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The Philadelphia Experiment

Serious books have been written about it. It’s the subject of a 1984 movie in the same vein as Back to the Future. It’s even given its name to a new-millennium jazz fusion combo. But the Philadelphia Experiment is one thing that nobody seems to agree upon. To some, it’s a bizarre figment of an eccentric imagination. To others, it’s a hoax, plain and simple. But to a core of firm believers, it’s the story of one of the strangest scientific experiments of all time—an exercise in bending energy waves that ripped a hole in space-time and pushed an entire naval vessel through it.

As the true believers have it, the story goes this

way: In 1943, with the Second World War fully under way, the Germans had the upper hand on the high seas. Their fleets of U-boats were wreaking havoc upon Allied military and merchant vessels in the Atlantic. But the United States had a secret weapon under development—a device that could cloak vessels from being picked up on radar. And a small vessel called the USS Eldridge docked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard was poised for the first trial of the device.

That summer, the Eldridge was equipped with generators and coils capable of enveloping the destroyer in a powerful electromagnetic field. This field would be so strong, its inventors believed, that it could bend the light and sound waves around the ship, making it virtually invisible. At 9 A.M. on July 22, 1943, the equipment was put to the test. When the generators were turned on, a green fog briefly surrounded the ship, before vanishing—and making the ship vanish with it. The trial lasted for fifteen minutes, and when the generators were turned off, the Eldridge reappeared. The crew was disoriented, in a state of physical shock, and violently nauseated. The test was considered a qualified success—but the effect on the crew was too severe for the device to be deployed.

A second trial was set for late October. Once again, the ship disappeared, this time leaving an impression upon the water. Suddenly, with a blinding flash of light, all evidence of the ship disappeared.

Here’s where the story gets really weird: Meanwhile, hundreds of miles south in Norfolk, Virginia, a crewman serving aboard the Liberty ship USS Andrew Furuseth saw a destroyer materialize in the waters nearby. Carlos Allende later described the ship sailing for several minutes shrouded in a conical green mist before disappearing again. Back in Philadelphia, the U.S.S. Eldridge had reappeared.

The scene on board was stomach-churning. What was left of the crew was violently ill and some of them were permanently deranged. Some had gone missing, and five of them had been fused to the walls of the ship. Clearly, the Experiment was much too powerful and dangerous to control. The Navy could not handle the forces it had unleashed, and so the project was abandoned and the government quickly covered up as much of the evidence as it could. The war went on to be won with blood, sweat, toil, and tears—not quantum leaps in scientific experimentation. And that would have been the end of the story of the Philadelphia Experiment, but over the years, tales of those mysterious happenings on board keep floating to the surface.

The Story Behind The Philadelphia Experiment

When considering a tale this fantastic, you have to consider the sources. And to be frank, the drama behind the story is almost as intriguing as the tale of teleportation. In 1955, a copy of The Case for the UFO by Morris Jessup came in the mail to the Chief of the Office of Naval Research in Washington D.C. Its sender was anonymous, but the postmark placed the origin as Seminole, Texas.

The book had been heavily annotated in three different handwriting styles, rambling on about vortices, statis fields, and magnetic nets—and mentioning a now-familiar 1943 experiment at the Philadelphia Naval Yards. Three special projects officers contacted the book’s author as a matter of routine. Jessup recognized the annotations, because he had received letters from Pennsylvania that looked and read just like them. Jessup’s correspondent went by the name Carlos Allende—a name he later changed to Carl Allen. His letters were semi-coherent at best and filled with eccentric punctuation and capitalization, but the special projects officers had Jessup’s publisher reproduce a short run of the annotated version of Jessup’s book, along with some of Allende’s letters. How odd was Allende’s writing? You be the judge:

Your invocation to the public that they move en Masse upon their Representatives and have thusly enough Pressure placed at the right & sufficient Number of Places where from a Law demanding Research into Dr. Albert Einsteins Unified Field Theory May be enacted (1925-27) is Not at all necessary. It May Interest you to know that The Good Doctor Was Not so Much influenced in his retraction of that Work, by Mathematics, as he most assuredly was by Humantics.

Jessup initially shrugged this off as harmless eccentricity, but later personal problems drove him into a deep depression. He began to obsess over Allende’s letters, sending them to the naval researchers he had met. He fell further into depression, and four years after the whole affair began, he committed suicide in Florida.

At this point, Allende came forward and claimed that his letters were a prank intended to scare Jessup—in retaliation for the scary stories Jessup had written in his book. He signed a confession to that effect, allegedly sought psychiatric help, and once again vanished from the scene. He was always an elusive character, and little has been heard of him since. In the late 1960s, he began writing to another UFO writer, Jacques Vallee. In the early 1980s, a science writer Linda Strand interviewed him in person. According to the Social Security record, a Carlos Allende—most likely the Carlos Allende—died in 1994.

To skeptics and non-believers, an eccentric like Allende hardly makes a reliable source in the first place, especially when he later retracted his story. That’s reason enough to dismiss the whole story as a fabrication, isn’t it? Perhaps so, but then again, why would the Navy be so interested in the ramblings of such an eccentric figure, unless he was on to something?

You can read more accounts of Pennsylvania’s many Unexplained Phenomena in Weird Pennsylvania.

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