Ivan T. Sanderson — Chapter 13 — Downfall


Died: SITU Headquarters; 19 February, 1973


At the old "Mansion House" (actually just a reasonably large old farmhouse dating from the 1600s) Ivan set out some some house rules for him and his live-in staff. First of all, the kitchen had to be kept spotless—something he had done since his days aboard his schooner in the Caribbean. The "strictest" rule was, no one ever talked until they had their first cup of Tetley tea in the morning. Alma was a late riser and always cheerful. Right after breakfast, Ivan and Sabina would pour themselves their first drinks (Ivan liked Ron Rico Light rum and water) and headed for the office, where their desks faced each other.

As Resident Staff member Richard T. Grybos recalls, "Depending on the way the day had been, sometimes after dinner we'd retire to a back room, and Ivan had a collection of LPs he'd play. He liked to play things like Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from his opera Die Walkure and a three-record African anthology of music—I remember one evening he and Alma did a little dance liked they used to do professionally in the old days, and I still remember the look of love in their eyes. Ivan also liked to listen to the comedian Bob Newhart, such as the album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedian Victor Borge, and the lesser-known comic Johnny Standley." Standley was a musician and comedian from Oklahoma who in 1952 sold more than a million copies of his only "hit" record, It's in the Book, which was a song that included a parody / imitation of a country preacher, recorded at a live performance with the accompaniment of "Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights."

Ivan Sanderson was an exceedingly generous fellow. From the 1950s until 1972, the Sanderson Estate (or "the Farm" as everyone living there called it) was a rendevous for the famous, the near-famous, the non-famous, and even the entirely nondescript locals. International personages and renegade thinkers such as Charles Hapgood, father of the “earth crust displacement” theory, wandered about the grounds, freely intermingling with SITU scientists, members, and personal friends of Ivan’s who may have casually dropped in from neighboring farms, or who may have just flown in from some other continent. Ivan would wine, dine, and entertain these people. He would even gladly put them up for the night—the 11 room, inappropriately-named "Mansion house" alone was equipped with about 10 guest beds—so it was only natural for such visitors to flock to SITU Headquarters in droves, sustaining Sanderson-fueled parties that could last for a period of about three days and nights, occasionally four or more.

When a number of guests became exhausted from the partying (or when somebody could be found to take them home), a new batch of acquaintances would arrive for a three or four day stay.

Whether they had come from the other side of New Jersey or the other side of the world did not matter; a good time was assured for all through the courtesy of Ivan’s massive and somewhat overblown hospitality. Indeed, there were never less than five people inhabiting the Estate at any one time.

During the good times, visiting the Sanderson Estate could be very enjoyable experience indeed. One member dug a pit out in back of the Mansion house, lined it with rocks and proceeded to roast an entire pig. “It was so succulent and delicious,” said one dinner guest, Allen V. Noe, “you could eat the meat, all of the fat, and maybe even the bones!”

This was one of the reasons why the Foundation, and later the Society was slow in becoming established. Ivan's penchant for engendering near-perpetual merry-making could interfere a bit with the serious planning of Society objectives.

While visiting SITU shortly after Ivan's death, a girl who was a hired bottle and dishwasher at his home mused to me that “a Board Meeting” of the Society usually consisted of a bunch of people driving up in flashy cars, who then got out and walked up to the Annex building, where they would sit around with Ivan and quibble over minor financial and operational aspects of the organization, such as who was going to install a new floor in the Annex. (In fact, most of the maintanence around SITU Headquarters that required any physical effort was usually carried out by Ivan and a few close associates and staff members upon whom he could depend.) At noon there would be a short recess in the meeting, and the now famished multitude would swarm out of the Annex, besieging the Mansion house kitchen for edibles, while at the same time breaking open a keg of something in the way of liquid refreshment. After the assemblage had mellowed a bit, Sanderson's home-grown bar and grill would close operations and the throng herded back up to the Annex, where the final session of the meeting would begin.

Most SITU meetings were completed just prior to the dinner hour, at which time the group would despatch what remained of the foodstuffs and spiritus frumenti.

After dinner, clusters of people, seeking entertainment, would fiddle about with Ivan’s valuable record collection and phonograph (Ivan liked the Romantic composers, particularly Richard Wagner, as well as comedy records), lounge on his fabulous hand-carved furniture from Asia and wander about the property. In the summer months some SITU members often ended up in the swimming pond.

One can only wonder how Ivan found the time to write. Interestingly one of Ivan's best-known books of the late 1960s was entitled Uninvited Visitors—a "Freudian slip," perhaps?

Friends said that in 1969 his hair suddenly turned completely gray (perhaps he just stopped coloring it).

Even more disturbing was that, round about 1970, the publishing business took a turn for the worse, in concert with the plummeting Dow-Jones average. Ivan's fortunes declined precipitously.

Ivan was still averaging about one radio and TV appearance per week. “Beeper” radio shows—that is, programs done by inquiring reporters over the phone --would come in from time to time. One beeper show from Chicago brought in 1000 inquiries for more information on SITU and its activities. He also appeared on television shows such as A.M. New York, and The Dick Cavett Show.

Ivan achieved a dynamic renaissance in popularity by re-entering the limelight through television. Not with elephants, bats, or snakes this time, mind you. Ivan’s new onslaught into the world of mass media was made up almost entirely of flaunting forteana before the masses. Radio was splendidly informal and generally easy-going, but Ivan felt it could not bring in an audience of the monumental proportions Ivan desired. However, a "beeper" show from Chicago—meaning a show that is conducted over the phone—brought in 1000 enquiries for more information on SITU and its activities. Ironically, Ivan discovered that he got the greatest response from the public when he appeared on late night radio talk shows, such as the Barry Farber show. Thus, long before the rise of radio personalities Art Bell or George Nouri, Ivan had accidentally discovered a demographic of people who loved to listen to tales about unexplained phenomena in wee hours of the morning.

