What if I told you the secret of antigravity was revealed to the public in seemingly specific technical detail in a newspaper article over 120 years ago, only no one noticed or remembered?
On January 17, 1897, a science correspondent for The San Francisco Call recounted his visit with a peculiar foreigner who was keeping a secret:
The Secret of Aerial Flight Revealed
NOT a thousand miles from the Golden Gate may be found residing a man of quiet, unobtrusive presence, living in a snug cottage over-looking the ocean, surrounded by, perhaps, three or four acres of vineyard. The product of the vines is not, however, his chief means of support. The gentleman is well fixed, as the term is, in matters of finance, and the vineyard is simply a means whereby he is enabled to pursue his peculiar studies uninterrupted by the curious, who might otherwise intrude upon his labors were it supposed that he was not what he appears to be in that locality—a grape-grower. The cottage is a small dwelling of perhaps half a dozen rooms, and beside it is a long, one-story structure, at the end of which is a tall lattice fence thickly covered with vines which effectually hide the interior of the inclosure. The gentleman is about fifty years old; that is, he looks to be about that age, and is evidently of foreign extraction, having dark skin, thoughtful dark eyes and the general characteristics of the Hindoo race. I am not at liberty to state just how I came to learn of his peculiar work, but will describe as clearly as I can what it is, and leave to the thinking portion of The Call's readers whatever inference they may draw.
Necessarily much of what I here write must be in the words of the gentleman himself. As I entered the garden-like inclosure, beside the cottage, my attention was arrested by what I took to be a pleasure boat. It was about twelve feet long and five wide, forming a very convenient carriage for half a dozen persons. On each side of the body of the boat was a wing-like blade hinged, and over the boat, supported by six slender rods, was a broad sheet of metal larger than the breadth and length of the boat, and probably a quarter of an inch in thickness, which glittered and glistened with all the hues and tints of the rainbow. But the strangest part of the affair was that the boat was not resting upon the ground, but was attached to it by a couple of stout cords. As I stood looking at the thing with astonishment depicted on my face, the gentleman approached the boat, which swayed to and fro about three feet from the ground, and placing his hand upon a metal knob, just inside the boat's edge, I saw it sink to the earth and again rise to the limit of the ropes. Not a word of explanation was offered me concerning the queer affair; but I was requested to step inside, and I followed into the shed beside the cottage. The shed proved to be a workshop. In one corner was a small gasoline engine and a dynamo. Along one side of the long room extended a workbench, and shelves. An abundance of tools were present. At the further end of the room was a large furnace, now cold, and on the shelves were a number of elaborate electrical instruments. I saw on the workbench a piece of the same material as that of which the boat cover was made, and I took it in my band. It was very light, and was evidently some kind of metal. My host smiled as I examined the material, and asked me what I thought of it. I asked, "What is it?" "Radlum," he replied. "It is a metal. I am not aware that it is obtainable except in Thibet, on the southern slope of the Himalayas, near Tirthapuri, and here on the western slope of the Coast Range. It occurs in the soil as a telluride, and the metal is procured by thoroughly washing the soil, rejecting all portions that are not dissolved water, then evaporating the solution. The solid portion remaining, in the form of an impalpable powder, is then subjected to a peculiar process of electrification, resulting in the production of what you now have in your hand. It is exceedingly strong, its tensile strength surpassing that of steel. Its iridescence is due to the microscopic wrinkles upon its surface. But that is not all of its characteristics. It possesses the remarkable qualities of being easily rendered apergent." "What?" I exclaimed.
"Apergent," he replied. "Apergy is a force obtained by blending positive and negative electricity with ultheic, the third element or state of electric energy, and a body charged with this fluid, 'apergy,' is not only unaffected by gravitation, it is repelled from the earth with the same or greater force than that with which it formerly was attracted, so that if the body is liberated it will move away into space. Radlum is as yet the only material I know of that will retain the apergic force. You surely must, as a chemist, know," said my host, "that neither synthetical nor analytical chemistry will satisfactorily account for certain phenomena constantly occurring. The world will never learn true science until it is ready to learn from nature's open books. Everything in the material universe is constructed upon a system of triads. In other words, there are always three phases or conditions of the same thing. Water may be a solid, a liquid or a gas, and in each manifestation be only water. Just so in everything. Electricity is known to the many as only positive and negative, while in fact its third condition is never absent, although unrecognized. An apple falls to the ground from the tree, and science announces that a subtle force called gravity brought the apple down. But as to the second or its third phase science knows nothing, and, in fact, is apparently too conceited to desire to learn. I have learned something about the opposite force—the second phase of gravity. I call it 'apergy.' The boat that you saw swaying in the yard has its roof stored with apergy sufficient to cause it to lift the boat with me in it and soar to any height that I may wish to reach."
"But," I asked, "how can you control your ascent or descent?"
