The Secrets of the Integratron
Rising from the desert in Landers, California is one of the world's truly unique structures. It is a brilliant white two-story dome, 17 meters across and 12 meters high, and said to be the most technologically advanced machine ever conceived. It is called the Integratron, and it's the product of years of labor by one George Van Tassel, one of the most interesting men you will ever hear about. This is in part because his plans for the Integratron came to him from alien visitors, who imparted to him wisdom that — if you believe him — will change the world and change the human race.
To see and hear George Van Tassel, you'll find that he's probably one of the more sober and normal-seeming characters from the annals of UFOlogy. Well groomed, well dressed, well spoken, articulate, and projecting an air of intelligence and education, it's little wonder that he amassed quite a crowd of admirers and supporters over his career. But there was another side to Van Tassel too, the side he's best known for. And that was a man who moved his family out of their house and into the desert to live literally under a rock, where he channeled Venusians and described his visits aboard alien spacecraft.
Van Tassel had been a mechanic and inspector for Southern California's crucial aircraft industry since before World War II all the way through its conclusion. Then one day, while visiting his uncle in the desert, he chanced to meet and befriend a miner named Frank Critzer who was, at the time, hollowing out a home for himself underneath an enormous free-standing boulder, now known as Giant Rock, in the desert near Landers, California. By all accounts, Critzer was an eccentric yet inoffensive character. He was German, which was not a good look during World War II. He was an amateur radio operator, so he had a tall antenna atop the gigantic 7-story boulder he lived under. As a miner he had plenty of dynamite. Finally, this was adjacent to what was then the Naval Auxiliary Air Station Twentynine Palms. All this was somewhat alarming to the local constabulary, so one night in 1942 the sheriff sent three deputies to see what Critzer was really up to. Accounts of what went down vary, but the bottom line is that Critzer blew himself up, killing himself and injuring two of the deputies.
Hearing the news, George Van Tassel took over Critzer's lease on the Giant Rock property. He quit his job, sold his house, packed his wife Eva and three daughters into the family pickup, and moved out there. They literally lived in the pickup truck and Critzer's cave as Van Tassel cleaned it out and made it somewhat habitable. These were the days when anyone who knew Van Tassel probably wondered what fuse he'd blown.
But there was a method to his madness, and apparently, a good long list of friends he'd made in the aircraft industry. Because very soon, he'd cleared an airstrip, coded by the FAA as Giant Rock Airport; had power and water run out to the property; and built an airport cafe called the Come On Inn, staffed by Eva who made legendary burgers and apple pie. It was a lively destination. Often, dozens of light aircraft would be there. It appeared that Van Tassel had created for himself the perfect retirement plan.
Except that there was a lot more going on below the surface. Sadly, the warm, personable, intelligent George Van Tassel was probably schizophrenic. He believed himself in regular contact with alien visitors from Venus, who would land their ship at night right there at Giant Rock Airport. This is from a 1964 television interview:
It was from within the subterranean chamber beneath Giant Rock that Van Tassel regularly communed with the Venusians. They shared with him the secrets of the universe, and he in turn shared them with the world. He began hosting an annual UFO conference at Giant Rock. UFOlogists would fly in and drive in from all over, and Van Tassel would climb atop a stage built on the side of the rock and actually channel the Venusians live to the attendees:
There are hours and hours of recordings of Van Tassel channeling the aliens, but the most dramatic of his claims is that he was once transported aboard one of the ships to meet with a group called "The Council of Seven Lights." And in this meeting he was given the basic schematics for what they termed a rejuvenation machine — that we know today as the Integratron.
