“My dream was to have one business in which the entire worlds literature on these subjects was all under one roof” – Bob Girard to Clas Svahn, April 19th 1987
The following interview first appeared in the Winter 2015 Issue of
The Legacy of Bob Girard – An Interview with SMiles Lewis
About the Bob Girard Collection
We are proud to announce our latest acquisition: the personal collection of rare book seller and proprietor of the long-running Arcturus Books service, Robert C. Girard.
Explain who Bob Girard was, what he did and why he is remembered.
“He saw his Arcturus [Book Service] … as a way to connect to people, strange and wonderful people that he would never had been able to find without his book list.”
– Clas Svahn, Journalist and Vice Chairman of the Archives for the unexplained
“Bob Girard is an American institution”
– Colin Bennett, Fortean and flying saucer historian, 2004
“The Marcel Proust of the UFO phenomenon” … “The proprietor of Arcturus Books–arguably the biggest and best UFO bookstore in the world.”
– John Chambers, Paranormal journalist, 2004
“The greatest national bookseller of used books ranging from cryptozoology to Forteana, from ufology to parapsychology”
– Loren Coleman, Cryptozoologist, 2011
“Robert C. Girard… ran what was probably the world’s premier Fortean mail-order book service”
– Ronan Coghlan, Fortean zoologist, 2011
Bob Girard (1942-2011) was a legendary collector and seller of rare books, specializing in UFO literature and related fringe subject matter. In today’s age of internet ubiquity, instant gratification, and declining print media outlets, Robert Girard’s name is not widely known among UFO believers nor paranormal enthusiasts. His name is, however, remembered among many long-time UFO researchers, paranormal writers, and the DIY self-publishers of the 1980s and ’90s alt-media “Zine Scene.” He is remembered as the brutally frank bibliophile who published his incisive insights in concise micro-reviews, monthly, distributed world-wide across six continents. Despite his contribution of a handful of small books (The Revolt of the Free and Futureman to name only two) and over 30 years of service to the book-hungry global network of para-cultural knowledge seekers, he has yet to be acknowledged by the history books. Though in fact, he and his Arcturus Books service are mentioned in several UFO books including within the source citations of academic (and scholar of new religious movement studies) author James R. Lewis’ The Gods Have Landed.
Before becoming “the Marcel Proust of the UFO phenomenon” (John Chambers, 2004) Robert was an enlisted man in the United States Air Force, serving from 1964 to 1968 at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and Wichita Falls, Texas, until he received an honorable discharge at the rank of sergeant. In 1978 he and his family moved to Ecuador where they lived for two years before returning home to Scotia, New York, where Robert had spent his high school and college years. It was there that he began pursuing his dream of starting his own rare book business with a niche focus on the most esoteric and Occult books within the UFO and paranormal milieus.
In 1980 he launched his book business with a monthly CataZine (combination catalog and magazine) featuring his own short reviews of every new book and zine that crossed his path. His no-nonsense reviews were infamous and for some it was a badge of honor to get even a bad review from Mr. Girard. Despite these gruff aspects of Bob’s character, his perspectives on these strange phenomena were considered as valuable as the rare books he was commenting upon.
Long-time UFO and paranormal researcher Antonio Huneeus summed up the appeal of Mr. Girard’s writing while also touching upon Bob’s “rough side” that was expressed in both Bob’s published writings and personal interactions:
“He was deeply knowledgeable of ufology and Forteana and wrote caustic reviews of most of the books he sold in his monthly or bimonthly Arcturus Books Catalogue, which he used to mail to his clients. His reviews were widely read because of their unique, no-holds-barred style. You knew Bob was an honest person in that he gave bad—sometimes awful—reviews to half the books he sold. He cared more for the integrity of the field than the almighty buck. … Bob Girard had a rough side to his personality and could be often rude with his own clients but… once you got accustomed to Bob’s gruffy side, you got to like him just the way he was.” (Huneeus, OpenMinds.tv, 2011)
From the ArcStarBooks website we have Bob’s own words from his very first catalog in June of 1980:
“…We don’t have to describe the thrills to be found in reading UFO literature; we feel sure that you already know many of them. We have noticed this, however, in our own 25 years plus interest in UFOs and their literature: that as one’s interest in UFOs deepens, one is led into other fascinating areas of study through the study of Ufolit. To adopt a truly panoramic understanding of flying saucers, one must study such allied areas as Astroarchaeology, Astronomy, History, Mythology, Parapsychology and Religion. Through Ufolit, one’s personal vision can expand in many ways, and the entire course of one’s life may be changed—for the better.” (ArcStarBooks.com, “Never Cease from Exploration…,” June 2013)
The Anomaly Archives recently received a donation of 80 boxes of approximately 1,300 titles from his widow, Monica A. Williams-Girard. Among the yet to be cataloged works are books covering topics ranging from UFOs to Atlantis, El Dorado to Ancient Astronauts, Ancient Britain, the Celts and Stonehenge, Pre-Columbian America to Ancient America, Lost Civilizations and Inner Earth Mythology, Alchemy and the Occult, Gnosticism and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha and Hermetica, Crystal Skulls, Greek and Roman Classics, World History and the History of Christianity, Minerals and Gemstones, Radio to Railroads, to Hitler and the Nazis.