"Simply enough," he answered. "The inner sides of the boat are lined with a number of thin bands of specially prepared metals, forming, in fact, a very powerful storage battery of the 'dry' type, as no liquid is required. Perhaps you might better understand it by comparing it to a leyden jar, only its discharge is slow—not all at once. There are two complete systems of these bands, each insulated from the other. When I use the boat I first charge one set of bands with positive electricity from yonder dynamo and then charge the other set with negative electricity from the same source. Then I join the like poles of the two systems and, of course, thus connected, get no current that would be measurable by an ordinary galvanometer; one system is neutralizing the other; but now using the two systems of bands connected as a single circuit, I charge them with a further current of what you may call 'static' electricity and create a force which, applied to certain material capable of storing it, as does radlum, produces apergy in that material. I can weaken or destroy the apergy in the radlum by a reversal of the direction of the applied current. Thus, I am able to increase or diminish the buoyancy of the boat. Did you ever think what was that marvelous power that maintains the planets in their positions as regards the sun? Gravity alone will not fill the requirements. That force alone would simply precipitate them upon the sun. But apergy acting with gravity holds them as they are. The apergic force of the sun repels and his gravity attracts. In the meantime, as the sun is swiftly moving himself through space his family of satellites is moving with him and the apergic force harmoniously blended with the gravic force circles them around the central power, for the reason that the two forces are never always exactly of the same intensity. They regularly alternate; one is always a little more powerful than the other. Nothing in nature is absolutely uniform. She abhors many things besides a vacuum. There is no such thing as a perfect circle in nature."
F. M. Close, D. Sc.
The article ends there abruptly, perhaps cut off by the editor for lack of space on the page, with no further information on the mysterious apergist's plans for his invention -- much less an explanation of the hinted third phase of gravity. (Orthogonal deflection? Falling into higher dimensions? Time travel? Maybe even the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space, love itself? We can only speculate).
Since we know nothing more about the unnamed inventor, what else can be found to support this story?
Radlum Apergent & Its Source
What is radlum, the apergent that is the Secret of Aerial Flight? Interestingly, Chronicling America's OCR thinks it should be "radium". This threw me when I first read the text version since radium wasn't officially discovered by the Curies until 1898, a year after this article, and wasn't named until 1899. My brief excitement at discovering a glitch in the matrix of orthodox history was dashed when I went back and looked at the page scans.
But what if in the original manuscript it was indeed "radium"? Could the same ignorant editor who thought it appropriate to cut off an article on the most significant discovery of the 19th century to make room for a piece on a doll show and an annoyingly space-inefficient poem also be inattentive enough to mistake an i for an l in a word he had never seen before? It's plausible.
Dr. Close gives the location of the gentleman's cottage vaguely as "not a thousand miles" from the Golden Gate, over-looking the ocean. The apergist himself refers to radlum being found "here on the western slope of the Coast Range". That he was surrounded by vineyard and used that pursuit as cover suggests he was somewhere that grape-growing would be considered common. The most likely location of his and Close's meeting would be in either Mendocino or Sonoma County.
Could one actually produce a quarter-inch-thick sheet of radium, or some radium-infused alloy, by panning the soils of the California Northern Coast Ranges? Unfortunately, the described distribution, extraction, processing, and properties of radlum don't match those of radium. But then, the inventor was obviously being secretive about things, hiding his true plans from his neighbors using a viticultural front operation. It's not unreasonable that he would reveal only half-truths and misdirections about his world-changing apergological discoveries to some nosy reporter.
However, with such insufficient evidence, we must at present mark the true nature and identity of radlum as "unknown" and possibly a ruse.
Who Was F. M. Close?
The veracity of all this depends on the article's author and narrator, Frank M. Close, Doctor of Science (right, and presumably depicted in the foreground of the illustration at top). The only biographical info I can find on him is that before moving to Oakland, CA, he was the president of the Tacoma Academy of Science in Washington. He doesn't seem to be some random prankster or humorist prone to making up hoax stories for the papers, although some of his later business dealings raise some ethical questions about disclosure of conflicts of interest.
Dr. Close was trusted to write numerous articles on science and technology for the Call, educating its readers on diverse subjects such as new developments in electric lighting, wireless telegraphy, telephonic recording, musical notation, and long-distance bombs; new sources of energy from hydrogen fuel, geothermal power, and x-ray-powered vibratory engines; theories about the nature of x-rays and Earth's second, invisible moon; the strange possibilities of mental photography and indefinitely prolonging life with electric shocks; and ruminations on the folly of architectural criticism when the solidity of objects is an illusion, the whereabouts of the seat of intelligence in man, and the phenomenon of life itself (he concludes that the soul is androgynous and thus there are no marriages in heaven).
Besides writing as a science correspondent, he was also the subject of articles about his work and theories, and was quoted as an authority in others. Examples include his map of Mars -- the most accurate at the time, showing all the canals and seas (since evaporated) -- and his plan for a pneumatic submarine tube line between San Francisco and Oakland, with a follow up plan for a Trans-Atlantic Trolley.
In particular, his research into natural disasters and their coincidence with astronomical events were cited and discussed in the Call, starting with his 1895 prediction of earthquakes (and possibly another Noachian-style flood) in 1901 resulting from an alignment of the planets (and the electromagnetic effects produced) similar to that reported in ancient Babylonian tablets. This prediction was given support by biblical scholar Rev. J. H. Allen and argued against in the letters to the editor. He later elaborated on this planetary alignment theory of catastrophes, pointing to the coincidence of Japanese earthquakes and meteoric showers, and also linked it to comets and tornadoes. This culminated in an article where he coins the Law of Cycles or the cyclic "law of unrest".
