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Morris Ketchum Jessup (March 2, 1900 – April 20, 1959), had a Master of Science Degree in astronomy and, though employed for most of his life as an automobile-parts salesman and a photographer, is probably best remembered for his pioneering ufological writings and his role in "uncovering" the so-called "Philadelphia Experiment".
Born near Rockville, Indiana, Jessup grew up with an interest in astronomy. He earned a bachelor of science degree in astronomy from The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1925 and, while working at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory, received a master of science degree in 1926. Though he began work on his doctorate in astrophysics, he ended his dissertaton work in 1931 and never earned the higher degree. Nevertheless, he was sometimes referred to as "Dr. Jessup." He apparently dropped his career and studies in astronomy and worked for the rest of his life in a variety of jobs unrelated to science, although he is sometimes erroneously described as having been an instructor in astronomy and mathematics at the University of Michigan and Drake University.
Mr. Jessup has been referred to in ufological circles as "probably the most original extraterrestrial hypothesiser of the 1950s", and it has been said of him that he was "educated in astronomy and archeology and had working experience in both." Actual evidence of an educational background in archaeology or archaeological field work is absent from Jessup's resume, but Jerome Clark reports that Jessup took part in archeological expeditions to the Yucatan and Peru in the 1920s.
Jessup achieved some notoriety with his 1955 book The Case for the UFO, in which he argued that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) represented a mysterious subject worthy of further study. Jessup speculated that UFOs were "exploratory craft of "solid" and "nebulous" character." Jessup also "linked ancient monuments with prehistoric superscience," years before similar claims were made by Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods? and other books.
Jessup wrote three further flying-saucer books, UFOs and the Bible, The UFO Annual (both 1956), and The Expanding Case for the UFO (1957). The latter suggested that transient lunar phenomenon were somehow related to UFOs in the earth's skies. Jessup's main flying-saucer scenario came to resemble that of the Shaver Hoax perpetrated by the science-fiction magazine editor Raymond A. Palmer—namely, that "good" and "bad" groups of space aliens were/are meddling with terrestrial affairs. Like most of the writers on flying saucers and the so-called contactees that emerged during the 1950s, Jessup displayed familiarity with the alternative mythology of human prehistory developed by Helena P. Blavatsky's cult of Theosophy, which included the mythical lost continents of Atlantis, Mu, and Lemuria.
Jessup also played a key role in the so-called "Philadelphia Experiment". In The Case for the UFO, Jessup theorized about the means of propulsion that flying saucer-style UFOs might use. Jessup speculated that antigravity and/or electromagnetism might have been responsible for the observed flight behavior of UFOs. He lamented, both in the book and in the publicity tour that followed, that space flight research was concentrated in the area of rocketry and that little attention was paid to other, theoretical means of flight, which he felt would ultimately be more fruitful.
On January 13, 1955, Jessup received a letter from a man identifying himself as "Carlos Miguel Allende". In the letter, Allende informed Jessup of the so-called "Philadelphia Experiment", alluding to contemporary newspaper articles as proof. Allende also said that he had personally witnessed a U.S. Navy warship named the USS Eldridge disappear and reappear while he was serving aboard a merchant marine ship in her vicinity, the SS Andrew Furuseth. He further named other crewmen with whom he served aboard the Andrew Furuseth and claimed to know the fates of some of the Eldridge crew members after the experiment, including one whom he supposedly saw disappear during a bar brawl. Jessup replied to Allende with a postcard, asking for further evidence and corroboration for the story, such as dates and specific details of his fantastic story. The reply came months later. However, this time the correspondent identified himself as "Carl M. Allen". Allen said that he could not provide the details for which Jessup was asking, but he implied that he might be able to recall by means of hypnosis. Jessup decided to discontinue the correspondence.
However, in the spring of 1957, Jessup was contacted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington, D.C., and asked to study the contents of a parcel that it had received, consisting of a paperback copy of his book in a manila envelope marked "HAPPY EASTER". The book had been extensively annotated by hand in its margins, and an ONR officer asked Jessup if he recognized the handwriting.
The lengthy annotations were written in three different colors of ink and appeared to detail a correspondence between three individuals, only one of whom is given a name: "Jemi". The ONR labeled the other two "Mr. A." and "Mr. B." The annotators refer to each other as Gypsies and discuss two different types of "people" living in space. Their text contained nonstandard use of capitalization and punctuation and detailed a lengthy discussion of the merits of various suppositions that Jessup makes throughout his book, with oblique references to the "Philadelphia Experiment", in a way that suggested prior or superior knowledge. For example, "Mr. B." reassures his fellow annotators, who have highlighted a certain theory of Jessup's, "HE HAS NO KNOWLEDGE, HE COULD NOT HAVE. ONLY GUESSING.[sic]"
Based on the handwriting style and subject matter, Jessup identified "Mr. A." as Carlos Allende/Carl Allen. Others[who?] have suggested that the three annotations are actually from the same person using three pens. The ONR later told Jessup that the return address on Allende's letter to Jessup was an abandoned farmhouse. They also informed Jessup that the Varo Corporation, a research firm, was preparing a print copy of the annotated version of The Case for the UFO, complete with both letters he had received. Numbers vary, but it appears that around one hundred copies of the Varo Edition were printed and distributed within the U.S. Navy. Jessup was also sent three copies for his own use.
Jessup attempted to make a living writing on the subject of UFOs, but his followup books did not sell well and his publisher rejected several other manuscripts. In 1958 his wife left him, and his friends described him as being somewhat unstable when he traveled to New York. After returning to Florida, he was involved in a serious car accident and was slow to recover, apparently increasing his despondency. On April 19, 1959, Jessup contacted Dr. Manson Valentine and arranged to meet with him the next day, claiming to have made a breakthrough regarding an event known as the Philadelphia Experiment. However, on April 20, 1959, Jessup was found dead in Dade County, Florida, with a hose between the exhaust pipe and a rear window of the vehicle, filling the car with toxic exhaust fumes. The death was ruled a suicide. Some people believed that "The circumstances of Jessup's apparent suicide remain mysterious" and conspiracy theorists contended that it was connected to his knowledge of the "Philadelphia Experiment". Although some friends claimed that he possibly had been driven to suicide by the "Allende Case," other friends said that an extremely depressed Jessup had been discussing suicide with his friends for several months before his act.