A Contactee Album

The so-called “contactees” of the 1950s have always amused and fascinated me, since my childhood days. In recently scouring the internet for more information on these individuals, such as George Adamski, Truman Bethurum, Daniel Fry, Orfeo Angelucci, etc., etc., etc., I was very dismayed to see that 95% of what turned up was just various recyclings of Wikipedia entries, that in fact were almost all originally written by me! Talk about self-pollination! On this page I'd like to provide some sidelights to this amazing era— afterthoughts, new insights, and additional background. And at the same time I want to focus on some of the almost forgotten contributors to the “contactee” ferment that lasted roughly from 1953 to 1965.

GLORIA LEE stood out among the contactees of circa 1960 in more ways than one. First, she was female, and second, she was a beautiful brunette. She was employed as an airline stewardess until her marriage in 1952; she then began to take an interest in the claims of George Adamski to have met and talked with entirely human-appearing men from the planet Venus. Gloria Lee seems to have earlier studied the synthetic religion of Oahspe (1882), as devised by a character named J. B. Newbrough (1828 - 1891). Newbrough's holy text, created by him supposedly via automatic writing, falls about halfway in terms of content between Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon (1830) and H. P. Blavatsky's roughly contemporary Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1885). As soon as Lee decided to make psychic contact with a space alien, she wound up communicating daily via automatic writing with an inhabitant of the planet Jupiter, known as J. W., whose teachings and wisdom bore a very marked resemblance to the teachings and wisdom of Oahspe. When J. W. transmitted plans for “a space vehicle,” Lee tried to bring them to the attention of “authorities in Washington DC,” with no success and with tragic consequences for Lee, who died in 1962 during a protest fast.

Before her death, Lee established the Cosmon Research Foundation to promote J. W.'s various ideas and teachings and provide practical applications. [Cosmon, aka Kosmon, is a term having meaning only within the religion of Oahspe, where it signifies something like “universe.”] Strangely, all of the wise Jupiter native's ideas turned out to be completely worthless. Oahspe itself has very few followers these days, as well.

DANA HOWARD was a follower of spiritualism, and specifically of spirit medium Rev. Bertie Lilly Chandler. During one of Chandler's weekly seances, in the mid 1950s, the Reverend accidentally managed to summon up and materialize a spectacularly beautiful, 8-foot-tall blonde Amazon from Venus, who immediately befriended Dana Howard. How spirit mediums, who professionally are supposed to communicate with the spirits of the dead, could materialize a living native of the planet Venus, did not seem to puzzle Howard or anyone else in the congregation. Perhaps the Venusians, as taught by Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy, are so spiritually advanced that they coexist as “pure spirit” and as living being! Howard soon learned to communicate with the Venusian, Diane, simply by laying down and closing her eyes. She also conveniently “remembered” past meetings with Diane, stretching back to her childhood, when she had been carried to Venus in the flesh in a flying saucer made of transparent crystal. Naturally, after some additional instruction by Diane, she was eventually able to visit Venus herself at will via astral projection. Howard was a prolific author, publishing something like eight different Venusian wisdom books or pamphlets between 1954 and 1964. However, I find virtually no information on the Internet about her. Too bad, because I would particularly like to know if she ever met four other infamous Venusian women, Jill, ViVenus, Christina and Onmec Onec! [And that's not even counting the wife of Howard Menger.] Or even the amazingly, exotically beautiful Dolores Barrios, who by accident resembled a painting of a Venusian that Adamski often exhibited during his talks.

