from the Rabbit Hole #3: "He Made Things Up"
There is a flip side to Townsend Brown’s self-imposed reclusion that
became evident when I finally contacted Denison University about Townsend
Brown in October of 2004. In the vacuum left where the details of
Brown’s life should be found, it is easy for others to cast aspersions
upon his character.
In preparation for an
impending research expedition to Zanesville and Granville, I called
the library at Denison University and asked Heather Lyle, the school’s
archivist, what she could tell me about Townsend Brown, his academic
career, and his relationship with Dr. Paul Biefeld. Apparently, I
was not the first to call with such questions, and Heather didn’t
hesitate to express a rather dim view of the subject of my inquiry:
“He made things up,” she
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, we have files on
him,” Heather explained. “This inquiry comes up constantly from people,
because, you know, 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.”
She certainly had my attention.
This was not the first time that I’d encountered implications that
Townsend Brown might not have been entirely forthcoming in some of
his dealings. But this was the first time I’d heard a potentially
important source come right out and accuse him of being downright
“People are constantly
contacting us on the basis of these claims,” Heather continued, “so
we have a whole file ready to refute these claims.”
I asked if the file was
something she could copy and send to me.
“Oh no,” Heather said.
“It’s pretty extensive, so I’m not willing to do that.” At which point
we started making plans for me to visit Granville at the end of the
month to inspect the file myself. Then I pressed her a little further
on the content of the file:
“The Effect that Brown
discovered, he named it the “Biefeld Brown Effect…”
“But you’re telling me
he had little contact with Biefeld?”
“Well, he made up a lot
of things” Heather commented, giggling as though she was sharing a
secret previously kept among her girlfriends. “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.”
“And that’s all in your
file?” I asked.
“Well I can hardly wait
to see that….”
* * *
About three weeks later
I arrived with my entourage — my wife Ann and my research assistant,
Elizabeth Helen Drake — at the archives on the top floor of the Denison
University library, where Ms. Heather Lyle cheerfully supplied us
with the school’s “extensive file” on Thomas Townsend Brown.
The file begins with a
letter circulated around the Denison campus by e-mail in November,
1999 by Cara Gilgenbach, a former archivist to the Denison reference
libraries. Ms. Gilgenbach wrote:
Those of you who have
been here for some time may have already run into reference questions
• 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 also 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 of 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 to 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.
I don’t know what “bogus” biography Ms. Gilgenbach is referring to
here, but it certainly does seem that the reference to “UFO sites”
on the Internet is intended to dispel any remaining shred of credibility
the subject of her invective might have had left. And as for the Naval
Research Lab, there was nothing in the file indicating the results
of that inquiry. (Perhaps she had the same experience that I had when
I filed my own Freedom Of Information Act request with the NRL, of
which I will write more later.)
Another letter in the
file, an August, 2001 e-mail from an unnamed “former DU faculty member”
is apparently the primary source of Heather Lyle’s statement that
the file would reveal a “detailed history of the various scams that
he pulled…” Once again evoking the specter of “UFO’s” to challenge
credulity, this letter describes Brown’s arrival in Meadvile, 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 UFO’s). He arrived in a shiny black
Lincoln equipped with a radio telephone system (very uncommon in
those days; this was before transistors!). He dressed in expensive
suits and shoes. 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.” Using his presence, he
established charge accounts all over town….
The letter then describes
the two devices — the ‘ozone generator’ and the ‘levitation device’
(“… like a large pizza dish…”) that Brown demonstrated, apparently
for his potential investors, and then concludes,
A short time (maybe a
couple of months) after this presentation, [Brown] vanished, leaving
bills at all 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 a pair of letters from an earlier Denison archivist,
Florence Hoffman. Ms. Hoffman corroborates Brown’s academic history
at Denison, stating that he was
…a student at Doane Academy
(the preparatory school associated with Denison University) in 1922
and 1923. He 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.
Of the relationship between
Brown and Biefeld, Ms. Hoffman wrote,
We have never been able
to find any evidence of a collaboration by these two men 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.
That Biefeld’s family
had no knowledge of Townsend Brown or the “Effect” that bears their
name is apparently derived from correspondence in the Denison file
from the 1950s.
In November 1956, a UFO
investigator named Leon Davidson (apparently taking an interest in
the formation of NICAP, about which more later) wrote to Dr. L.P Biefeld
— the son of Paul A. Biefeld — to inquire about his father’s relationship
with Townsend Brown. To which Paul Biefeld’s son 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.
Perhaps even more revealing
is a letter written later that same year from Biefeld’s son to the
journalist Gaston Burridge* . Biefeld told 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
Such was the evidence
of scams and schemes, of relationships and academic records contained
in the Denison archives “extensive file.” Wherever we turned, the
evidence got thinner and thinner.
But while we were in Granville
that Halloween weekend in 2004, we found one more piece of evidence,
from an entirely different and totally unexpected source.
* * *
We — Linda Brown and I
— had been trying for months to obtain copies of Townsend Brown’s
service records for his time in the Navy that started with his enlistment
in 1930. The quest to recover those records is a story in its own
right that will perhaps be told later. What is pertinent for now is
that, whatever monumental challenges we encountered in this seemingly
routine request for seemingly routine records, the effort finally
bore fruit just before we arrived in Granville. By the time we got
there, Townsend Brown’s Navy records — or, rather, those that weren’t
entirely classified or even referred to anything classified — were
finally in our possession.
We didn’t really have
a chance to open the fat envelope with the naval records until sometime
after our visit to the Denison archives and our perusal of the material
described above, all of which cast aspersions on the character of
Townsend Brown and doubt on the strength of any relationship between
he and his purported mentor, Dr. Paul A. Biefeld.
So imagine our surprise
and satisfaction when we found among the Navy records an affidavit
from 1930, filed as part of a patent application, which details a
visit to Townsend Brown’s laboratory in his home in Zanesville Ohio
in February of that year:
In this affidavit, the
visitor describes how he traveled to Zanesville, Ohio in August of
1930 “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.” What he is describing was, in effect, a generator-and-motor
system based on what is now known as “The Biefeld-Brown Effect.” The
visitor also describes a curious phenomenon that accompanies the demonstration:
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, however, that the above named variations are caused by
forces external to the system…”
Here, the visitor is describing
the effect on Brown’s devices of the fluctuations that he had earlier
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 that was the source of his conclusion
that “gravity is a push, not a pull.”
Finally, 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.
And then the visitor signed
the affidavit with his name: Paul Alfred Biefeld.
Brown and his Anti-Gravity Discs" by Gaston Burridge
in Fate Magazine, 1958.