I Was Chased Away From Ivan T. Sanderson's Former Home By Tea Party Conservatives

I Was Chased Away From Ivan T. Sanderson’s Former Home By Tea Party Conservatives

ivan

“Hello, police? Some kid’s pokin’ around on my property!”

Ivan T. Sanderson is one of the most ubiquitous names in the history of forteana. Whether it’s his story about encountering living dinosaurs in the jungles of Africa or personally inspecting the Minnesota Iceman, it’s not at all rare for forteans to come across story that leads in some way to Ivan T. Sanderson. If Charles Fort is the true “grandfather” of the paranormal as we study it today, Ivan might be considered a kind of father to many of the fields that we came to describe as “fortean” in the 20th century.

Ivan is rightfully well-read among fans of the fortean, and his colleagues and contemporaries had a great respect for him as well. In The Mothman Prophecies John Keel recalls his time at Ivan’s New Jersey home fondly, noting that the two grew their beards out together well before the hirsute sixties.[1] And who didn’t feel a little bad for Brad Stieger when he relates in “Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts From the Darkside” how the Jersey Devil became his least favorite cryptid: on the night he was supposed to spend talking to Ivan, again at his New Jersey headquarters, Mr. Sanderson found himself so swamped with Devil reports that he had to cancel on his young fan. “It’s the bloody Jersey Devil…He’s on the prowl tonight”.[2] Finally, towards the end of his life, Sanderson expressed his confusion and frustrations regarding the state of hairy hominid research to a young colleague named Loren Coleman: “The whole bit is getting hotter and hairier by the month; and now we have the damned UFO’s mixed up in it!” [3]

Sanderson’s influence on his contemporaries and successors was incalculable. But he traces his own inclination towards the fringe sciences back to Charles Fort. In his own writings, he refers to himself as a “profound fortean”.[4]

The Sanderson farm where a young(er) John Keel and budding Brad Steiger found themselves in the late sixties was special place, frequented by all manner of eccentrics in the years Sanderson occupied it. Situated in the backwoods of Warren County, New Jersey, near the Delaware River (which Ivan once saw a flying saucer over) [5], the farm eventually became the headquarters for Ivan and his Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU). For years Ivan commuted between his farm,  his zoo in nearby White Township, NJ (“Ivan Sanderson’s Jungle Zoo”), and his apartment in Manhattan’s upper west side.

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In November of 2013 I happened to be in the area of Ivan’s former headquarters, and I decided to do a little poking around. After touring the backwoods of rural Jersey for awhile, I finally found myself on Ivan’s home street. Since I planned on sneaking onto the property to check out some of the grounds that are mentioned on a map of Ivan’s farm as it was when he lived there (with areas marked “Experimental Field #1 & #2” and “Field Laboratory”, wouldn’t you?), I thought it’d be a good idea to do a quick drive-by to make sure the current homeowners weren’t out and about.

The first thing I noticed was that the home I had seen in pictures of Ivan’s farm was gone, replaced by a larger one in a different area of the property (the original Sanderson place must have been demolished fairly recently, since a few local young people I spoke to remembered the building I described to them).  As I passed the new home, I saw a campaign sign for Steve Lonegan in the front yard (Corey Booker’s opponent in New Jersey’s 2013 senate race. Lonegan had an all-star line-up of supporters including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, all of whom came through New Jersey to campaign on his behalf. Lonegan lost.). I imagined sneaking onto the property and being chased away by the kind of “don’t tread on me” sort of voter that you don’t usually meet in a place like Jersey. Finally, I saw someone who must have been the current resident in the driveway.

So my park-and-sneak plan wasn’t going to work.  I decided to do what I probably should have planned from the start, parked my car on the roadside, waved towards the individual in the driveway, and explained myself.

After listening to my introduction with a bemused smile on her face (“Have you heard of Ivan Sanderson?…I’m a big fan of his, and he used to live here, and…”) the kindhearted woman in the driveway graciously gave me permission to survey the grounds as I pleased.