HOWARD MENGER followed so closely in the footsteps of George Adamski that he often seemed to be consciously or unconsciously parodying him. While Adamski talked and telepathed to and chummed about with Venusians, Menger said he had married one! He was also given the secret of a perpetual motion machine (which, oddly enough, never seemed to work), a sure-fire extraterrestrial weight-loss diet, and new methods of farming! In his most amazing feat, he even brought back music as composed and performed on the planet Saturn, re-created by him for a 33-1/3 rpm LP record album, which he sold during his lecture tours. Occasionally (for example in 1960) Menger would confess in public, during an interview, that he was obviously making it all up— again, perhaps following in the footsteps of Adamski, who was fond of shocking new acquaintances by confessing in private that he was inventing everything connected with his contactee claims... for a good cause, of course, namely the popularization of the profound teachings of the various religious cults he had led since the 1930s. It is possible that Menger played a key role in a famous contactee hoax, involving self-proclaimed Venusian ambassador Valiant Thor. Menger was the only one of the 1950s contactees to live into the 21th Century, dying at the age of 87 in 2009, and still publishing saucer books almost to the very end.  If you search, you can find some YouTube interviews that he and his wife did during the past decade.

ORFEO ANGELUCCI always seemed to make the best impression in person of any of the mid-1950s contactees. The general impression I get from reading accounts of these gentlemen's interview and platform styles is that George Van Tassel made the worst overall impression, speaking in a strained voice and never making eye contact with the audience (I diagnose stage-fright), while founding father George Adamski was always genial and laid-back, but Orfeo (also known as Orville) Angelucci radiated enthusiasm, sincerity and humility, in a very winning combination.  It didn't hurt that Orville was thin and aesthetic-looking.  The usual contactee was a taxi-driver, mechanic or sign-painter in daily life, and it always showed. Angelucci didn't found his own religious cult, unlike most of the contactees, but he did use his space-brotherly communications to give validation to the many strange ideas about physics, astronomy and biology that he had been “working on” for decades before his initial contact claims.

GEORGE ADAMSKI is shown here with fellow Theosophist and contactee Dan Fry (with camera) at the third of George Van Tassel's Giant Rock Saucer Conventions, in 1955, and with Theosophist and co-author Desmond Leslie (seated) during a 3-month visit to Adamski's California home in 1954. As the Godfather of the Contactee movement, Adamski exhibited a charming “let a hundred flowers bloom” attitude. Instead of treating the contactees whose claims followed almost immediately upon his own as competitors and upstarts, he was generally sympathetic and supportive when he met them in person. Truman Bethurum was particularly nervous about meeting Adamski, since his claims weren't really in any way compatible with Adamski's, but he nevertheless got a warm welcome when he and his wife very hesitantly paid a visit to Adamski's Palomar Gardens commune.  The only 1950s contactee Adamski didn't seem to approve of was (inevitably) George Van Tassel.

TRUMAN BETHURUM— In time order, Bethurum was the second in line of the 1950s contactees, and he seemed to want to make his account as different from Adamski's pioneering story as possible. While it is difficult to rank the contactee stories according to level of absurdity, since they are all at some level utterly absurd, still the stories of Bethurum and of Buck Nelson stand out as falling far into the decidedly comic category. This uncredited illustration from Gavin Gibbons' They Rode in Space Ships captures the comic aspects pretty well. The saucer's crew of spacemen, according to Bethurum were dressed “like bus drivers,” while the Captain of the particular small saucer he was invited inside was a beautiful and sexy woman who dressed in terrestrial style and spoke standard English, but in rhyme. The artist has for some reason given her a halo! Bethurum was the first of the contactees to establish what soon became the standard “repeater” pattern— that is, he said he had had regular visits from and conversations with the space people, up to a dozen by the time he hesitantly visited George Adamski.  Bethurum was  nearly the only contactee who didn't base his story in whole or part on Theosophical lore, especially lore about the planet Venus and its godlike inhabitants.

