Chapter 48 – A Universe Away

(1942)

The U.S. had been engaged in World War II for less than a year when Townsend Brown was discharged from the Navy in September, 1942. 

Josephine wrapped up her green ‘El Nido’ teapot and packed it into the trunk of a 1941 Packard One-Eighty convertible. She, Townsend, and eight-year-old Joseph headed west, where the Navy officer who resigned “for the good of the service” jumped into a new role at the Vega Aircraft facility, with free rein to pursue a line of top-secret research at the behest of the Caroline Group. 

That connection was drawn for me by Morgan. First, he directed my attention to Brown’s 1939 Navy Fitness Report, which describes his role as… 

Research Physicist: since being detached USS Nashville on 30 Sept 1938 I have been engaged in building and installing a new sidereal radiation recorder in the Physics Dept of the University of Pennsylvania and in computing records for 1937 and 1938.

Morgan then suggested I make note of the mention of the USS Nashville, where Brown witnessed (if he did not actually supervise) the delivery of a horde of gold bullion from the Bank of England to the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

Morgan also highlighted the installation at the University of Pennsylvania. On July 28, 1942 (two months before his discharge from the Navy), Brown received an order from the Commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Schools to report to the University “to supervise the disassembling and packing of scientific equipment to be shipped to Atlantic Fleet Schools.” 

When I pressed Morgan for details, his response was typically opaque:

I can tell you⁠1 that the ‘stuff’ being moved from the University of Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Fleet Radar School was Dr. Brown’s own development – backed by both the Navy and the Caroline group. The University site was set up originally by a Caroline member – Eldridge Johnson – while Dr. Brown was on the USS Nashville. Upon his return much of this ‘stuff’ was reorganized and consolidated into a central location at the University. 

Money was there now to fund the project – some fifty million, which I think you already know about and can find the record of its transfer from England. 

Later the ‘stuff’ was shipped to California, where it continued its development under the darkest of conditions. 

*

On their way across the country, the Brown family stopped in Claremore, Oklahoma to tour the Will Rogers Museum. At the gift shop, Josephine picked out a handful of postcards to send to friends and family. Though she stashed the post cards in a coat pocket, they became slightly wrinkled by a light rain. 

To her parents – still living in the Washington, DC area – Josephine wrote: 

Dearest Folks,

We stopped here for lunch in Will Rogers home town. Weather is still good – much colder – will be half-way tomorrow nite. Joe is having a big time. We are now getting in the “Wide Open Spaces.” 

Love, 

Jo

Josephine was excited about the prospects for their future, but also worried aloud about how far they were going to be from her folks.

“California,” Josephine said to Townsend, “is a universe away.” 

Morgan described⁠2 what happened next: 

Dr. Brown agreed that it was indeed going to be quite a change. 

Then Josephine shuffled the damp cards into a neat stack, ready for posting. He watched her hand the stack of postcards to the clerk, their warped surfaces overlapping like rippled sheets of corrugated steel, when it suddenly occurred to him that the Universe was formed just like that wavy stack of cards, one on top of the other; that the surfaces all had connections with each other, and that to describe one of those cards would describe the whole.

Once that thought hit, he and Josephine went back into the dining room and ordered some desert – apple pie, with ice cream. Joseph ate his pie quickly and ran outside to investigate some penned deer on display for the tourists outside. But Josephine stayed to listen to this ‘different’ man she had married as he excitedly explained to her this profound realization that an infinite number of universes exist simultaneously. And that what one knows, they all know. Instantly.

I wrote back to Morgan, “So you have this…universe of infinite universes? And one of them always occupies the space you are sending your message to, and is right next to the point of origin? In one of those parallel universes?” 

I tried to fathom how that scenario might overcome the generally accepted velocity limit of the speed of light. But ‘speed’ is not really a factor if you’re merely wriggling from one parallel universe to another. If that’s how gravity waves travel, then the distance between parallel universes can be crossed instantly – because there is no distance. 

I posed the quandary to Morgan: “Please let me know if I’m hallucinating here, that I’m not having acid flashback, you know…??” 

