Chapter 73

Something Happened


Linda Brown remembers the spring and summer of 1958 as the happiest time of her childhood. 

By the middle of May, the Brown family's life in the North Carolina foothills had settled into a tranquil, domestic routine. The cabin they now lived in — and owned! — sat amid 15 acres of lush woodland.  “It was mainly woods,” Linda recalls, “with a wonderful little lake with a stream feeding into it and a spillway on the other side.  Beyond the spillway was a trail that went into the mountain laurel and pines.  I walked and walked, missing Helen more than just a little bit…”

Linda enrolled in the elementary school in nearby Walktertown, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make friends. On her first day in the school yard, a group of kids came over to check out the new kid. “I was apprehensive,” Linda remembers, “because kids can be cruel to a newcomer and I didn’t know what to expect.”

The apparent leader of the group was a tall, lanky, good looking boy who walked right up to Linda, stuck out his hand and said “Hi!” with an accent that sounded to Linda like something “straight out of Andy Griffith.” 

“My name is Tommy Carmichael,” the boy said.  “Welcome to Walkertown!”

Linda remembers, “I just sort of gulped in surprise, because no one had ever been that friendly before and all the other kids seemed the same.”

Tommy wanted to know, “Do you play softball?”

“I wanted to die right there,” Linda recalls, “because I was a terrible softball player.  In my other schools softball meant hiding out in the outfield and praying that the ball wouldn’t come my way. The kids in Leesburg had gone out of their way to avoid picking me for their teams.  I was always the last one chosen.”

Linda lowered her eyes as she answered Tommy. “No,” she said, “I’ve never really learned.”

Tommy laughed.  “Well come on then!” Tommy boomed, “We’ll teach ya!”

“And off we ran,” Linda recalls.  “A whole pack of us.  Suddenly I was part of a whole crowd of kids!  I had never quite known any reception like that! I thought that they all were just wonderful and decided right there that the parents of these kids must be special, too…”

* * *

About a week after the school year ended, Linda had another dream.  But there were no flying saucers in this one.  Only horses.  One horse, in particular. 

Since their cabin was so far out in the country —  “the last stop off the school bus after almost an hour” — Townsend and Josephine were concerned that Linda would be terribly isolated when school let out.  So they came up with an idea that might keep her occupied through the summer.

They offered to buy her a horse.

“Of course I had been dreaming about having my own horse forever,” Linda said. “Just a week or so before school let out, Daddy told me that, since we had the land, and if I promised to be totally responsible for it, he would buy me a horse. You can imagine how excited I was!”

For the next week or so, Townsend and Linda drove around to farms in their rural community, trying to find just the right horse.

“Off we would go,” Linda said, “to look at first one horse and then another. I would have taken the first one, but Dad kept saying, ‘no, that’s not the right one…. No, not the right one.’ After about ten of those refusals I started becoming really depressed.”

At one point Linda almost gave up the quest, actually entertaining the notion that her parents were playing some kind of “mean trick” on her.  “I can remember actually thinking that,” she says.

As fate would have it, the father of Tommy Carmichael — the boy who had been so welcoming in the schoolyard — just happened to be a local horse trader whose barn was just outside of Walkertown.  Townsend had asked him to look over some of the horses and “I think that he was beginning to think that Dad would never be satisfied either,” Linda said.

And then one night, Linda had a dream.

“I told Dad about it  before he went to work in the morning. I had seen a running horse.  A totally black horse with a long mane and tail. It was saddled but had no rider, and its reins were loose. I distinctly remembered the saddle blanket which had horizontal stripes in big bands — white and red and black. ... It was a mare, neighing and tossing her head and then running alongside a white farm fence.”

Townsend listened intently.  When she was done describing her dream, he said, “Sweetie, I think there’s a reason why the horse in your dream was riderless.  That horse is looking for you.”  And then Townsend got ready to go to work at the Bahnson lab, dropped Linda off at the bus stop at the top of their lane, and told her to have a good day at school.

