The Philadelphia Experiment is an alleged military experiment that is said to have been carried out by the U.S. Navy at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania some time around October 28, 1943. The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge (DE-173) was claimed to have been rendered invisible (or “cloaked“) to enemy devices.
The story is widely understood to be a hoax. The U.S. Navy maintains that no such experiment was ever conducted, that the details of the story contradict well-established facts about the USS Eldridge, and that the alleged claims do not conform to known physical laws.
- Note: Several different and sometimes contradictory versions of the alleged experiment have circulated over the years. The following synopsis recounts key story points common to most accounts.
The experiment was allegedly based on an aspect of some unified field theory, a term coined by Albert Einstein to describe a class of potential theories; such theories would aim to describe — mathematically and physically — the interrelated nature of the forces that comprise electromagnetic radiation and gravity, in other words, uniting the fields of electromagnetism and gravity into a single field.
According to some accounts, unspecified “researchers” thought that some version of this field would enable using large electrical generators to bend light around an object via refraction, so that the object became completely invisible. The Navy regarded this of military value and, by the same accounts, it sponsored the experiment.
Another unattributed version of the story proposes that researchers were preparing magnetic and gravitational measurements of the seafloor to detect anomalies, supposedly based on Einstein’s attempts to understand gravity. In this version, there were also related secret experiments in Nazi Germany to find anti-gravity, allegedly led by SS–Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler.
There are no reliable, attributable accounts, but in most accounts of the experiment, the USS Eldridge was fitted with the required equipment at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Testing allegedly began in the summer of 1943, and it was supposedly successful to a limited extent. One test allegedly resulted in Eldridge being rendered nearly invisible, with some witnesses reporting a “greenish fog” appearing in its place. Crew members supposedly complained of severe nausea afterwards. Also, reportedly, when the ship reappeared, some sailors were embedded in the metal structures of the ship, including one sailor who ended up on a deck level below that where he began and had his hand embedded in the steel hull of the ship as well as some sailors who went “completely bananas.” At that point, the experiment was allegedly altered at the request of the Navy, with the new objective being solely to render the USS Eldridge invisible to radar. None of these allegations have been independently substantiated.
The conjecture then alleges that the equipment was not properly re-calibrated, but in spite of this, the experiment was repeated on October 28, 1943. This time, Eldridge not only became invisible, but she disappeared from the area in a flash of blue light and teleported to Norfolk, Virginia, over 200 miles (320 km) away. It is claimed that Eldridge sat for some time in view of men aboard the ship SS Andrew Furuseth, whereupon Eldridge vanished and then reappeared in Philadelphia at the site it had originally occupied. It was also said that the warship went approximately 10 minutes back in time.
Many versions of the tale include descriptions of serious side effects for the crew. Some crew members were said to have been physically fused to bulkheads while others suffered from mental disorders, some re-materialized inside out, and still others supposedly vanished. It is also claimed that the ship’s crew may have been subjected to brainwashing, in order to maintain the secrecy of the experiment.
Origins of the story
In 1955, Morris K. Jessup, an astronomer and former graduate-level researcher, published The Case for the UFO, a book about unidentified flying objects that contains some theories about the different means of propulsion that flying-saucer-style UFOs might use. Jessup speculated that antigravity, or the manipulation of electromagnetism, might be responsible for the observed flight behavior of UFOs. He lamented, both in the book and during the publicity tour that followed, that space flight research was concentrated in the area of rocketry, and that little attention had been paid to other theoretical means of flight, which he felt might ultimately be more fruitful. Jessup emphasized that a breakthrough revision of Albert Einstein’s “Unified Field Theory” would be critical in powering a future generation of spacecraft.
On January 13, 1955, Jessup received a letter from a man who identified himself as one “Carlos Allende.” In the letter, Allende informed Jessup of the “Philadelphia Experiment,” alluding to two poorly sourced contemporary newspaper articles as proof. Allende directly responded to Jessup’s call for research on the “Unified Field Theory,” which he referred to as “UFT.” According to Allende, Einstein had developed the theory, but had suppressed it, since mankind was not ready for it — a confession that the scientist allegedly shared with the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Allende also said that he had witnessed the Eldridge appear and disappear while serving aboard the SS Andrew Furuseth, a nearby merchant ship. Allende named other crew members with whom he served aboard the Andrew Furuseth, and claimed to know the fate of some of the crew members of theEldridge after the experiment, including one whom he witnessed disappearing during a chaotic fight in a bar. Although Allende claimed to have observed the experiment while on the Andrew Furuseth, he provided no substantiation of his other claims linking the experiment with the Unified Field Theory, no evidence of Einstein’s alleged theory, and no proof of Einstein’s alleged private confession to Russell.