In 1896, Dr. Close invented and built a 30-foot, aluminum, electric-powered, submarine torpedo called the Defender. It was intended for harbor defense and could be controlled via cable from the comfort of a desk at shore. (Details from the San Francisco Chronicle, 1896-02-02, p.28, link paywalled.) Consequently, he became a director, along with his capitalist backers, of the Pacific Torpedo and Supply Company, newly incorporated for the protection of the Bay area. He extolled his concept of an intelligent torpedo to Call readers (without noting his financial stake) and wrote the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce asking for assistance, but was "informed by the committee on harbor improvements that submarine torpedoes are not among the methods by which the chamber tries to protect this City's commerce."
He found some fame beyond San Francisco when he announced he had invented a telectroscope (see: "Extending the Power of the Eye" in the Omaha Daily Bee, 1896-04-19, p. 16; "Possibilities of the Telectroscope" in the June 1896 issue of Current Literature; Metaphysical Magazine Sept. 1896, which quotes a New York Herald article at length; and a somewhat dismissive reference in the Electrical Engineer.) In another article, he explained telectroscopy to Call readers (again without revealing his interest). By October, questions were being raised in the Call on whether Close was the first telectroscope inventor, or if he was beaten by either an unnamed "prominent physicist" in Sweden or an unnamed wealthy amateur electrician from Alameda. (The Wikipedia article on the telectroscope makes no mention of the role of either Close or the other two.)
All of this is to say that Dr. Close was clearly the sort of man who wouldn't want to tarnish his public reputation -- especially among torpedo buyers, future telectroscope investors, and those not duly preparing for the disastrous cycle of natural unrest -- by being known as a fabulist concocting stories in the press about strange Indian winegrowers with levitating boats. And he certainly didn't pluck the idea of apergy out of the ether...
History of "Apergy" in Print
While the subject of Close's article implies that the word "apergy" is his name for this agravic force, according to Wikipedia's apergy entry (which I've added Close's article to) it first appears in print in 1880 in the novel Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg (Archive.org scan), where it's used to allow the protagonist's spaceship, the Astronaut, to visit Mars.
For obvious reasons, those who possessed the secret of the Apergy* had never dreamed of applying it in the manner I proposed. It had seemed to them little more than a curious secret of nature, perhaps hardly so much, since the existence of a repulsive force in the atomic sphere had been long suspected and of late certainly ascertained, and its preponderance is held to be the characteristic of the gaseous as distinguished from the liquid or solid state of matter. Till lately, no means of generating or collecting this force in large quantity had been found. The progress of electrical science had solved this difficulty; and when the secret was communicated to me, it possessed a value which had never before belonged to it.
* Qy. απο, from, εργος, work—as en-ergy ?
Greg -- speaking through the narrative device of a found, incomplete manuscript -- describes the apergic force being generated electrically and collected in a receptacle, or "apergion", which is isolated using metals that are "antapergic" (more or less impervious to apergy), and channeled through antapergically sheathed conductive bars to direct the ship's movement. The substance used to conduct apergy is conveniently "[undecipherable]" in the manuscript.
The story is set in the distant year of A.D. 2000, where the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Corporation has begun the process of rectifying the Earth's tilt from 23½° to a more sensible 0° to "produce a uniform temperature for each degree of latitude the year round".
In a speech, the T.A.S. Co. president regrets that they hadn't understood apergy's effect on gravity sooner as "it would have eased our labours to the point of almost eliminating them" (they instead invested in rebalancing water and land between the Arctic and the Antarctic to gradually achieve axis straightening through a shift in the Earth's center of gravity). He describes apergy:
With this force, obtained by simply blending negative and positive electricity with electricity of the third element or state, and charging a body sufficiently with this fluid, gravitation is nullified or partly reversed, and the earth repels the body with the same or greater power than that with which it still attracts or attracted it, so that it may be suspended or caused to move away into space.
In a flashback, we learn this understanding of apergic antigravitation originated when, fearing that a seasonless world will become a "dull place", T.A.S. Co. officials decide to use apergy to propel a spaceship to other, more interesting planets. Thus began their Journey in Other Worlds, which included, among other things, this amazing scene of a tiny mammoth battling a giant ant on a pterosaured Jupiter (which has nothing to do with apergy, but I would be remiss to not include it):
Astor later claimed to have coined "apergy", even after accusations that he plagiarized Greg's book were leveled by readers of the New York World (See article "Others Have Talked of Apergy", 1894-04-29. They also claimed to "find the original apergy in reports of Professor John Fiske's lectures at Harvard in 1869 and 1870". I can find no mention of Fiske lecturing on antigravity, as "apergy" or another term, although he did talk about gravity in general. However, this might be a mistaken reference by the editor to, as Neil Barron in Anatomy of Wonder puts it, "Fiske's concept of parallel, progressive evolution," i.e. Jovian ants and elephants.)
In an interview with the New York Sun, Astor insists his book's use of apergy is not a fancy, but based on his own scientific deductions:
"It is suggested in your book that Christ walked on the water and Elijah was caught up into Heaven by the application of a force the reverse of gravitation, which you call apergy. You also describe the abode of departed spirits as being on the planet Saturn. Do you believe these things?"
