(Notes from the Rabbit Hole #3)
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.”
– Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
When I called the campus of Denison University in the fall of 2004 and spoke to archivist Heather Lyle, I was hardly the first to inquire about Townsend Brown. Ms. Lyle did not hesitate to cast aspersions into the vacuum where the details of his life should be found.
“He made things up,” Ms. Lyle told me.
“We have files on him. These queries come up frequently, because, apparently he was not very truthful in things that he said about himself, and gave the impression of a lot contact here at Denison. He even claimed to have been faculty or staff here when he really wasn’t even a student, and claimed to have worked with Professor Paul Biefeld, who hardly even knew him. I mean, he just made a lot of claims that were false. People are constantly contacting us, so we have a whole file ready to refute these claims.”
I asked if she would make me a copy of that file.
“Oh no,” Heather said. “It’s pretty extensive, so I’m not willing to do that” – at which point I started making plans to visit Granville to inspect the file myself. Before hanging up I pressed a little further.
“The effect that Brown discovered, he named it the Biefeld-Brown Effect. But you’re telling me he had little contact with Biefeld?”
“He made up a lot of things,” Heather giggled as though she was revealing a secret. “That’s the impression that we all have. There is a kind of a detailed history of the various scams that he pulled based on various letters and people that were ripped off by him and that sort of thing.”
“If that’s all in your file, I can hardly wait to see it….”
In the final week of October – as the Boston Red Sox were winning their first World Series in 86 years – I descended on Denison University with Townsend Brown’s daughter Linda, who maintained her anonymity by masquerading as my research assistant ‘Elizabeth Helen Drake.’ In a conference room at the university library, Heather Lyle let us examine her file on Thomas Townsend Brown.
The file opens with a print-out of an email from former archivist Cara Gilgenback that circulated around the campus in 1999:
Those of you who have been here for some time may have already run into reference questions involving:
- – T. Townsend Brown (purportedly a student at DU in the 1920s);
- – Dr. Paul A. Biefeld (physics faculty member at DU, 1911-1934, resident astronomer during that period);
- – “The Biefeld-Brown effect” (supposedly a joint research project between the two men conducted at DU, which resulted in a significant discovery about anti-gravity).
This year I’ve received three requests for information on this topic, two of them in the past week. I asked the Physics Dept. for help since the archives yield little on Biefeld, nothing at all on T. Townsend Brown, and nothing at all on this so-called Biefeld-Brown effect.
I want to let you all know that the Physics Dept. feels that Brown’s credentials as a physicist are suspect. They cannot find any documentation linking Biefeld and Brown either at Denison or outside of Denison. There are no known published papers or monographs within the scholarly arena on the Biefeld-Brown effect. I am compiling the few popular/alternate press accounts I can locate.
Also, I was unable to find any evidence that Brown ever attended Denison. I found lots of information on him on the Internet (mostly on UFO sites), including a biography I believe to be bogus.
The reason I’m telling you all this is so that you can deal with researchers who come asking about the topic. According to Mike Mickelson, the Physics Dept. has received hundreds of requests for info on this over the years, and interest does not appear to be flagging. You could spend a lot of time searching indices and other reference tools on this topic and would find next to nothing useful.
I would suggest that you refer interested persons to me. I’m compiling a file of relevant info that might be useful to these people. I’m also planning to write to the Naval Research Lab (where Brown reportedly worked) to see if they have any records.
Another email in the file from a “former DU faculty member” from August, 2001 attests to the scams Heather Lyle alluded to:
Townsend Brown arrived in Meadville, PA] in 1962 or 1963 to start a company making ozone generators and an electronic levitation system. Supposedly for use by satellites (and purported to be one of the possible systems used by UFOs). He arrived in a shiny black Cadillac equipped with a radio telephone system (very uncommon in those days). He visited a number of Meadville’s wealthy citizens, concentrating on the elderly, especially widows. A number of these individuals invested in his “new venture.” He established charge accounts all over town.
This email describes two devices Townsend demonstrated in his sales pitch, an “ozone generator” and a “levitation device” (“. . . like a large pizza dish . . .”). The email concludes:
A short time after this presentation, Brown vanished, leaving bills at all the places he had established charge accounts, including over $500 at a small grocery store. I don’t know how hard the stockholders tried to find him, but they were unsuccessful.
Also in the file are two letters from another, still earlier Denison University archivist Florence Hoffman, who says Townsend Brown was…
…a student at Doane Academy in 1922 and 1923. Brown is listed as a graduate of Doane Academy in June 1923. The Denison University Catalog lists him as a member of the Freshman Class in 1924/25. He did not return the following year and I do not know where he may have completed his education.
We have never been able to find any evidence of a collaboration by Biefeld and Brown on any project, and Biefeld’s son (now deceased) told us that his father knew Brown only slightly during the latter’s student days but never worked with him at any time.
Other correspondence in the Denison file suggests that Biefeld’s family in the 1940s knew nothing about Townsend Brown or the effect that bore the two men’s names. In November 1956, UFO investigator Leon Davidson – apparently interested in NICAP (about which more later1), wrote to Biefeld’s son Dr. L. P. Biefeld asking about his father’s relationship to Townsend Brown. L. P. Biefeld replied:
My father never did collaborate with Mr. Brown in a scientific sense. Since Mr. Brown was extremely interested in experimentation in the field of physics and astronomy, he hung around the Physics Department and the Observatory quite a bit and talked to father often. My father was not too impressed with his ideas.
L.P. Biefeld also corresponded with science journalist Gaston Burridge2, who speculated in the 1950s about anti-gravity propulsion systems, telling Burridge:
Your mention of the ‘Biefeld-Brown effect’ is news to me. I never heard my father speak of this effect. I am very surprised to hear of this, and would be very interested to know where you obtained information regarding this so-called effect.
During the time in 2004 when I was digging into Dennison University’s unflattering file on Townsend Brown, Linda Brown and I had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain military records for her father’s Navy service that began with his voluntary enlistment in 19303. That quest delivered its first results just after our visit to Granville, when a thick manilla envelope arrived in my mail. Inside were Townsend Brown’s naval records – or, at least those records that were not entirely classified, nor referenced anything that was classified4.
Among the Naval records was an affidavit from someone who had visited Townsend’s home laboratory in Zanesville in August, 1930. The visitor had traveled “at the request of Mr. Thomas Townsend Brown… to personally conduct tests and examine certain apparatus and setups thereof and act as witness therefore with respect to the operativeness of said apparatus.”
The visitor then describes equipment that consisted of “two principal or essential parts, a stator and a rotor – a generator-and-motor system based on what is now known as “The Biefeld-Brown effect.” The visitor testifies:
It is apparent that systematic variations occur in the output of the apparatus which are not to be accounted for and not localized within the system itself. Though the phenomenon is not understood at the present time, it is quite certain that the above named variations are caused by forces external to the system.
The visitor is describing the effect Brown had first noticed in his X-ray spectrometer, the effect which led him to conclude that “a radiation (other than light) prevailed in the Universe, independent of our Solar system” – the observation triggered his conclusion that “gravity is a push, not a pull.”
The visitor concludes that what he has observed in the young man’s laboratory…
…is novel and valuable; leading to probable identification and measurement of forces hitherto not recognized in physical science or astronomy.
The visitor signed the affidavit: Paul Alfred Biefeld.
1 Chapter 80: NICAP
2 Gaston Burridge, Townsend Brown and His Anti-Gravity Disc
3 Chapter 24: Opportunities for Technicians and Scientists
4 More on the Naval records in ‘Notes from the Rabbit Hole’ – Chapter 35: Never Heard of the Guy