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The 1950s Flying Saucer Conventions at an Underground Rock House

Remembering, George Van Tassel’s Annual Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions in the Mojave Desert in the early 1950s. For 25 or so years, other worldly inspired Americans and the great names of Contactee Ufology gathered there to commune with Space Beings…

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’.

“I AM KNUT. I BRING YOU LOVE.”

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 stepped outside to look for this miraculous craft, they were rewarded with nothing more than the beauty of the desert night and a few shooting stars.

This typical channelling session at the Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention in 1958 was recalled by UFO chronicler Gray Barker in his Gray Barker At Giant Rock (1976). The story of these open-air conventions near Yucca Valley, in California’s Mojave Desert, is really the story of the American flying saucer contactee movement. For over 25 years – from the 1950s through the late ’70s – friends of the alien saucerians met and channelled and sold their wares in the comfortable company of the true believers.

George Van Tassel quit his job as an aircraft inspector for Howard Hughes’ Lockheed company. He bought some land in the desert and leased (from the US Government) an adjacent abandoned airstrip known as Giant Rock Airport. He planned a simple retirement at the early age of 37, running a dude ranch and stopover point for weekend aviators.

This quiet life changed in 1952 when, he claimed, he began to receive psychic messages from extraterrestrial spaceship commanders and eventually, on 24 August 1953, he was invited aboard a UFO piloted by a being called Solganda. A new era had begun.

Van Tassel’s channelling sessions took place in an underground home, hollowed out from beneath Giant Rock in the early 1930s by Frank Critzer, a former resident.

Frank in his original rock house. The Living Space Under Giant Rock In The 1940's.After his death, Frank’s only friend, a former aircraft inspector named George Van Tassel, became the giant rock’s new tenant in 1947. The seven-story high rock had originally been sacred to local native Americans for centuries. This spiritual connection suited George quite well, because in addition to being an aviator, he also liked to dabble in the telepathic channeling of alien life. As you do

Frank in his original rock house. The Living Space Under Giant Rock In The 1940’s.After his death, Frank’s only friend, a former aircraft inspector named George Van Tassel, became the giant rock’s new tenant in 1947. The seven-story high rock had originally been sacred to local native Americans for centuries. This spiritual connection suited George quite well, because in addition to being an aviator, he also liked to dabble in the telepathic channeling of alien life. As you do

Geologically speaking, the Giant Rock, located in California’s Mojave Desert, is roughly seven stories high and covers almost 6,000 square feet. Some say it is the largest free-standing boulder in the world.

While the rock has been a Native American spiritual site for thousands of years, the modern back story of the boulder begins in the 1930s, when a German immigrant and miner named Frank Critzer met a pilot named George Van Tassel. They became friends and Van Tassel loaned Critzer 30 dollars to buy mining equipment. Critzer then dug out a 400 square foot home for himself directly beneath the the giant rock. This made the locals think he was crazy but since he was known to point a shotgun at those who approached his underground home, no one inquired further. In addition to being a notoriously gruff customer, Critzer was also a radio enthusiast, and is said to have set up a radio antenna on top of the rock for better reception.

Unfortunately, his German origin and radio antenna led to suspicions of his being a spy during World War II and a police raid was made on his cavern. While his exact cause of his death is still unknown, legend holds that when authorities attempted to extricate Critzer by shooting tear gas canisters into his cave, one accidentally ignited a small store of explosives (for mining) and blew the peculiar loner to smithereens. As it turns out, Critzer was not a spy after all, but just what he seemed: an eccentric who wanted to be left alone to live, quite literally, under a rock.

Critzer’s Nazi background never checked out; it was probably the product of a small-town war-time hysterical reaction to his German surname. Critzer was a naturalised American immigrant who had enlisted in the US Merchant Marines between the world wars and retired to the desert due to chronic asthma. In the early 1940s, he introduced George Van Tassel to the Southern California desert scene.

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Critzer's room under the Giant Rock. Van Tassel learned of Giant Rock from Frank Critzer, a prospector and desert dweller, who had excavated under the massive boulder to construct a dwelling of several small rooms protected from the fierce sun. Critzer had been killed in a explosion of the dynamite he kept stored in his rooms. The gutted rooms became storage for the Van Tassel family, but they slept outside the Rock and during the day tended the airport and their small cafe.

Critzer’s room under the Giant Rock. Van Tassel learned of Giant Rock from Frank Critzer, a prospector and desert dweller, who had excavated under the massive boulder to construct a dwelling of several small rooms protected from the fierce sun. Critzer had been killed in a explosion of the dynamite he kept stored in his rooms. The gutted rooms became storage for the Van Tassel family, but they slept outside the Rock and during the day tended the airport and their small cafe.