"Of course, the book is a work of fancy, but I know no reason why the abode of departed spirits should not be on one of the planets. Before giving the book to the publishers, I submitted it to the Rev. Dr. Vibbert, of Trinity chapel and asked him to correct anything in it that was not orthodox. I did not want to mislead anybody, you know. He made one or two corrections."
"Your assumption that a counter force to gravitation will be discovered is argued with great plausibility in your book," said the reporter.
"There is reason, I think, for believing that such a force exists," replied Mr. Astor. "Indeed, when I wrote the preface of the book I advanced the arguments myself which, by the advice of the publishers, appear now in the opening chapter as coming from Dr. Cortlandt, one of the characters in the story. If you accept the atomic theory you must also believe that the atoms do not touch each other. That is one of the first principles in studying natural science. Now, I asked myself, what keeps the atoms from touching? There must be something which resists the law of cohesion there. And, if so why may we not ultimately discover it and apply it on a larger scale?"
In the opening chapter of the book Dr. Cortlandt is made to say that electricity is of two kinds, positive and negative. Yet, although this principle was known for hundreds of years, men never thought of finding the negative force that is the opposite of gravitation. It was true, he went on that a few Hindo jugglers and European predestidigitateurs gave exhibitions of people suspended without visible means of support, and although most of these exhibitions were pure illusions, it was fair to believe, in the light of the eventual discovery of 'apergy,' that some of them really exercised that power without realizing its great benefit to humanity.
[Reprinted in The Progressive Farmer, 1894-070-17, p.5.]
Astor and Keely
In 1896, "apergy" was used by writer/philanthropist Clara Jessup Bloomfield-Moore for the force behind John Ernst Worrell Keely's Vibrodyne (aka Keely's Motor). In her "Some Truths About Keely", Bloomfield-Moore identifies apergy as "one of the currents of a triune polar stream of force".
While this doesn't seem to have anything to do with antigravity, per se, how "apergy" actually operated in Keely's machines was never fully disclosed, lawsuits and orthonoiac attempts at debunking notwithstanding, so who's to say an interplay of gravity and apergic antigravity didn't drive Keely's motors (or at least assisted the pressurized air pumped into them)?
In any case, Bloomfield-Moore saw "apergy" as a temporary term: "In conclusion, it may be stated that the force named in this paper Apergy, known to the ancients, and rediscovered by Keely, will hereafter be given the appropriate title of Keel, after the name of its latest discoverer."
Not coincidentally, Astor was one of the major investors in the Keely Motor Company. This lead to speculation that he knew more than he was letting on:
IS APERGY A REALITY
J. J. ASTOR, THE MILLIONAIRE, BUYS UP KEELY MOTOR STOCK.
The Flying Machine Predicted—"Callisto" May Be a Fact—Predicted Discovery of a New Force—Laws of Gravity Revolutionized.
The news that John Jacob Astor had purchased a big slice of the stock of the Keely Motor company created a sensation. This stock has so long been regarded as of doubtful value, and Keely's motor has become so universally known as a motor that will not "mote," that the fact of any one's desiring to buy stock in the concern excites curiosity.
Colonel Astor bought all the Keely motor stock owned by Mrs. Bloomfield Moore, whose interest in the invention at first was very marked, but later she declared that she believed that Keely was not aiming at anything but a motive power for an airship, and her willingness to sell out has been known for some time.
Perhaps it is for just the reason that Mrs. Moore disbelieves in the motor that Colonel Astor is so eager to push the invention, for that he has faith in some contrivance that will navigate the air is well known.
It is not generally known that a good deal of Colonel Astor's leisure time is spent in inventing an airship, something corresponding to his Callisto, in his highly ingenious novel, "A Journey to Other Worlds." The chief difficulty met with by all inventors of flying machines or airships is gravity. Now, Keely's invention distinctly claims for itself the creation of an entirely new force and as much stronger than electricity as that is superior to steam.
In Colonel Astor's book he describes a new force, which makes flying for man possible. This force he calls "apergy" and says that it is obtained by simply blending negative and positive electricity with electricity of a third element of state, and by charging a body sufficiently with this fluid gravitation is nullified or partly reversed, and the earth repels the body with the same or greater power than that with which it still attracts or attracted it, so that it may be suspended or caused to move away into space.
Now, this is precisely what Keely claims that his motor will do—produce "apergy."
It is interesting to note that Colonel Astor remarks, in his work regarding "apergy," "With this force what may we not achieve?"
In describing the airship of the future he calls it an "aeroplane," which, he asserts, came into use when a suitable motor power was discovered. He says that this is to be obtained from very light paper cell batteries, which first must be charged from a dynamo, after which they can supply full currents for 100 hours, enough to take the vessel around the globe. He says the power is to be applied through turbine screws, half of which are capable of propelling the flat deck in its inclined position at sufficient speed to prevent falling.
The airships—whose length varies from 50 to 500 feet—have rudders for giving a vertical or a horizontal motion and several strengthening keels that prevent leeway when turning. They are entirely on the principle of birds, maintaining themselves mechanically, and differing thus from the unwieldy balloon.
With a Keely motor in such a ship as described—supposing of course that the motor would do all that is claimed for it—Colonel Astor might have the satisfaction of seeing an invention existing only on paper so far a reality. In this connection, a description of the airship in which the heroes of Colonel Astor visited Jupiter is decidedly interesting.
