• AP Magazine

    An alternative way to explore and explain the mysteries of our world. "Published since 1985, online since 2001."

  • 1
The Origins of the Smithsonian Conspiracy: Was It Created By David Childress? Did the Enigmatic “Professor Jordan” Actually Exist? Yes, He Did! By Dr. Greg Little

By Dr. Greg Little

On 12/31/2013 logger Jason Colavito alleged that the “Myth of a Smithsonian Conspiracy” was essentially created by David Hatcher Childress in 1993. Colavito doesn’t seem impartial in this and makes his dislike of Childress obvious in many of his other blogs addressing “Ancient Aliens,” even referring to Childress as “rotund” in a couple postings. I don’t see David as rotund and don’t see the relevance of the comment, anyway. Isn’t that similar to calling someone “gay?” What’s the point of it; is it a slur?

I have had an interest in one aspect of what Colavito alleges (the 1909 Phoenix Gazette article) since 2000 and had a renewed interest in the overall conspiracy while researching archaeology publications for the 2014 book Path of Souls. I’ll add that Colavito’s constant allegations against Childress and a host of others forced me to take a careful look at many of his assertions. Colavito is often described as a skeptic, so in this piece we’ll start looking at his skeptical claims. So, what is the truth about this allegation against Childress?

A disclosure: I first met Childress in the early 2000s in Bimini while filming two documentary episodes for the Discovery Channel. What I remember most about it is that David almost immediately pointed out a blunder I’d made in a book’s picture caption. (I soon appreciated the honesty and straight-forward approach he took in that incident.) We then did a series of scuba dives and filmed a lot. I can’t remember anything else except the subsequent aired shows were terrible. We had a few brief discussions at later occasions at conferences where we were both speakers. But I hadn’t seen him nor had contact with him for several years, until I finished the first draft of this article. I contacted him to find out precisely what the Smithsonian had told him about the names “Jordan” and “Kinkaid.” David is actually a thoughtful guy who did a lot of exploring in his early years. Oddly, Colavito states in another blog that Childress “claims” to have made the trips (and other things are described as “claims” as well), but I know that David’s adventures were real, which he documented in a series of books starting in the 1980s. I expect that Childress now finds the allegation that he invented the Smithsonian Conspiracy somewhat amusing.

Colavito relates that his search of ancient mysteries books from the 1950’s-1970’s revealed nothing about the Smithsonian conspiracy. The conclusion he reached was that a 1993 article in the magazine World Explorer is where Childress started the idea. The 1993 article can be read here: http://www.keelynet.com/unclass/canyon.txt

In the article, Childress explains that the Smithsonian began suppressing evidence in the 1800s, evidence that supported the idea of “diffusion”—“the possibility that Native American cultures had been influenced by other cultures prior to historic times.” Childress mentioned that Ivan T. Sanderson, Ph.D., a well-known biologist, had written that the Smithsonian seemed to be withholding and suppressing evidence. That clue in Childress’ article should have been enough to find some evidence that other people well before Childress expressed the essence of the conspiracy.

The Pesky 1909 Arizona “Egyptian” Artifacts Newspaper Story

The crucial and most interesting part of the Childress’ piece was the inclusion of an article from the “Phoenix Gazette” dated April 5, 1909. The front-page article related that an expedition funded by the Smithsonian had found an elaborate system of large chambers and tunnels in a nearly inaccessible spot in the Grand Canyon. In the underground system the explorers recovered many artifacts that were “oriental” or “Egyptian.” The article is reprinted in the link above so I won’t repeat it all here. Colavito, as do virtually all archaeologists and skeptics, simply relates that the article was a hoax. The starting rationale is that newspapers back then sometimes published hoaxes for attention, which was true then (and sometimes now). Thus, it appears that the reasoning goes like this: since they published hoaxes back then and the 1909 article is fantastic, and there has never been a Professor Jordan affiliated with the Smithsonian, it is a hoax. Okay, maybe. But maybe not. Saying it’s a hoax though doesn’t answer the first question this article addresses: was this the start of the Smithsonian Conspiracy idea?