There are a number of rare editions of classic flying saucer contactee books, several autographed by their authors. Bob had a special interest in the Contactees and at one time came into possession of George Hunt Williamson’s personal files, most of which were later sold to researcher Michael Swords for archival preservation. Bob’s interest in the Contactees went so far that he published “a reproduction of fifties contactee Truman Bethurum’s own scrapbook” (Ignacio Darnaude). We’ve just scratched the surface of his donated collection and I’m very excited to catalog these invaluable pieces of Fortean / Ufological history.
Did you know Bob?
I didn’t know Bob personally but had interacted with him on a business level in the mid 1990s when I briefly published my own print zine which he sold through his service. My zine wouldn’t have reached as many people as it did if not for him. This is an important aspect of his relevance to the history of our search for knowledge about these strange phenomena: Bob Girard played a critical role in helping people worldwide connect with each other through his network of clients and his publicizing each of their individual localized efforts at Do-It-Yourself research and publishing.
Bob Girard reviewed, bought, and sold the many different esoteric self-published zines that were, in a sense, the precursors to the explosion of alternative media websites populating the internet in the late 1990s. These DIY zines were emerging from the handmade photocopier Samizdat screeds of the 1980s and becoming increasingly well-produced with the advent of easily accessible desktop publishing software. Zines like your own Steamshovel Press (which Bob said, “feed that dark feeling in the pit of your gut”), Wes Nations’ Crash Collusion, and so many others, helped propel these topics from the printed page into the internet age.
Scott Corrales of Inexplicata and the Institute of Hispanic Ufology says that Bob helped him distribute his earliest books on the chupacabras and that his “encouragement made possible the distribution of our initial publication, Samizdat (1992-1998).” UFO and paranormal author and researcher Kenneth W. Behrendt says in one of his books (The New Science of the UFO) that he “was fortunate to obtain the help of” Bob’s book service which led him to publish his own quarterly UFO research journal called AURA (Annals of Ufological Research Advances) that was sold exclusively through Arcturus.
Within one of the few boxes of donated materials that I have unpacked I came across an 1986 issue of Critique (A Journal of Conspiracies & Metaphysics) in which the magazine’s publisher included a promotional sheet with a personal note stating, “how about an ad exchange … haven’t seen a catalog in a while” which provides a typical example of the kind of networking and supportiveness in which Bob frequently engaged.
The Arcturus Books “weirdness by mail” service, in my opinion, was a definite facilitator for the rise in popularity of UFO and paranormal websites as the world-wide-web became increasingly accessible. Unfortunately, Bob was either unable or unwilling to adapt quickly enough to the changing digital landscape to successfully transition from the snail-mail world to that of the monolithic online sales giants like Amazon; though he did try.
How did you come into possession of his archive?
Retired Naval Officer, former NSA employee, and 25-year MUFON board member Tom Deuley acted as both mediator and facilitator of this donation to the Anomaly Archives including his personally paying for the shipping costs of moving the 80 boxes from Port St. Lucie, Florida to Austin, Texas. The source of funding for the collection was arranged through the UFO Research Coalition which is made up of CUFOS (Center for UFO Studies), FUFOR (Fund for UFO Research), and MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). FUFOR arranged the funding for the URC and Tom hopes to have MUFON continue requesting funds for the upkeep of the collection.
The Girard Collection is the latest and greatest donation of a personal book collection acquired by the Anomaly Archives. Some of our past collection donations have included books and paper files of:
- Central Texas Fortean journalist and publisher Dennis Stacy (past writer for OMNI Magazine and editor of the MUFON UFO Journal and publisher of Anomalist Books)
- Austin counter-cultural zine publisher Wes Nations of Crash Collusion magazine (now at JohnnyVagabond.com)
- Local political activist Mike Hanson (author of Bohemian Grove: Cult of Conspiracy who accompanied Alex Jones into the grove)
- Occult UFO researcher John Carter (author of Sex & Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons)
… as well as the Founder of the San Antonio Parapsychological Association, a local respected past-life regression therapist, and many more.
We hope that other researchers, authors, and knowledge seekers will consider donating their personal collections of books and paper files to the Anomaly Archives. There are too many collections which have already been lost to the mists of time.
What are your plans to make it researcher accessible?
First we’ll be cataloging the donated collection and processing the materials for public access and display within the Anomaly Archives physical location in Northwest Austin, Texas. The resulting catalog and relevant finding aids will be posted on our website, www.AnomalyArchives.org for all to see.
We currently have very limited public hours of operation but all of his materials will be available soon to view in-house. Researchers interested in perusing this or any of our collections are encouraged to email us at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
We are developing several different plans for how best to utilize his collection, with an appreciation of his perspectives on the UFO phenomenon, as public awareness tools. So much of what he was interested in touches upon the many popular memes found within the wide array of UFO related esoteric themes (Atlantis and other ancient human civilizations, theories about ancient astronauts and alien abductions, etc.) that we are certain people of all paranormal stripes will find import in his legacy.
See also: Clas Svahn’s farewell to Bob Girard
Photo Credits: Clas Svahn / AFU