This vessel was a glucinum cylinder 25 feet in diameter, 15 feet high on the sides, with a domed roof, bringing up the total height to 21 feet, with a small gutter about it to catch the rain on Jupiter. The sides, roof and floor were of two sheets, each one-third of an inch thick and six inches apart, the space between filled with mineral wool, as a protection against the intense cold of space. There were several keels underneath. Large, toughened plate glass windows were in the roof and sides, and smaller ones in the floor, all furnished with thick shades and curtains. The floors were of lattice work, like those in the engine room of a steamship. There was a crow's nest or observatory at the top.
That Colonel Astor will try to apply the Keely motor to a flying machine seems positive, from the way his friends talk. He himself is reticent on the subject, and will not state whether or not he will begin to apply the motor to airship purposes as soon as it is in working condition, which, it is expected by the stockholders, will certainly not be later than next spring.
—New York Recorder.
[Reprinted in the Salem Daily News, 1895-11-09, p.2 (paywalled link), and elsewhere.]
What ostensibly started as science fiction was quickly becoming claims of science fact. But beyond Astor's theoretical musings and Keely's dabbling with engines, evidence was mustering on the periphery of orthonoid awareness that less publicity-hungry individuals and groups had been putting apergic theory into aeronautic practice.
Dr. Close's article must be viewed in the larger context of a wave of sightings of mysterious airships that gripped California from November, 1896 through 1897. (That too is part of an even larger context of mysterious airships in general, a phenomenon notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia article. Also see the three-part series titled "Mystery Airships of the 1800s" by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, published in Fate Magazine, 1973 -- May, June, and July -- where some of the details below were taken from.)
These sightings were prominently reported in the press at the same time the reputed craft were traveling across the state (for example, the Call's "Strange Craft of the Sky", illustration above). Descriptions of the airships and their crew varied; undoubtedly some of the details were unreliable, part mistaken witnesses and sensationalistic interpolation by the media, but many claimed the vehicles operated in manners incongruous with contemporary orthodox technology, even traveling at 100 miles per hour or more.
Shortly after the first reports started, supposed airship inventors came out of the woodwork. A dentist from Maine named, according to his representatives, "E.H. Benjamin" claimed he invented the airship that was causing the sightings (as well as a second ship back east) and hired lawyers, including former California Attorney General William H. H. Hart, to represent his interests in obtaining a patent on it. Later, another man in Fresno told a reporter his unnamed friend, whom he was overheard discussing airships with, was the inventor and that the ship was out of control for a brief time. Were these men the same person? Were they they same person that Dr. Close met?
Airship sightings spread from California eastward across North America until they mysteriously ended in April 1897, and more claims about who was behind them followed. Of interest to the story of apergy was one in Harrisburg, AK, where an ex-senator said he was awoken by an airship landing outside his house. He approached and struck up a conversation with an old man who had exited the ship to get water from a well, and learned the man "had inherited the secret of antigravity from his late uncle" and that weight was no object to him since he could "suspend all gravity by placing a small wire around an object" [source].
While it's possible that most mystery airships reported both before 1896 and after were, if not hoaxes or misidentified space phenomena, just the work of rogue dirigibilists relying on conventional atmospheric buoyancy rather than antigravity, there were hints that apergy was very much being explored, if not actually used in earnest.
Dellschau & NYMZA
The trail goes back to the 1850s with Charles August Albert Dellschau, a Prussian who immigrated to the American southwest and eventually traveled to California to become a member of the "Sonora Aero Club", a secret group of airship designers -- and possibly builders. From 1898 to 1921, Dellschau compiled scrapbooks of his time in the Aero Club. These partially encoded memoirs, which were only rediscovered in the 1960s, were filled with collages and watercolors of airships that would not be able to fly using known science:
[Ufologist P.G. Navarro, who collected and allegedly decrypted Dellschau's scrapbooks,] remarks, "The heavy body of the machines seems to be radically out of proportion to the gasbag or balloon which is supposed to lift the contraption. Considering the large amount of gas (usually hydrogen or helium) that is required to lift one of today's dirigibles or even a small blimp, it is inconceivable that the small quantity of gas used in Dellschau's airship would be sufficient to lift it."
But this wasn't ordinary gas. According to Dellschau it was a substance called "NB" which had the capacity to "negate weight." Incredible as it may seem he is talking about antigravity.
The NB gas was invented by one of the Aero Club members:
One man in particular stands out in Dellschau's works as the leader or principal innovator in the Sonora Aero Club: one Peter Mennis. A German miner and rough sort, he is described as a drunk and a genius, tinkering with airships for the sole purpose of astonishing friends and maybe making enough money to keep himself in drink. It is he who engineers or discovers the miraculous "Lifting Fluid" that eventually allows all the Sonora Aero Club's ships to float and fly. Mennis calls this material "Supe." Essentially, it replaced hydrogen in their designs, as drops of it, released onto rotating metal plates called an "Electrande," resulted in a gas that filled the airships' envelopes to provide lift.