GEORGE VAN TASSEL tended not to make a good impression when speaking about his Venusian contact experiences, and especially when “channeling via tensor-ray beam” messages from various Cosmic Masters of Wisdom such as Ashtar and Solgunda; this unintentionally very comical performance was a regular feature of his Giant Rock, CA flying saucer conventions held yearly from 1953 to 1978. Apart from Giant Rock itself, and George's cafe, the only attraction in the vicinity was George's Integratron, a small building shaped vaguely like an astronomical observatory. The secret of its construction was, of course, supplied by the Masters of Wisdom, aka the Council of Seven Lights, but somehow it never seemed to get finished, and what it was supposed to do once finished was left extremely vague. James Moseley, the great historian of what he aptly calls Ufoolology, explained why the conventions came to an end: “What killed it was that there were a lot of hard-ass bikers showing up and raising hell and it wasn’t the sort of gentle, New Age crowd that Van Tassel was catering to, and he sort of got tired of it. While it was going on, it was a wonderful circus, with thousands of people, each on their own wavelength, who would come out there and camp. He wouldn’t charge them, except if they ate food at the diner he had out there. He didn’t really make a lot of money on it, he was just a nice guy, and I really liked him.” Van Tassel died about a year after the final convention was held.

Attendee Gregory Bishop gives the following sample of what Van Tassel's sessions were like: The speaker's makeshift platform stood high against Giant Rock itself. The interminable preparations came to an end and George Van Tassel climbed up to speak. Shortly, he was heard to say, "Yes, we are here. Who am I talking to?"

For several minutes listeners heard only a one-sided conversation. "NOW who am I talking to? Well, somebody else keeps butting in! CONFOUND IT, YOU KEEP SWITCHING AROUND ON ME! Let's settle on who is to do the talking tonight!"

Suddenly, Van Tassel began speaking in a loud, harsh voice which identified itself as 'Knut'.


Knut proceeded to tell the assembled party that he was stationed in a "300-foot supply ship, approximately 200 miles to the south, and 5260 feet high." When the group [turned] to look for this miraculous craft, they were rewarded with nothing more than the beauty of the desert night and a few shooting stars.

GEORGE KING— British taxi driver and yoga enthusiast, came a bit late to the Contactee Circus, making his first claims in 1956, but he quickly founded a fairly successful religion, which continues to the present day, and got his followers involved in some unique ways in various highly original projects. In one of the efforts, which occupied 1958 through 1961, King was obeying the commands of the Cosmic Masters of Wisdom to climb something like 18 small peaks, all very conveniently located in Great Britain, so he could use his powers as a “channel” to charge these pinnacles with pure cosmic energy. These mountains are apparently now safe for all to climb and sit down to meditate and absorb, or send out their own energies. However, there's no definitive list anywhere of specifically which peaks were energized, or even how many. King's most famous innovation, very likely, was the Prayer Battery. It looks like a small empty box, but for many years, in regular services, scores of followers charged the prayer battery by directing toward it all manner of powerful prayers and mantras. This collective energy should be able to alleviate all the evils, miseries and disasters of the world, but somehow it never has. King died in 1997 at the age of 78, and without his continual guidance, his official cult, the Aetherius Society, has pretty much gone adrift. The official web page has not been updated since 2006.

If you're interested, the principles of his cult as laid down by King are the usual mix of Theosophy [which seems to be at the basic core of all the 1950s contactee messages] and pantheism, but it also incorporates a variety of other New Age beliefs, plus a few quirks unique to King himself. Alice A. Bailey has a lot to answer for, since her fingerprints are all over the typical spectrum of beliefs of most of the UFO religious cults, including King's.