My intended roadmap for this episode was to find out exactly what kind of machine the Integratron is supposed to be, and then determine whether that's a real thing and whether the structure itself actually represents that. But sadly, this was not to be. The descriptions Van Tassel gave for what the Integratron is are all over the map. They're scattered, nonsensical, inconsistent, and sometimes even self-contradictory. They come mainly from his typewritten newsletter, the Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom, a branch of the Ministry of Universal Wisdom, his name for the cave under Giant Rock. Most of the newsletters consist of Bible passages and ads for Van Tassel's self-published books, with a few photos and incomplete layperson's descriptions of the structure. What we know is that around the circumference of the Integratron is a 55-foot diameter ring of horizontal metal bars like short spokes, and when the machine is turned on, this ring should rotate. Van Tassel never finished building it, and the alien blueprints were in his head alone; but what seems to be the case is that the Integratron was intended to be an electrostatic generator, not too different from the Van de Graaff generators you touch at the science museum to make your hair stand on end. Van Tassel spoke of the need to install a coil and often spoke of magnetism, so it's possible he intended to create a large electromagnet alongside the electrostatic generator. He also talked about negative ion generators, and once wrote:
The effects he discussed included time travel, anti-gravity, and cellular rejuvenation. The problem is that today we're very, very familiar with static electricity, negative ions, and magnetism; and not one of them produces any of those effects. So, without any evidence to the contrary, we can confidently conclude that if the Integratron had ever been completed and turned on, it wouldn't have done anything at all except spin around and probably cause people to shock each other.
Throughout the documentation of the Integratron, you'll find references to the famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. As we discussed ad nauseum in episode #345, Tesla is the poor fellow whose good name has been co-opted and exploited for a century more times by every crackpot with a crazy idea. Today's proprietors of the Integratron namedrop Tesla in just about every sentence, even though electrostatic generators predated Tesla by two centuries. Tesla did write a 1934 article about such generators, but he credited Dr. Robert J. Van de Graaff, who developed the most common type in 1929, based on 50 years of work by others. By no remote extension of logic can anything at the Integratron be said to have been inspired by Tesla himself. Neither Tesla nor Van de Graaff ever discussed time travel, age reversal, or anti-gravity. It's nothing more than hijacking Tesla's name in a bid to lend some authority to the Integratron.
Tesla was not the only historical luminary to have his name dragged through the Integratron's mud. Many of the people associated with the Integratron today assert that Howard Hughes helped to fund its construction, based on a sort of apocryphal history of Van Tassel and Hughes having known each other or flown or worked together — even that Hughes used to personally fly in to Giant Rock to attend the UFO conventions. There doesn't appear to be any truth to any of this. A family story does recall that Van Tassel once tried unsuccessfully to reach Hughes to solicit a contribution, but it would have been during Hughes' reclusive years. Despite claims to the contrary all over the Integratron's marketing materials, there's no evidence that Howard Hughes ever had anything to do with, or even knew about, the Integratron.
The closest thing I could find to a true claim about the Integratron is that it's situated on a geomagnetic vortex. Now, the word "vortex" is nonsensical and essentially meaningless in this context. The whole Earth is one great potpourri of geomagnetic variances. Is the Integratron located on a particularly dramatic one? To fact check this claim, I turned to our in-house geologist, Andrew Dunning of the BetterGeology YouTube channel (like and subscribe). It turns out that 2.5 kilometers from the Integratron is one such variance, above an area of igneous intrusive diorite and gneiss which causes about a 1% compass variance (about 6.75 Milligauss), undetectable with a handheld compass. This is much less than other variances in the surrounding area, and it's unlikely Van Tassel would have had a sensitive enough magnetometer to detect it. And if he did, he missed it by 2.5 kilometers. But that's the closest thing to a true claim I could find. Either way, Van Tassel died in 1978, and that marked the end of any further development.
Today the Integratron — still nonfunctional but cleaned up for tourists — is a commercial New Age healing center, where for around $50, you can join a couple dozen other people inside lying on mats and listening to someone play tones on quartz bowls for an hour. They call them Sound Baths. You can hear a sample on their website:
One is forced to wonder that if rejuvenation, time travel, and anti-gravity — or even just any one of the three — was indeed so close to being realized, would Sound Baths really be the most productive use of this machine? Would nobody have come to follow Van Tassel's work? The answer, of course, is that the voices and visions that dominated Van Tassel's time underneath Giant Rock were probably products of his own amazing mind, and not from enlightened ambassadors from the planet Venus.
Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly said that Frank Critzer's death was just after WWII, when it was in fact during WWII — making him all the more suspicious to authorities. —BD
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