“Flying Saucer Convention, 1957“. These fantastic black & white photographs extensively document the convention, from the quirky attendees and their campsites, the UFO memorabilia for sale, the buzzing scene that once surrounded this now lonesome boulder and best of all, a look inside the secret home that once lay beneath the giant rock…

“Flying Saucer Convention, 1957“. These fantastic black & white photographs extensively document the convention, from the quirky attendees and their campsites, the UFO memorabilia for sale, the buzzing scene that once surrounded this now lonesome boulder and best of all, a look inside the secret home that once lay beneath the giant rock….

Something about Critzer’s death resonated with his friend Van Tassel. Upon hearing of his friend’s death, Van Tassel, a high-school dropout who had become a pilot, went to the boulder and reopened an old airfield at the Giant Rock in the 1950s, naming it Giant Rock Airport. Van Tassel’s war friend Howard Hughes, for whom Van Tassel was a test pilot, is said to have flown there just for a slice of Van Tassel’s wife’s pie.

Bloodstains from his violent death were still on the walls of his underground hovel when the Van Tassel family moved onto the property.

In addition to being an aviator, Van Tassel was also a believer in alien life. In 1952 Tassel began holding meditation sessions in Critzer’s old home under the Giant Rock. Here, Van Tassel believed he was receiving vital information from alien sources for the construction of a fantastic machine. The body, Van Tassel learned from his alien sources, was an electrical device, and aging was caused by a loss of power. Van Tassel claimed to have even been transported an alien space ship, where he met a wise group of aliens known as the “Council of Seven Lights.” Tassel said this extraterrestrial meeting, along with ideas from scientists such as Nikola Tesla, inspired the construction of a building/device which was to be a “rejuvenation machine.” It was dubbed “The Integratron.”

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... piece of the Giant Rock broke off. What caused this, according to some it was a combination of the heat and a small quake.

… piece of the Giant Rock broke off. What caused this, according to some it was a combination of the heat and a small quake.

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The first big gathering took place in 1954 and featured a who’s who of the UFO contact movement, probably the first time so many of them were ever in one place together. Speakers included Orfeo Angelucci, Truman Bethurum, Daniel Fry, and George Hunt Williamson, with informal lectures during the day and channelling sessions after dark. Speaking from the platform built against the Rock, the famous and not so famous took turns describing their contacts with physical and ethereal beings, vying for the popularity that would increase book sales.

In the case of those who believed in the reality of their stories, the Giant Rock gatherings offered chance to spread the ‘universal love’ message of the interplanetary brethren. If any transcripts or recordings of these talks survive, they remain jealously guarded by protective hands or the dead. From all accounts, few speakers at Giant Rock held the view that the space visitors were malevolent. The weird energies channelled by the participants formed a tapestry of positive messages from a growing galactic brotherhood. As Saucer Smear publisher James Moseley put it: “There was an unwritten rule among the contactees that was ‘never knock the other guy’s story’ because he might knock yours. They just pretended to believe each other.”

The ‘contactees’, as they came to be known, have provided enough folkloric and psychosocial material to fill several books. They also laid the groundwork for today’s contact community. Van Tassel provided the first opportunity to establish the public identity of contactees before their first major public audience. The ‘respectable’ UFO organisations of the day invariably regarded contactees as an annoyance at best and, at worst, a real danger to serious research. Then, as now, the ‘hardware’ theory dominated saucer circles and the contactees’ talk of spiritual messages and meetings with blond humanoids grated on the nerves of NICAP director Donald Keyhoe, among others, who denounced their tales with derision.

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In 1953, Van Tassel began weekly Friday-night changelings under the Rock. One of his early contacts, ‘Ashtar’, later became something of a superstar on the intergalactic hit parade. He has been channelled by many others since.

Van Tassel claims to have witnessed a practical demonstration of antigravity technology in 1953 when he was taken up into an extraterrestrial spacecraft that had landed at Giant Rock airport in California which he managed at the time. In the spacecraft, four space visitors that were human looking, and about 5’ 6” in height informed him technological information and a mathematical formula for time travel that directly correlated frequency with time in an inverse relationship.

Van Tassel further claims that technologies based on retrieving visual scenes from any time period, including television signals and even time travel itself, have been developed, and then classified for national security reasons by the U.S. Navy.

The time travel/viewing technology is similar to what was much later described as “Project Looking Glass”.

Van Tassel also says he witnessed first-hand the antigravity technology of the extraterrestrial visitors who have had bases on the moon for centuries.