For his TV shows Ivan was equipped with one of his famous travelling exhibits. The routine was as follows. Ivan would join the TV host onstage, carrying one or more gold suitcases with him. Each case contained a series of smaller boxes, also sprayed a lustrous gold. The bewildered host was then asked to pick out a box from which Ivan would remove and display a small tangible unexplained item, such as a rock that rings when it is struck by a hammer, an item found in a field in Pennsylvania. Now having throughly mesmerized the host, audience, directors, producers, cameramen, and viewers with the contents of a single container, Ivan would now ask for the host or someone else onstage to pick another box to be opened. Since there were so many boxes in the cases, and considering the overriding factor of human curiosity when it comes to anything unknown or mysterious, Ivan and his traveling exhibit would stick around for two or three segments of the show while all concerned played the game of “Pick Your Box.” This game went on until their curiosity was satisfied by opening up all of the boxes, or else they would run out of air time, in which case Ivan would be called back to mystify another show.

Problem was, many people got the impression that a great museum of some sort could be found tucked away somewhere on at SITU headquarters. This of course was not true, though the many items that comprise each travelling exhibit were all carefully labeled, bottled, catalogued, and stored away in the Annex, waiting for such a building to be constructed. It never was built.

The Bermuda Triangle and Sanderson's "Vile Vortices"

Nearly all of Ivan’s last network TV appearances in the early 1970s were spear­headed with a discussion of the favorite weird topic of that era, the so-called Bermuda Triangle. The public loved to hear of it, for there was mystery (ships and airplanes have disappeared in this area off of Florida without a trace, taking along a total of more than 1000 people), terror (no rational explanation can account for all of the disappearances—though quite a few were explained by Lawrence David Kusche (born 1940) in his 1975 book, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved), and suspense (it could happen again to any one of the many aircraft and pleasure boats which cross its wide perimeter daily). Ironically, the author of the most famous book on the Bermuda Triangle, Charles Berlitz, had gotten his material by visiting SITU and going through the files. This was just another example of how Ivan, his stories, his files and SITU's journal, Pursuit, attracted and helped a number of publicity-minded fortean luminaries of the era: The "little gold model airplanes" from ancient South America ended up in Erich Von Daniken's books, for example. And as long ago as the 1950s, a sign painter at Ivan Sanderson's Jungle Zoo in the early 1950s (who hung around Ivan and his associates to an almost irritating degree, as recalled by zoo assistant Eddie Schoenenberger) was none other than Howard Menger (February 17, 1922 – February 25, 2009) who would soon beecome famous as an American Contactee, claiming to have met extraterrestrials throughout his life, recounted in books he published such as  From Outer Space To You and The High Bridge Incident.

Ivan would then haul out his carefully drawn maps and charts and dazzle the public with his presentations of the subject. As far as he was concerned, the "Bermuda Triangle" was a misnomer—it wasn't a triangular area, nor did it have much to do with Bermuda. After charting the mysterious disappearances of aircraft and ships on a map of the world along with the locations of reported strange sea and sky phenomena, mechanical and instrument malfunctions, and mysterious disappearances, he came to the conclusion that there were 10 such areas precisely distributed around the earth—five in the northern himisphere, and all centered some 72-degrees apart longitudinally; and five others similarly apart in the southern hemisphere, but all shifted about 20 degrees to the east. Next, the location of these 10 anomalous areas was plotted, and corrrelations were found only with surface ocean currents. However, both military and commercal pilots began to supply Ivan and SITU with data indicating that in, or immediately around, these ten areas there appeared to be evidence of "time anomalies." These were cases of aircraft, for example, that arrived at their destinations either "much too soon" or "much too late" according to its instruments on the one hand, and by ground records on the other.

He even talked about it with an old friend from his CBS days, Arthur Godfrey, on The Dick Cavett Show, on a March 16, 1971 broadcast. Ivan described what happened in the April 1971 issue of Pursuit:

Then something else connected with this wretched business has cropped up. this came up after a TV show—Dick Cavett of ABC—broadcast on the 16th of March, on which our Director was to debate this whole business with Arthur Godfrey. On two previous occasions Arthur had told Dick, and his audience, that he would be willing to do so but, in his good old style, referred to it as being "a lot of bloody nonsense" or words to that effect. Arthur Godfrey has been just about the loudest front for aviation during the thirty years he has been on radio and television, but he certainly slammed down the SST [Boeing's Supersonic Transport for passenger service that was never flown] that evening, and everybody expected him to let the poor old "Bermuda Triangle" have it just as forcefully. But to everybody's amazement, he not only treated the matter with the utmost conscientiousness and a sympathy, but went further to give three flat statements confirming this mystery from his own personal experiences. Also, at the end of the show, in reply to a query from Dick Cavett as to whether he felt the matter warranted proper scientific investigation, he replied—directly into camera—with a flat "Yes".

The three cases that Arthur related on the air were demonstrated on a small globe we had provided on which the (then) ten known areas of anomaly were clearly marked. The first was of the instant and complete disappearance of a great plane, called simply "The Mars", northeast of the Hawaiian Islands. Arthur told us that he was to have been on this fligth but missed it and so watched its departure on radar. Snapping his fingers at camera he said: "The darned thing just went 'puiff', and they never found a trade of it". His second personal experience was when he was on his round-the-world flight in a two-engined jet, and started to fly across the infamous "Devil's Sea" north of the Bonin Isalnds in the west Pacific. He told us that this time they lost radio contact and all other instrument contact with the 'outside' world for an hour and a half, and with only four hours of gas to go. Arthur stuck his finger on that blob on our globe and said simply: "And that's not nice, I'm telling you".

