Talking to Flying Saucers and Spirits of the Dead – and a Painting by the Spirit of a Dead Artist?

The story of a California visit by Claire Dunn in the 1950s is among the strangest in our family's history...

Flying saucer? Photo taken December 2003, at Giant Rock, California

◄ "Giant Rock":
Compare the size of the rock to the size of the person standing in the middle. (source)


In 1921 Claire Dunn was born Fleeta Claire Jones, and in 1940 she married William Edward (Bill) Dunn (1918-1986). Claire's ancestral Jones line is as follows:
Lewis Jones (1791-1871) & Rebecca McPherson Jones

Dr. William M. Jones (1831-1892) & Elizabeth Goodman Jones

Fleetwood Churchill Jones (1857-1937) & Leona Cash Jones

Rev. Carleton Duane Jones (1895-1967) & Nelle Virginia Field Jones

Fleeta Claire Jones (b.1921)
Claire became the mother of the five "East Chicago Dunns", as I've labeled the family, including me, Patrick Dunn, the editor of this blog. The information quoted below was written by Claire, and is excerpted from a 400 page autobiographical manuscript she assembled about various events in her life. This portion of her manuscript deals with events that took place circa 1953, when she took me with her to California to visit her mother and other maternal family members. 

"Pat was about twelve years old when I took him with me to visit Mother and [her mother's significant other] Charlie in California. Mother had invited me to come out, I thought it would be nice to take Pat with me. He was getting grown up and able to talk intelligently, not just a child, and I was beginning to enjoy having him.
However, we did not have any money, and although Mother had invited me, I had to pay my own way. I could come up with enough for my own fare, but not his. So I suggested to him that he might use his paper route money to pay his own way out there, that is, if he would like a trip to California. He thought it over, and decided he would.
The flight was enjoyable. I had never been on a plane, and I liked it. Pat was very blasé about the whole thing, you'd think he had flown all his life. While flying over the Grand Canyon, which went on and on for miles, and was spectacular from the air, Pat was reading a comic book!
'Pat, look, look!' I said excitedly, 'There's the Grand Canyon!' 'Um hum', he replied, barely glancing out the window, and returning instantly to his book.
I was peeved. Here was a chance of a lifetime and the dumb kid didn't appreciate it. Then I remembered, rather guiltily, how I had felt when I looked at the Grand Canyon when I was about nine. I didn't appreciate it either, then. Kids aren't scenery conscious, I decided.
When we got to Palm Springs, I was really impressed with the town. It was obviously a resort town, a place where nobody lived, just visited. The town had been built out in the desert, nothing was natural, all of it was artificial and man-made. It was the only town in the United States that had white fire engines, I was told. That may be different now, but it was the only one then.
The sidewalks were made of pastel colored concrete blocks, in random shapes. The lights were hidden in palm trees, and every other tree had a basin of water at the base for the rich [people's] dogs to drink from.
Pedestrians had the right of way over traffic at all times, and they took advantage of it. The street was full of strolling, half-naked visitors. Nobody wore clothes. If you wore a dress with sleeves you were overdressed. Even the people in the offices and stores wore shorts and halters and thongs.
It was colorful and exciting, and hot. Hot beyond anything I had ever experienced. All the houses were flat roofed, with air coolers on top, and water would be poured on the roof so that the evaporation would cool the rooms underneath. This was something I had never had any experience with. Nobody went out in the daytime, at noon, but either stayed inside where it was cool, or soaked in the swimming pools, which everybody had.
The town was composed of shops, real estate agents, and hotels. That was about all the business there was. Restaurants, of course, but they were usually attached to the hotel. Or motel.
Mother was a masseuse. She hadn't had any training and hadn't been a masseuse the last time I saw her, but she was now. California had very loose laws and anybody could say they were anything, and just go ahead and do it.
Some of her customers were movie stars and starlets and movie stars’ wives. She went up to Frank Sinatra's house and gave Ava Gardner a massage on several occasions. She said Ava was beautiful, and walked around nude no matter who was there.
Mrs. William Powell came in for a massage while I was there, a beautiful creature, sun-tanned and beautifully made up.
Pat enjoyed the swimming and the lush life everyone lived. The shops and real estate didn't impress him, but the swimming and the motel did.
Charlie gave me a hundred dollars to spend when I got there. It sounded like a lot of money until I went to buy a dress. My God, the prices! A dress that would have been five dollars in Chicago was twenty-five dollars there. I couldn't waste the money on something like that, so I didn't buy it. Bought some jewelry, and a Hawaiian dress like I had never seen before. Managed to spend the money, all right, no sweat.