In 1955, at the second convention, speakers included George Hunt Wiliamson, George Adamski and another new star, former physician Charles Laughead, who had very likely met Williamson in the intervening year and begun a lengthy series of changelings in their home base of Whipple, Arizona. Laughead was the model for ‘Dr. Armstrong’ in the seminal psychological study When Prophecy Fails (1956 – see FT117:47) which examined the dynamics of a channelling group when a prophesied UFO landing did not occur. Laughead was also instrumental in promoting the activities of Dr. Andrija Puharich and Uri Geller when they psychically contacted the hawk-headed alien entity they called ‘Spectra’.

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waiting to board

Van Tassel Next to Model of the Integratron. George Van Tassel, creator of the Integratron, was a legendary figure, an aeronautical engineer who worked for Lockheed, Douglas Aircraft and as a test pilot for Howard Hughes at Hughes Aviation. He was also one of the leaders in the UFO movement who held annual “Spacecraft Conventions” at Giant Rock for 25 years. Van Tassel said UFO contact and channelings and ideas from scientists such as Nikola Tesla led to the unique architecture of the Integratron. He spent 18 years constructing the building.

Van Tassel Next to Model of the Integratron. George Van Tassel, creator of the Integratron, was a legendary figure, an aeronautical engineer who worked for Lockheed, Douglas Aircraft and as a test pilot for Howard Hughes at Hughes Aviation. He was also one of the leaders in the UFO movement who held annual “Spacecraft Conventions” at Giant Rock for 25 years. Van Tassel said UFO contact and channelings and ideas from scientists such as Nikola Tesla led to the unique architecture of the Integratron. He spent 18 years constructing the building.

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Tassel’s onsite research centre, nicknamed “the Integratron“, was believed by many to have some pretty special powers– including ‘anti-gravitational and time traveling capabilities provided by extra-terrestrial life on Venus‘. For nearly 20 years it became the dream pilgrimage of every UFO nut enthusiast in America…

Tassel’s onsite research centre, nicknamed “the Integratron“, was believed by many to have some pretty special powers– including ‘anti-gravitational and time traveling capabilities provided by extra-terrestrial life on Venus‘. For nearly 20 years it became the dream pilgrimage of every UFO nut enthusiast in America….

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In a few short years, George went from living a simple existence with his family in the rooms Frank Critzer had dug out under the Giant Rock, to building his own restaurant on the site, a small airstrip, and an extra-terrestrial research centre which would play host to his annual Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, attracting more than 11,000 people at its peak.

In a few short years, George went from living a simple existence with his family in the rooms Frank Critzer had dug out under the Giant Rock, to building his own restaurant on the site, a small airstrip, and an extra-terrestrial research centre which would play host to his annual Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, attracting more than 11,000 people at its peak.

Speaker stand used by George Van Tassel during his Conventions at Giant Rock. In 1959.

Speaker stand used by George Van Tassel during his Conventions at Giant Rock. In 1959.

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Despite his association with the likely hoaxer (or at least the delusional) Adamski – he took plaster casts of the supposed spaceman’s footprints after Adamski’s claimed first contact in 1952 – Williamson appears to have been genuinely convinced of his contact with space people and produced hundreds of pages of transcripts from beings with such names as ‘Acta’, ‘Baruch’ and ‘Ermon’.

Williamson also claimed communications using ‘radio telegraphy’ with spaceships from 1952 to 1953, discussed in his book The Saucers Speak! (1954) but, apparently, tired of this when direct mental contact seemed more efficient. A Giant Rock survivor called Reverend Bob Short claims to have discussed some of these early experiments with Williamson. According to Short, the messages coming out of ham operator Lyman Streeter’s radio sounded like “a weird sort of Morse code”. Rev. Short also participated in channelling at the early Giant Rock gatherings, receiving some radio communications himself.

Some contemporary accounts of Giant Rock mention UFO visitations, but these are little more than the product of the excited imaginations of the conventioneers. What few photographs that survive of strange aerial apparitions seen at the desert site unfortunately appear to be atmospheric or optical aberrations.

Roger Stockman, owner of a local eatery called the Grubstake Inn, located a few miles from Giant Rock, saw one of the photos taken at an early convention: “There was this huge saucer shape hovering over the crowd in broad daylight but, for some reason, nobody was looking at it.” Perhaps the space men were ‘cloaking’ that day, silently observing their flock. Area residents generally stopped talking about any sightings after Van Tassel’s death.

During his contacts with the Space People, Van Tassel also received instructions for the construction of a device that was supposed to restore physical youth to the people of Earth. With it, fewer life cycles would be needed to acquire moral and spiritual maturity and those who used it would be empowered to rejoin the benefactors from beyond. Van Tassel needed only the money to build it.

Van Tassel’s fame spread due to his books: I Rode A Flying Saucer (1952) and Into This World And Out Again (1956). He founded the College of Universal Wisdom and began to publish a monthly magazine called Proceedings. His family provided extra articles and illustrations and they printed and mailed it to thousands of subscribers worldwide including the FBI (according to Bryant and Helen Reeve in their 1958 chronicle of the contactee movement, Flying Saucer Pilgrimage.) Proceedings also featured the newest messages from the space brothers and not-so-subtle pleas for donations.