His third case was even less expected. Arthur asked for the globe again and, turning to Dick, he outlined the Bermuda blog and poionted out that the east coast of North America really leans way over till it almost points south. He told us that he and other experienced fliers en route from New York to Florida usually cut across the ocean, so saving a hundred miles or so, but he then volunteered the information that whenever he did so he kept an awfully wary eye on his instruments! And that is just what other pilots have told us, including Bob Durant, who used almost the same words on Barry Farber's radio show.

This information and confirmation give us by Arthur Godfrey set off ja sort of chain reaction among scientists and engineers. And it was one of the latter fraternity who came to us the very next day with an observation that has necessitated our dropping just about everything else. His suggestion: simply that the earth is a gigantic static electrical machine having not just five dipoles—represented by the ten lozenges, "triangles", vortices, or whatever you want to call them—but six; the sixth pair represented by the north and sorth magnetic poles. ["Current Pursuits." Pursuit. April 1971, 4:2. 48-49.]

Today, Ivan Sanderson is known for this theory of the "Vile Vortices" almost as much as he is for his investigations in the world of cryptozoology. His diagram of 12 "vile vortices" appeared in the April 1971 issue of SITU's journal, Pursuit. Sanderson then published the article, "The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards Around the World"  for a 1972 issue of Saga magazine. (Reprinted in Nelson, Nicholas R. Paradox. Ardmore, Pennsylvania: Nicholas R. Nelson, Dorrance & Co. 1980.)  This article caused a sensation and led to a 1973 article by three Soviet researchers (Nikolai Goncharov, Vyacheslav Morochov, and Valery Makarov) entitled “Is the Earth a Large Crystal?” published in Khimiya i Zhizn’ (Chemistry and Life), the popular science journal of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Historian Nikolai Goncharov, construction engineer Vyacheslav Morozov and electronics specialist Valery Makarov together noted that the 12 locations of Sanderson's "vortices" in 3D space correspond to a platonic solid known as a dodecahedron. They mapped out a geometric grid pattern spaning the globe, speculating that the edges of this pattern were in fact the lattice edges of some kind of great crystal structure within the earth. This imagined planetary crystal is described as an icosahedron (made up of 20 equalateral triangles), interconnected with a dedecahedron, composed of 12 pentagons (much like a soccer ball). This was nicknamed "icosa-dodeca". The points and vertices of this pattern imposed on the earth's surface followed many seismic fracture zones, ocean ridges, migratory animal paths, areas of atmospheric highs and lows, and areas of gravitational anomalies.


  • Sanderson Map Of Vile Vortices
    This map by Ivan Sanderson of the so-called "Bermuda Triangle" (actually a lozenge-shaped area) and similar "vile vortices" appeared in the April 1971 issue of SITU's quarterly journal, Pursuit. Ivan's subsequent 1972 Saga magazine article "The Twelve Devil's Graveyards Around the World," once again catapulted him into the spotlight as a great controversy arose over the validity of his research. It also led to many "Planetary Grid" theories by scientists, pseudo-scientists, "New Age Mystics" and laymen alike.
  • Russian Planetary Crystal Map
    Three Russian researchers published an article in 1973, acknowledging Ivan Sanderson's research and theorizing that the earth somehow follows the structure of a huge crystal.
  • Becker-Hagens 1983 Planetary Grid
    The husband-and-wife team of William Becker and Bethe Hagens consulted all previous research and refined the planetary grid model based on their own original calculations. (The hexakis icosahedron grid, coordinate calculations, and point classification system shown here are the original research of Bethe Hagens and William S. Becker. This map is displayed with permission of the authors in cooperation with Governors State University,University Park, Illinois.)
  • Earth-Star Planetary Model
    An actual consumer-available foldable model, the EarthStar, that embodies the Becker-Hagen planetary grid theory. Becker and Hagen wrote: "Our goal in producing EarthStar was the creation of a map that would be comfortable to an audience oriented to the equatorial linearity and continental positioning of a standard Mercator map." The EarthStar's underlying geomety is "the rhombic triacontahedron projection method developed by R. Buckminster Fuller."


The 1973 Russian article was in turn followed by author Christopher Bird's article entitled, "Planetary Grid" (New Age Journal #5. May 1975. 36-41.)

Then, in 1983, the husband-and-wife team of William Becker and Bethe Hagens devised their own planetary grid, based on all previous research as well as some of the ideas found in R. Buckminster Fuller's 1944 "Dymaxion Map" of the world. Becker was a Professor of Industrial Design at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Bethe Hagens was a Professor of Anthropology at Governors State University. They wrote: "We propose that the planetary grid map outlined by the Russian team Goncharov, Morozov and Makarov is essentially correct... The Russian map, however, lacks completeness, in our opinion, which can be accomplished by the overlaying of a complex, icosahedrally-derived, spherical polyhedron developed by R. Buckminster Fuller. In his book Synergetics 2, he called it the 'Composite of Primary and Secondary Icosahedron Great Circle Sets.' We have shortened that to Unified Vector Geometry (UVG) 120 spheres. We use the number 120 due to its easy comprehension as a spherical polyhedron with 120 identical triangles - all approximately 30, 60 and 90 in composition."

Thus, by the early 1970s Sanderson had become the Grand Old Man of forteana, a kind of Lowell Thomas of the unexplained, despite the fact that in recent years his travels were more likely to be to Pennsylvania or New York than some exotic locale.

