JAK, not inhaling at the 1974 FortFest.

John Keel, 1930-2009

Tributes from Ingo Swann, Jacques Vallee, Phyllis Benjamin, Marc Coppola, Dwight Whalen, and Patrick Harpur

JOHN KEEL, most certainly a rara avis, was a man of many erudite, elegant, and splendid words. But when it comes to using WORDS to describe him, one finds oneself headed off in the direction of rather feeble inadequacy.

One reason for this is that he seems to have been some sort of System housing a wide spectrum of sensitivites of various types that we probably have not evolved words to denote.

Via this extraordinary System he would observe and discern stuff and things that others do not—and THEN align whatever dots and patterns were involved (and which is one of the new definitions of "genius" by the way).

This type of thing certainly distinguished his legendary interests in the phenomena usually referred to as the Strange, the Fortean, the Paranormal and so forth.

But beneath this difficult-to-express phenomenon, he was a gentleman, i.e., a member of that endangered species that used to be characterized by the notion of “good manners.”

One aspect of this notion was having a more or less genuine interest in what others have to say and/or tell. “Listening” to others in is somewhat of a lost art or craft and many are starved to distraction from its abundant lack. He knew this as the decades passed, but that was not why he was a Listener. It was a full, honest, and natural part of his otherwise illusive character.

Through the years he was at many of my dinner parties, and at one of these was my mother. Mom was good at palm-reading and studied his for quite some time, and he listened, listened, and then asked to listen about her life—which went on for some time.

As a result, Mom promptly proposed to him for marriage. He replied that he was rather past such obligations. Mom, said she was probably quite past it too, but it didn't hurt to ask. They laughed (as did the other guests) and then gave each other a couple of big hugs.

I now, in memory, give John Keel a very big hug, along with my deepest gratitude for his kind, wonderful, and meaningful friendship that endured for five decades.

Very, very sincerely,

—Ingo Swann

Universal Intelligence . Copyright Ingo Swann
Universal Intelligence • © Ingo Swann

With the passing of John Keel, coming after his long and courageous fight against illness, researchers at the frontier of the paranormal have lost an important point of reference in a fog of theories and competing ideological chapels. John's voice used to rise above the confusion to remind us that the phenomena we try to document are not reducible to simple models borrowed from science fiction or the facile visions
of the New Age.

John was close to witnesses and taught us to listen to them; he did not hesitate to explore their world and their culture, as he did so well in his book Jadoo; he refused to sweep the absurd details, the impossible prophecies, the annoying messages or apparitions under the rug of rationalization. Most importantly, he exposed the ridicule of simplistic technological analogues so often proposed by ufologists whose only purpose was to “kick the tires” of flying saucers they viewed as advanced spacecraft of invading Aliens.

For those of us who have scanned the vast unknown landscape of this phenomenon and faced its manifestations, John was a valued comrade-in-arms and a pioneer. His books, fortunately, remain as precious guides into the complex mystery to which his name will always be attached.

—Jacques Vallee

John Keel: Disneyland of the Gods book cover

John Keel, Gone to Disneyland of the Gods

I am sad to report that my longtime friend John Keel passed on July 3rd at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City after a several month stint in a nursing home near his Upper West Side apartment.

Although John cultivated an image of himself as a curmudgeon, in reality he possessed that great good humor that is the hallmark of every great Fortean and he delighted in regaling his friends with stories too fantastic to be fiction.

Like Charles Fort, John Keel realized the danger of being locked into a preconceived belief system. Both John Keel and Jacques Vallee came to the same conclusion on their own—that the way we look at phenomena, and how we interpret data are colored by the world in which we live. Charles Fort said we use the local to describe the universal.

The books of John A. Keel will continue to inflame the imaginations of phenomenalists everywhere for many years to come. Thank you John for fanning the flames.

—Phyllis Benjamin


Memories of John A. Keel

I hadn't known Mr. Keel as long as some others may have, but when I look back to when I first had the pleasure of meeting him, It's gotta be at least 17 years ago. How time flies.