While Linda was in school, Josephine got a call from Mr. Carmichael, who had another horse to show them if they could come into town that evening. Josephine called Townsend at the lab, arrangements were made, and everybody prepared to converge on the Carmichael farm later that day.

But “this time around,” Linda says, “I was… not excited. In fact, when we all got to the stables Mr. Carmichael told us to go on out to the arena and he would turn on the lights and Tommy would get the horse. I was so depressed and sure that this was going to be another wash-out that I didn’t even bother to go to the barn with Tommy. I walked to the arena with Mom and Dad. We were standing there when Tommy walked the mare toward us.  She was so black that you couldn’t even really see her at first but as soon as I saw that striped blanket I reached up and grabbed Dad’s arm. I don’t remember saying anything. I was just sort of thunderstruck.”

As he opened the gate to bring the horse to Linda and her parents, Tommy misjudged the opening; the gate swung back and bumped the mare on her hind quarters.  The startled horse reared and bolted, tearing herself away from Tommy’s grip, and proceeded to run circles around inside the arena fence — which was also identical to the fence that Linda had seen in her dream.

“Then,” Linda said, the horse “flipped her head in my direction.  She neighed and then took off again! I just collapsed, literally in tears, fell straight to the ground the ground. I am sure, looking back on it now, that Mr. Carmichael was saying to himself, “Oh shit....”

But Townsend watched the scene unfolding before him, and turned to Mr. Carmichael and said calmly, “We’ll take the horse.  And we want that saddle and blanket, too.”

Tommy Carmichael finally got a hold of [Beauty], Linda had a chance to ride her for just a few minutes, but the deal was already struck.  “By then Dad had already given Mr. Carnichael a check,” Linda said, “and I was delirious with joy.”

Almost immediately, Linda started calling the mare “Beauty,” seeing as how she was under the influence of Anna Sewell’s classic horse-and-girl novel, “Black Beauty.” 

“Tommy said it was stupid,” Linda said, “but nothing else fit. She was an older mare and I am sure she already had a name, but it didn't come along with her so I was able to name her on my own. She was just about the most beautiful horse I had ever seen so ‘Beauty’ fit her as far as I was concerned.”

After the horse-trading was done, Townsend took Linda to a local restaurant.  Linda chattered on about what great care she was going to take of her new treasure.  And then Townsend presented her with another one.  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a tiny box.  Inside was a silver ring with a dazzling blue lapis-lazuli stone.

“Here,” Townsend Brown said to his daughter as he presented her with the ring, “this will help you remember this very special moment.”

Linda put that ring on her finger in June of 1958, and wore it every day of her life until she gave it to Morgan on New Years Day in 1966.

A girl and her horse: Linda Brown and "Beauty"

* * *

Speaking of Morgan: Of the nearly twelve-hundred messages I received from Morgan, perhaps none was as perplexing as this one, from April, 2004:

While in Florida in 1957 [Dr. Brown] continued to refine and develop that "network of sets" and the organization that went with them.

That year… Agnew Bahnson [contacted] Dr. Brown and set up even further work on the propulsion system, which is a direction that Dr. Brown had decided he needed to pursue. Actually he was becoming interested in developing further what he called then the "Flame Jet Generator".

However, in August of 1958 something major happened which changed his course suddenly and drew him almost immediately into the organization that I now call home. As in my situation, this move was encouraged by old ties put together initially by the Caroline Group. Again details will slowly follow…

Of course, the promised “details” never really did follow, and so we have been left to speculate just what was that “major” something that happened during August 1958 that would ultimately prove to be such a pivotal event in the life of Townsend Brown and his family.

One event that may have been a precipitating factor was the international situation known as the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. 

Starting August 23, Mao Tse-tung ordered the  heavy bombardment the islands of Quemoy and Matsu.  These tiny islands, less than 10 miles into the Strait of Taiwan, were among the last strongholds of Chiang Kai-shek’s vanquished Nationalists, who used the islands as a staging ground for frequent raids into the Communist controlled mainland.  Furthermore, Mao — who had only recently stated his belief that half of the population of China could survive a nuclear war — was determined to assert his independence from the Soviet Union’s dominance of Communist ideology.  Mao was still six years from acquiring his own nuclear weapons, but that did not deter his willingness to confront the Eisenhower administration with repeated declarations of his intent to “liberate” Taiwan.

Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, were determined to provide whatever support was necessary to preserve what little was left of Chiang Kai-shek’s government in exile.  Promising “timely and effective action to defend Taiwan,” a large naval force was dispatched to the area. And that’s where they started running into problems — with communications.

The trail starts getting harder to follow from here, but let’s see what breadcrumbs we can find along the way….

In his voluminous expose on the National Security Agency, Body of Secrets, investigative journalist James Bamford describes President Eisenhower’s frustration with the length of time it took for critical intelligence to reach his desk:

…it took an average of 8 hours and 35 minutes for a message containing critical intelligence to reach the White House.  President Eisenhower demanded that the time be reduced to minutes.  At a National Security Council meeting on August 27, 1958, attended by Eisenhower, CIA director Allen Dulles agreed that there was little purpose in developing critical intelligence overseas unless we had the communication means to insure its rapid transmission to Washington.”

Another significant development that took place during the same month — August, 1958 — was the appointment of one Louis Tordella as deputy director of the NSA.  With Tordella’s appointment, the face and focus of the United States intelligence community changed dramatically, comprehensively — and quickly — on all fronts.

At the NSA, the top post is typically a political appointment; the deputy director is the hands-on manager of the Agency’s actual operations.  To that post, Louis Tordella  brought an extensive resume with experience in the fields of electrical engineering and cryptanalysis. His combined expertise and new position gave him the authority to accelerate the development of supercomputers.  His influence was also instrumental in strengthening the relationship between the intelligence community and the electronics industries, and laid the foundation for what today might be considered the “military intelligence complex.”

Less than a month after Eisenhower had demanded that intelligence communications be accelerated dramatically, Tordella went to the Oval Office with a plan.  As Bamford writes:

Tordella proposed a system known as CRITICOMM.  After Tordella outlined the costs and benefits, Eisenhower turned to the deputy secretary of defense and said, “Do it.” Within six months NSA was able to reduce transmission time from more than 8 hours to 52 minutes.  In another six months the agency was able to have a CRITIC, or critical intelligence message, on Eisenhower’s desk within a brief thirteen minutes, regardless of where it had originated.  Eventually, the time shrunk to between three and five minutes.

When I read that passage in Bamford’s book, I knew instantly that I had seen it before. 

In the weeks before our e-mail correspondence began, in a hard-copy letter I received in the early spring of 2004, Morgan wrote:

Before Brown’s input it took nearly eight hours to get a message flash (CRITIC, the highest priority) from somewhere ... say ... Moscow.  By August 1958 the time had been cut to 52 minutes and now it’s down to… well, the human is the slowest thing in the process...

Somewhere in there, between Bamford’s book and Morgan’s messages, are Townsend Brown’s fingerprints.

And for all we know, Morgan could just as well have been Bamford’s confidential source as well as mine.

* * *

In the fall of 1958, Bahnson’s notes begin to again reflect the frustration and discouragement he’d commented on prior to Brown’s arrival.  In a nearly four-page entry dated October 28, Bahnson sums it all up:

Electrodynamics appears to be an interesting frontier of both applied and pure research today.  Electricity, which is essential to modern society, is poorly understood from a basic standpoint of what the field forces constitute or what they may imply.

He observes that part of the difficulty they have experienced is due to the scale of their experiments, and the limited size of the bell jars at their disposal and the proximity of the bell jar walls to the high-voltage apparatus within. Then he notes the continued ambivalence of the scientific community to the direction of his experiments:

Our research has approached this problem of electro-dynamics on a macroscopic level.  Much of the time during the last year and a quarter has been devoted to the objections of the classical viewpoint toward observed phenomena.  The very premise that a simple condenser of a certain geometrical configuration will show not only an attraction of one plate to another but also a movement through space of the entire assembly has not only been doubted, but when understood has been declared as a phenomenon to be ignored or written off in terms of wind effects in air or environmental influence in a vacuum.