Amazingly, after surviving the "Bozo the Iceman" episode (some would dispute this, since the "Iceman" was never defrosted and has remained controversial down to the present day), Ivan was overjoyed to receive a small but growing number of requests from “name” scientists about SITU and forteana. Perhaps they were just curious. Or perhaps all of Ivan's “hammering” had finally paid off. An unprecedented amount of money was beginning to flow into the Society, as SITU continued to grow. Of course, "unprecedented" for SITU could be a few thousand dollars. Ivan was always short of cash and as early as 1970 almost dismissed his resident staff member Richard Grybos because of cash-flow problems. In any case, during 1970 Ivan was even breaking his once-a-week TV and radio appearance schedule record.

Then, seemingly at the height of his career, Ivan and Alma were both wiped out by uncontrollable forces of fate.

1971: The Decline of Ivan and Alma


At some point during 1970 a check-up disclosed that over two-thirds of Alma’s left lung was cancerous. The medical opinion advised her to stay in the hospital until “the end.” Alma told the doctors to go to hell, stormed out of the hospital and went home. Amazingly, there was a remission of her stigma for a time. Alma, who had survived a number of other so-called “fatal” diseases before, simply went on with her business. One day in April of 1971 she discovered that it was becoming impossible to keep the financial accounts of the Society in order—something was interfering with he concentration. A check-up indicated that she was now afflicted with cancer of the brain, an outgrowth of her dormant lung problem. She was hospitalized at the end of April and had to give up all of her duties handling SITU's financial and legal affairs.

Around this time Ivan asked former Resident Staff member Richard T. Grybos—who had recently resigned from the CIA—to return to SITU headquarters to help out because Alma was ill.

As Grybos told me in 2009, "I remember taking Ivan to the hospital to visit her. At one point Ivan left the room and Alma and I talked. I remember her looking out the window from her hospital bed and asking me if I could see 'the castle in the distance'. Well, as hard as I looked, there was nothing out there except the grounds of the hospital. She did temporarily did get better and returned home. I want to say that she may have received some type of treatment—such as radiation—before coming home, but my memory there is vague. After Alma came home, I left SITU for the last time, in June 1971."

Ivan wrote that Alma's initial condition was so bad that she "ought' to have died in June 1971, "but instead made a remarkable recovery which we all hoped would prove to be a cure." Alma came home before the end of June (literally days before Ivan himself discovered that he was seriously ill), and, since she seemed to be recovering, Richard T. Grybos felt there was no reason for him to stay on to help out any longer. Having commitments back home in Chicago, he left. (On the night before Grybos' departure from SITU, a photo was taken of him and Ivan for old times' sake, and, with film still in the camera, another photo was taken of "the returned Alma" and Resident Staff member, Michael R. Freedman. These are reproduced in the photo deck below.)


  • Sabina and Mark Van Horne 1971 PA
    In mid-May 1971, a month after Alma Sanderson was diagnosed with brain cancer, Marion L. Fawcett, Resident Staff member Richard T. Grybos and a new SITU member, Mark van Horne (at right, whose mother had just made a generous donation to SITU), met up with member #459 (name unknown) and his family. All of them then traveled to a place near Renovo, Pennsylvania ("where Dark Hollow Run meets Paddy Run"), to investigate a report of a chain allegedly embedded in rock. The investigation revealed that the chain, now missing, was simply an old logging chain. There was a sawmill there many years ago and white pine logs were cut and floated down the streams when the spring floods were on. They were stopped at the mill site by logs chained together and stretched across the creek. These chains were anchored into solid rock by drilling a 2-inch hole into the rock, attaching a chain to an eye-bolt and dropping this into a hole, which was then filled with hot lead. SITU solves another mystery!
  • Alma Sanderson And Mike Freedman
    June 1971 photo of Alma Sanderson and Michael R. Freedman. Alma had been diagnosed with brain cancer in April and had now returned from the hospital in June (she would return to the hospital for the last time in December). She still maintained her sense of humor, however, saying that she was wearing this red outfit for the photo because she was amused as to how it made her look like an "improper" lady. (Photo courtesy Rich Grybos.)
  • Rich Grybos and Ivan Sanderson
    Resident SITU assistant Richard T. Grybos poses for a casual photo with Ivan T. Sanderson on the night before his departure, June 1971. (This photo was taken on the same evening as the one of Alma and Mike Freedman on this deck of photos.) After his resignation from the CIA, Ivan had asked Grybos in the spring of 1971 to return to SITU headquarters for an extended stay to help out with things because Alma was ill. Now that Alma was back, Grybos felt he could now go back to Chicago. Ironically, before the end of June 1971, Ivan would discover that he would have to undergo a series of operations himself for cancer.


Indeed, the following month, Alma sent a note to Grybos: "About me—I'm fine except that I am impatient to be doing things but the orders are to rest, rest, rest. So I try, with the aid of various calming & sleeping potions." [Sanderson, Alma V. Letter to Richard T. Grybos. 20 July 1971.]

Another check-up in mid-December, however, indicated that "the cancer in her brain had been knocked down but not out," as Ivan later wrote in SITU's journal, Pursuit. Alma was readmitted to the hospital on Wednesday, 29 December 1971. She never returned.

Ironically, 1971 was quite a big year for the Society. SITU was now fully approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt, non-profit Society. Thus, Ivan’s monied friends and members could now donate their excess cash for tax-deductions.

