8.12.14

FIRST READ: THE CASE OF MORRIS JESSUP

M. K. Jessup. The Case for the UFO: Unidentified Flying Objects. Arco, 1955.

M. K. Jessup. The Expanding Case for the UFO. Arco, 1957.

Morris Ketchum Jessup was perhaps the first person to use the term ‘UFO’ in a commercial publication, which is something of an irony as very little of these books was devoted to stories of unidentified flying objects, rather they were devoted to a great variety of Fortean topics, such as Fortean falls, unusual archaeological ruins, mystery meteors, disappearing ships and crews and the like. Much of the second volume was devoted to strange things seen on the moon, and to peculiar speculation about pygmies. All of these oddities were ascribed to the UFOs: they had taken the crew off the Mary Celeste for example, and beams from them were responsible for the Devil’s hoof prints in Devon in 1855. They were also responsible, he hinted, for poltergeists.
At 13 this stuff seemed reasonable; it provided a nice “scientific” explanation for a variety of strange, alleged experiences. These, of course, included the fictional tales told by Ambrose Bierce of disappearing people. Jessup had his own take on the UFOs; they came from the earth, or rather from near earth orbit. In fact they came from the giant space ships built by the descendants of the pygmies.

At this point you begin to suspect that Jessup was, er well, rather strange. In fact his sad life and death should be a warning to parents not to name your kid after a famous relative. Morris had been named after a relative, Morris Ketchum Jesup (with just the one p), who was a philanthropist and businessman, and the younger Morris seems to have lived in his shadow. He trained to be an astronomer, but dropped out of university and seems to have wandered around in a sort of semi-permanent gap year, (geographical exploration is how he put it), and ended up a divorced used-car salesman in Miami. Depression took hold and like James McDonald killed himself by a hose fitted to his car exhaust..

Of course conspiracy theorists have had a field day with the notorious annotated edition of Case for the UFO - the co-called ‘Varo' edition which led to the ‘Allende File' and the story of the ‘Philadelphia Experiment'. The annotations are the ravings of the sort of person who writes in green ink in library books, and that Jessup took this seriously for even a fraction of a second suggests that he was already having mental health issues. Indeed I suspect that these were probably the reason for his dropping out of his studies back in the 1930s. His even odder book UFO and the Bible suggests someone trying to square the circle between his fundamentalist Christian upbringing and the science he had learnt at college. -- Peter Rogerson


9 comments:

  1. "The annotations are the ravings of the sort of person who writes in green ink in library books".... Wow. This is the first I've heard of the Green Ink Brigade of crackpots. I'll keep my eyes open for green ink jottings in library books.

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  2. Both Peter Rogerson and I are retired librarians, and can vouch for the reality of this phenomenon!

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    1. Fascinating. Thank you.

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  3. You are of course ignoring the possibility that extra-, ultra-, or indeed infra-terrestrials living undercover on this planet annotate library books with green ink as a secure means of communication. The internet can be monitored by government agencies, as can almost all other methods of transmitting information - but library books? Who'd bother? Especially since the kind of thing that constitutes vital information to these vast, cool intelligences is to us mere humans indistinguishable from the random jottings of some loony in a tinfoil trilby. Also, if you're not quite human and you'll never succeed in perfectly impersonating one, there are few places where you'll stand out less than in a typical public library...

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    1. Well, now that you've blown the cover of these extra-, ultra-, or infra-terrestrials living among us, green ink jottings in library books may no longer be a secure means for them to communicate. They may have to switch to orange ink or pink ink or yellow ink or whatever color of ink. And they may be royally p*ssed-off at you sir, so watch your back, especially when you're in a public library.

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  4. Green ink seems to be a peculiarly British indicator of the crackpot. Here in the U.S., the equivalent is Random Capitalization. Curious!

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    1. A former Archbishop of Canterbury once told an interviewer he was reluctant to enter reference libraries as he knew half of the people there were writing letters to him in green ink.

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  5. Why does the article feature a picture of James McDonald instead of Jessup?
    Also, you might want to double check the method of Jessup's unfortunate demise.

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    1. Corrections duly made, thank you.

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