The 1909 newspaper article related that a Professor S. A. Jordan of the Smithsonian and a G. E. Kinkaid were the explorers who found the Grand Canyon chambers and removed the artifacts. They supposedly sent the artifacts to the Smithsonian. A 30-year relationship with the Smithsonian was mentioned and Jordan is referred to as “Professor Jordan.” Childress contacted the Smithsonian and was told there was no record of any Egyptian artifacts found in the Americas and that there was no record of a Professor Jordan or Kinkaid. Take note of that piece of information: the Smithsonian had no record of Jordan or Kinkaid.

In another blog (http://www.jasoncolavito.com/archaeological-cover-up.html) Colavito cites (apparently from) Jack Andrews who related that there once was a Prof. S. A. Jordon from Europe who never worked the Grand Canyon. (He noted the different spelling—Jordon vs. Jordan.) He continues by quoting Andrews: "Several professional inquiries into this matter ten years ago made it clear that to Smithsonian authorities, this was indeed a hoax, and that the fact there is no record of any Professor S. A. Jordan ever existing, or ever being associated with the Smithsonian." As if to drive in a final nail in the coffin, Colavito reprints an official email from the Smithsonian regarding the matter. I will only reprint the relevant portion word-for-word but you can go to Colavito’s site and see it all, assuming he doesn’t take it down or change it:

“The Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology, has searched its files without finding any mention of a Professor Jordan, Kincaid, or a lost Egyptian civilization in Arizona.”

In short, the Smithsonian has no record of a “Professor Jordan.” Their letter doesn’t even use his initials, just relating that there is no mention of a “Professor Jordan” in any of their files. Archaeologist Kenneth Feder’s (2010, p. 122-123) “Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology” also weighs in heavily on this topic fully endorsing and referencing Colavito: “As to Professor Jordan, there is no record of any such person actually working for or with the Smithsonian Institution or even the ‘Smithsonian Institute’.” The Feder citation on the topic calls it “madness,” especially with “no Jordan” ever affiliated with the Smithsonian. Also, the alternate spelling of the name “Kincaid” is used throughout Feder’s 2-pages on the 1909 article. Feder, indeed, does refer readers to Colavito, a fact Colavito mentions on his blogs.

Indeed, the denial that Professor Jordan had existed is a final nail into the coffin. But it is a nail that seems to prove one of three possibilities: 1. The Smithsonian is, in fact, engaged in a conspiracy. 2. They are incompetent in these matters. 3. A combination of both. As to what it means about Colavito and Ken Feder, I’ll have to let that up to readers. But my guess about Feder is that he took on too big of a job done too quickly in his quest to write the encyclopedia. Thus, he was unable to really “dig” into details, so he relied on others. But maybe not. In any event, it’s time for Feder to do a revision. We’ll explain why one of these three possibilities is the case later, but first, let’s dispense with the origin of the Smithsonian conspiracy.

Ross Hamilton’s Smithsonian Cover-up Story—Evidence of an earlier conspiracy is termed “skullduggery”

Colavito noted in his article that in 2001 Ross Hamilton of Ohio issued an online article titled: “Holocaust of Giants: The Great Smithsonian Cover-up.” Colavito relates that, “He offered not a lick of evidence for a conspiracy…” It was in the summer of 2014 that I obtained Hamilton’s “A Tradition of Giants” (2007) at the Ohio Historical Society’s Museum store at Serpent Mound. In the book, Hamilton discusses the Smithsonian conspiracy using the term “skullduggery” (p. 56). The term “skullduggery” is little used today, but means trickery, dishonesty, and deceitful behavior. The term was used a lot in the 1800s and early 1900s. Hamilton quoted a passage from Vincent Gaddis’ (1977) book, “American Indian Myths & Mysteries.” In the beginning chapter of that book (p. 11) Gaddis writes, “Concealing evidence that conflicts with accepted theory is common scientific skullduggery. For years the Smithsonian Institution has been accused of hiding in storage vaults things it doesn’t like.” Gaddis then cites “lost skulls” in the Smithsonian that could have conflicted with the “cherished” Bering Strait migration theory. In his references, Gaddis cites Ivan T. Sanderson as the source of some of the Smithsonian skullduggery claims. I’d forgotten a lot of details about Sanderson, so reading these small passages from Gaddis, Hamilton, and Childress forced me to pull out a lot of old material.