Another big event in 1971 was that membership card #1000 (an honorary membership) was bestowed—with a minimum of fanfare, unfortunately—to the printer of SITU's journal Pursuit, Rog Hicks and family. Passing a membership figure of 1000 was in a way dangerous for SITU, especially when manpower for disseminating clippings, entertaining visitors and members, and performing various monotonous and at times seemingly useless duties were taken into account. Take membership alone as an example: Sixteen singular paperwork operations were required for the implantation of each new member into the membership roll. This is was done for the record, for efficiency in operations, and also in compliance to the Federal and State laws governing non-profit organizations. It was particularly complicated to do this while Alma, who normally shouldered some of the work, was sick in bed at home, her strength weakening.

Things could have been worse. Regrettably, within a short time they were.

In May, 1971, a mere month after Alma was first hospitalized, Ivan found a lump growing on the side of his head. It soon caused him terrific pain, right at the same time that he had to do a TV show. He struggled through the long program, smiling away and trying to be his usual affable self. Immediately thereafter he was rushed to the hospital, and he was operated on at once. The tumor had been malignant. What was worse, it had penetrated Ivan’s skull, which required lengthy and very exacting radiation treatments. A few weeks later the doctors found the main source of cancer in his right shoulder, second rib down. This would have to be operated on. More tests and examinations revealed polyps in his intestlne, and a section of Ivan’s intestine had to come out too. Thus, as Ivan wrote in the October 1971 Pursuit...

In late June... I learned that I had to undergo three major operations (with a possible fourth one upcoming), from the last of which I returned home for convalescence on yesterday (the 4th September). As a result of all of this, I have been able to write almost nothing by way of contribution to PURSUIT for this issue. In a way this is, perhaps, just as well, since I had already expressed to the Board, starting with the mid-year meeting of last year, my intention to gradually disassociate myself from this aspect of our endeavor. I had felt that the organization should and by now could stand on its own feet. [Sanderson, Ivan. A Letter from Our Director. Pursuit. October 1971. 4:4 pp. 98-99.]

Meanwhile, Alma had to have an operation to partially alleviate her suffering, followed by some radiation treatments of her own.

While Ivan and Alma went into the hospital for their respective series of major operations, a number of staff members were called away or got sick, the result being that poor Marion Fawcett was left alone to run things at SITU headquarters. She somehow managed to get out an entire issue of Pursuit singlehanded, writing portions of it, editing articles submitted from members and incorporating them into the final copy, which she duly pasted up and sent off to the printers. Marion was an absolute prisoner to her work, for she was stranded at Headquarters without means for escape—you see, she has never owned a driver's license. (Indeed, Ivan claimed in the October 1971 issue that Sabina "has been almost wholly responsible for the last four issues of PURSUIT, even to writing almost all of their texts except for those columns or items signed by others." [p. 99.])

Ivan's Suspicions of Foul Play

Ivan, having been a British spy doing counterintelligence against the Germans in World War II, was suspicious that he and Alma had been struck with cancer nearly simultaneously, and that both had developed brain or intracranial tumors—normally a rare condition (today it afflicts15 to 20 cases per 100,000 people, with about 13,000 people dying of it each year). Just prior to Ivan discovering the tumor that was essentially in his left ear, something strange occurred, as recounted by Adolph Heuer, Jr. and Eddie Schoenenberger. Ivan had a speakerphone with a loudspeaker hanging on the wall to the left of his desk in SITU's main office. For a day or so he became uncomfortable, claiming that something was "wrong" with the speaker and it was somehow "bothering" him. He had the device taken off the wall. Later, he discovered the tumor on the left side of his head, which led to a hunt for cancer elsewhere. The doctors thought that, as in many such cases, the cancer had started in his abdomen and spread to the torso and head, so it would seem that Ivan at that point somehow subconsciously knew that something was wrong, but was psychologically "projecting" the cause of his subtle discomfort to the device off to his left side. Strange circumstances none the less—so much so that Ivan confided to Adolph, Eddie and others his fear that he and Alma had been "targeted" by somebody, perhaps an enemy he had made during World War II, or perhaps someone who didn't like his investigations into some of the more outrageous technological areas (e.g. SITU's Standing Committee investigating "Brain Control" during what would later be known as the MKULTRA era of such research).

Ivan Prepares for the Worst

During Ivan’s hospital stay in 1971, a friend by the name of Jim Murray substituted for him on radio, TV, and the lecture circuit.

When Ivan returned home from the hospital on September 4th, his attitude was: “There' s so much to do I haven’t time to be bothered about cancer.” Still, he had gone so far as to allow the doctors to experiment on him with various techniques, some newly developed. Ivan had become a sort of human guinea pig—a voluntary one, it should be emphasized.

It was also in September 1971 that Fred Allsop miraculously “came home” for the fifth time and, apart from the paperwork, he kept everything well in hand during Ivan’s long convalescence. Soon Ivan was up and around, feeling his old self and on the road to recovery. He now became determined to write his autobiography. He set up four different outlines in an attempt to tackle the project, but he was confused as to how the finished product would take form. As a result, he never even got into a first draft. The book, Green Silence, about his early travels, was ultimately finished by Sabina, whose writing style matched Ivan's perfectly.

Not wanting to take any chances, Ivan resigned his role as Administrative Director. Indeed, both Sandersons had severed all ties with the Society on account of their health, and they could have easily “retired.” Ivan instead wanted to press on as an outsider, so that a recurrence of his illness would not drastically affect the workings of SITU. At the beginning of 1972 he had half a dozen articles and three books in the works (one of them being his autobiography) and he lined up a large number of TV and radio appearances. After administrating all scientific doings at Headquarters for the years 1965-1971, he could now get back to original research (or “search,” as he called it) and start work on the vast files.