According to Dellschau's notes, the Aero Club was overseen by a larger secret society whose name Navarro decrypted as "NYMZA". Since many of the other members of the Aero Club were also from Germany, it's theorized that NYMZA originated there. As one would suspect from the involvement of secret Prussian societies, there was something sinister going on that included the possible assassination of club member Jacob Mischer after he tried to use his aero, the "Flyerless Gander", to make money:
The club worked in secrecy and its members were not permitted to talk about their activities or to use the aircraft for their own purposes. One member who threatened to take his machine to the public in the hope of making a fortune died in an aerial explosion—the victim, Dellschau hints, of murder. Another, a "high educated mechanic" identified as Gustav Freyer, was called to account by the club for withholding new information. Apparently this was no ordinary social club.
In one margin, among the many tales told in scrawled annotations on his paintings, he tells of an airship pilot that the club suspected was taking payment for transporting cargo, and how the club orchestrated the crash of his vessel in retaliation. There is mention of members being forbidden to build the ships they had designed because they had been sharing too much information with people outside the club, and of a nosy boardinghouse owner who tried to eavesdrop on their meetings and got stranded on a cliff for her snooping.
Theories about NYMZA and the Aero Club are a bit of a rabbit hole, so for the sake of keeping this article brief, suffice it to say that they appear to have been involved both in researching apergy-like technology and in the ruthless covering up of said technology, and they operated not that far from Dr. Close's subject. (For more, see: Paranoia Magazine: "Mysterious Airships of California", Houston Press: "Secrets of the Sonora Aero Club", Secrets of Dellschau by Dennis Crenshaw and Pete Navarro, and "NYMZA Aeros - The Airships of the 1850's" by Pete Navarro and Jimmy Ward.)
Meanwhile during the US Civil War, William C. Powers, a Confederate architectural engineer, drew up plans for what orthonoid historians have dubbed a "Confederate Helicopter" to use in breaking the Union naval blockade. Even the Smithsonian admits that, as a helicopter, "the laws of aerodynamics were not on [its] side". Obviously, such a device would only be able to fly by means of antigravity, perhaps using the screws for directing apergic force through synchronized antapergic deflection or as electrande for the evaporation of aerosolized apergent as in Peter Mennis's design.
While a small model (shown above) was built, Powers lacked the resources and backing to make a full-size vehicle, and instead hid his plans, supposedly in fear of them being captured by the Union and used against his side. However, such technology, had it been available to the Confederacy, would have turned the tide in their favor. Was Powers forced to concede this advantage by those with interests transcending the outcome of the Civil War?
Interestingly, both Dellschau and Percy Greg had ties to the Confederacy: Dellschau served as a Confederate soldier, and Greg, though a British citizen who never crossed the Atlantic, was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy and bitter over their defeat -- the found-manuscript framing device of Zodiac even includes a rude Yankee contrasted with a courteous Confederate officer. (For more on Greg's support for the "Lost Cause" and his descent into "ultra-Toryism" from his younger idealism, see these JSBlog posts: 1 and 2.)
Was Dellschau, while serving in the Confederate States Army, actually a double agent for NYMZA, keeping tabs on Powers' use of apergic tech and ultimately convincing or coercing him to drop the matter? Could Zodiac have actually been Greg's way of grousing that the South could have won had apergy not remained a secret -- as shadowy forces seem to keep insisting it be -- and expressing his hope that, by rediscovering the secret of apergy, the South would rise again -- this time literally?
The Curse of Apergy?
Buoyancy proving a poor substitute for antigravity, on the 15th of April, 1912, J. J. Astor died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic, taking with him whatever secrets he knew.
Astor's was the last in a string of odd deaths, disappearances, and discreditings tied to public discussion about the secret of apergy: Greg over time became increasingly obsessed with discredited reactionary politics before dying of unstated causes in 1889 at 53; After his death in 1898, Keely's workshop was torn apart by agents of the mainstream press, who twisted every concealed mechanical belt, metal tube, and burglar-alarm wire into supposed evidence that Keely was a deliberate fraud, as he is remembered by the orthonoid public today; Dr. Close stopped writing for the Call not half a year after his apergy article and left no discernible trace thereafter -- almost as if he were flung off the face of the earth; Close's mysterious grape-growing gentleman remains, of course, anonymous and unresearchable -- his fate unknown.
Even Prof. E. L. Scharf, whose ideas in 1903 on "negative gravity" were a recapitulation of apergic theory, found himself, a little under a year before Astor's death, embroiled in a strange political scandal involving a secretive religious order that left him publicly disgraced and unable to secure funding for his research (which, suspiciously, would have prevented the Titanic sinking).
Is there a connection between all this? Might a clandestine cabal of aviating apergists be keeping hidden from the public the means of negating gravity for their own inscrutable use, silencing -- by death or disgrace -- anyone who comes too close to revealing the secret of apergy?
Greg, the first person to publicly utter the word "apergy", ominously suggested such a possibility when the Zodiac protagonist's understanding of that force ultimately leads him to meet, and be initiated into, a secret society, one that zealously guards its esoteric knowledge using metaphysical mind powers to discredit or cause "accidents" to its enemies:
Scientific men have been forced by the actual and public exercise of [powers that can act beyond the reach of any corporeal instruments] under the most crucial tests—for instance, to produce insensibility in surgical operations—to admit that the will of one man can control the brain, the senses, the physical frame of another without material contact, perhaps at a distance.