I thanked her repeatedly, and then set off with my map and camera to see if there was anything left of the fabled S.I.T.U. headquarters. The general layout of the grounds hadn’t changed much according to the map I was using. The experimental fields are still in place, though largely grown over. Ivan’s two ponds are right where they used to be, too.

As I mentioned before, Ivan’s home was gone. So was the field laboratory, no traces of which were to be found. A newcomer unfamiliar with the property’s history would have no idea that it was once a fortean Mecca in the late sixties and early seventies. I am happy to report, however, that Ivan’s original S.I.T.U. files have been recovered and archived.

farm_today

Part of Sanderson’s property as it appears today.

As I walked down the path towards the road and my car, I smiled and waved my thanks at the woman who kindly let a total stranger wander her property as she passed in her pick-up. As she drove by, I found myself somberly doubting whether there would be any more experiments in these fields. I also found myself doubting whether the world might ever enjoy another spirit like Sanderson’s, an individual for whom blank spaces on any map begged exploration and for whom scientific anomalies of any sort begged his curiosity.

Ivan died at this farm in 1973, following his wife Alma, who passed in ’72. Both died of cancer. Ivan’s father, an Edinburgh whisky distiller, was gored to death by a rhinoceros while on safari in Africa. Many who followed the career of the younger Sanderson might have expected the world adventurer to go out in a similarly stirring manner. But Ivan died peacefully, on the grounds I was now walking on. Ivan had spent the better part of his life travelling the world, enjoying his zoological and fortean pursuits, to have death find him in what feels (to me) like the least likely of places: rural Warren County, New Jersey. So maybe I exaggerated. Nobody chased me away from Ivan’s farm. The owner couldn’t have been more hospitable towards my interest. Nothing very exciting happened during my visit. I stood where a house once was, I looked out over a pond into some woods, and I dug through some leaves in search of an old shed. I thought about the 21st century and wished that there were still blank spaces on the map and still people like Ivan T. Sanderson to go looking for them.


[1] Keel, John. The Mothman Prophecies. 1975. New York: Tor, 2002.  p. 3

[2] Steiger, Brad. Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts From the Darkside. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press 2011. p.  179

[3] Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America. 2001, p. 287

[4] Sanderson, Ivan. Things and More Things. Adventures Unlimited Press. P. 59

[5] http://www.ufoevidence.org/cases/case643.htm


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Martin Nelson

Martin Nelson

Regular contributor at Week In Weird. Currently resides in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

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So, please explain to me and to the readers of your column as to when during your visit you were chased away by Tea Party Conservatives? Because it certainly appears that they welcomed you onto the property…unless of course you were simply click baiting which is a very bad way of doing business.

I’ve been working on a biography of Ivan Sanderson for several years now. I knew him when I was a teenager. In reality, his father was severely injured, but not killed by his enounter with the rhino. He lived for about four months beyond that and eventually died of pneumonia. Ivan was not one to let facts get in the way of a good (and somewhat embelleshed) story.

So maybe a better title would have been “I planned to criminally trespass on private property, got caught, decided to do the right thing and was greeted warmly and compassionately despite my bigotry and stereotyping of someone who had a yard sign supporting a political candidate whom I condemn through guilt by association.”

In all seriousness, why turn an otherwise interesting “went to a place significant to us and times have changed” story into a snipe fest? The only thing germane to this story in the sixth paragraph were the first and last sentences.

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What a fucking nut! Did ya have to get the Tea Party dig in? Well we now know that you are right there with the rest of the left wing nuts. Hey if it ain’t true just make it up. What a good little left wing liberal.

slightly disappointed Tea Party Rooikat

Just a wee bit disappointed. The title promised a lurid tale of Tea Party members preventing you from an investigation.
Instead, the total opposite. As I would have thought, being a Tea Party member, here in NJ.
Maybe the article should have been called “Left Wing bloodthirsty murdering Obama supporters set fire to Ivan’s house’ slay all women and children inside, to prevent me from uncovering the truth”. Would be equally as funny, and, well, more possible, based on the left’s actions.

This is the second and last article I will read on who forted.

If I can’t trust you to tell the simple truth in a headline, why would I believe anything you have to say on more troublesome subjects?

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