David Davidson, an Akron author, recently wrote a book about Ashtabula's George Van Tassel, who was given plans for building a human rejuvenator. Van Tassel claimed aliens gave him the plans while he meditated under Giant Rock in the California Desert.
Ashtabula's UFO connection
The "X-Files" movie comes to the nation's theaters today, promising to finally expose the truth about government conspiracies, UFOs and the Cigarette Smoking Man. But if truth is stranger than fiction, local science fiction fans can find a homegrown episode about alien contact, a fountain of youth machine and the untimely, controversial death of its creator in a county native, George Van Tassel.
Admittedly, Van Tassel lacks the local recognition of names like Giddings, Wade, Boggs or Anderson, but he is well known to students of UFO and paranormal phenomenon. There is a Web site (www. integratron.com) devoted to him and his invention. And a new book, "Overlords," self-published by author David L. Davidson, puts Van Tassel and his invention in cultural and historical context.
Davidson, an Akron tree-trimmer whose passion is delving into the world's mysterious places, people and phenomenon, believes Van Tassel deserves a revisiting. He calls Van Tassel a "remarkable man," on the same level as psychic Edgar Cayce and electrical engineer Nikolas Tesla. A charismatic speaker and leader, Van Tassel possessed both extensive electrical knowledge and a sensitivity to spiritual matters. Davidson believes those qualities made him the best candidate for receiving from an alien culture the plans for building an electrical human regenerator, the Integratron, in the California desert.
The dome-shaped device, which measures 50 feet in diameter and 38 feet high, was built near Landers, Calif., from 1954 to 1978. Its claim of being able to rejuvenate the human body went untested. Van Tassel died shortly before the Integratron was completed, and much of the equipment was stripped out following his death. He left no written plans for the device.
The shell still stands, as a monument, says Davidson, to the fears of a post-war generation that had lost faith in its government and science to create a safe environment. "They had lost faith in their leaders ... so they turned their attention to the unworldly," Davidson said. "Throughout history, it has been shown that when you lose faith, you always to turn to the supernatural or something of a higher power."
The author said fears of nuclear attack upon U.S. urban centers also sent Americans in search of a physical safety zone. "The formed cults, moved out to the dessert and looked for a leader," Davidson said. It was in the Mojave Dessert of California that they found both their leader and a hope for a better world, George Van Tassel and the Integratron.
Born March 12, 1910, in Jefferson, Van Tassel spent his childhood and much of his youth in Ashtabula County. He had three brothers, Bob, Eugene and Jack. His father Paul died while George was a child, and his mother Myrtle re-married to Frank Hartwell. They had two children, Raymond, who died last year, and Margaret Manyo, who lives in Seminole, Fla.
Frank Hartwell was an insurance man and the family fared well in the 1920s. They lived at 350 West Ave., Ashtabula. Raymond, in a 1996 interview for the Plain Dealer, recalled his half-brother as "the family thinker" who would read for hours and curl his finger through his hair. Margaret Manyo recalls George as a "very, very smart" boy. "George was, from the time he was a kid, always inventing things," she said last week in a phone interview. "He made a roller coaster from the top of the barn and a bob sled."
George Van Tassel had a special fascination with airplanes, which led him to obtain his pilot's license while still a teenager. He dropped out of school after 10th grade and took a job at Cleveland Municipal Airport. He hung around northeast Ohio until 1930, and then left for California, where his uncle Glen Paine gave him a job at his Santa Monica garage.
It was at that garage that Van Tassel met Frank Critzer, a German immigrant trying to make a living in the desert as a prospector. Van Tassel and his uncle befriended Critzer by repairing his car and stocking him with food and money for his journey. Critzer promised to cut them in on any future mining claims.