In PURSUIT of Smithsonian Skullduggery

It was in 1968 that the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU) began its quarterly magazine PURSUIT. I actually subscribed to it along with many other magazines of that era. I’ve donated nearly all of them now, including a near-complete set of FATE Magazines.

Initially, Ivan T. Sanderson was the Vice President and Director of SITU. The magazine was a fortean delight and eventually presented just about every anomaly, strange artifact and archaeological site discovery, and UFO-related phenomena, mixed with a lot of reports from various scientific publications and meetings. For example, this tidbit was included from the “National Geographic” in 1969 about the transfer of Lundy Island to the British National Trust: “So far shovels have uncovered only a pair of ancient, unexplained stone coffins, holding two eight-foot skeletons and remains of what appear to be sacrificed slaves” (PURSUIT, January 1970, p. 18). The very next article ridiculed the possible discovery of Atlantis by Valentine and Rebikoff in the Bahamas. The same issue reviewed Von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods,” summarizing it by saying, “don’t believe a word of it, but use it as a starting point.”

The October 1972 issue of PURSUIT contained an article entitled, “SKULLDUGGERY, Scientific Style.” The article discussed a series of magazine and newspaper articles about human skulls found in Minnesota and subsequently shipped to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian had refused to carbon date the skulls, which they also paradoxically related needed to be carbon dated in order to determine precisely when they lived. Sanderson concluded, “There has been a constant stream of accusations that the Smithsonian ‘buries’ things it doesn’t like, but this is the most blatant admission we have ever seen” (p. 89). Incidentally, PURSUIT routinely published book reviews including sections on “Books Not To Read” and books that were “Absolutely Forbidden” to read. “The Morning of the Magicians” was listed in this 1972 issue as a “book to absolutely not read.” [A joke: Perhaps this was because they suspected that everything in the book was adapted from H. P. Lovecraft.] In February 1973 Sanderson died but the magazine was continued by others in the organization.

In July 1973, PURSUIT contained an article on “Giant Skeletons” (69-70). The article cited several of the New York Times newspaper reports on the discovery of giant skeletons as well as reports from various book sources. In the article it was related that the specimens were “buried” in museum collections by “orthodox scientists who do not want to have to rewrite the textbooks. Troublesome items are prone to lose their labels, and unlabelled items are of no value and are therefore thrown out.”

The January 1974 issue had still another article on “Giant Skulls” adapted from Sanderson’s 1969 book “More Things” (p. 12-13). The article discussed giant skeletons and skulls found in 1940 in the Aleutian Islands, which were supposedly sent to the Smithsonian. “Inquiries were made to the Smithsonian concerning this, but there was never any reply.”

In Sanderson’s 1967 book “Things,” (p. 38-39) he wrote:

“Reports of the discovery of the skeletons of giant humans or humanoids are extremely numerous, and have been coming in from all over this continent for many years. They constitute a subject of their own which I have endeavored to pursue for a long time now but, I regret to have to say, without any success. One and all have just "evaporated" like this, but, I must admit, very often within the portals of some museum which had acknowledged receipt of the relic. There is the famous story of the forty mummified giants in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky; of the giants in giant coffins in some unnamed cave in Utah; of others dug up in a peat bog in West Virginia and allegedly shipped to the Smithsonian …

Sanderson continues:

“It is a voluminous and very startling file, containing what seem to me to be endless references to what are classed as "giant burials" from all over the place. Many of these are said to be housed in small county and city museums dotted about the West, and most seem to have been lodged therein during the 19th century. A few are said to have gone to the Smithsonian, yet all have been totally ignored ever since.”