"Giant Rock"
There really wasn't that much to do around Palm Springs if you didn't have any money. Mother closed up the shop one day, and we went out to the desert to a place called Giant Rock.
What surprised me was that it really was a giant rock, and that's all it was. In the middle of the desert, with no other rocks around it [photos I found online indicate that she was mistaken about this point], was this rock that was about 100 feet in all directions. Underneath it, a room had been hollowed out. 
A man lived nearby who had a generator for his electricity. He was probably a rancher, there's no other way to make a living on the desert.

Speaking with flying saucers?
What we went to was a meeting of some flying saucer buffs. There were a lot of other cars there, all the people seemed to know each other, as Mother introduced us to many of them. They looked perfectly normal, well, as normal as people in southern California usually look. There were no obvious kooks, nobody with straw in their hair.
The whole group went down into a room that was dug out under the rock. There is no way to describe how dark it can be in a hole under a rock in the desert, in the night. It was the darkest dark I have ever experienced. It was possible to see the radium dial on a watch twenty feet away.
What we went down there for, was to talk to the flying saucers. Yep. Since I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t tell if the leader was talking on an instrument, like a phone or a radio, or not. He sounded like it. We could hear his side of the conversation, as on a phone, but hear nothing from the flying saucers which were supposedly circling overhead.
These saucers [supposedly] came from a planet which was in back of the moon, which was the reason astronomers had never discovered it. Nobody there seemed to know that a couple of planets had been discovered that can't even be seen, but were discovered due to the gravitational pull they exerted on other planets. Common sense was not a factor here.
There was a good crowd, considering the circumstances, perhaps fifty people. There were lots of old sofas and chairs that had apparently either been thrown out and recovered, or donated to the cause. Fans circulated the air, fortunately, and nobody was allowed to smoke. A secretary wrote down all the messages [from the flying saucers] that the leader repeated as he listened. This would be later transcribed and printed in a paper they passed around among themselves. 
Being a secretary myself, I was impressed with her ability to write shorthand in the pitch black dark we were experiencing. Since I never saw the paper I had no way of knowing how accurate she was in her reporting.
After the meeting or visit everybody left and sort of visited with each other out on the sand, exactly like people coming out of Sunday morning [church] service. I had a feeling of déjà vu as memories of long ago came flooding back.
Mother seemed quite happy at having visited the flying saucers, and chatted happily about it all the way home. To each his own, I guess.

Speaking with the spirit of a dead person?
Later in the visit we all went to see [Claire’s cousin] Maggie and [her husband] Fritz, who live in San Bernadino. [Claire’s aunt] Bess and Mother decided that Maggie should put on a séance for us. Maggie had become a trance medium, a logical successor to the Ouija board she and [Claire’s cousin] Maurine used to play with when I visited her in Chicago.
Maggie obligingly went into a trance and carried on a conversation with the spirit of a black mammy she had been raised with. She also talked like she was on a telephone, and we just heard her end of it.
This did cause Pat to lose his cool. I really think he was frightened and asked if he could be excused. The others seemed to think he shouldn't be, but I let him go outside. This was heady stuff for a twelve year old kid who hadn't been exposed to the kind of family I came from.
Later, when I thought about the things Maggie's 'spirits' told me I realized she and Mother must have known more than I did about my personal problems. There was lots of vague advice and admonishments that I didn't understand then.

A portrait painted by the spirit of a dead artist?

