John Whiteside Parsons was many things: a brilliant chemist and a follower of occultist Aleister Crowley, a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a leader of the mystical Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a pioneer in solid rocket fuel and a man who blew himself up under mysterious circumstances. To say the life of Parsons – Jack to his friends – was deeply bizarre doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the extraordinary story of his 37 years on earth.
Parsons was born in Los Angeles in 1914, and by the late 1930s the self-trained chemist was working with the group of scientists who would later form the nucleus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On the side he was exploring knowledge of a more esoteric nature, diving headfirst into the study of magic. He turned his Orange Grove Avenue mansion into a boarding house for artists, bohemians, drop outs, and occultists, and began to hold occult rites in the basement of what many called The Parsonage. He fell in with a young L. Ron Hubbard, who joined him in his occult pursuits before running off with Jack’s mistress, who later became the first Mrs. Hubbard. To add insult to injury, before Hubbard left he allegedly prophesied that Parsons would soon die a fiery death.
Eventually Jack’s extra-curricular pursuits led to a post World War II revocation of his security clearance, ending his association with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and leaving him to pursue his experiments on his own time – which is what he was allegedly doing in his home laboratory on the night of June 17, 1952, when a batch of fulminate of mercury exploded in his face. Jack was mortally injured, and The Parsonage was destroyed, just as Hubbard had supposedly foretold. To compound the tragedy, his mother was so distraught at the loss of her son that she took her own life hours later.
Today, nothing remains of The Parsonage. Condos now stand on the spot where Jack Parsons confronted death, the greatest mystery of them all, on a warm summer night in Pasadena.
Know Before You Go
Physical location of another residence: 168 South Terrace Drive