It is impossible, they would say, that a man should be injured in mind or body, reputation or estate, that the forces of Nature or the feelings of men should be directed against him, without the intervention of any material agent, by the mere will of those who take no traceable means to give that will effect. At the same time, tradition and even authentic history record, what experience confirms, that every one who has wronged us deeply has come to some terrible, awe-striking end. Each man would ridicule heartily a neighbour who should allege such a ground for fearing to injure one of us; but there is none who is so true to his own unbelief as to do that which, in every instance, has been followed by signal and awful disaster. Moreover, we do by visible symbols suggest a relation between the vengeance and the crime. Over the heart of criminals who have paid with their lives, no matter by what immediate agency, for wrong to us, is found after death the image of a small blood-red star; the only case in which any of our sacred symbols are exposed to profane eyes.
Was Zodiac semi-autobiographical? While it's unlikely that actual Martians are involved, and the specific vengeance-signal Greg mentions doesn't seem evident in any of the above cases, the details in his novel were probably just layers of pseudo-occult symbolism, substitutions, and red-herrings designed to muddy the truth enough in hopes of protecting himself from the repercussions of revealing it: mystical psychic powers might be just psychotronics, and the blood-red star actually a White Star.
The idea of an esoteric secret society protecting knowledge of apergy might itself be an overwrought metaphor. Instead, perhaps those behind this conspiracy to silence apergological inquiry have more mundane motives.
Some conspiracy theorists see the hand of conspirators behind the Titanic disaster, using it as cover to get rid of Astor, who opposed the creation of the Federal Reserve. What if these theorists are only half correct...
J.P. Morgan and the Sky Pirates
On March 26, 1912, a daring chain of robberies and murders in Paris using a stolen automobile as a get-away vehicle stoked public fears that modern technology could lead to crimes hitherto unimaginable, and difficult for victims or police to counter. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune (May 12, 1912, illustration above) asked the obvious question: "Will it be the aeroplane pirates next?" Could these terrible engines of vertical superiority become the next accessory of choice for heists and assassinations?
This staggering career of successful crime has led Dr. Max Nordau to make the interesting, if alarming, suggestion that we may soon expect to find criminals using aeroplanes. These newer and more wonderful scientific engines may enable daring criminals to operate far more successfully that the automobiles have done.
"We find that modern criminals possess a high degree of scientific knowledge and a reckless daring that quails at no risk of death," writes Dr. Nordau. "How can we expect policemen who are neither scientific nor daring to deal with them? We must revise our methods of coping with crime to keep track with the progress of science and education.
"I anticipate that we shall soon hear that the aeroplane has been adopted by some Captain Kidd of the air. With it may be utilized any one of many new scientific inventions. With two or three aeroplanes, a band of criminals could swoop down upon some treasure-filled building, take the occupants by surprise, hold the doorways against all assistance, load the treasure on their aeroplanes, fly away, perhaps in the darkness of the night, and speed to some unknown hiding place."
Dr. Nordau's suggestion that aeroplane bandits might take a great building by surprise calls up an interesting vision of what might happen to one of the skyscrapers of New York. Suppose, for instance, that the aeroplane bandits descended upon the roof of some Wall street sky-scraper, which contains countless millions in cash, notes, gold, securities and other forms of wealth. According to Dr. Nordau the bandits could select the most portable part of this plunder, load it on their machine, and fly away to some secret hiding place—say in the Catskill Mountains.
It is true that at present an aeroplane would have difficulty in landing on the top of most New York skyscrapers, but scientific ingenuity will, it is expected, soon make a great improvement in this direction.
Then, according to Dr. Max Nordau, the police will be forced to cope with the pirates of the air by becoming aeroplanists of superior daring themselves.
Two years earlier, another writer also predicted sky piracy:
WHEN BURGLARS LEARN TO HANDLE THE AEROPLANE WITH PRECISION AND SILENCE.
WHEN SKY THIEF COMES
Aeroplane in Crime, as Well as in War, May Soon Be Seen.
Now that aeroplane companies engage to turn out a machine for anybody at catalogue prices and skilled pilots are counted by the score and multiply from month to month those who have watched the growth of aviation most closely are speculating upon the probable appearance of the aeroplane burglar, or "sky pirate," as he might be called. He is not likely to be long in coming once the noise of the aerial motor can be suppressed.
The aeroplane's best friends have to own that its very virtues fit it for a career of crime. It goes fast and far, it leaves no track behind, it can escape from any pursuer except one of its own kin, and even then a chase would be a most uncertain one. Worst of all, if the bird-man is minded rather like a vulture than like an eagle he can strike his prey in its most vulnerable part. The easiest access to a locked house is to be had from overhead, as any city dweller can see for himself if he will go up and look at the door in his own roof.
A hinge of strap iron, or at best an iron bar, fastened with a padlock that would yield like paper to a skillfully handled "jimmy," is all that prevents the ordinary trapdoor from being lifted from without. Indeed, the roof is the usual route of the robber of vacant houses, and it is only the difficulty of reaching it that keeps such crimes from being far more common than they are.
Only one step more in aviation is needed to make the aeroplane the burglar's mount. It must be made to alight upon a restricted space, such as the roof of a house, and to go up from the same spot without difficulty. [....]