One of the major objections raised against these experiments was the gross macroscopic effects observed.  But one should recognize the fact that we are working on a macroscopic level of 200kv with relatively confined quarters both in air and in vacuum.  The comment has also been voiced that strange things happen at high voltage (emphasis added) and particularly in high vacuum, but this hardly appears to be a defensible excuse for the modern scientist to ignore the phenomenon. 

The problem becomes: can the investigation of these strange things be fruitful.

A truly new and practical propulsive means is one of the high priority goals of both military and civilian science.  Our experiments indicated a propulsive means, generally unexpected, both in air and in vacuum.  The vacuum experiments which may point to space propulsion are hopelessly complicated in our present laboratory by three things:  the degree of vacuum, the proximity of the bell jar walls, and the inadequacy of combining an electromagnetic or alternating current with static electricity which shows certain subtle results.

Bahnson expresses further doubts about the logical processes that govern modern science, i.e. the willingness to accept on a theoretical or microscopic scale the same phenomena that are rejected at the threshold of practical application:

It appears to be a paradox that the modern scientist is intrigued by the microscopic evidence in an unfamiliar field but will quickly discount a macroscopic phenomenon in an unexpected manifestation, even though no conclusive explanation is forthcoming. 

The few people involved in these studies have had neither the time and/or background to give a conclusive answer.  With a well equipped laboratory setup to investigate these phenomena, it appears appropriate for one or more qualified scientists to not only appraise the preliminary macroscopic results but to see the more subtle microscopic implication of those experiments which have not been conclusively explained, possibly for lack of complete data on the part of serious casual investigators.  The search should not be abandoned…

On October 30, 1958, Bahnson describes a visit to the lab by Dr. Jonas Whitten and Dr. Daniel Kahn, both representing the Glenn L. Martin Company.  The third item in the agenda is a presentation on the subject of "Electrohydrodyamics by T.T.B." 

That is the last time Brown is mentioned in Bahnson’s notebooks.

* * *

The Brown family’s whole North Carolina adventure lasted less than seven months, from the middle of April until the end of October, 1958. 

What Linda Brown remembers most about leaving Walkertown is her own tears.

“It was the most wonderful home I had ever had up to that point. We had animals up the ying-yang. We had ducks, too, that would walk up to the cabin from the water’s edge and Dad would feed them. And Beauty knew that the sight of Dad near the cabin was always good for at least an apple or two. I had even given names to all the fish in the pond.”

The next thing she remembers, the only home her family ever owned had been sold, and she was showing the new owner around.  “He told Mom, ‘I can’t go fishing until you folks leave.  She’s got all the fish named!’”

“I’d spent the summer with the kids from school,” Linda recalled, “rode my horse all over the county, swam with friends in the lake, had overnight camp-outs.  And then I had to check out of the school just before Halloween, and I remember very vividly crying as I ran down the stairs.”

Of the countless schools Linda Brown attended in her nomadic academic life, she says “Walkertown Elementary was the only school I ever cried about leaving.”

* * *

Whatever happened in August, Dr. Brown was still in North Carolina on September 29th when he posted an entry in his notebook entitled “Theory of pressure confinement.” Dr. Brown seems to be echoing the sentiments expressed in Bahnson’s notes, when he writes:

In plotting the lines of force in various electrode configurations, it becomes apparent that some rather surprising results could be produced which, at first glance, would seem to be in direct violation of the basic electrostatic laws.

This assertion is followed by a couple of simple diagrams showing the attraction and repulsion of electrical charges, and then

In the case of a simple saucer, it is advantageous to ground the cathode, allowing the anode canopy to carry a high charge relative to ground. The situation would then be as follows:

(click image to enlarge)


After completing this entry in Volume #2 of the notebooks he had been diligently keeping for more than three years, Townsend Brown closed the cover.  

The next time he opened Volume #2 was on October 23, 1967, when he wrote on page 21:

During the period
From October 1958 to
October 1967 (9 yrs)
No notes were made.

(click image to enlarge)


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