The first time I met him I was writing a play on UFOs, since there were too many films and TV shows on the topic, a play would be a good forum to get to the bottom of UFOs. The first thing I asked him was what he thought a UFO was. He said “we don't know what they are, but we know what they're not... spaceships, aliens, etc.” That thru me for a loop. After believing all these years Roswell, 3 aliens in deep freeze, my whole world was rocked. It was the same as when I was 12 my Dad told me there was no Santa Claus to which I replied “But what about the Easter Bunny.” So here was another belief being shattered by one of the foremost researchers in UFOology.

My second question on that first meeting was “What about the government coverup!” He replied, “You ever been to Washington D.C.? What time does rush hour start? 2 o'clock! And they get into work at 11 am usually. Then they take 2 hour lunches. So tell me, how can there be a coverup IF no one's doing any work!?” He made a great point.

From that time on he became a teacher to me. He said “Here, read this pamphlet I wrote, this explains it all in 10 pages. Nothing new since then.” He went on to assign me books as they came out that he found interesting. The God Particle and The Holographic Universe were a couple. I read all of Mr. Keel's as well. He became an advisor on all things paranormal.

I started seeing things a lot differently. I began to see a larger picture of the Universe. The man seriously opened my mind and made me look at being suspicious of belief (to a degree). The key here was that you could try to control someone's thoughts but that wouldn't do much, BUT if you controlled their beliefs . . . you controlled the individual. Then the bigger question became: who's controlling the beliefs? For those answers you'll have to read this great man's work. Start with The Mothman Prophecies, that's got it all in there.

For years Mr. Keel could look at people and tell exactly when they were going to die (it came true so many times that he said he had to turn that part of his brain off and walk the other way). He was the first guy to determine that if regressive hypnotherapy works, then what about doing the opposite and do progressive hypnotherapy? That's when you take a subject and hypnotize him and send him to a newsstand 2 weeks into the future where he'd read a newspaper headline. Every time, like clockwork, the headline would be exactly as it was in the subject's unconscious mind.

This was a great wise man who walked among us for 79 years. John, I hope you've become that “State Of Energy” you've so often written about and I hope you get a chance to have a sit down with “The Great Cosmic Trickster” and finally find out why he does the things he does.

—Marc Coppola
(friend, student)

Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel

Your tribute to John Keel touched me deeply. I'm very sorry to learn of his passing. I know you were a close friend, and how much you enjoyed his company. He was a true legend, an unforgettable, irreplaceable original.

I will always remember him best as a writer of originality and daring, a pioneering journalist who pursued the UFO mystery into some of its darkest, most disturbing shadows. I first came across Keel's byline as a teenager in the 1960s. Articles of his occasionally appeared in Ray Palmer's Flying Saucers magazine, to which I subscribed. Then I followed his articles in Fate and other publications. No armchair theorist content to recycle the UFO writings of others and pass them off as original work of his own, Keel did the unconventional: a journalist by profession, he actually investigated UFO sightings. He got out and hustled. He traveled to UFO flap areas, tracked down witnesses, interviewed them, followed the UFO scene via a monthly newsclipping service, doggedly following the UFO mystery wherever the trail led. Along the way he banged out articles for Argosy, Saga, Flying Saucer Review and others, supporting himself as a fulltime freelance UFO writer—a breathtaking feat—and went on to write a number of books on UFOs and other unexplained phenomena that won him both respect and notoriety.

His best work was UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (New York: Putnam, 1970). It was the first book after Jacques Valee's Passport to Magonia to seriously argue that the UFO mystery has little to do with extraterrestrial visitants and much more to do with energies and entities from other dimensions. “Demonic forces,” if you will. Keel's occult interpretation was, and remains, controversial. Yet Trojan Horse is clearly a work of wide research, investigation, and considered thought, its writing as crackling, stimulating, and his analysis as provocative and relevant to the UFO debate today as it was 40 years ago. He expanded on the theme in The Eighth Tower, essentially the companion volume to Trojan Horse.

But nothing Keel wrote impacted me more than The Mothman Prophecies. Little did I know when I began turning its pages that I was slipping down the Rabbit Hole, never to return. I'd never read anything like it. In Keel's nonfiction story of a tall, unidentified, terrifying winged creature with huge, glowing red eyes, spotted in the Point Pleasant, West Virginia, area during a UFO flap, complete with Men-in-Black sightings and other creepy happenings, all culminating in the deadly collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River, Keel wove a deft tale of UFOs, paranoia, the paranormal, tragedy, and brooding menace that chilled me. Friends I shared the book with were left unnerved, too. Mothman became an underground classic, and made Keel a UFO legend-maker. What H. P. Lovecraft did for the fictional town of Arkham, John A. Keel did for the real life town of Point Pleasant.

