#39 – The Two Warrens, and the Crespi Collection – 1987

Written by Virginia Hourigan

One night in February of 1987, the phone rang. It was a call from Warren Cook in Vermont, with his friend the photographer Warren Dexter on the other line. They had just received the slides of photos (finally) from Jim Whittall and were jumping up and down with excitement. Well, Warren Cook was, anyway. Warren Dexter is a pretty low-keyed guy generally, but for him, he was jumping too.

“We’ve never seen anything like them!” Warren Cook exclaimed. “The only thing they resembled at all is the Crespi Collection, and they do look something like that. We went to Ecuador a few years ago and Warren (D.) photographed some pieces from the collection. We looked everywhere for a match, but we only found something like it in North Africa. You’ll have to see Warren’s pictures of the Crespi stuff and see if you don’t agree.”

Old Padre Crespi had brought with him from Italy a great love of art when he became a pastor in Cuenca, Ecuador as a young man. You couldn’t build a road or dig a basement around there without coming up with some residues of the great civilizations of South America’s past, but there was something very peculiar about artifacts found by the local folk.

Those in Cuenca who were supposed to know about such things simply dismissed these sculptures – they just didn’t fit the pattern. For that reason, the local farmers didn’t take them seriously either, so it wasn’t likely they were manufacturing them in the cellar.

Padre Crespi found the artifacts startling, to say the least, and realized that if they were genuine, then the history of Cuenca was a lot different from what people thought. He began buying some of the strange objects from the farmers, which of course made knowledgeable citizens think him a bit daft, spending good money on worthless artifacts. It also made the farmers look harder for such pieces, and eventually to concoct some themselves.

However, there were plenty of genuine pieces, and the padre continued to buy them throughout his long life. In later years he became very secretive about his collection and would usually refuse to let anyone see it. He knew what they would think. In any case, a few people did get past him and word spread of the very strange artifacts totally unlike anything else ever found (so far as anyone knew) in either North or South America, or anywhere else either.

One of those who did see them and photograph some was Dr. J. Manson Valentine, and another was Charles Berlitz, who published a picture of a stone tablet showing an elephant, with a sun above and a text below: a text no one could translate. If you looked closely you could see that this stone was the same stone that Valentine had photographed.

It was from this stone that Clyde Keeler had made his ceramic, and the ceramic in turn was pictured in Barry Fell’s book, America B.C., where Dr. Fell declared the text to be Iberic script and to read: “The elephant that supports the Earth upon the waters and causes it to quake.”

Another visitor to Cuenca who was allowed to see the collection noticed that some of the stones were recently made in other words, fakes. When he pointed this out, the old Padre smiled sadly. “I know,” he said in his gentle voice, “but I pay so little and they are so poor.”

Warren Dexter tells me that one distinguished visitor spotted what looked like a float for a toilet among the artifacts and announced that the entire collection was a fraud. Yet Warren himself has seen in the Peruvian National Museum two similar spherical objects with ridges, on display between arrowheads and other authentic items. They do indeed look rather like toilet floats, he says, but are evidently reliably documented by

The Warrens had heard about the Crespi Collection for years, but by the time they were able to go to Cuenca the old man was gaga and the other priests had sold the collection to the state. An archaeologist was sent out to take possession, and he shipped off the pieces that looked like other Ecuadorian artifacts and chucked out the rest. The Warrens found some of the carved stones being used as paving blocks for a new boy’s school, and others in the hands of people who had no idea what they were. They tracked down and photographed as many as they could, but most were gone without a trace. Some earlier travelers had warned that this might happen, but no one in the U.S. who cared about such unusual artifacts had the money to buy them – even if the padre had been willing to sell.

Now the Warrens were on the phone as excited as children over the cave stones. “They can’t possibly be fakes,” Warren Cook declared.

“Nobody would make things like that today.”

“I’m really glad to hear you say that,” I said. “All I’ve been hearing from people like Fell and Whittall is “Fake.”

“Well, we don’t think they’re fakes. We’re going out to Vincennes in June and see the collection.”

“Wonderful,” I said. “I’m going in June too, so maybe we’ll be there at the same time.”

“Let’s plan for it.”