Maggie did do one beautiful thing for me. Mother asked her to do it, but when we all came back from a side trip to Mexico one day, we walked into Maggie's living room and she had painted my portrait! Mother had given her a copy of a studio portrait I had had taken, and Maggie had painted it in three days. She says she is not the painter, that the spirit of a dead painter who never became famous, paints through her.
Whoever it [was], the picture is beautiful and I cried when I saw it. It is one of my greatest treasures.
Other pictures Maggie has painted are beautiful, but none are as good as the one she did of me. It shows me holding a bouquet of yellow roses, and each of them is supposed to be somebody important in my life. And the background shows a stormy sky which is supposed to be my aura. It has an intense look in the eyes, and almost a Mona Lisa smile. To me, it is priceless, a true treasure.
In fact, later I gave instructions to the kids. 'If the house ever catches fire, save the picture. I can't replace it. I can always get more kids!' [Interestingly, Maurine’s daughter Bonnie now has that painting.]
Incidentally, Pat never did think he got his money's worth out of that trip."

The California trip from my perspective

What you see above is Claire's memories of the trip. Below is my perspective on it, as expressed in messages to my siblings after first reading her version, and before posting it on this blog.

"In her 400-page manuscript she [Claire] tells the story of taking me - age 12 - to California with her to visit her mother [Nelle] and other relatives.

It was a very strange experience!

1) When we arrived at the airport, we exited the plane into an open area, not directly into a terminal as we usually do these days. Nelle was waiting for us, and as we approached her she pointed skyward and shouted for all to hear, something to the effect of, "Look, flying saucers." It was weird, for everyone began to look upward, but there was nothing to be seen.

2) They took me out to a place called "Giant Rock", where a meeting room had been dug out under a seven-story sized rock in the Mojave desert. There, we and about 50 other people heard what were supposed to be one side of two-way conversations with beings from outer space - supposedly hovering somewhere in flying saucers or whatever.

It was like hearing one side of a phone conversation, where someone in the room conducted the half that we could hear, then reported what the space aliens had to say.

See Giant Rock for a Wikipedia story about it - it says, in part, "Giant Rock is a large freestanding boulder in the Mojave Desert near Landers, California, that covers 5,800 square feet...of ground and is seven stories high. In ancient times it was considered sacred by the Native Americans of the Joshua Tree, California, area. In the 1950s it was a gathering point for UFO believers."

3) On another occasion they had me sit in on a séance where Claire's cousin Maggie, supposedly a medium, supposedly talked with the spirit of a deceased old southern mammy while everyone sat in a big circle holding hands. It scared me to death. I ran from the room after a bit of it.

4) Then there was the time her [Claire's] mother told me that she [Nelle] was not my grandmother, but was, instead, a being from Venus who was just inhabiting Nelle's body(!)

Here's a sidebar to this part of the story: In September,1964, about a year or so after the events described above, Nelle wrote a letter to Claire that covered several issues they'd been dialoging about. Included in that letter is a brief reference to Nelle's having been visited by a "ship from outer space" - and that she might just "go away with them the next time."

Claire detailed this California trip in her manuscript - and about Nelle being "from Venus" in a letter she wrote to me when I was writing to her (Claire) 2-3 years ago about family history questions.




I remembered most of those events, but was a bit annoyed by
info I'd forgotten. In her manuscript Claire says she had me pay my own way, using money I'd earned on my two paper routes! I delivered five different papers - the (Chicago) Tribune and (Chicago) Sun Times in the mornings and the (Chicago) Herald American, the (Chicago) Daily News, and the Hammond Times in the afternoons.

In the rain. When it was cold and snowy or icy. When it was miserably hot and sweaty.

Every day, seven days a week, except that on Sundays I delivered all the Sunday papers at one time.

On Saturdays I went house to house, customer to customer, to collect for the week's payments. If customers didn't pay, or weren't there, or moved without paying me, that was my problem. I still had to pay Nassau & Thompson (the distributor) in full every week. Deadbeats ate into my earnings.

In other words, I worked hard and long for that money.

I don't have a clue as to how much money was involved, but in effect she used my money to pay my expenses for a trip to meet her mother and that side of her family, none of whom I had ever met before - and never saw again. And show me off (hey, I was cute and smart, so she could brag on me to those wacky people) and it cost her zilch!

Is it surprising that I, as a 12-year old kid, didn't think I got my money's worth out of that trip?



Last revised 7/20/2011

Please refer to the disclaimer on the index page of this blog for a statement regarding the accuracy of - and documentation for - the information presented in this blog.

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