In Sanderson’s (1961) book, “Abominable Snowmen” (p. 114) he wrote about Smithsonian skullduggery again:

“These facts have been quoted, misquoted, and just mentioned over and over again. The true story represents one of the finest examples of scientific skullduggery--and vagueness--on record. There is a business about giant, humanoid-appearing foot-tracks that has been going on in this country for far too long. It needs examination, and either exposition or debunking. … but it slops over in all directions and, in the form of giants capable of making such tracks, it reaches from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific coast to Pennsylvania, and right on into the portals of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.”

Even academics have weighed in, although ever so cautiously, on the idea of the Smithsonian burying evidence. For example, a 1998 book by E. L. Yochelson, published by Kent State University Press, was entitled “Charles Doolittle Walcott: Paleontologist.” Charles Doolittle Walcott was Secretary of the Smithsonian from 1907 to 1927. Prior to his Secretary position at the Smithsonian, Walcott was a geologist who worked famously in the Grand Canyon looking for fossils. By the 1880s he was “entrenched in the study of Indians.” In the book (p. 148), Yochelson relates: "After Walcott became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, he read all manuscripts prepared by staff members, including a report by a young anthropologist working for the Bureau of American Ethnology. Evidence of a hitherto unknown tribe of Indians had been found in the Grand Canyon; the evidence consisted of stone fireplace rings. Walcott commented that these were from his campsites and the manuscript disappeared." However, the book goes on to explain how these fireplace rings were apparently not made by Wolcott. The fate of the young anthropologist isn’t given.

The Smithsonian does have its issues, but I personally believe that it’s “primarily” a group of people who are overworked and drowning in so many artifacts that they simply have decided that maintaining the status quo is easier than making changes or looking through files. There are dozens of recent, major news articles about the Smithsonian’s financial issues, including lavish misspending and their inventory being in disarray. But the idea that the Smithsonian has been engaging in skullduggery, or conspiring, is far older than the Childress’ 1993 article. The first reference I found was 1961, but it related that there were earlier reports; 1961 is some 32 years before Childress took things to a different level. But apparently Childress has been made the target. Of course, the main focus of the ire toward Childress seems to directly stem from his citing of the 1909 newspaper article relating that Oriental or Egyptian artifacts were recovered from underground chambers in the Grand Canyon. For some reason, it is this aspect that seemed to focus the ire of the skeptics. And it shows their lack of genuine research.

Back to the Beginning—Jordan and Kinkaid

In the summer of 2009 a remarkable article was published by “The Ol’ Pioneer,” issued by the Grand Canyon History Organization. The long piece was intended to demolish Childress’ speculations on the 1909 newspaper article. Perhaps, most oddly, the article revealed that the name Jordan did have a link to the Smithsonian. I was astonished by it. I then started gathering a lot of information. Professor David Starr Jordan (D. S. Jordan) was associated with the Smithsonian for 30 years: http://vertebrates.si.edu/fishes/ichthyology_history/ichs_colls/jordan_david.html

Jordan was best known for being the first President of Stanford University. But he is also known for perpetrating an infamous hoax in 1896, but you won’t find that tidbit on the wikipedia entry on him. You also won’t find a word about his 30-year association with the Smithsonian on wikipedia. [I will issue an article on how skeptics actively control wikipedia and “bury” undesirable stories on the internet in the next issue of AP Magazine.] In September 1896, Jordan published a long, hoaxed article in the magazine “Popular Science Monthly.” (see: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SFC18960907.2.115) Jordan was a great supporter of evolution and was a skeptic of psychics. In the hoax article he related stories filled with scientific jargon of how cameras could take photographs of thoughts. To put a cap on his career, which was truly distinguished in a scholastic academic sense, Jordan was actively involved in the cover-up of a murder. That tidbit is included on the Wikipedia entry on him, but the hoax and Smithsonian connection are conveniently not mentioned. In the subsequent newspaper reports of the hoax, Jordan was consistently referred to as “Professor Jordan” and in their next issue, Popular Science Monthly was forced to issue an apology to their readers.