Around the same time as Mothman, I encountered Phenomena: A Book of Wonders, by John Michell and Robert Rickard. If Mothman sent me down below to join Alice, Phenomena sealed the hole behind me forever. There was no going back. In its riot of strange-but-true (or told-as-true) wonders, complete with illustrations, Phenomena utterly captivated me, and launched me on my own pursuit of lost and forgotten wonders told in newspaper pages of the past, a search that continues to this day, with rewarding finds. The news that John Michell also passed away recently is another blow, another sad loss. As you may recall, I had the pleasure of meeting John at a Fortfest, and found him to be very charming and phenomenally erudite. A scholar's scholar. He gave an impassioned talk arguing that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays. The controversy has raged forever, as you know, and a more compelling, eloquent advocate for the “Shakespeare Mystery” than John Michell is impossible to imagine. Similarly, what my life would have been like without Phenomena, I can't imagine either.

It was also at Forfest, of course, that I finally met John Keel. Forfest '94. I remember your introducing me to him. Keel seemed a bit shy at first, not quite what I'd expected, but as we chatted he quickly warmed up and we had a comfortable conversation. Later, when I brought him my collection of Keel books and asked for his signatures, he warmed up some more, cursing under his breath at the sight of the stack of paper. Thus I was introduced to Keel the curmudgeon.

Keel denounced foreign publishers of his works who never paid him any royalties. Later, as we dined with fellow forteans at a nearby restaurant, I asked him about Ray Palmer and "The Shaver Mystery." I considered Keel an inside source, since he'd written for Palmer. Was there anything at all to Richard Shaver's bizarre tale of Deros and Teros and their hidden world inside the earth, the wacky saga so vigorously promoted by Palmer for years in his publications as Completely True? “It was all bullshit,” Keel told me between mouthfuls. I couldn't think of a followup question.

John Keel will be remembered as one of the most influential UFO investigators and writers of the 1960s and 70s, along with Jacques Vallee and J. Allen Hynek. His thinking and writings influenced a generation of readers who grew up following the UFO scene. Keel, too, professional journalist that he was, also knew how to tell a good story. That skill alone will always set him apart from the mass of authors on UFOs and other true mysteries whose boring prose and pedestrian thinking could compete in drugstores with Tylenol PM as effective sleep aids.

Strangeness alone isn't enough to make a subject worth reading about, or remembering, as Keel well knew. The alchemy of the story-teller's art is what turns it into valuable gold. As his legacy of UFO books, every one of them a classic, testifies, John Keel was a master practioner of story-telling, and as passionate an explorer of the UFO mystery as was ever harrassed by the Men in Black.

—Dwight Whalen

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

Sad news about Keel. Thanks so much for sending the vivid memoir—it brought back happy memories of my only real encounter with John, when he came to dinner with other Forteans at my mum's house in Wilts before a crop circle conference. I remember my brother John driving him, John Michell and Desmond Leslie back to their hotel at 2 AM, and saying nervously: “I'd better drive carefully or I could wipe out at a stroke the Founding Fathers of Ufology...”

I also remember John telling me an intriguing tale about how he sometimes has dreams which have a completely different atmosphere from ordinary dreams, and that he knows are to be taken literally, as precognitive. Sure enough, they always come true. I asked him if he had one that was outstanding, so to speak—i.e., that hadn't happened yet. He said that, yes, he'd dreamt of finding a policeman in an alleyway, badly wounded from gunshot. I said, jokily: “Have you learnt first-aid?” And he replied, seriously: “You bet.” I never heard whether this came true or not.

—Patrick Harpur


FortFest lectures, years of wonderful presentations from John Keel and John Michell, are now available from INFO as CDs (about 45 minutes to an hour each) for $15 U.S. plus shipping and handling. Other FortFest lectures are also available for $10 plus s/h.
(Fortean lecture 1992, Keel on the Mothman)