I believe it was through Cosmic Trigger that I became aware of James Shelby Downard (maybe), although Downard might have first popped up on my radar via Adam Parfrey’s seminal anthology Apocalypse Culture (1987), which I probably read around the same time I first sunk my teeth into Cosmic Trigger in the late 1980s, and which did a similar number to my head.
During the period RAW was experiencing all of his Sirius synchronicities, a Fortean researcher named William Grimstad sent him an audio cassette series entitled Sirius Rising, a recording with James Shelby Downing that “…set forth the most absurd, the most incredible, the most ridiculous Illuminati theory of them all…[that] the Illuminati were preparing Earth, in an occult manner, for extraterrestrial contact…. The only trouble is that, after the weird data we have already surveyed [in Cosmic Trigger], the Grimstad-Downard theory may not sound totally unbelievable to us….”
At the time, Downard was an obscure and little known figure outside the small circle of Fortean/Conspiracy researchers who gravitated around him that included Bill Grimstad, Michael Anthony Hoffman II and Charles Saunders.
Due in some measure to Downard’s influence, Grimstad (under the non-de-plume of Jim Brandon) authored the Fortean classics Weird America (1978) and The Rebirth of Pan (1983). In the “Dallas, Texas” section of Weird America, Brandon presented the theory that JFK was a “ceremonial king-who-must-die” killed by modern age alchemists following an ancient druidic tradition, a hypothesis arrived at by a “certain body of opinion, undoubtedly the farthest out brain wave of assassinology yet.” No direct mention was made, at this time, as to the theory’s originator: James Shelby Downard.
It was through “King Kill 33°: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” (featured in Apocalypse Culture) that Downard first came to the attention of conspiratologists and over time rose to the status of a mythic figure who traveled across the country in his famous airstream trailer investigating Fortean mysteries and battling Freemasonic adversaries at every turn, his trusty Colt 45 always at his side.Due to my own interests in Downardiana, I penned the 2008 mini bio James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War in which I listed a bibliography of his known works:
- “King Kill 33°: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”, co-written with Michael A. Hoffman II, Apocalypse Culture, edited by Adam Parfrey, Amok Press, 1987.
- “The Call to Chaos: From Adam to Atom by Way of the Jornada del Muerto”, Apocalypse Culture: Expanded and Revised, edited by Adam Parfrey, Feral House, 1990.
- “Sorcery, Sex, Assassination and the Science of Symbolism”, Secret and Suppressed: Banned Ideas and Hidden History, edited by Jim Keith, Feral House, 1993.
- “Skullduggery”, Independent History and Research, 1998.
- The Carnivals of Life and Death: My Profane Youth, 1913-1935, edited by Elana Freeland, Feral House, 2006.
As for unpublished works, Michael Hoffman informed me several years ago that Downard’s “…niece, Robbie Smith, had in her possession at his death, Mr. Downard’s locked suitcase files which neither Mr. Grimstad, this writer or Charles Saunders had ever seen. She told me about some of the contents. I was desperate to buy them but could not meet her price. She admitted to destroying some of his materials after his death! I found her difficult. God willing, she has preserved something and someone will be able to purchase these from her one day. If it’s all lost, it’s a tragedy.”
This news that the last remnants of Downard’s literary legacy might have knowingly or unknowingly been tossed into a dumpster was certainly a disappointing prospect, which is what would have happened to the Discordian Archives had not Dr. Bob Newport intervened and rescued them from Greyfaced oblivion.
In the intro to The Carnivals of Life and Death, Adam Parfrey noted that Downard died before he could write the second part of his biography and so the general consensus seemed to be that we’d probably never see any further Downardian writings—that is, until NOW…
During the course of writing James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War, I corresponded not only with Michael Hoffman, but also Bill Grimstad, and stayed in touch with Bill over the last decade. At the end of 2015, Grimstad informed me that he’d come into possession of what appeared to be Part 2 of Downard’s biography(!) and inquired if I was interested in publishing the material. Hell, yes, I responded.
The caveat, though, was that the manuscript was in microfiche format (circa 1980s) and would need to be converted into tiffs. I agreed to split the costs for this process, and then afterwards began sorting through the material, which in itself proved a somewhat daunting task due to the fact that it consisted of a staggering 799 pages, a combination of biographical material as well as Downard hashing out his central themes and theories in a manner that only he could do.
Phase two of the project entailed converting the manuscript to PDF and getting it into proper chronological order, but this as well was somewhat challenging and was making my head hurt a bit; it seemed the only way to review it and make sure I had all the pages in correct order was to print out the beast, maybe a few pages at a time. After printing out a dozen or so pages, I realized that about 2/3rds of my black ink cartridge had been sucked dry due to the black margins on the pages that were a by-product of the microfiche conversion. A visit to FedEx-Kinko’s and $150 later, I had a printed version in my hot little hands, which was a lot less expensive than sinking several hundred dollars into black ink cartridges. (Yes, I realize this is a first world problem!)
The plan from there was to OCR the beast and just edit as I go. Unfortunately, the first test OCR revealed that each page would take more time correcting the OCR errors than it would take to just retype the whole enchilada fresh—which is exactly what I’m doing now, a few pages here and a few pages there—in between other projects I’m currently working on.
If there are any volunteers out there who would like to assist me in the typing drudgery, say 50 pages at a pop, drop me a line and this will allow you a sneak peak at a portion of Downard’s missing magnum opus—not to mention a gratis copy after it’s published!
To be continued…