FRANCES SWAN was certainly among the most obscure of the classic 1950s contactees, those ill-assorted individuals who claimed to have established direct personal contact, or some other form of regular communication, with friendly extraterrestrials. When Mrs. Swan came to the attention of flying saucer researchers in 1954 she was a housewife living in Eliot, Maine, reportedly not too far from later contactee/abductee Betty Hill. Mrs. Swan, like a number of other 1950s contactees, particularly women, used somewhat esoteric methods in her communications with space aliens. While others used the Ouija board or trance channeling, Mrs. Swan used the spirit-medium's old standby, automatic writing. In April 1954, Mrs. Swan began to receive messages from Affa of Uranus, who was in command of spaceship M-4 currently orbiting the earth, and later from Ponnar, commander of another orbiting ship, L-11. (The names of Mrs. Swan's extraterrestrial contacts suggest that she had just finished reading The Saucers Speak (1954), by George Hunt Williamson and Alfred J. Bailey, which reports Ouija-board contacts with dozens of space aliens, including Affa and Ponnar.) Mrs. Swan's Affa had the usual Space-Brotherly messages from his "Universal Association of Planets," such as that earthmen needed to be sternly warned against further experimentation with nuclear weapons. Surviving letters from Mrs. Swan to highly gullible Canadian saucer researcher Wilbert B. Smith indicate she was hostile to most of the other 1950s contactees, and particularly to George Van Tassel. She later claimed to have once met Affa in the flesh, when he walked into the Grange Hall in Eliot which she was decorating for a party, and conversed for a few moments about generalities, back in the fall of 1953. At that time he did not identify himself as either Affa or a space alien. Swan happened to live next door to a retired USN Admiral, Herbert B. Knowles, and used him as a connection to try to bring Affa's messages to the attention of the US government. [Knowles inevitably later got involved with Betty and Barney Hill.] When Affa conspicuously failed, on June 10, 1954, either to appear personally or to make a radio broadcast, as promised to officials through Mrs. Swan, Affa's five minutes of fame seemed to be over. Perhaps he felt a sense of desperation when on July 28, 1954 he revealed that “This earth is really going to end as stated in the Holy Bible around 1956.” Affa's messages generally had the same total and complete lack of coherent content as the standard communications from the spirit world conveyed by mediums in the period 1850 - 1940. A sample: “Hello folks.... Always remember I do not work through any forces like the spirits or feelings of compulsion on the part of anyone.... Never fear--- do as you please. All I ask is that you stand by. All is the same as it has been. Now off, love, Affa.” Affa's somewhat testy remarks about "spirits" and "feelings of compulsion" were apparently triggered by the fact that a number of other individuals near the US-Canada border, including Wilbert Smith himself, had started "receiving" their very own messages signed "Affa," via automatic writing, Ouija board or trance channeling.  Attempts to contact the friendly aliens by shortwave radio had been pioneered by George Hunt Williamson, but always resulted in pops and static being proclaimed to be Morse code, which when transcribed oddly enough never seemed to make any sense whatsoever.

DOROTHY MARTIN became infamous under the “name-changed-to-protect-the-guilty” cognomen of Marion Keech, in the pioneering sociological study When Prophecy Fails (1956). Martin was born in 1900 near Mt. Shasta, CA, and quickly fell under the spell of the I AM religious cult founded by Guy and Edna Ballard. She went on from I AM to more mainstream Theosophy, to the variant teachings of Alice A. Bailey, and on again by the 1940s to various other crazes of the day, such as L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, but after reading Truman Bethurum's first contactee book she turned to automatic writing to communicate with the spiritually-advanced Wise Men of the planet Clarion. The resulting messages from “Sananda” (a formerly VenusianTheosophical guru who was once incarnated under the more familiar name Jesus) made Martin the titular leader of a small religious cult, the Seekers. By this time she was a housewife in suburban Chicago, where the newspapers found space for her most infamous prediction from Clarion, that the earth would be destroyed on December 21, 1954. Needless to say, members of the Seekers who followed certain simple rules would be saved, when a saucer from Clarion landed in Mrs. Martin's back yard just before the end, to take everyone on board.  Nothing happened, of course, and the Seeker membership gradually dwindled away as Mrs. Martin's messages from Clarion became ever more vague and inconsequential— one might say she had learned her lesson.

George Hunt Williamson in 1959

Dorothy Martin becomes very difficult to trace through the next few years. A rumor that she was going to be arrested and confined to a mental hospital spread through her acquaintances and followers, and she dropped out of sight. Sources disagree as to where she spent the next 10 years. One report is that she moved to Arizona, renewed her interest in Dianetics and went on to get involved with Hubbard's infamous Church of Scientology. Her own later claim was that she spent years in Peru trying to help contactee pied piper George Hunt Williamson set up a monastery! Those who were actually with Williamson in Peru don't recall Martin; Williamson spent most of his time wandering around looking fruitlessly for traces of ancient cities built by Cosmic Masters of Wisdom, as guided by jungle Ouija-board sessions. However, Martin did definitely know Williamson, and she learned a major life lesson from him... to start over, you have to change your name... as many times as necessary. [Williamson became known after the 1950s under a variety of assumed names, including Brother Philip.]