The files themselves had been a cause for worry, for they were stored in the Mansion house, a highly combustible wooden frame structure built in the 1600s. In order to protect this collection of unique material, the projection room of the Annex (a fire-resistant concrete building) was removed, and the files moved in. These files consisted of 250 two-and-a-half inch ring-binders that took up 50 feet of shelving. They contained original reports from members on forteana, along with clippings from periodicals that were mailed in. About 25 of these were received at SITU headquarters every day.

This amassment of unique material grew to the point where “The Files” as became “rather extraordinary,” according to Sabina's former boss, Dr. Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., Librarian of the American Philosophical Society (APS), who visited Headquarters in October of 1971. Bell had just set up a fortean section to the APS Library, a library that is in certain ways just as impressive as the library of Congress. In the event of SITU’s demise, the entirety of its library, files, and “physical specimens” (objects that were destined for exhibits in a never-built museum) were to be absorbed by the APS, which is the oldest scientific society in the United States, having been founded by Benjamin Franklin and others as a discussion group in 1743, as an offshoot of Franklin's earlier club, the Junto.

In 1972, a series of disasters took place from which Ivan did not.bounce back with his past vigor. First, Alma died of cancer of the brain. When we last looked at Alma, she had been readmitted to the hospital on 19 December 1971. In a letter to Rich Grybos dated 4 January 1972, Marion (Sabina) writes as follows, "I have only sad news to bring—Alma was readmitted to the hospital last Wednesday, having gone into a rapid decline, and this time after she apparently won her battle against cancer. She seemed to recognize Ivan yesterday, but at 3 this afternoon the nurses reported that she seems to be in a deep coma, and her doctors have all said it is only a matter of time now—perhaps days, even hours."

Three days later, on 7 January 1972, Marion (Sabina) writes, "Nothing really new on Alma, but it is definitely now a matter of days, possibly hours. Her mind is completely gone and she is in no pain. That's the best that can be said, and we hope the end will come soon." It did. Alma died on Tuesday, 18 January 1972.


Ivan's Tribute to Alma V. Sanderson


When Alma Sanderson died, Ivan wrote a moving tribute to her that was apparently published in the small local newspaper, the Blairstown Press, to be seen by Sandersons' neighbors in Warren County, New Jersey. In it, Ivan continues the fiction that Alma Viola Williams of Nebraska was Alma'a Vioreta Guillaume de Veil, an aristocrat from Madagascar. Former Resident Staff member Rich Grybos dug up a copy out of his archives and I herein reproduce it as follows...


To use a traditional and rather aggravating phrase “my beloved wife”, Alma’a Vioreta (nee: Guillaume de Veil) was vouchsafed the chance to “enter the long sleep” as she called it, Tuesday in the Monroe County General Hospital. And she wished me to express her thanks to Dr. Claus Jordan and his bunch of “saints” down to the youngest “candy girl” for all they did for her since she went down with this damnable, sneaky cancer last April. From long experience I am prepared to state that there is not a finer hospital or a more competent and sympathetic group of medical people than there is there. (If only we could dig it up and transport it to Warren County in our State).

My wife came from even farther away than I did, and when we were married, nigh on forty years ago, I would imagine that Warren would be just about the last place she would have guessed that she would end up in. But, from the moment she came here after having traveled all over the world and having had homes in twenty countries, including a floating one in the form of our schooner in the Caribbean, a sort of peace came over her. The beauty of our area appealed to her of course, but she constantly repeated that it was you people, the residents, which she most appreciated. A couple of years after we came here, somebody jokingly repeated to her what he had overheard in the old Blairstown Hotel. (That gave her more pleasure than anything, and she constantly repeated it). Apparently somebody mentioned to somebody else that those “crazy furriners” at least “live country style”. I would like to endorse my wife’s sentiments on this.

Just one more thing. Despite her outgoing ebullience, my wife was modest to the point of introversion. She was trained as a medical entomologist at Grenoble University in France and was the discoverer of the mosquito vector (carrier) of the deadly cerebral malaria that hit our American troops like a hatchet when they first moved into Central America and West Africa at the beginning of World War II (This insect had the singly inappropriate name of Anopheles darlingi). The malarial strain it carried killed in 24 hours.

Another little accomplishment that she did not talk about was that she took over my command on behalf of all the allies for counter espionage (and anti-submarine warfare) for the whole western Caribbean when I was rushed to the Orient: and she carried it for almost a year. We were both in British Naval Intelligence from 1934, but came under the U.S. command a year after Pearl Harbor. When I finally got awake one morning and staggered downstairs at our headquarters—and we had been up all night decoding, I found her entertaining four admirals, one general, a Latin-American Ambassador, and one of our local agents, a Black Carib who had been a rum-runner and pirate all his life. I tell you that was some mix in 1943, as the admirals were all American southern gentlemen, but she carried it off like the aristocrat she was and proud of this fact, too.

My wife, Alma’a (meaning “clear water” in one form of Arabic) was officially born a Muslim but was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. She was deeply religious but not a “religionist” and she should have been entered in the Puritan ambient due to her inborn, almost aggressively high ethical and moral precepts. However, she was first and forever a naturalist in all senses of that word. She gave her “earthly remains” as they say, to cancer research. There will be no funeral and one of her last wishes was that there be no condolences, but that life just go on as if nothing had happened. Her ideas on an afterlife were profoundly philosophical but she wished me to keep them to myself alone.

I thank all of you for the wonderful way you have accepted us here: and I say this primarily on behalf of my dear one.

18 January 1972

Ivan Marries Marion L. Fawcett ("Sabina Bertschy Warren" becomes "Sabina W. Sanderson")


Alma's death was a tragedy for both Ivan and Marion Fawcett. Sabina has said that she came to SITU headquarters in 1968 to replace an assistant named Susan Brown, who was leaving to get married.