Jessup replied to Allende by a postcard, asking for further evidence and corroboration. The reply arrived months later, with the correspondent identifying himself as “Carl M. Allen.” Allen said that he could not provide the details for which Jessup was asking, but he implied that he might be able to recall some by means of hypnosis. Suspecting that Allende/Allen might be an impostor, Jessup discontinued the correspondence.
According to a 2002 book by the writers James Moseley and Karl Pflock, in early 1957, Jessup was contacted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington, D.C., and was asked to study the contents of a parcel that it had received. Upon his arrival, Jessup was surprised to learn that a paperback copy of The Case for the UFO had been mailed to the ONR in a manila envelope marked “Happy Easter”. The book had been extensively annotated in its margins, and an ONR officer asked Jessup if he had any idea as to who had done so.
Moseley and Pflock claim that the lengthy annotations were written with three different shades of pink ink, and they appeared to detail a correspondence among three individuals, only one of which is given a name: “Jemi”. The ONR labelled the other two “Mr. A.” and “Mr. B.” The annotators refer to each other as “Gypsies”, and discuss two different types of “people” living in outer space. Their text contained non-standard use of capitalization and punctuation, and detailed a lengthy discussion of the merits of various elements of Jessup’s assumptions in the book. Their oblique references to the Philadelphia Experiment suggested prior or superior knowledge. (One example is that “Mr. B.” reassures his fellow annotators who have highlighted a certain theory which Jessup advanced.)
Based on the handwriting style and subject matter, Jessup identified “Mr. A.” as Allende / Allen. Others have suggested that the three annotations are from the same person, using three pens. The annotated book supposedly sparked sufficient interest for the ONR to fund a small printing of the volume by the Texas-based Varo Manufacturing Company. A 2003 transcription of the annotated “Varo edition” is available online, complete with three-color notes.
Later, the ONR contacted Jessup, claiming that the return address on Allende’s letter to Jessup was an abandoned farmhouse. They also informed Jessup that the Varo Corporation, a research firm, was preparing a print copy of the annotated version of The Case for the UFO, complete with both letters he had received. About a hundred copies of the Varo Edition were printed and distributed within the Navy. Jessup was also sent three for his own use.
Jessup attempted to make a living writing on the topic, but his follow-up book did not sell well. His publisher rejected several other manuscripts. In 1958, his wife left him, and his friends described him as being depressed and somewhat unstable when he traveled to New York. After returning to Florida, he was involved in a serious car accident and was slow to recover, which added to his depression. He was found dead on April 20, 1959, and the death was ruled a suicide.
While personnel at the Fourth Naval District have suggested that the questions surrounding the alleged event arise from routine research that was performed during World War II at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was previously believed that “the foundation for the apocryphal stories arose from degaussing experiments which have the effect of making a ship undetectable or ‘invisible’ to magnetic mines.” Another possible genesis of the stories about levitation, teleportation and effects on human crew might be attributed to experiments with the generating plant of the destroyer USS Timmerman (DD-828), whereby a higher-frequency generator produced corona discharges, although none of the crew reported suffering effects from the experiment.
Repetitions of the story
There have been non-fiction and fictional accounts of the legend:
George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger published a 1978 novel titled Thin Air. In this book, set in the present day, a Naval Investigative Service officer investigates several threads linking wartime invisibility experiments to a conspiracy involving matter transmission technology.
In 1979, the linguist Charles Berlitz and his co-author ufologist William L. Moore published The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility, which purported to be a factual account. Moore’s by-line said that he had written the book “in consultation with” Berlitz. Moore makes a claim in the book that Albert Einstein completed, and destroyed, a unified field theory before his death. This is not supported by historians and scientists familiar with Einstein’s work. Moore bases his theory on Carl Allen’s letter to Jessup, in which Allen refers to a conversation between Einstein and Bertrand Russell acknowledging that the theory had been solved, but that man was not ready for it.
More recently, Simon R. Green included references to “The Philadelphia Experiment” in his novel The Spy Who Haunted Me, while Paul Violette’s book Secrets of Anti-Gravity Propulsion recounts some mysterious involvement of the experimenter and then US Navy technician Thomas Townsend Brown. (Moore and Berlitz devoted one of the last chapters in The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility to “The Force Fields Of Townsend Brown.”)
The mystery of the ship was also briefly mentioned in the horror film Devil’s Pass near the climax of the film.
Hollywood interpretation and the Bielek testimony
The story was adapted into a 1984 time travel film called The Philadelphia Experiment, directed by Stewart Raffill, which was re-made in 2012 as a straight-to-video film. Though only loosely based on the prior accounts of the “Experiment”, it served to dramatize the core elements of the original story. In 1990, Alfred Bielek, a self-proclaimed former crew-member of the USS Eldridge and an alleged participant in the “Experiment”, supported the version as it was portrayed in the film. He added details of his claims through the Internet, some of which were picked up by mainstream outlets.