Sister Thedra toward the end of her life.

However Martin spent the decade, she came back strong, popping back into public sight in Arizona in 1965 as Sister Thedra, and founding a new religion, the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara, yet another variant of the already-variant-Theosophical dogmas that almost all of the classic 1950s contactees were using as an underlying basis for the Masterly Wisdom communicated to them by Space-Brotherly sources. Breathlessly she related to new converts that while she had been in South America somewhere, or maybe Yucatan, she had suddenly developed incurable cancer and that almost at once, good old Sananda had appeared in the flesh to heal her completely, and to permit his photograph to be taken! You will be disappointed to see, if you look up the photo on the internet, that it's just a standard pencil sketch of the standard Sunday-School version of Jesus. It's not even autographed! After relocating the cult from Arizona to her old stomping grounds near Mt. Shasta, she relocated it yet again, this time to Sedona, Arizona, where she continued in the role of Cosmic Mother Superior and Primary Terrestrial Mental Channel for the rest of her long life, dying at the ripe old age of 92.

WILLIAM DUDLEY PELLEY had a significant impact on the early 1950s contactee movement, although it's difficult to document from surviving sources just how the influences flowed to and from Pelley. At about 20, Pelley entered journalism as a career, editing small-circulation magazines and small-town newspapers, eventually becoming a mildly-famous foreign correspondent in the days immediately following World War I. Upon his return to the US, he started a new career writing novels, short stories and silent film scripts; you can find his fiction in many large-circulation slick and pulp magazines in the 1920 - 30 era.

In 1928, he asserted that he had been spiritually transported to Heaven for 7 minutes, where he was greeted warmly in person by all three members of the Trinity, and returned to found a new religion that was a bizarre mix of fundamentalist Christianity, Spiritualism, Theosophy and Theocracy. The Theosophy he had probably picked up during his years in Hollywood. There was practically a revolving-door relationship between Pelley's cult and the I AM cult created by Guy and Edna Ballard. Pelley also had many bizarre political and social ideas, not completely dissimilar to ones espoused by current congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Pelley took Adolf Hitler as a particular inspiration and as a role model, and in 1933 he founded the Silver Legion, aka the Silver Shirts, a militant fascist organization, as well as a political party, the Christian Party.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the US entry into World War II, saw Pelley disbanding the Silver Legion. But he had continued to issue a variety of magazines and newsletters throughout the interval of 1928 - 1942, and most of these publications called for some kind of overthrow of the U.S. government, by peaceful or violent means; convicted of sedition and insurrection, Pelley spent 1942 - 1949 in a federal prison. Once out, Pelley promptly founded a new organization known as Soulcraft, with regular newsletters, magazines and pamphlets galore, and he also quickly wrote and published a seminal but little-remembered work called Star Guests (1950), which consists almost entirely of communications via automatic writing from intelligences on other planets, and seems to constitute the first appearance in print of many now-familiar pseudoscience themes that were developed by others in tremendous elaboration between 1952 and the 1970s. From his prison release until his death in 1965 at the age of 75, Pelley tended to dial back a bit on direct far-right-wing commentary on political and social topics. Instead, he continued as a regular champion of Theosophical Spiritualism and practitioner of automatic writing, communicating interchangeably with both godlike spirit entities and spiritually advanced beings of other planets, thereby profoundly influencing George Hunt Williamson (who worked on the small staff producing Pelley's newsletters), George Adamski, Dorothy Martin, and many others in the very early (1952 - 6) days of Contactee fever.

Almost everything I have found on the internet about Pelley is either wrong, garbled or incomplete. Only one scholarly biography of him exists, which I haven't seen. If scholarly biographies of George Adamski and George Hunt Williamson are ever written, we might discover that Pelley was the unsung creator of and direct stimulus for the entire Contactee movement of the early 1950s.

