Summary: Gregory Bishop with Kenn Thomas remembers George Van Tassel's Annual Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions in the Mojave Desert in the early 1950s. for 23 years, other worldly inspired Americans and the great names of contactee ufology gathered there to commune with Space Beings.
The speaker's makeshift platform stood high against Giant Rock itself. The interminable preparations came to an end and George Van Tassel climbed up to speak. Shortly, he was heard to say, "Yes, we are here. Who am I talking to?"
For several minutes listeners heard only a one-sided conversation. "NOW who am I talking to? Well, somebody else keeps butting in! CONFOUND IT, YOU KEEP SWITCHING AROUND ON ME! Let's settle on who is to do the talking tonight!"
Suddenly, Van Tassel began speaking in a loud, harsh voice which identified itself as 'Knut'.
"I AM KNUT. I BRING YOU LOVE."
Knut proceeded to tell the assembled party that he was stationed in a "300 foot supply ship, approximately 200 miles to the south, and 5260 feet high". When the group stepped outside to look for this miraculous craft, they were rewarded with nothing more than the beauty of the desert night and a few shooting stars.
This typical channelling session at the Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention in 1958 was recalled by UFO chronicler Gray Barker in his Gray Barker At Giant Rock (1976). The story of these open-air conventions near Yucca Valley, in California's Mojave Desert, is really the story of the American flying saucer contactee movement. For 23 years – from the 1950s through the late '70s – friends of the alien saucerians met and channelled and sold their wares in the comfortable company of the true believers.
George Van Tassel quit his job as an aircraft inspector for Howard Hughes' Lockheed company. He bought some land in the desert and leased (from the US Government) an adjacent abandoned airstrip known as Giant Rock Airport. He planned a simple retirement at the early age of 37, running a dude ranch and stopover point for weekend aviators.
This quiet life changed in 1952 when, he claimed, he began to receive psychic messages from extraterrestrial spaceship commanders and eventually, on 24 August 1953, he was invited aboard a UFO piloted by a being called Solganda. A new era had begun.
Van Tassel's channelling sessions took place in an underground home, hollowed out from beneath Giant Rock in the early 1930s by Frank Critzer, a former resident.
Critzer was killed in 1942 in the course of a showdown with local deputies who arrived to question him about a rumoured affiliation with Nazis. When Critzer resisted by putting up a barricade, the deputies threw tear gas canisters into his underground kitchen; unfortunately it was also where he stored dynamite used for mining ore and he was blown to pieces.
Critzer's Nazi background never checked out; it was probably the product of a small-town war-time hysterical reaction to his German surname. Critzer was a naturalised American immigrant who had enlisted in the US Merchant Marines between the world wars and retired to the desert due to chronic asthma. In the early 1940s, he introduced George Van Tassel to the Southern California desert scene. Bloodstains from his violent death were still on the walls of his underground hovel when the Van Tassel family moved onto the property.
The first big gathering took place in 1954 and featured a who's who of the UFO contact movement, probably the first time so many of them were ever in one place together. Speakers included Orfeo Angelucci, Truman Bethurum, Daniel Fry, and George Hunt Williamson, with informal lectures during the day and channelling sessions after dark. Speaking from the platform built against the Rock, the famous and not so famous took turns describing their contacts with physical and ethereal beings, vying for the popularity that would increase book sales.
In the case of those who believed in the reality of their stories, the Giant Rock gatherings offered chance to spread the 'universal love' message of the interplanetary brethren. If any transcripts or recordings of these talks survive, they remain jealously guarded by protective hands or the dead. From all accounts, few speakers at Giant Rock held the view that the space visitors were malevolent. The weird energies channelled by the participants formed a tapestry of positive messages from a growing galactic brotherhood. As Saucer Smear publisher James Moseley put it: "There was an unwritten rule among the contactees that was 'never knock the other guy's story' because he might knock yours. They just pretended to believe each other."
The 'contactees', as they came to be known, have provided enough folkloric and psychosocial material to fill several books. They also laid the groundwork for today's contact community. Van Tassel provided the first opportunity to establish the public identity of contactees before their first major public audience. The 'respectable' UFO organisations of the day invariably regarded contactees as an annoyance at best and, at worst, a real danger to serious research. Then, as now, the 'hardware' theory dominated saucer circles and the contactees' talk of spiritual messages and meetings with blond humanoids grated on the nerves of NICAP director Donald Keyhoe, among others, who denounced their tales with derision.
In 1953, Van Tassel began weekly Friday-night changelings under the Rock. One of his early contacts, 'Ashtar', later became something of a superstar on the intergalactic hit parade. He has been channelled by many others since. In 1955, at the second convention, speakers included George Hunt Wiliamson, George Adamski and another new star, former physician Charles Laughead, who had very likely met Williamson in the intervening year and begun a lengthy series of changelings in their home base of Whipple, Arizona. Laughead was the model for 'Dr. Armstrong' in the seminal psychological study When Prophecy Fails (1956 – see FT117:47) which examined the dynamics of a channelling group when a prophesied UFO landing did not occur. Laughead was also instrumental in promoting the activities of Dr. Andrija Puharich and Uri Geller when they psychically contacted the hawk-headed alien entity they called 'Spectra'.
Despite his association with the likely hoaxer (or at least the delusional) Adamski – he took plaster casts of the supposed spaceman's footprints after Adamski's claimed first contact in 1952 – Williamson appears to have been genuinely convinced of his contact with space people and produced hundreds of pages of transcripts from beings with such names as 'Acta', 'Baruch' and 'Ermon'.