Marion, born Sabina Bertschy Warren, was a twin. She and her sister were born August 19, 1931 to Richard Baker Warren and the former Sabina Clara (or "Clare") Grzybowski at Crozer Hospital (now Crowzer-Chester Medical Center) in Upland, Pennsylvania. Her sister Betsy is named after her real mother's stepmother, Elizabeth Shoemaker Grzybowski, daughter of the millionaire Swedenborgian, Owen Shoemaker of the J.L. Shoemaker leather goods company, and a relative of Julien Shoemaker, a major figure in the history of the J.B. Lippincott publishing company. For some reason I have yet to figure out, the twins becane part of the Fawcett family in December 1944, and their mother's stepmother became their stepmother. Sabina Bertschy Warren became Marion Fawcett and her sister became Elizabeth (Betsy) Fawcett. Aside from an entry in the reference work, Contemporary Authors, Sabina would continue to be known publicly as Marion L. Fawcett until her marriage with Ivan T. Sanderson in 1972.

The Warren twins' future stepfather was Clarence Edward Fawcett, of Concordville, Pennsylvania (21 Jun 1882 – October 1961, Monterey, California). In December 1944 the twins began living with Clarence and Elizabeth Shoemaker Fawcett, the former Elizabeth Shoemaker Grzybowski.

The twins turned out to be both academically gifted. Marion Fawcett was one of three graduating high school students in 1949 to receive the Emalea P. Warner scholarship to the University of Delaware. While in high school he had planned on majoring in French at the University. She did attend the University of Delaware from 1949-1952, though an email exchange with the University of Delaware alumni association revealed that she had not graduated and, surprisingly, no academic major was listed.

According to the reference work Contemporary Authors, Ivan T. Sanderson and Sabina W. SandersonMarion later moved to Philadelphia and became a medical secretary in the pediatric department of the Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital, Philadelphia (1953–1959), an associate editor in the medical book publishing division of J.B. Lippincott & Co.(1959-1965), and for several years after that was secretarial assistant to Dr. Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., of the American Philosophical Society Library, also in Philadelphia (1965-1968). Her book An Index to Films in Review, 1950-1959, was published by The National Board of Review in 1961. She also compiled An Index to Films in Review, 1960-1964, and at least part of An Index to Films in Review, 1965-1969, with Sandra Lester. Her real name was revised to "Sabina Warren Sanderson" in a subsequent edition of Contemporary Authors (New Revision Series, Volume 3). She lists herself as executive secretary and assistant to the director of SITU from 1968 until 1977.

In any case, Ivan and Marion/Sabina drew close and they were married on April 27, 1972 by Judge John C. Stritehoff in his offices on Main Street in Blairstown, New Jersey. Interestingly, Alma told Ivan personally that he should marry Marion after her death. That was quite uncharacteristic for Alma, as she was always highly possessive of Ivan and jealous of any female who might catch his eye or pay too much attention to him. It was in any event a perfect match, for both Ivan and Sabina had been “literary partners” for years, their very writing styles being similar. If one were reading an edition of Pursuit, for instance, one could not determine whether a particular article was written by Ivan or by Marion, unless one read the byline. Ivan told everyone that, with the marriage, the name of Marion L. Fawcett was retired, and Sabina Bertschy Warren reappeared to now become Sabina W. Sanderson.

In any event, Ivan's marriage to Sabina went well and all of the festivities of this happy occasion generated new well-being in him.

In September of 1972, however, Ivan went through an automobile accident, and although no one was injured, Ivan’s mental state and outlook on life became dim. Shortly after the accident, he developed a constant pain. It soon became impossible for him to push the keys on a typewriter, so he resorted to writing out his articles and editorials for Pursuit in longhand. Even this became painful after a time, and he only averaged about a page of it a day. Finally, he went to recording his thoughts on tape, his loyal assistants transcribing from it word for word. The cancer, now in his abdomen, was getting the better of him.

Toward the end it was as if everyone who had ever heard of Ivan Sanderson wanted to meet him at least once before he died. Ivan and company were besieged with both visiting members and the mass of the curious, who looked upon Ivan’s home/Headquarters as the Mecca of the fortean world. The annoyances, drudgery, and periodic invasions by outsiders were continuous. The phones, for example, were ringing twelve hours a day. Calls from the printer, Roggie Hicks, calls for still more appointments (now made a week in advance) and long distance “beeper” calls were coming in, which required the bedridden Ivan to gather his thoughts and start talking to inquisitive radio talk show hosts and their audiences. This all went on for seven days a week throughout the year. A fence had to be built around Headquarters to keep roving bands of sightseers out.

A dwindling number of staff members took over Ivan’s production of about half a dozen television programs aired on a local UHF station, while at the same time appearing on an equal number of radio and TV network talk shows. This left Ivan to contend with the 40 or more beeper radio shows that came in over the phone that year.

Towards the end of 1972, Ivan went through a bout with London Flu, from which he recovered. Then one day he fell and suffered a concussion. The hospital found that he had been struck down again, this time with pnemonia. Ivan, who had never had so much as a cold in his salad days, remained in the hospital for several weeks. He returned home.

In a long talk with his friend, neighbor and SITU Treasurer and Assistant Director, Allen V. Noe, Ivan, now on the verge of death, expressed the desire for SITU to go on no matter what.

“I don’t mind dying,” Ivan lamented, “but its such a nuisance—it's interfering with our work.”

The radiation treatments had created a condition in Ivan that left him without a taste for food. The only thing in the way of nourishment that he found enjoyable was some nut bread baked by Alien Noe’s wife. He would sit back and spread pints of English marmelade over the individual slices like an artist spreading oil pigments on a canvas, and then, when the collection of epicurean delights was complete, he would pause momentarily to admire the shiny, glistening works of art, then devour his little masterpieces in less than ten minutes.