And Morgan assured me: 

You are absolutely on the mark. Do you know how good that feels to type? Probably as good as it feels to read.

Townsend Brown was not the only one imagining a universe of infinite universes, as this figure from Space Time and Beyond by Dr. Fred Alan Wolf (aka 'Dr. Quantum') illustrates.
Townsend Brown was not the only one imagining a universe of infinite universes, as this figure from Space Time and Beyond by Fred Alan Wolf (aka ‘Dr. Quantum’) illustrates.

*

In much the same way that a submarine may not get its orders until it is already out to sea, Townsend and Josephine wended their way across the plains, waiting for the next transmission. 

Arriving in Los Angeles in early November, 1942, the family found a cozy bungalow on Wonderland⁠3 Drive in Laurel Canyon, deep in the eucalyptus-scented hollows of the Hollywood Hills. 

 Within days of their arrival, the FBI put a ‘thirty day cover’ on the Browns. The Bureau wasn’t actually reading their mail – that would have required a warrant – but the cover let the Bureau track from whom and to whom the Browns’ mail was coming and going. 

Why the FBI was interested in Townsend Brown remains an open question. The obvious explanation is J. Edgar Hoover was aware of Brown’s affiliation with William Stephenson – a foreign national who was known to conducting espionage operations on American soil, a realm that Hoover felt strongly should have been his own exclusive domain. 

Whatever the FBI’s interest, the Laurel Canyon address provided Townsend with an easy drive over the crest of Mulholland Drive into Burbank, where he went to work every day at the Vega Aircraft plant. 

A subsidiary of the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Vega was named for the parent company’s first production aircraft, the Lockheed Vega. Produced in 1927, the Vega was one of the first monoplanes, a six-passenger model that was highly prized among top pilots for its durability over long distances. When Amelia Earhart became the first woman to match Charles Lindbergh’s feat of crossing the Atlantic solo, she flew a Lockheed Vega.⁠4

With the onset of World War II, the Vega factory became Lockheed’s primary military facility, producing a quarter of the 12,000 B-17 bombers built during the war, and the P-38 Lightning – the “forked tail devil” that pressed the limits of propeller driven aircraft until jet engines were introduced in the later 1940s. 

Of his work on the P-38, Brown wrote, 

I was assigned to the Advanced Project Division at Lockheed, at the time when P-38’s were being manufactured. They were having trouble because it made a high-pitched scream as it flew. There were a lot of other problems due to the vibration of the fuselage. I came up with the idea of a vibration damper for which a patent was drawn up by Lockheed’s attorney. Since I was an employee the patent assigned to Lockheed. Shortly after that the screaming stopped and the vibration of the fuselage was eliminated.

That the Vega facility was already churning out more just than heavy bombers and high-performance fighters is suggested by the nature of the facility itself. Brown marveled that the location looked more like a Hollywood back lot than an industrial facility. As Morgan noted: 

Dr. Brown was amazed at the amount of effort that had been put into disguising the area from prying eyes. From the air, the plant itself looked like a normal suburb. There were houses, trees and streets –all of them fake. Dr. Brown told me that the thing that amazed him the most were the avenues of trees – really big trees, made entirely of chicken wire covered with papier-mâché bark. And the leaves were all feathers painted green. It wouldn’t work today of course. But back then it was an important altered vision of California.

Vega Aircraft was already the headquarters of Lockheed’s most advanced aviation research. The year after Brown arrived, work began on the the P-80 Shooting Star – the prototype for the first American jet fighters that flew just before the end of the war. 

But that’s not what Townsend Brown was working on. 

Starting in 1942, Townsend Brown parked his car in this camouflaged parking lot at Vega Aircraft in Burbank, CA

anImage_5.tiff

1 Morgan > PWS 050301

2 Hardcopy letter, undated

3 Of all the gin joints in all the towns… it seems an odd coincidence that the Brown’s found a bungalow on “Wonderland” Drive 

Of All The Gin Joints… Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (YouTube)

4 When she disappeared somewhere in the Pacific in 1937, Amelia Earhart was flying a much larger, new Lockheed Electra

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