“Professor Jordan’s” 30-year association with the Smithsonian was actually easy to find. It’s astonishing that the Smithsonian would deny that a “Professor Jordan” had ever been mentioned in any of their files. Of course, Colavito’s criticism of Childress didn’t include any mention of the actual existence of this Professor Jordan. There was no Professor Jordan the skeptics claimed. He never existed. Except a Professor Jordan did exist, he was associated closely with the Smithsonian for some 30 years, and, get this: he did make an expedition down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. You won’t find that on wikipedia, the Smithsonian piece on him, or in Colavito’s blog. You can find the details in the “Ol’ Pioneer” article and old Smithsonian reports. As to Feder’s Encyclopedia relating that no Professor Jordan has ever been associated with the Smithsonian, well, like I said earlier, Feder appears to have relied on Colavito’s blogs. But that’s not all there is about Professor Jordan.

Most importantly, Professor Jordan made an expedition down the Grand Canyon in 1898 allegedly looking for fossils. He can be easily found in many Smithsonian publications. For example, the 1885 issue of “The Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution” actually refers to “Professor Jordan” several times (p. 787-789). The Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 22 (1982) also has several dozen reports in it by “Professor Jordan,” who is mentioned by that name and title repeatedly. There are more entries in their reports about him, but the point had been made. All of those reports can be found on the site archive.org. I find it curious that when David Childress contacted the Smithsonian in 1993 and asked about “Jordan and Kinkaid,” that he wasn’t told about D. S. Jordan. It’s even more curious to consider how in the world could the Smithsonian have sent out so many formal replies over the years since 1993 denying over and over that a “Professor Jordan” (that’s their term in their replies) had never worked there or worked with them. It’s just not true.

As to the name Kinkaid, there is a curious link to one Trevor Kincaid, a Washington State zoologist who actually accompanied Professor D. S. Jordan on a trip to Alaska. This “Kincaid” suggestion was also contained in the Ol’ Pioneer article, which thought the one letter spelling difference was trivial. (See: http://www.washington.edu/research/pathbreakers/1901a.html). And in Feder’s authoritative Encyclopedia, he spells it Kincaid all the time, so it’s likely that Trevor Kincaid is the guy. But there the trail ends. However, it appears that the name Kinkaid or Kincaid was very familiar in 1909 Arizona. “The Ol’ Pioneer” 2009 article, of course, surmises that the story was a complete fabrication but did note that it was commented on and published in abbreviated form by a few other papers at the time. In sum, what we have here is a real mess. Childress didn’t start the mess; it was started by the published attacks on him. And it’s been made worse by the Smithsonian and skeptics.

The Final Link? A site that matches a lot the 1909 article details?

In 2000 while I was researching material for the book “Mound Builders” (Little, Van Auken, & Little, 2001) I came across something completely unexpected. The April 1991 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology included a presentation on the discovery of totally unique, complex of underground catacombs found at a ruins site in Arizona. The “Arizona Daily Sun” published a long article on the discovery on April 27, 1991. I contacted one of the archaeologists by phone when I learned of the discovery and conducted an interview with him. He related that he was bound by a rigid confidentiality agreement, but still agreed to speak some about the site. It is adjacent to the Casa Malpais ruins, a Mongollon site located near Springerville, Arizona near the Little Colorado River and Nutrioso Creek. (This site is not close to Phoenix, but Phoenix was the largest close city to Casa Malpais in 1909 with a railroad stop.) In 1991, three archaeologists were contracted by the state to look for any ruins on the state park lands that had been missed and might be used for tourism. As they conducted their survey, they noticed that down a sheer cliff they could see that brush was sticking out of what appeared to be a hole. They rappelled down the cliff and were surprised to find what they described as several small openings that resembled narrow crawl spaces. After crawling inside for quite a distance they were astonished to discover a maze of catacombs connected by tunnels. The “catacombs were an incredible 3-4 acres in extent [with a complex of rooms, one being] 50 feet high and 100 feet long” (p. 205). The interior rooms and connecting tunnels were carefully cut with straight walls and smooth ceilings. The archaeologist who spoke with me related that that “nothing like this had ever been found in America,” which was the same quote he used in the newspaper accounts of it. The catacombs remain completely hidden and are off limits at Casa Malpais. No public announcements about it have been made since then except an acknowledgement that they exist but are too dangerous to visit. Casa Malpais is a site you can only visit on a paid, guided tour and is fenced off with blocked entrances located a couple miles from the actual site. About 4 years I made a trip there with three other people, but, of course, we did not get into the catacombs.

