In another moment, down went Alice after the rabbit, never once
considering how in the world she would get out again.
--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Unlike Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, this is not a fairy tale, though at times it seems like one. So perhaps it is fitting to begin by saying:
Once upon a time, there really was a person named T. Townsend Brown.
We know his name. We know where he was born and where he was raised. We know who his parents were, his wife, his children and even his grandchildren. We know most of the places where he lived — and there were literally dozens of them. We know where died, and where he is buried.
But that’s about all we really know. Beyond that, the man is a ghost, a zephyr — a myth.
Most of the useful details about the life and times of T. Townsend Brown have vanished — or been deliberately hidden. Behind a heavy veil of classified military research, covert intelligence operations, legendary experiments with flying discs, lost notebooks, unverifiable claims and fantastic possibilities, an incredible story lurks.
"The Universe is filled with magical things," wrote science fiction pioneer Eden Phillpotts, "patiently waiting for your wits to grow sharper." All the arrows in Townsend Brown's life point to just such a magical cosmos. Like stones hurled across the surface of a mountain lake in the early morning dew, the story points in the life of Townsend Brown all skip across the surface of our consciousness and disappear into a shroud of mist. But if we focus our vision just... so, and look into the mist with fresh eyes, we can see where the stone goes, and see the ripples from where it splashes.
Townsend Brown — or, Dr. Brown a his many fans and those close to him still like to call him, despite his lack of academic credentials — lived an extraordinary life, and it is time his story was told.
Somehow, the central mysteries of the past century — nuclear physics, relativity, quantum mechanics, UFOs and the clandestine operations of the military industrial complex — all appear to converge in the life of this one extraordinary man. The few minor accounts of his life already in circulation are largely filled with the sort of vague details that only amplify the mystery that surrounds him. It is time that some semblance of the larger picture — however imperfect or incomplete — be compiled.
* * *
I had never heard of Townsend Brown before the night of July 9, 2002. At the time, I was in the midst of putting the finishing touches on my first book, a biography of Philo T. Farnsworth entitled The Boy Who Invented Television. As I contemplated my future as a published author, I wondered what I would do for an encore. That night, an anonymous e-mail message supplied the answer. The message said:
T. Townsend Brown was another inventor who is forgotten and swept under the rug. He died on Catalina Island around 1985.
Science in the late 50s said what he did was against physical law, yet the government classified his work. A bunch of government contractors both American and foreign have been working on it ever since.
So where did all the R&D go? If you go out in the desert about 125 miles south west of Las Vegas at night you will see an object flying around in the distance with a bluish haze around it. That’s where it went. Also Sharper Image is selling an air purifier on cable TV for $60. He never collected the royalties for that either.
The message was unsigned. The only hint of the sender’s identity was his e-mail address. But I took the bait, and before I knew it I was hooked on a remarkable tale, and found myself wandering compulsively off on a twisted journey.
* * *
Shortly after receiving the mysterious, unsigned e-mail, I ran a Google search and found a website dedicated to the life and work of this T. Townsend Brown. From the opening paragraphs I learned:
Thomas Townsend Brown, an American physicist, was a leader in developing theories concerning the link between electromagnetic and gravitational fields theorized by Dr. Albert Einstein. He advanced from theory to application with the development of solid and disc-shaped apparatuses, which are believed to have created and utilized temporary, localized gravitational fields.
Brown's work became very controversial due to the similarity between his work and what is believed to be the propulsion method of some observed UFO's. His name is also often mentioned in the same breath as the so-called "Philadelphia Experiment," as a possible candidate along with Nikola Tesla, A.L. Kitselman and Dr. Einstein."
"Disc-shaped apparatuses” and “UFOs” ? Hey, I write serious science biographies, not tales of borderline pseudo-science. I consider myself a reasonable person, and so I have always relegated anything having to do with UFOs to the lunatic fringe. On the map of the paranormal, I figured that "Roswell" and "The Philadelphia Experiment" were located somewhere near each other in the same state of delirium.
Nevertheless, I poked around the website a little longer until I found an e-mail address for whoever had created it. I didn’t want to give away too much in my first attempt at contact, so I tried to ask some fairly benign questions about the origins of the website and the material it presented.
And then I forgot all about it until nearly a month later, when I got a message from a fellow named Andrew Bolland, who told me that his relationship with the Brown family dated back to the mid-eighties.
The timing could not have been better… I was only a week away from the publication of my Farnsworth biography, at which point I would be a published author. So I pitched the idea of collaborating with the family on a biography of Townsend Brown.
Another month passed, and then Andrew wrote again:
I spoke with Brown's daughter and she thinks it would be fun to get involved. She was his primary research assistant - building prototypes and whatnot. Let me know if you want to pursue it.
With that, providence had spoken, and the door to the rabbit hole was opened.
* * *
As with the Farnsworth biography, I started out to tell the story of an inventor, expecting to find a similar story of a genius whose inventions had been exploited by the world of commerce.
I thought I would be writing a straightforward sequel. Eventually, I came to the realization that the Townsend Brown story represents an entirely different dimension — literally and figuratively. I discovered that I was writing a “non fiction novel,” or, if you will a “speculative biography” with pages that jump straight out of “The X-Files.”
Anybody who has seen “The Matrix” movies will recall the scene early in the first movie where Morpheus offers Neo the choice between a red pill a blue pill.
“You take the blue pill,” Morpheus tells Neo, “and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe."
As Neo contemplates his options, Morpheus continues: “You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland — and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
The effort you are now reading represents more than five years of concentrated research into the life and work of an obscure 20th century scientist. And I look back and wonder: Who slipped me the red pill? How long have I been in the rabbit hole now?
In the course of this research, I have come — was led, actually — to the inescapable conclusion that Townsend Brown’s singular knowledge, unique insights and clandestine connections may have opened the door to a universe very different from what the rest of us mere mortals can comprehend. And after staring into this rabbit hole for all these years, the only thing that I can safely say is that I have yet to find the bottom.
With some reluctance, I have come to appreciate that Townsend Brown patrolled the very edges of this reality, and secured for himself a quiet vantage point from which he could see an otherwise hidden universe.
This, then, is “The Parallel Universe of T. Townsend Brown.”
To enter this Parallel Universe, I have swallowed the red pill and tossed myself down the rabbit hole.
But you, dear reader, do not need to choose between the red pill and the blue pill. All you have to do is turn the page…