Let’s take a look at some of that UFO desert street style … first, all those wonderful hats!

Let’s take a look at some of that UFO desert street style … first, all those wonderful hats!

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From this homespun publicity, money began to pour in daily; readers sent their offerings into Van Tassel who took them to a bank in Yucca Valley. Locals remember him “cashing checks from all these little old ladies” who were fascinated by what they perceived as the incredible spiritual truths he had revealed. In a recent radio interview, Bob Beck – a UFO researcher and early Giant Rock attendee– once volunteered to help Van Tassel open some mail which had been piling up for awhile. “There was about $18,000 in there,” he recalled.

Bolstered by this manna of freely-given love offerings, Van Tassel was able, in 1959, to build a five story-high structure gleaming bone-white on the desert floor. He called it the ‘Integratron’. Following the explicit instructions of his space friends, he eschewed the use of any metal in its construction. Working in self-imposed secrecy, he jealously guarded the building. In one instance, when a few local kids managed to sneak in at night, Van Tassel “had a fit”. Vernette Landers, whose husband lent his name to the community surrounding the Integratron, said she sat in a rocking chair in the structure “for several hours one day. When I came out I felt much better. It may have been my imagination, but I don’t think so.”

Looking like an astronomical observatory, the Integratron remained incomplete at the time of Van Tassel’s death in 1978. It remains on its original construction site, behind three surrounding fences crowned with barbed wire. James Velazquez, a San Diego developer bought it in 1979 with plans to turn it into a disco. For a while in the early 1980s, rumours persisted that the building was used as a methamphtamine lab and at least two unsolved murders are tangentially connected to this scenario. Following a campaign by former Giant Rock Conventioneers, the Integratron was returned to friendly hands in 1981. It’s present owner, Emile Canning, hosts meetings there, rents it out for special events, and gives scheduled tours twice a month.

On the verge of completing his ‘Integratron Project’ (cellular rejuvenation and increase human longevity) in 1978, Van Tassel died in mysterious circumstances of a heart attack in a hotel room in Santa Ana, California on 9 February 1978.

A space being named ‘Lo’ channelled George’s epitaph: “Birth through Induction, Death through Short Circuit.”

U.S. government agencies then intervened to confiscate material and documents from his property.

His first wife Eva had passed away in 1975, whereupon he immediately married a woman named Dorris, a local chiropractor. Dorris earned the ire of Van Tassel’s children and other followers, who accused her of trying to take over his affairs. Volunteers at the San Diego-based Borderland Science Research Associates at the time privately referred to her as “D.O.R.ris”– a reference to Wilhelm Reich’s acronym for life-negating Deadly Orgone Radiation. (The Integratron bore some similarity to Reich’s orgone boxes, envigorating those who sat in them.) Until her recent death, Dorris lived in a mobile home next to the Integratron, working on a book about her life with Van Tassel, and looking furtively out the windows for “government agents” and assorted Men In Black, sure of their evil designs on her life.

Van Tassel held popular UFO conventions known as the “Giant Rock Spacecraft Conventions” on his property for over 20 years to help raise money for the Integron’s construction. The domed structure, built without nails over a period of 34 years, was said to be capable of collecting up to 50,000 volts of static electricity from the air in order to charge the human body. Unfortunately, Tassel died before its “final” completion, giving rise to a host of conspiracy theories. There were plans to turn the Integron into a Disco, but instead today it is a tourist attraction which gives visitors a relaxing “sound bath.”

Long before Van Tassel or Frank Critzer were around, the Giant Rock was also been a spiritual site for thousands of years, used by Native American tribes in ceremonies and prophecy. Hopi shamans have suspected since the 1920s that the future of the 21st century would be foretold at the Giant Rock, based on how the rock cracked. In February 2000, a giant chunk of the rock did indeed break off. Spiritual leader Shri Naath Devi interpreted the break in a positive light: “the Mother had opened her arms to us, cracking open her heart for the whole world to see.” It is speculated the break was the result of fires burned under the giant rock in what was once Frank Critzer’s underground home.

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The largest evil evident at the Rock these days is the deterioration of the only other remaining artifact from the glory days – the Giant Rock Café – of which only the tile floor remains. Bikers and other assorted crazies build fires, shoot guns and skid tyres on its surface. In a few years, it will be indistinguishable from the waste that surrounds it. When it finally disappears, the last reminder that the area once buzzed with the activities of weekend fliers, hopeful seekers of cosmic truth, and a singular prophet named George Van Tassel, will be no more.

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Flying Saucer Convention, 1957.

 


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