A year or so later, Critzer wrote to Van Tassel and invited him to the area he'd been mining. Van Tassel and Paine drove to the remote location, where they discovered Critzer living under "Giant Rock," reputed to be the world's largest boulder. The granite stone and surrounding ground had been held as holy ground by the Native Americans. The rock is about seven stories high and covers 5,800 square feet of ground. Critzer had excavated about 400 square feet of space under the rock and lived in the cool cavern year-around.
Nothing more appears to have come of the visit. During World War II, Critzer came under suspicion as a German spy and was killed in a botched law enforcement raid on his dwelling in 1942. All his possessions were removed by the government. The potential of Giant Rock remained a latent hope in Van Tassel's mind for 15 years.
During that time, Van Tassel established a name for himself as a flight test engineer. He worked for both Lockheed International and Douglas Aircraft in the 1930s. He spent the World War II years flying with Howard Hughes. It is unknown if Hughes' eccentricity and passion for eternal earthly life (Hughes wanted to be frozen until someone could find the cure for whatever killed him) are what influenced Van Tassel to move to the desert. But in 1947, he packed up his wife and three daughters and moved them onto the land surrounding Giant Rock. "He said he got tired of the rat race because California was growing so much," Manyo said.
Critzer had established an airfield at Great Rock, and Van Tassel reopened the field and built a cafe there. Manyo said Howard Hughes would fly into the airport on weekends just so he could get a slice of the pie Van Tassel's wife made. The Van Tassel family lived a hand-to-mouth existence off the land. Although they could have lived in Critzer's former quarters, Van Tassel housed his family in tents. It was 1960 before electricity arrived at their Giant Rock homestead.
UFO Space Conventions held at Giant Rock attracted thousands.
The remote location and spiritual significance of Giant Rock drew seekers to the dessert. Van Tassel believed the rock's crystalline structure possessed great channeling power by virtue of its piezo-electric characteristics. If there was communication from another world waiting to be received, Giant Rock was the place to tap into it.
Van Tassel and other believers began a weekly meditation meeting under the rock. This eventually led to what Van Tassel believed were alien contacts received through channeling. In August of 1953, aliens from Venus invited Van Tassel to enter their spaceship. During his visit, Van Tassel received instructions for a machine that could rejuvenate human cells using the natural energy found in the atmosphere. He called the device the "Integratron."
Construction began the following year. Manyo said George's brother Jack assisted him although he was not privy to the revelation and plans. Van Tassel's literature describing the project stated that the machine's purpose was "to recharge energy into living cell structures, to bring about longer life with youthful energy." He theorized that the body is an electrical device, and aging was a matter of the cells running out of power. The Integratron, capable of collecting up to 50,000 volts of static electricity from the air, would be a multi-frequency, electrostatic charger for the human body.
The 16-sided dome was built of wood and concrete and held together by glue and gravity-electrically neutral materials. The generating core was made of copper wire. Had it been placed into operation, candidates would have walked through the building, essentially a huge air capacitor, while wearing white outfits. The charges, distributed over a wide range of frequencies, would affect every cell.
Davidson said that for disillusioned Americans of the mid-1950s, the Integratron became a Noah's Ark, "a vehicle or vessel that could deliver a chosen lot of followers to a secure place. It's the dream as old as mankind to live forever and have some control in governing our time on earth."
Van Tassel funded Integratron construction by using Giant Rock as a focal point for UFO Space Conventions. The first convention was held there in 1954. Thousands attended these events, drawn by Van Tassel's charisma and the desert location. In 1959, conferences led by Van Tassel attracted 11,000 followers.
"He got huge donations," Manyo said. "There were so many people who believed in that." She said his project received much media attention, and he was a guest on many television talk and commentary shows. Van Tassel also was a guest speaker at many colleges and universities throughout the country as interest in UFOs heated up in the `60s and `70s.
Manyo visited the site many times and went inside the Integratron, but she never attended a UFO convention. "I didn't want to get near them," she said. "They had a lot of kooks who came there, even my brother said there were some he couldn't stand. When they started getting into drugs, then he quit holding them." Nevertheless, Manyo said the family respected George's sincerity and his alien communication stories. "It was so authentic the way he would tell it," she said.
