The Call of Chicago: The CAS For The UFO

“Another queer happening, of a totally different kind, occurred four or five years ago. A woman‐friend and I were out walking one night in a lane near Auburn, when a dark, lightless and silent object passed over us against the stars with projectile‐like speed. The thing was too large and swift for any bird, and gave precisely the effect of a black meteor. I have often wondered what it was. Charles Fort, no doubt, would have made a substantial item out of it for one of his volumes.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, letter to H.P. Lovecraft (November 1933)

Clark Ashton Smith: Decadent, Horrorist … Fortean? Smith first read Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned in October 1930, according to an earlier letter to Lovecraft: “I don’t care for the style — but the assembled data is quite imposing, and worthy of close study.” (Lovecraft read Fort’s works in March 1927.) By the next year Smith had gotten over his allergy to Fort’s telegraphic prose, writing to one William Whittingham Lyman: “When it comes to fictional inspiration, I had more in the writings of Charles Fort … than in any of the orthodox crew. Fort has spent his life amassing a gorgeous collection of data …” Could Smith have turned to Fort, going to the considerable trouble of checking The Book of the Damned out of the California state library by mail, to investigate his own Fortean encounter? As he wrote to Lovecraft in November 1933, some time in 1928 or 1929 or 1930 he saw “a dark, lightless, and silent object … a black meteor” “too large and swift for any bird” that “passed over us against the stars with projectile-like speed.” Did the Black Meteor leave its shadow behind on the Sorcerer of Auburn? Perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps that is why Smith datelined the letter describing his UFO sighting “Tower of black jade in lost Carcosa. Hour when the twin suns are both at nadir.” The “tower of black jade” crossing the stars on the darkest night of dark Carcosa, in other words.

“Klarkash‐Ton had seen one, had seen something, a year or two before. It was on a hot night and he had been lying outside on his sleeping bag, gazing upward into the depths of space. Suddenly he became aware of a large object, like an indistinct shadow, darker than the night, passing slowly above him, blotting out the stars.”

— George Haas, “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton” (1963)

From left: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Barbour Johnson, George Haas, and Stanton Levey

Smith didn’t leave Charles Fort’s skies behind with the Weird Tales crew. In 1949, he praised an Arkham Sampler SF issue for “the prominence given to Wells and to Charles Fort.” In 1951 he wrote the foreword to a book of poems (including such Fortean titles as “Cosmic Saboteurs” and “Since We Are Property”) by Lilith Lorraine, the pseudonym of SF author Gertrude Wright (nee Mary Maud Dunn). (Smith may have met Wright in person while she was living in Berkeley and running a Theosophical sex cult, ca. 1923-1927.) And in 1953 he met gardner, Fortean, and SF fan George P. Haas who went on to fame as an early Bigfoot hunter.

Haas also introduced Smith to fellow Weird Tales alumnus Robert Barbour Johnson and to area occultist-photographer-organist Howard Stanton Levey, who would later become the Satan-monger Anton LaVey. (While we’re engaged in Fortean synchronicities, Johnson had worked as a big cat trainer, and Levey kept a pet panther named Zoltan.) Haas talked Fort with Smith on their first meeting in September 1953, and elucidated either a garbled rendering of Smith’s 1928 encounter, or a repeat sighting. Given the different circumstances in each description (alone and lying down in his backyard vs. walking with a girl on a road) we can’t rule out a second encounter of the first kind, around 1951 or 1952.

Smith’s home town of Auburn, California has a smattering of UFO sightings to its credit, dating back to the 1896 “airship” flap for proper Fortean juju. (Does anybody else think the 1896 Airship makes a great Carcosan irruption for a Yellow King RPG game set in San Francisco? No? Just me then.) If flying shadows cruised Auburn’s skies in 1928-29 only Smith seems to have seen them, or written about it. UFOs buzzed Auburn, as well as nearby Roseville and Sacramento (only 30 miles away) in June and July of 1947. Two Air Force officers saw a “cylinder with twin tails, 200 ft. long and 90 ft. wide” over McClellan AFB in Sacramento, moving north (toward Auburn) at “incredible speed” on 13 March 1951, right in the window for Smith’s second sighting. (In 1952, Beale AFB near Auburn was officially on “inactive status.” Sure it was.) Another UFO flits over Citrus Heights on 20 August 1956. Smith dies of a series of strokes in 1961. In September 2009, numerous witnesses see “black triangles” in the skies over Auburn.

“A dark meteor, made of some incombustible, indestructible matter which is seen to fall. It is found to be a sort of shard containing an alien entity in a state of suspended animation. (Such a meteoric object might be found buried in the archaean strata, where it had fallen in the earth’s youth.) The alien being might be a king of some trans-galactic world, who had been ((thus)) kidnapped and dropped on the earth by enemies. His subjects, knowing that he still exists, have sought him for aeons through the universe, using a magnetic detector which would reveal the presence of the strange element which he is enclosed.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, story treatment “The Dark Meteor” (n.d.)

Your Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents may well want to investigate the 20 June 1966 UFO sighting in Auburn, especially given that Beale AFB (just down the hill from Auburn, even closer than McClellan AFB) begins basing the top-secret SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane in January 1966. And when they look back through the records and papers, and ask around town, they discover that a man who knew a whole lot about the Unnatural used to live up on Indian Ridge before a mysterious fire burned down his cabin in 1957. But fortunately, he may have left a clue in his Black Book.

Smith’s notebook, the “Black Book,” describes one possibility. A king of Shonti or Nython, an empress of Sadastor or Xiccarph, lies bound in a black meteor, imprisoned in an interdimensional orbit that emerges over Auburn, California every seven years (1930, 1951, 1966). Alien enemies — Mi-Go? — seek the meteor, as perhaps does MAJESTIC. The Air Materiel Command of Roswell fame (now Air Force Logistics Command) bases out of McClellan AFB in Sacramento, after all. The search for the Dark Meteor, or the flight from the avengers of triple-sunned Xiccarph, may send your Agents deep into the shadows over Auburn and still deeper into the incantations of Klarkash-Ton.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

3 Responses to “The Call of Chicago: The CAS For The UFO”

  1. Scott Connors says:

    Smith borrowed THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED from the California State Library, which was and is located in Sacramento, but not the Sacramento Public Library. One could read Smith’s story “The Secret of the Cairn” (published in WONDER STORIES as “The Light from Beyond”) as a UFO encounter. Of course this was before the whole “flying saucer” trope became commonplace.

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