Sanderson was enthralled by all of them. I was amused by the scene and Hans tried to remain neutral.
Sometime in the late 1960’s, I referred to Allende in some of my magazine articles. I soon began to receive letters from Mr. Allende, himself. I was openly skeptical and asked him to prove his identity. He sent me photostats of his seaman’s papers, tax records and other documents including a signed postcard he had received from Jessup. Around that time he had visited the Lorenzens in Tucson, Arizona and had spent an afternoon with them. He presented them with a copy of the Varo book and freely admitted to them that he had written all the annotations. In writing to me and describing his visit, he complained about Coral Lorenzen’s legendary rudeness and claimed that she and her family left him sitting in the living room while they all went into the kitchen to eat dinner. In a rather haughty letter to me later, Coral confirmed this visit and toasted that she “always knew the whole thing was hoax”.
But here is a very important point that you and all the others have mangled for years: VARO WAS BEHIND THE “HOAX”, NOT ALLENDE OR ANYONE ELSE. Jessup, Sanderson, Santesson, myself and everyone else knew that Allende had written the annotations. Allende admitted on many occasions to many people. One set of notations was written in his handwriting. The other set was probably written with his other hand and thus disguised.
The introduction of the Varo document tried to make a bigger mystery out of the whole thing. The Varo secretary who typed the thing up is the perpetrator of the real hoax.
Allende’s letter s to me, mostly mailed from Mexico, were clearly the work of a very unstable personality. For example, one 15-paged letter begins with high praise, declaring that I was the best thing ever to happen to ufology, etc. But as the letter progressed, Allende argued with himself and by the last page he was calling me names and telling me that he would never write to me again under any circumstances. You must realize that I have received thousands of truly crackpot letters over the years so I’m something of an expert. Allende’s letters confirmed my earlier conclusions… that we were dealing with a rampantly schizoid personality. However, you must also realize that I could never state this in print because no editor would dare print it. The fear of a libel suit would be too great.
While researching my book on the atomic bomb and the nuclear mess, I discovered that the Manhattan Project took over part of the Philadelphia Naval Yard in the 1940’s, and that one ship was loaded with atomic lab gear, including cloud chambers, heavy magnetic units, degaussing coils, etc. Civilians in the area at the time must have been mystified by the bearded scientists, most of whom spoke with Hungarian accents, who visited the area clutching brief cases. The Manhattan Project security force probably circulated false stories…cover stories… about what was going on there. These stories undoubtedly reached Allende’s ears, garbled and over-dramatised.
During the war years, a magician named Dunninger was very famous. He had a very popular radio show and was a master at publicizing himself. He brashly announced to the press that he had figured out a way to make ships invisible and that he was donating this idea to the war effort. His claim made the front pages of all the newspapers, just as he knew it would, and nothing further was heard of his wonderful discovery. However, one man apparently tucked it away in his memory. Years later, his poor, confused schizoid brain would combine the Dunninger claim with the Manhattan Project’s cover stories… and a legend would be torn.
Disappearing ship stories were popular “scuttlebutt” during the war years. One of the most widely circulated of such stories was the tale of the Liberty ship which vanished inexolicably from Naples Harbor even though all entrances to the harbor were closely guarded by war ships. According to the story, the ship and its entire crew vanished one night and were never heard from again. A journalist friend of mine even tried to write a novel based on that particular rumor. (It was never published.)
So you can see there are several possible sources for Allende’s claims and, considering the man’s mental state, I’m sure that his letters to Jessup were sincere, and that when he annotated Jessup’s book and mailed it to the Naval office, he thought that he was offering some valid information. He never expected it to snowball into a celebrated cause. Jessup suggested that the Navy throw the book into a wastebasket. Instead, they passed it on to the nest of UFO believers at Varo. Later, Allende presented himself at Varo and was given copies of the book. (He sent me correspondence he had with Varo’s President.) He told them that he had written all the notations.
Now let’s jump ahead to 1975. I had a series of meetings with Charles Berlitz that year. He told me he was writing a book about Allende and I told him that the whole thing was a sad, demented affair and that it would be best to leave it alone. But I lent him my Allende file. Then I got a letter from a young school teacher in the mid-west. He said he was researching the Allende business and asked for advice. I wrote to him and told him that he should contact Charles Berlitz. I even sent him Berlitz’s home address and private phone number. He was, of course, William Moore and I never heard from him again. He contacted Berlitz and together they contrived a book on The Philadelphia Experiment. The book made money. Moore was able to quit his teaching job and become a fulltime writer. I literally changed his whole life! Yet he has never written to thank me for introducing him to Berlitz, and has never contacted me when he passed through New York. We did have one accidental encounter while he was visiting a mutual friend.
The material in my Allende file was never mentioned in the Moore-Berlitz book. Nor was any of the other wealth of negative material to be found in Sanderson’s files, etc.
Allende was supposedly dying of cancer in 1970. But he is probably still out there somewhere writing long, dissociative letters to anyone who mentions his name in print. Gray Barker is still selling reproductions of the Varo book for an unseemly price. .And anyone who offers the true facts about the non-existent Philadelphia Experiment will be shouted down as a pawn of the Air Force conspiracy. Like 90% of the UFO lore, there never was anything to it. But Carl Allen was not a conscious hoaxer. If anything, he is one of ufology’s biggest victims.
All the best…
-jonn a. keel
Another letter from John Keel can be found in the Gray Barker Collection, 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.
“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, the rest of the letter is missing.