AUTOMATIC WRITING appears so often as a medium of communication on this page that a short history of it is advisable, particularly since I can't find any good discussion of it anywhere on the internet. During the half-century from 1850 to 1900, the craze of Spiritualism swept the world, and spirit mediums scrambled to find an efficient yet impressive means of creating the illusion that the “information” they conveyed to sitters did come from a supernatural source rather than the medium herself. [Almost all the famous mediums were female, with a few notable male exceptions such as Henry Slade and Daniel Home.] One early solution was the stylus planchette. This was a miniature table, which rolled easily on top of the table around which the sitters were seated. The medium, and one or two other sitters, placed their fingers lightly atop the planchette, and a piece of paper was pinned to the tabletop. Then, once spirits were contacted, the planchette began to move apparently on its own and actually write messages on the paper... messages from the Spirit Realm! In practice, this turned out to be fairly clumsy, so various mediums began simply to hold a fountain pen directly in their hands, but in an unusual grip, or using a specially-made holder. The medium then simply wrote the spirit messages straightforwardly on a piece of paper, which she held fixed with her other hand. The final evolution of the scam was for the medium just to hold the fountain pen normally and write normally, while going through the ritual of establishing communication with a specific spirit before beginning the writing. However, there was a parallel development, which has never been very popular among mediums. Typewriters were evolving rapidly throughout the 19th Century, and by the post-Civil-War era, male American mediums like J. B. Newbrough, the creator of Oasphe, were doing their automatic writing efficiently, legibly and rapidly on the typewriter!

Use of a typewriter actually solves a problem that mediums encountered when faced with intelligent and/or skeptical sitters. It was easy to see that if an opaque barrier were placed between the medium's face and her hand doing the writing, the writing quickly devolved into an unintelligible scrawl, indicating to all but the most stupid that it was the medium herself, and not some imaginary supernatural source, producing the messages. However, once the typewriter keyboard design had standardized, it was easy to learn to type by touch, which meant that the typist did not need to be able to see the keyboard or his or her fingers in order to type texts. [Of course this raised the separate question of how a spirit dead for many years, or a space alien from another planet, knew how to type rapidly on a late 19th or early 20th Century typewriter!]

Throughout the 20th Century, female mediums have almost invariably preferred the traditional versions of automatic writing for sitters, using either the increasingly rare fountain pen, or an ordinary pencil if necessary. [Fountain pens are still the most popular devices for the purpose, since they can be adjusted to require little or no pressure between pen tip and paper to provide a bold, legible line.] I haven't yet encountered automatic e-mails, or automatic text messages from the Spirit Realm or the Space Brothers... but it may be only a matter of time.

Some books by George Adamski: -Questions and Answers by The Royal Order Of Tibet (1936) -Wisdom of the Masters of the Far East (1936) -Pioneers of Space: A Trip to the Moon, Mars and Venus (science fiction, 1949) -Flying Saucers Have Landed (with Desmond Leslie, 1953) -Many Mansions (1955) -Inside The Space Ships (1956) -Telepathy: The Cosmic or Universal Language (1958) -Flying Saucers Farewell (1961) -Cosmic Philosophy (1961)

Some books by Dana Howard: -My Flight To Venus (1954) -Diane: She Came From Venus (1956) -Over the Threshold (1957) -The Strange Case of T. Lobsang Rampa (1958) -Vesta, the Earthborn Venusian (1959) -Up Rainbow Hill (1959) -The Keys to the Citadel of Space (1960) -The Kingdom of Space (1963)

Some books by George King: -You Are Responsible! (1961) -The Nine Freedoms (1963) -The Day The Gods Came (1964) -You Too Can Heal (1976)

Some books by Truman Bethurum: -Aboard a Flying Saucer (1954) -The Voice of the Planet Clarion (1957) -Facing Reality (1958) -Messages from the People of the Planet Clarion (1970)