The 1909 Phoenix Gazette article related that the main entrance was hidden on a cliff, they rappelled down to it, and that a long passageway led inside to a complex of rooms and chambers, some of which were 30-40 feet square. A large cross-hall, several hundred feet long was also described. According to the article, the enigmatic and non-existing Jordan and Kinkaid gathered the relics inside the chambers and shipped them to the Smithsonian.

In Mound Builders (2001, p. 205) we speculated that one overlooked possibility is that in 1909, looters of the Casa Malpais site might have “come to the attention of reporters after arriving at Phoenix immediately after gathering artifacts at the site. [They would have gone to Phoenix to get to the closest train station.] It is conceivable that the individuals involved had looted the valuable remains at the Casa Malpais site. While they had no connection to the Smithsonian, they made the Smithsonian claim to eager reporters when they were questioned. This would have given them an air of authority and removed suspicions.” The names Jordan and Kinkaid would likely have been familiar to the reporters. We are told that when the catacombs were found in 1991 by archaeologists that there were not any artifacts in it, so it seems a reasonable conclusion that whatever was in there was looted earlier. Is this a possible scenario? I think it’s possible; maybe not probable, but it’s possible. Stranger things have certainly occurred.

The greatest irony in this “Jordan” affair hasn’t been related yet. But here it is from the Smithsonian page on him. While President of Stanford University, Professor Jordan had actually been offered the job as Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum in 1896 (he declined) and in 1906 he was offered the top job of the entire Smithsonian Institution—Secretary (also declined). But he continued his work with the Institution. On Jordan’s 70th birthday, the Smithsonian’s Secretary, Charles Wolcott (the same man who essentially made a manuscript he didn’t like disappear), sent Jordan a letter of “congratulations, acknowledging his close ties to the Institution.” Wolcott wrote to Jordan that “your name will go down in the Museum’s history…” Yeah, right.

In summary, David Childress did not concoct the idea that the Smithsonian is engaged in a conspiracy. He may have taken the idea from earlier accusations of “skullduggery” to a conspiracy, but these terms are expressing the same essential idea. However, I find it strangely curious that the Smithsonian has so rigorously denied “Professor Jordan.” Why wouldn’t they relate something like, “we did have a Professor Jordan who was affiliated with us for 30 years and he did make a trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. But his initials aren’t the same and he didn’t find any artifacts.” Instead, there is just a consistent denial, made strange because the existence of their Professor Jordan is now rather easy to verify. Combined with the other facts relating to lost artifacts, mismanagement issues, and the disappearance of manuscripts when something contradictory is presented everything points to something devious. Feder is right: it is madness. Placing the light on Childress and attempts to ridicule him seem to be an attempt to divert attention from the actual truth. Archaeology is in ruins.


Path of Souls

New Book

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Indian Mounds & Earthworks


Path of Souls


Visitors from Hidden Realms

Ancient South America

Denisovan Origins

Freedom To Change: Why You Are The Way You Are and What You Can Do About It

Native American Mounds in Alabama: An Illustrated Guide to Public Sites

Thursday, March 04, 2021