Van Tassel wrote six books about his out-of-this-world experiences, including "I Rode in a Flying Saucer." And he started a non-sectarian, non-profit organization for religious and scientific research, the College of Universal Wisdom.
Construction of the Integratron proceeded at a painfully slow pace, but in January 1978, "Proceedings," the quarterly publication of the College of Universal Wisdom, reported that the device was 90 percent complete. True to his original occupation as a test pilot, Van Tassel planned to be the first human to experience the power of the Integratron. But three months later, "Proceedings" carried a photo of George Van Tassel on its cover and his death notice inside.
Manyo said family members have never been satisfied with the "apparent heart attack" explanation that was given for her brother's death. On the day he died, Feb. 9, 1978, he was in Pasadena, Calif., preparing for a television show interview. Manyo said he died in his hotel room in the company of his second wife (his first had died from cancer). His death came as a surprise to all, because Van Tassel was a healthy individual and he suffered no warning signs of an attack.
Davidson said some people believe Van Tassel was getting too close to proving ground-breaking science and he had to be silenced. "He suddenly and mysteriously died when he should have been at his zenith," Davidson said. Manyo is suspicious of his second wife and Davidson believes she may have been working for a group determined to silence him.
"We think he was done away with," Manyo said. "She had him cremated even before the daughters had been notified that he had died." Manyo said Van Tassel's second wife was a chiropractor and would have had access to medical means of inducing death. She said the woman had been married twice before and both of those husbands died in strange circumstances. "After George died, she went completely out of her mind," Manyo said. "She barricaded herself in a trailer and put a big, high fence around it."
The unfinished Integratron.
The core and other critical components of the Integratron disappeared shortly after Van Tassel's death, giving weight to a conspiracy theory. Further, another scientist who had worked on a similar project in the 1940s and `50s, also had suffered an sudden heart attack under unusual circumstances. Wilhelm Reich, whose Orgone Accumulator had come under attack by the Food and Drug Administration, had been imprisoned as an imperious tyrant. Reich died Nov. 1, 1957, just three days before he was to be released from prison. Davidson believes controlling interests saw both Reich and Van Tassel as too powerful, creative and threatening for the science of the times.
"George had been involved in over 400 radio and television shows," Davidson said. "He had a number of followers and supporters that believed in his invention. He was 90 percent complete and quite sure of his machine's potential. Think of the masses that would follow him if the machine proved itself productive. There would be an exodus in the population leaving behind traditional beliefs. If an individual like George had the power to harness man's vitality and longevity, this would soften belief in government agencies and appointed leaders. Ultimately, the elite would lose control I believe there was a fear that George may indeed be on his way to success."
With no written plans for completing the project, Van Tassel's family abandoned the site and the Bureau of Land Management bulldozed all their buildings except the Integratron. Today, it is owned by Emile Canning, who offers it for rental, tours, film locations and recordings. Canning calls it "a very powerful vortex for physical and spiritual healing."
Davidson doubts if there will ever be a re-transmission of the plans for completing the Integratron. He believes the dome accomplished its greater purpose, to ease the fears of a worried populace, to give hope to a world that seemed hopelessly bent on Cold War nuclear destruction. Today, our hope for a fountain of youth comes Viagra, genetic engineering and organ transplants. But in the 1940s and `50s, Americans looked to outer space visitors to fulfill those wishes for a better world. "The monument he constructed was designed to help mankind," Davidson said. "In retrospect, it is perhaps best dedicated to our fears."
Davidson's book goes on sale at Crystal View Gifts, 1104 Bridge St., Ashtabula, Saturday afternoon. Davidson will be at the store from 3:30 to 6 p.m. for a book signing. He also will be at the Ashtabula Mall from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to sell and sign books at a dealer's cart.