While talk of sky piracy was circulating in the press, J. P. Morgan was constructing a new headquarters, the Bankers Trust Company Building (today called simply 14 Wall Street). At it's very top would be a stone pyramid housing a vault containing the Morgan empire's riches. At least one newspaper at the time pointedly warned Morgan of the danger posed by aerothieves:
MORGAN'S MILLIONS AT TOP OF THIS BUILDING
This picture shows the top stories of the new Bank of Commerce building in New York. J. Pierpont Morgan has picked out for his new offices the forty-second floor, immediately beneath the odd-looking pyramid on top.
The pyramid will be used by Morgan and his banking house as a safety vault for the storage of millions in cold cash, stocks and bonds.
If this idea of storing wealth high in the air becomes at all general it may lead to a new type of daring bank robber, operating by aeroplane.
[The Day Book, 1911-12-16, p.10.]
Presumably he was very aware of this danger. Its designers claimed the building's top was modeled after the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one assumes as some sort of boastful declaration of Morgan's imperial aspirations, but it was clearly engineered to make airplane burglary nearly impossible: the roof was much too steep to land a plane without sliding off and columns around the larger upper balcony dissuaded entry by winged craft.
But what about technology that didn't need a large flat surface to land or would allow maneuvering between tight columns? Those who knew the secret of apergy would have complete access to Morgan's millions, being able to alight on any of the balconies like a bird.
Moreover, apergy promised silent or nearly silent operation and the ability to lift much more loot. Airplanes and helicopters are limited in their cargo weight by wing or blade size, but the very mode of operation of apergic flight -- negation of weight itself -- meant a mountain of gold could be stolen as easily as a pouch of jewels.
In fact, with the unlimited powers apergic technology promised, the entire building itself could be stolen, as the article on Scharf's (re)discoveries suggested:
Lift by airfoil was a concept well-known and easily explained to laypeople; there wasn't much Morgan could do about the spread of winged flight, other than putting in place safeguards to hinder its misuse. But apergy was still the stuff of arcane knowledge and secretive inventors. It's future could be quashed.
Fearing rapacious apergists could easily rob his sky vault, both in content and in whole, making off with his entire financial empire as a pickpocket might a single wallet, would Morgan have sought to suppress the secret of apergy, even going so far as to stage the sinking of the Titanic to silence apergological research's most noteworthy promoter and benefactor? Would he have also orchestrated the discrediting of Keely and Scharf, and the silencing and possible disappearance of Dr. Close?
J.P. Morgan was a man of short-temper, known for violent outbursts at people on the street, beating them with his cane if they tried to take pictures of him (he suffered from a condition that left his nose disfigured, which he was desperate to hide from the public). Combined with his financial motives, this temperament makes him an easy suspect in a conspiracy that had no qualms about ruining lives in the name of keeping apergy a secret.
Morgan died in his sleep in 1913, less than a year after Astor's suspicious death. That he was 75 and had health problems from smoking 20 cigars a day would make his death seem not at all suspicious. But... how convenient then is this suspiciously unsuspicious death?
Before his death, while on vacation in Egypt, he "became nervous and slipped into depression" (source: the Morgan Library). His business partners blamed this on stress from testifying at the Pujo Committee hearings, but Morgan -- who was well-known for his intimidating personality and physical presence -- was hardly the sort to be stressed from mere verbal confrontations. What could have gotten to him? Even stranger, shortly before he died he burned thousands of letters, as if he knew he had only a short time to get rid of evidence of... something.
Did Morgan actually know too much about the secret of apergy? Did he learn about it while researching the best ways to guard his hoard, or through his business connections with noted electricians of the day, such as Nikola Tesla (who, being Tesla, of course knew the secret of apergy, as well as that of every other cryptoscience). Instead of being involved in the conspiracy to keep the secret, was he rather one of its victims? Perhaps it actually was a fluke that he didn't die on the Titanic too, just as orthonoid history claims -- a fluke that was later corrected.
Conclusion, or Lack Thereof
So, did Dr. Close expose a key secret of apergy -- that it can be controlled using a metal called "radlum" -- and was he disappeared for this transgression by an international conspiracy to suppress, or control, antigravity technology? Were other trouble-makers who threatened to expose apergetic secrets similarly dispatched?
Could Dr. Close noting his mysterious acquaintance being Hindu point to a connection with vimāna -- flying "palaces or chariots" from Indian mythology that some paranoid investigators think were actually advanced ancient technology?
Are an elite few who know how to wield apergy's power using it to joyride around the countryside for seemingly no purpose? (And what role, if any, may the Birdmen of Cascadia play in all this?)
Unfortunately, my research has hit a dead end. All leads trail off unsatisfactorily, with important questions unanswered and central players left either unknown or dead. Exactly what "radlum" is, where to find it, and how to utilize it is all still too vague to be of any practical use to would-be levitators. All we know is that it's a substance that would liberate humanity from the shackles of gravity and that someone doesn't want us liberated.
However, by joining together all these previously disconnected dots in this post, I hope to reveal a bigger picture so that others outside of the Apergy Conspiracy may finally figure out its secrets. If my hunch is correct, this will put me in danger -- be it from NYMZA, Vedic viticultural sects, JPMorgan Chase, or whoever it is that's behind all this.
If I should disappear, know that my degravitated body may be hurdling through the void of space.