Williamson also claimed communications using 'radio telegraphy' with spaceships from 1952 to 1953, discussed in his book The Saucers Speak! (1954) but, apparently, tired of this when direct mental contact seemed more efficient. A Giant Rock survivor called Reverend Bob Short claims to have discussed some of these early experiments with Williamson. According to Short, the messages coming out of ham operator Lyman Streeter's radio sounded like "a weird sort of Morse code". Rev. Short also participated in channelling at the early Giant Rock gatherings, receiving some radio communications himself.
Some contemporary accounts of Giant Rock mention UFO visitations, but these are little more than the product of the excited imaginations of the conventioneers. What few photographs that survive of strange aerial apparitions seen at the desert site unfortunately appear to be atmospheric or optical aberrations.
Roger Stockman, owner of a local eatery called the Grubstake Inn, located a few miles from Giant Rock, saw one of the photos taken at an early convention: "There was this huge saucer shape hovering over the crowd in broad daylight but, for some reason, nobody was looking at it." Perhaps the space men were 'cloaking' that day, silently observing their flock. Area residents generally stopped talking about any sightings after Van Tassel's death.
During his contacts with the Space People, Van Tassel also received instructions for the construction of a device that was supposed to restore physical youth to the people of Earth. With it, fewer life cycles would be needed to acquire moral and spiritual maturity and those who used it would be empowered to rejoin the benefactors from beyond. Van Tassel needed only the money to build it.
Van Tassel's fame spread due to his books: I Rode A Flying Saucer (1952) and Into This World And Out Again (1956). He founded the College of Universal Wisdom and began to publish a monthly magazine called Proceedings. His family provided extra articles and illustrations and they printed and mailed it to thousands of subscribers worldwide including the FBI (according to Bryant and Helen Reeve in their 1958 chronicle of the contactee movement, Flying Saucer Pilgrimage.) Proceedings also featured the newest messages from the space brothers and not-so-subtle pleas for donations.
From this homespun publicity, money began to pour in daily; readers sent their offerings into Van Tassel who took them to a bank in Yucca Valley. Locals remember him "cashing checks from all these little old ladies" who were fascinated by what they perceived as the incredible spiritual truths he had revealed. In a recent radio interview, Bob Beck – a UFO researcher and early Giant Rock attendee– once volunteered to help Van Tassel open some mail which had been piling up for awhile. "There was about $18,000 in there," he recalled.
Bolstered by this manna of freely-given love offerings, Van Tassel was able, in 1959, to build a five story-high structure gleaming bone-white on the desert floor. He called it the 'Integratron'. Following the explicit instructions of his space friends, he eschewed the use of any metal in its construction. Working in self-imposed secrecy, he jealously guarded the building. In one instance, when a few local kids managed to sneak in at night, Van Tassel "had a fit". Vernette Landers, whose husband lent his name to the community surrounding the Integratron, said she sat in a rocking chair in the structure "for several hours one day. When I came out I felt much better. It may have been my imagination, but I don't think so."
Looking like an astronomical observatory, the Integratron remained incomplete at the time of Van Tassel's death in 1978. It remains on its original construction site, behind three surrounding fences crowned with barbed wire. James Velazquez, a San Diego developer bought it in 1979 with plans to turn it into a disco. For a while in the early 1980s, rumours persisted that the building was used as a methamphtamine lab and at least two unsolved murders are tangentially connected to this scenario. Following a campaign by former Giant Rock Conventioneers, the Integratron was returned to friendly hands in 1981. It's present owner, Emile Canning, hosts meetings there, rents it out for special events, and gives scheduled tours twice a month.
George Van Tassel died in of a heart attack in a hotel room in Santa Ana, California on 9 February 1978. A space being named 'Lo' channelled George's epitaph: "Birth through Induction, Death through Short Circuit."
His first wife Eva had passed away in 1975, whereupon he immediately married a woman named Dorris, a local chiropractor. Dorris earned the ire of Van Tassel's children and other followers, who accused her of trying to take over his affairs. Volunteers at the San Diego-based Borderland Science Research Associates at the time privately referred to her as "D.O.R.ris"– a reference to Wilhelm Reich's acronym for life-negating Deadly Orgone Radiation. (The Integratron bore some similarity to Reich's orgone boxes, envigorating those who sat in them.) Until her recent death, Dorris lived in a mobile home next to the Integratron, working on a book about her life with Van Tassel, and looking furtively out the windows for "government agents" and assorted Men In Black, sure of their evil designs on her life.
The largest evil evident at the Rock these days is the deterioration of the only other remaining artifact from the glory days – the Giant Rock Café – of which only the tile floor remains. Bikers and other assorted crazies build fires, shoot guns and skid tyres on its surface. In a few years, it will be indistinguishable from the waste that surrounds it. When it finally disappears, the last reminder that the area once buzzed with the activities of weekend fliers, hopeful seekers of cosmic truth, and a singular prophet named George Van Tassel, will be no more.
Kenn Thomas publishes Steamshovel Press, the conspiracy magazine whose current issue includes an excerpt from his new book, Flying Saucers Over Los Angeles. The Steamshovel web site – www.umsl.edu/~skthoma – includes conspiracy news updates and a regular column not appearing in the newstand magazine. Issues cost $6 postpaid in the US, add $2 for UK postage from: POB 23715, St. Louis, MO 63121, USA.