In 2003, a small team of investigators, including the American Marshall Barnes, the Canadian Fred Houpt, and the German Gerold Schelm, rejected Bielek’s story of his participation in The Philadelphia Experiment. Their consensus was that Bielek was nowhere near the ship at the proposed time of the experiment.
Evidence and research
Observers have argued that it is inappropriate to grant much credence to an unusual story promoted by one individual, in the absence of more conclusive corroborating evidence. Robert Goerman wrote in Fate magazine in 1980, that “Carlos Allende” / “Carl Allen” was Carl Meredith Allen of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, who had an established history of psychiatric illness, and who may have fabricated the primary history of the experiment as a result of his mental illness. Goerman later realized that Allen was a family friend and “a creative and imaginative loner … sending bizarre writings and claims.”
The historian Mike Dash notes that many authors who publicized the “Philadelphia Experiment” story after that of Jessup appeared to have conducted little or no research of their own: through the late 1970s, for example, Allende/Allen was often described as mysterious and difficult to locate. But Goerman determined Allende/Allen’s identity after only a few telephone calls. Others speculate that much of the key literature emphasizes dramatic embellishment rather than pertinent research. Berlitz’s and Moore’s account of the story (The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility) claimed to include supposedly factual information, such as transcripts of an interview with a scientist involved in the experiment, but their work has also been criticized for plagiarising key story elements from the novel Thin Air which was published a year earlier.
The USS Eldridge was not commissioned until August 27, 1943, and it remained in port in New York City until September 1943. The October experiment allegedly took place while the ship was on its first shakedown cruise in The Bahamas, although proponents of the story claim that the ship’s logs might have been falsified or else still be classified.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) stated in September 1996, “ONR has never conducted investigations on radar invisibility, either in 1943 or at any other time.” Pointing out that the ONR was not established until 1946, it denounces the accounts of “The Philadelphia Experiment” as complete “science fiction.”
A reunion of Navy veterans who had served aboard the USS Eldridge told a Philadelphia newspaper in April 1999 that their ship had never made port in Philadelphia. Further evidence discounting the Philadelphia Experiment timeline comes from the USS Eldridge’s complete World War II action report, including the remarks section of the 1943 deck log, available on microfilm.
Researcher Jacques Vallée describes a procedure on board the USS Engstrom (DE-50), which was docked alongside the Eldridge in 1943. The operation involved the generation of a powerful electromagnetic field on board the ship in order to deperm or degauss it, with the goal of rendering the ship undetectable or “invisible” to magnetically fused undersea mines and torpedoes. This system was invented by a Canadian, Charles F. Goodeve, when he held the rank of commander in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and the Royal Navy and other navies used it widely during World War II. British ships of the era often included such degaussing systems built into the upper decks (the conduits are still visible on the deck of HMS Belfast (C35) in London, for example). Degaussing is still used today. However, it has no effect on visible light or radar. Vallée speculates that accounts of the USSEngstrom’s degaussing might have been garbled and confabulated in subsequent retellings, and that these accounts may have influenced the story of “The Philadelphia Experiment.”
According to Vallée, who served on board the USS Engstrom, the Eldridge might have travelled from Philadelphia to Norfolk and back again in a single day at a time when merchant ships could not: by use of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and Chesapeake Bay, which at the time was open only to naval vessels. Use of that channel was kept quiet: German submarines had ravaged shipping along the East Coast during Operation Drumbeat, and thus military ships unable to protect themselves were secretly moved via canals to avoid the threat. The same veteran claims to be the man that Allende witnessed “disappearing” at a bar. He claims that when the fight broke out, friendly barmaids whisked him out of the bar before the police arrived, because he was under age for drinking. They then covered for him by claiming that he had disappeared.
In popular culture
In addition to the 1984 film that focuses on the experiment, The Philadelphia Experiment, references to the experiment can be found in many other films, including 100 Million BC, the horror/action movie Outpost (both 2008), andDevil’s Pass (2013).
Television episodes that reference the experiment include the X-Files episode “Død Kalm“, Pawn Stars,[episode needed] Warehouse 13,[episode needed] and Sanctuary.[episode needed] It is the central focus of the miniseries The Triangleand the Doctor Who audio drama The Macros. The experiment has also been the subject of several television shows dealing with the paranormal and with conspiracy theories, including The Unexplained, History’s Mysteries,Vanishings!, Unsolved Mysteries, episode 2.12 of Mysteries at the Monument, and Dark Matters: Twisted But True.
Literary works that reference the experiment include the collaborative science-fiction novella Green Fire by Eileen Gunn, Andy Duncan, Pat Murphy, and Michael Swanwick, Clive Cussler‘s 2013 novel Mirage, and Jeff Smith‘s 2013 graphic novel RASL.