Ivan T. Sanderson Passes on...


On the morning of the day he died, Ivan did a one hour beeper show from his bedroom. He was talking with a radio reporter, their conversation being broadcast over a station in New Mexico. After the show, Ivan fell back into bed, exhausted. “I’ll never do another show in this condition,” he muttered, as he closed his eyes and suddenly lapsed into a coma.

At 10:00 p.m., Allen Noe entered the front door carrying another loaf of his wife’s nut bread. As Noe neared the stairs he could hear Ivan’s weak, rough voice coming from the upstairs bedroom: “Dogs... dogs... dogs... “ He was calling for his four golden retreivers, to see them all for the last time. Alien turned around, put the loaf of nut bread under his arm, then quietly made his way out the front door and went home.

Although his brilliant mind functioned with its usual precision right up until that last show, the combination of diseases and the pain were all too much for him. Thus, death came as a “blessed relief” as Marion later said.

His life did not end in a blaze of glory, yet his ubiquitous influence on the lives of the people whom he touched only became evident after his untimely passing: Not a one of them, not even the skeptics with whom he had long battled, could believe that the life of the indefatigable Ivan Sanderson had finally run its course.

This is probably why a number of newspapers “invented” descriptions of Ivan’s passing that took on an air of mystique, no doubt to keep in tune with the kind of “end” the public expected to befall a world adventurer. One newspaper went so far as to give the impression that he had been enigmatically “found dead in his home.” Actually, Ivan died peacefully in his sleep on the night of 19 February 1973, in his own bed, Marion holding his hand till the end. He was not “officially” pronounced dead, however, until after midnight, when he was brought to Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, so Ivan had an uncertain date of both birth and death.

I had no inkling of what was going on, for I had gone on a journey into Canada for a period of time. Upon my return, I found that the April edition of Pursuit was not in my mailbox. This was indeed unusual, for it was now July, and the July edition should soon be mailed. Something was wrong. I did find a letter from Ivan, addressed to all SITU members, accompanied with a reprint from The National Observer summarizing what we had learned from our Apollo flights to the moon. The last line of Ivan’s introduction to the article went: “I only hope that I shall be around to see what Mr. Young might have to say at the end of this next decade.”

I then ran into a friend of mine who presented me with an old newspaper clipping—Ivan’s obituary. Grief overcame me, for although I had heard about Ivan’s operations and Alma’s death, I was not aware that Ivan had died so suddenly. This one-two punch of the absence of Pursuit and the recipience of Ivan’s obituary had convinced me that SITU had folded.

I sent a letter anyway, getting an instant reply from Marion. She said that the Society was still in working order, though Ivan’s death had caused untold distress. Enclosed with this letter was the April edition of Pursuit. What had happened was that my file card had been pulled inadvertently when some other honorary members were deprived of their status. With no card there could be no address on my issue of Pursuit—hence, my issue was not mailed.

The April edition made known Ivan’s decree that there should not be a gloomy ceremony for him. In fact, there was no ceremony at all -—Ivan left his body to medical science in an effort to supplement world-wide cancer research. In the same issue, Marion related some of the curious repercussions felt by the Society and its members immediately following Ivan’s death: “It is perhaps the greatest tribute to Ivan that many of the cards and letters I have received have come from people who had never met Ivan; they knew him from his books, his radio and TV shows, and they felt his death as a personal loss.”

Remembering Ivan's pragmatism, I shot off another letter to Sabina, asking if Ivan had made any "arrangement" for an effort to get in touch with him after death, as a scientific experiment. I also inquired as to whether Ivan knew he had cancer in 1970, at the time when my conversation with him took place. (Remember that line in Chapter 2: "I might as well tell you now because...."). Her reply contained the following:

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but Ivan hoped devoutly that there is no 'hereafter'—the idea of hanging around for eternity did not appeal to him at all. He made no 'arrangements' to try to contact me or anyone else after death and, in fact, at the end was really so ill that he didn't even want to think about scientific experiments; he was primarily concerned with keeping the pain under control somehow. And he was starting his autobiography and concentrating on that. Neither of us suspected that he would die so very soon (he started taping only a week before he died); both of us felt that he was going through another of his 'crises' and that once it was over he should improve—we figured generally on about five years before the cancer actually killed him.

As for the unfinished sentence, I do not know what may have been on his mind or even what he may have started to say, but he could not have known about the cancer, which was not discovered until very late spring or early summer of 1971. I have looked at the calendar for 1970 and can find nothing that indicates any kind of major crisis that might have been worrying him. It probably was nothing more than a 'Well, I'm going to start writing my autobio soon (famous last words) so I might as well tell him...' kind of thing. I certainly don't believe there was anything 'sinister' about it. [Sanderson, Sabina W. Personal Communication. 11 August 1973.]

Thus, in a shadowy and coincidental sort of way, my friendship ended with the greatest intellect and most fascinating fellow that I have ever had the pleasure and the happenstance to meet—my "most unforgettable character," to use the parlance of Reader's Digest.

Now, years later, I sometimes place a dusty old reel marked “SANDERSON” on my tape recorder, thread the mylar strip through the machine and switch it on. I then sit back, listening and trying to visualize just how Ivan looked when he uttered the words that can be found in these pages. Fortunately, when I completely lose sight of that bearded figure in swimming trunks, I can always open up a large manila envelope and pull out Dan Manning’s photographs of a distinguished-looking gentleman and an infinitely younger self sitting on a couch, pleasantly conversing.

Finally, the tape runs out.

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